‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Tracking for $60 Million Opening Weekend

Universal-Focus’s “Fifty Shades of Grey” is already delivering plenty of box office heat for Valentine’s Day weekend, with early tracking projecting as much as $60 million for its Friday-Monday launch.

The R-rated “Fifty Shades,” which opens Feb. 13, appears to be heading toward significant profitability given the $40 million pricetag for the adaptation of E.L. James’ sex-saturated bestseller.

But there’s more uncertainty attached to forecasting “Fifty Shades” than with other titles due to the difficulty of predicting how comfortable moviegoers will be about going to an erotic romance at multiplexes — despite the fact that the graphic scenes in the book have been considerably toned down.

“Clearly, the book has a lot going for it, but it’s uncertain how much of that fervor will translate,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for Rentrak. “It probably has to be toned down enough from the book to do well among general audiences.”

Dergarabedian noted that Warner Bros.’ 2010 romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day” opened solidly with $63 million over the four-day Valentine’s Day weekend.

Sony opened romantic comedy “About Last Night” on Valentine’s Day last year and saw respectable returns with a $27.8 million opening weekend.

Universal is taking full advantage of the fact that Valentine’s Day falls on a Saturday this year with a promo campaign suggesting both romance and steamy sex between Dakota Johnson (as Anastasia Steele) and Jamie Dornan (Christian Grey). Showtimes start at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 12, and the ArcLight Hollywood is already nearly sold out for that first show.

Online ticketing site Fandango, owned by studio parent NBCUniversal, reported Wednesday that “Fifty Shades” is the fastest-selling R-rated title in the site’s 15-year history. Fandango said the movie is selling significantly better than normal in many Southern and Midwest states, with Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama exceeding forecasts to the greatest extent.

The MovieTickets.com ticketing service announced this week that its January sales were up 37% compared with January 2014 due to advance ticket sales for “American Sniper” and “Fifty Shades of Grey.” It said Tuesday that 42% of all tickets sold in the previous 24 hours had been for “Fifty Shades.”

Most people are off work and school on Monday, Feb. 16, for Presidents Day, so kids will have the second weekend of “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” while Fox’s spy-actioner “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is ideal counterprogramming for “Fifty Shades.” Early tracking shows “Kingsman,” directed by Matthew Vaughn and starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and Mark Strong, opening at about $35 million.

“There’s a lot of positive buzz on ‘Kingsman,’ so it should be a pretty good weekend for the box office,” Dergarabedian noted. “With ‘American Sniper,’ we are up about 9% so far this year over last year. It looks like we’re heading for an $11 billion year.”

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