Aug 16, 2021 - Technology

"Free Guy" gives new hope for video game movies

Ryan Reynolds in his comedy "Free Guy."
Screenshot: 20th Century Studios

Movies based on video games are often a bust critically, commercially, or both. But the weekend box office success of Ryan Reynolds' comedy “Free Guy” is a sign that trend is changing.

Why it matters: Everyone knows what happens when Hollywood notices something is working. Be optimistic. Be worried. Your pick.

Between the lines: “Free Guy” earned $28.4 million in the U.S. to take the top spot for the weekend, with another $22.5 million abroad, Variety reports.

  • The movie stars Reynolds as an NPC, or nonplayer character, who discovers he exists within a violent open-world video game. It’s also a romance and features cameos from top game streamers Ninja and Pokimane.
  • Games and entertainment site Polygon called it “competently entertaining.”
  • And there’s more coming: Reynolds tweeted on Saturday that Disney “officially” wants a sequel.

On its own, the success of “Free Guy” could just be a blip that has more to do with how it was released.

  • It only debuted in theaters, testing Hollywood’s pre-pandemic business model against the new one that also puts premieres on streaming services.

But there’s a trend developing of good news springing from gaming movies.

The big picture: For a long time, the games industry chased Hollywood by trying to make games that were more movie-like. Hollywood, meanwhile, turned out largely bad adaptations of games.

  • Now, both sides seem to be loosening up.
  • On the movie end, a major film festival now recognizes games are their own thing, and a movie like “Free Guy” suggests the concepts of games can be appealing without a gaming brand attached.
  • On the gaming end, industry leaders and creators increasingly sound confident about their field’s own success, even as top creators branch out to work more directly on new movies (and HBO shows) tied to their work.

What’s next: Three big gaming movies for 2022.

  • “Uncharted” — A test of whether Sony Pictures will do right by Sony PlayStation.
  • “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” — co-starring Idris Elba.
  • “Super Mario” — The date could slip, but Nintendo is so invested it put the movie’s producer on its board of directors.
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