Other suitors include Paramount, Searchlight, Lionsgate

As its bidding deadline approaches, the auction for E.L. James’ erotic novel “Fifty Shades of Grey” has begun in earnest, with Sony Pictures plunking down a $5 million offer for screen rights to the emerging e-book phenomenon.

Sony had no comment regarding the offer for the book, the first in a trilogy.

Other studios remain in the mix, including Paramount and Fox Searchlight — though this weekend’s inevitable box office success of “The Hunger Games” is expected to leave Lionsgate/Summit with additional coin they could use to acquire a third franchise based on a literary phenomenon, following “Hunger Games” and “The Twilight Saga.”

Unlike those young adult series, however, “Fifty Shades of Grey” is an R-rated tale of graphic sex and BSDM that follows a young woman who enters into a submissive relationship with a billionaire in his late 20s.

James, a former TV exec from Britain, and her agent Valerie Hoskins have spent the past two days meeting with studios and producers. Sources tell Variety that Sony topper Amy Pascal is determined to land “Fifty Shades,” and she has an on-the-lot producer in Scott Rudin with experience in handling popular, controversial literary adaptations, the latest being “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”Hoskins and James will weigh all the offers this evening, with a decision expected later tonight or over the weekend.

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