Ryan Reynolds’ Free Guy pokes fun at the nature of video game structures while including plenty of references and homages to the video games and movies that inspired the film. Free Guy is a fantasy action-comedy that follows Ryan Reynolds as Guy, a non-playable character (NPC) bank teller in the video game Free City who suddenly takes matters into his own hands and becomes the hero of the game. Guy goes on a journey of self-discovery while aiding real-life Free City player Millie, who is searching for proof that Free City’s creator (Taika Waititi) stole her game algorithm.
Free Guy is an exciting new movie that is featured in one of Disney’s new pandemic-time release tests as one of their only films to not simultaneously be released through streaming. The movie was originally supposed to be released in 2020 but was delayed by a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finally being released in a time when theater attendance remains relatively low. Although, Free Guy surprisingly overperformed at the box office to gross almost double its expected earnings in its opening weekend at $28.6 million, beating out James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad.
Helmed by Stranger Things director Shawn Levy, Free Guy has become an unexpected hit considering its success was widely due to word of mouth and positive reviews rather than prior anticipation. As another successful movie on Disney’s slate of new releases, Free Guy makes sure to include enough references to remind the audience of who owns the picture outside of its general cinema and video game Easter eggs. Here’s a breakdown of all the references to movies and video games found in Free Guy.
Just in case anyone forgot Free Guy was owned by Disney, they made sure to include a few of their beloved properties. The Avengers has a few key references that mostly come into play when Ryan Reynolds’ Guy has a life-or-death fight with the unfinished, monstrous Guy-like character, Dude. As Guy chooses which weapons and defenses to use from his sunglasses, he flashes through a few familiar tools including Captain America’s shield. Guy uses Cap’s shield in the same fashion that Steve Rogers had in the Avengers movies, only for Free Guy to quickly cut to Steve Rogers actor Chris Evans in a cameo where he reacts to the use of his shield. Following Captain America’s feature, Guy switches to another useful Avengers tool: Hulk’s hand. As Guy puts on the green Hulk fist, he’s able to smash back at Dude successfully.
In the same quick bit where Guy must fight Dude, a giant, Hulk-like version of himself, he finds his glasses which now have a feature to choose weapons from various real-life movies that mostly belong to Disney. One of the better weapons Guy sticks with is a blue lightsaber from Star Wars, which he uses to battle Dude and stay alive. At the same time, John Williams’ classic Star Wars theme blasts over the movie.
One of the only identifiable video game classic weapons that Guy uses in his one-on-one fight against Dude is the Rainbow Smash pickaxe from Fortnite. The reference to the Fortnite game is certain to be picked up by anyone who’s paid attention to gaming for the past few years considering Fortnite took the world by surprise as an online phenomenon. Free Guy’s game isn’t quite the same battle game as Fortnite, but the latter’s weapons sure did come in handy. Free Guy also gives a nod to Fortnite as Channing Tatum’s player character on Free City “flosses” in the game, which was the iconic dance associated with Fortnite after its original release.
Free Guy features a small nod to The Shining toward the end of the film when Antwan, Free City’s creator, tries to destroy all of the game’s servers to keep the world from discovering he stole Millie and Key’s algorithm. Antwan takes an ax and heads to the server room where, as Mouser watches on, he begins to chop at every machine with a fit of anger that stylistically mirrors Jack Torrence’s ax rampage in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
In a subtle reference to one of the greatest self-reflective movies of the 1990s, Free Guy’s opening few scenes parodies none other than Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day. The latter movie comments on the repetition of everyday life and following the same script every day, which is exactly how Guy’s life went before he saw Millie. The montages of Guy waking up, smiling at his goldfish, putting on the same suit, eating cereal, getting the same coffee, and eventually heading to work perfectly mirrors Groundhog Day’s montage of Bill Murray repeatedly waking up to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and so on.
Much of the underlying concept for the Free City game comes from Grand Theft Auto, which is notable for its violent features. As the player characters in Free Guy try to speed around town in nice cars and rob, fight, or kill the NPCs like Guy, it becomes increasingly apparent that Grand Theft Auto Online inspired the movie.
In crafting the video game references for Free Guy, Shawn Levy typically looked at the vast array of iconic weapons from his favorite games. One such weapon that shows up in Free Guy is the Portal Gun from Portal, a puzzle-platform game where players must teleport their characters through portals by using said portal gun. The Portal Gun is first seen in Free Guy when used by Millie as she goes on her stakeout mission to try to find the algorithm in Free City’s Stash. The Portal Gun then returns when Guy switches through the weapons queue from his sunglasses in his fight with Dude.
In a hidden reference to one of the original gaming sensations, a Pac-Man hologram can be seen in Keys’ apartment. To emphasize his love for Pac-Man, Keys also has a Blinky (Pac-Man’s red ghost) lamp to accentuate his apartment design. As a dedicated indie game developer whose passion is designing the best video games, it’s no surprise Joe Keery’s character would have Pac-Man as one of his favorite games and inspirations.
The identity crisis of Guy and whether or not his whole life has been real firmly echoed the sentiment of Jim Carrey’s The Truman Show from 1998. The Truman Show tells the story of Truman, who as a baby was adopted by a man who, unbeknownst to Truman, turned his life into a reality television series. Every aspect of his life was fabricated and everyone around him was an actor on an elaborate set, and when Truman finally discovers the truth, he must come to terms with what’s real or manipulated. In Free Guy, Jodie Comer’s character Millie arrives to tell him that he’s not actually real within the larger sense of the world, he’s just a character in a video game – an algorithm. Guy then reflects on what his life has been and what the society around him means, even becoming angry when he realizes he can’t pass the boundary of the beach because it’s all been fake. This scene, in particular, reflects The Truman Show when Truman (Carrey) finally realizes the ocean he’s been afraid of all his life is shallow, the horizon is a wall painted blue, and the moon is a control room where Christof designs Truman’s life.
The naive, optimistically happy character of Guy heavily takes from Will Ferrell’s character Buddy in Elf. Ryan Reynolds himself described Free Guy to Collider as what would happen “if you dropped Elf in Grand Theft Auto.” In this way, Millie takes on a similar role to Zooey Deschanel’s Jovie in Elf where they don’t quite understand how this person can be so happy, child-like, and optimistic, but their characters still fall for them. Even the scene where Guy tries to kiss Millie seems to reflect Buddy trying to kiss Jovie at the ice skating rink. In a society with cynical figures and ideas all around, the world can use more movies like Free Guy and Elf with such infectiously cheerful protagonists.