The director of ‘Free Guy’ explains why we may never see a movie like it again

Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy behind-the-scenes of 'Free Guy.'
(L-R) Ryan Reynolds and director Shawn Levy on the set of ‘Free Guy.’ 20th Century Studios
  • Levy told Insider he’s concerned we’ll never see a studio release a movie like “Free Guy” again.
  • Levy said studios are “predominantly if not exclusively betting the big money on franchise titles.”
  • His next movie starring Ryan Reynolds, “The Adam Project,” is being released by Netflix.

If you look at the landscape of Hollywood movies, Shawn Levy’s “Free Guy” was unlikely to become the hit it was.

An original idea released by a major studio that became a box office sensation is extremely rare these days. Most executives are focusing on IP-fueled blockbusters that brought in billions of dollars before the pandemic, and are therefore most likely to keep the lights on.

And Levy is well aware of his good fortune.

“It is so gratifying to all of us to have proof that it can still work,” the director told Insider over the phone recently, as the movie is currently On Demand and available on Blu-ray after taking in over $US328 ($AU442) million at the worldwide box office.

“It’s not only thrilling personally but I think it’s good for our business to remind the holders of the purse strings that sometimes you have to bet on the new,” he continued. “Because when you win on those kind of bets it’s deeply satisfying.”

Levy knows a thing or two about winning big on original ideas. The director/producer has been doing it his whole career with movies like 2003’s “Cheaper by the Dozen,” 2006’s “Night at the Museum,” and being a producer on 2016’s “Arrival” (which led to a best picture Oscar nomination), and the Netflix sensation “Stranger Things” (which he also directs episodes of).

Ryan Reynolds in 'Free Guy.'
Ryan Reynolds realizes he’s a background character in a video game in ‘Free Guy.’ 20th Century Studios

“Free Guy” was a major gamble. Though it starred Ryan Reynolds, a movie focused on a non-player character in a “Fortnite”-like game could have been a box office disaster. Instead, the movie proved to Hollywood that original ideas could still be profitable.

“That’s the other thing that’s deeply gratifying: having a hit movie in theaters in the world,” Levy said. “It is different than a stat about how many hundreds of millions watched your streaming title for a minimum of three minutes.”

This begs the question, can a movie like “Free Guy” – which became a sensation at movie theaters – happen again? Levy admits the chances are dwindling.

“I’m going through a mental Rolodex of the studios – Sony, Warners, Paramount, Disney, Lionsgate – the truth is those studios are predominantly if not exclusively betting the big money on franchise titles,” said Levy, who put the budget for “Free Guy” at around $US100 ($AU135) million. “Someone referred to ‘Free Guy’ as the last chopper out of Saigon, and I do think about that. I hope that’s not the case.”

Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds in 'Free Guy.'
Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds in ‘Free Guy.’ 20th Century Studios

A major reason for Levy’s lack of confidence in what the future holds for original releases is what happened in Hollywood even before “Free Guy” made it to theaters.

The movie was made at 20th Century Fox before Disney bought the studio in 2019. Now known as just 20th Century Studios, it’s highly unlikely if “Free Guy” were pitched there today that Disney would pull the trigger on a non-IP title.

But that doesn’t mean Levy is through making original movies – there’s always the other streamers.

Levy has teamed up again with Reynolds for the fantasy drama “The Adam Project,” which was made for Netflix (it will be released later this year). Though the director knows even more people will see “The Adam Project” than “Free Guy” because it will be on the streaming giant, he still feels a little down.

“I’ll be honest in saying part of me winces at the reality that this next movie will be predominantly experienced on smaller screens,” he said.

However, Levy pointed out that because of the success of “Free Guy,” Netflix has committed to giving “The Adam Project” a theatrical release along with launching it globally on its site.

Walker Scobell in a vest, Ryan Reynolds in a cream jacket
‘The Adam Project.’ Netflix

Currently, Levy is working with Reynolds and “Free Guy” screenwriters Matt Lieberman and Zack Penn on sequel ideas, walking back Reynolds’ tweet in August that Disney greenlit a sequel (“It’s far from a green light,” Levy said).

But regardless if “Free Guy” becomes Disney’s next successful franchise or not, Levy hopes the success of the movie brings a reality to studios that original movies should not be forgotten.

“There’s really been among the players in our industry a real gratitude that the movie served as a reminder of a viability of theatrical at a time when it was being questioned, and the viability of an original title,” he said. “I don’t know if the people in charge of the money are going to place those bets often as we move into the future but I do believe they will place them on occasion because ‘Free Guy’ is hard data proving that it can work.”

“Free Guy” is available now On Demand and on Blu-ray.