How Ryan Reynolds’ ‘Free Guy’ Created a Fantasy World Around A Video Game

Hollywood’s main concern is jumping on trends first, regardless if they understand why it’s popular. Unfortunately, this ends up shooting themselves in the foot most times, especially with video game adaptations. Considered box-office poison, Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy blew that idea away.

Appealing to both moviegoers and gamers, Free Guy’s philosophy seems to have finally bridged the gap.

Ryan Reynolds at 'Free Guy' premiere
Ryan Reynolds | Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Disney

How Ryan Reynolds’ ‘Free Guy’ understands how video games work

The film is not based on a real video game but instead a fictional online multiplayer game ‘Free City.’ So while it is not directly based on an existing video game, the film gets a few key things right.

Fantasy worlds based on video games have cropped up here and there, like Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One. However, while they might be close enough for some people, the worlds fail to really feel like a video game.

TheWrap reports that production designer Ethan Tobman talked about how Hollywood often doesn’t “get” video games.

“The reason so many, in my opinion, have failed is they’re trying to turn video games into movies by imposing movie rules onto the video game,” Tobman said to TheWrap. “We tried to understand what makes a great video game from the inside out rather than the outside in.”

Everyone knows about cheat codes, extra lives, and glitches, but many game films fail to uses these aspects beyond referencing them.

Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy takes the next step to focus on the details.

The game aspects build the story instead of being added later

Free Guy stands out because it is impossible to remove the video game aspects without completely altering the story.

Major plot points revolve around data stored out-of-bounds and textures not being removed in reflections — all rather technical talk for someone unfamiliar with gaming.

However, those details are why Free Guy is more of a video game movie than movies based on video games.

Ryan Reynolds plays Guy, an NPC in Free City. Since he is a background character in the world, he follows the same path every day: the same people, the same coffee, the same dialogue.

As such, even his apartment has a sense of ‘unfinishedness.’ TheWrap notes that “his front door has five deadbolts but no knob. His books don’t have titles numbers on their spines. The calendar is missing a day. And his bed hangs precariously over a balcony.”

The sense of seeing an area you’re not supposed to is part of the gaming experience that Hollywood often misses.

The major inspirations for Free City feel obvious to anyone who has played Fortnite or the Grand Theft Auto series.

This is fully intentional, as Tobman played popular video games, including Shadow of the Colossus and Red Dead Redemption. He even followed NPCs around to see how they behaved.


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“We’re not trying to impose filmmaking styles onto video games; we’re trying to use video games as our inspiration for how to be good filmmakers. That’s where the humor comes from but also where the pathos comes from,” Tobman told TheWrap.

Hopefully, Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy signal the start of a new trend in video game adaptations.

With more and more breaking that ‘box-office poison’ idea, gamers and audiences have plenty of reason for excitement.