“Free Man” is the field workplace barometer Hollywood was on the lookout for

Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds star in “Free Guy” at 20th Century Studios.

Disney

20th Century Studios ‘Free Guy’ could be the barometer the cinema industry has been looking for as the Covid Delta variant spreads domestically.

After months of franchise films that hit cinemas and streaming platforms the same day, “Free Guy” is coming. It arrives in cinemas exclusively on Friday – a rarity during the pandemic.

The Disney film, starring Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer, is also one of the few original concept films to hit the big screen this year.

Box office analysts are excited to see how the action comedy fares on the opening weekend as this is possibly one of the purest tests of whether the cinema industry is really making a comeback. Most of the top-class films that only made it to the cinema – such as Universal’s “F9” and Paramount’s “A Quiet Place Part II” – are part of established film franchises and offer them a ready-made fan base waiting for a new episode.

It was just as difficult with hybrid releases like Warner Bros. ‘ “The Suicide Squad” to see if the pandemic had affected ticket sales or if the movie was available to stream at home.

“There are fewer variables,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, referring to Free Guy. “We can actually analyze things empirically rather than theoretically.”

With an exclusive theatrical release, box office performance will be based on three things: Were people about to go to the theater? Were you interested in seeing Free Guy? Did the movie get any good word of mouth over the weekend?

“Disney has held on to ‘Free Guy’ for a long time as the company has high hopes of breaking through the confused box office,” said Jeff Bock, senior analyst, Exhibitor Relations. “The truth is that in a normalized market, Free Guy would have a clear path to success.”

Bock noted that the film has personable stars in Comer and Reynolds, good reviews, and positive word of mouth for its opening weekend.

“If ‘Free Guy’ doesn’t bring in $ 20 million or more this weekend, it could be a clear sign that there is more chaos on the horizon with theatrical releases.”

Current estimates for the film range from $ 15 million to $ 20 million.

Disney’s decision to keep this film on the big screen suggests the studio sees potential for large-scale comedy to thrive even in the current climate, said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com.

While some speculated that “Free Guy” might end up on Disney’s streaming service instead of in theaters, CEO Bob Chapek said during a conference call Thursday that the film’s previous distribution agreement with Fox – which the company bought in 2019 – did not allow it a lot of flexibility in the release method.

New Covid cases are being diagnosed at a pace not seen since February. This is due to the highly contagious Delta variant, which spreads quickly among unvaccinated people and sometimes leads to breakthrough infections in those who have been vaccinated. The pace of spread has raised concerns that consumer behavior will change as people become more cautious and state and local governments restore precautionary measures such as masking requirements in indoor spaces like theaters.

On August 20, San Francisco will require proof of vaccination for indoor activities, including movie theaters. New York City plans to enforce vaccination records in indoor entertainment centers starting September 13, though some facilities plan to put the plan into effect on Monday.

Robbins said “Free Guy” had the benefit of a PG-13 rating, good buzz, and a “core male audience who was a driver of this year’s more positive box office performance.”

It also has Reynolds who not only is the star but has also done a lot of the marketing for the past few months. The “wildcard,” said Robbins, is the fact that it is an original item and has no built-in demand like films that are part of large franchises.

Sony has postponed the release of Venom: Let There Be Carnage and decided to open it in October instead of late September. If Free Guy does well over the weekend, the studios may be more confident about sticking to the current schedule.

Disclosure: “F9” is distributed by NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.

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