“Fifty Shades of Grey” is about to bring sadomasochism into the mainstream when it cracks the whip on what is shaping up to be the biggest Valentine’s Day weekend release in history.
The adaptation of E.L. James’ kinky story about a college student and the brooding billionaire who introduces her to to pleasures of the cuff and the gag will heat up 3,645 North American theaters. It will dominate the competition to the tune of at least $50 million. At least that’s what Universal and Focus Features, the companies behind the erotic romance, are saying. Other analysts and rivals peg the debut in the $70 million-$80 million range.
If that figure holds, it will easily trump “Valentine’s Day,” the ensemble romantic comedy that made $63 million when it debuted in 2010, as the top-grossing Valentine’s weekend release and set a new benchmark for Presidents Day weekend debuts.
It’s hard to get an accurate read on how massive the film could be. Universal is quick to point out that there aren’t many parallels for a sexually charged film like “Fifty Shades.” For the most part, eroticism has been absent on the bigscreen since its heyday with the likes of “Basic Instinct,” “Fatal Attraction” and “Disclosure.” But “Fifty Shades” is less like one of those films, which skewed toward men and essentially updated the femme fatale genre of the 1940s, while showing a whole lot more leg.
“Fifty Shades” is more akin to “Magic Mike” or “Sex and the City,” which became “girls night” out events. Pre-sales for the film have sizzled, with “Fifty Shades” shattering records as the top Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day weekend release of all time, according to Fandango. It’s also on pace to be the online ticketer’s fourth biggest selling film in history, behind “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.”
MovieTickets.com reports that “Fifty Shades” is its top seller, accounting for 75% of all tickets sold by the company in the last 24 hours.
“They’re selling a ton of tickets in the Midwest,” said Phil Contrino, VP and chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “This isn’t a big city thing. This is doing well in the middle of the country and places you wouldn’t expect.”
The question is whether “Fifty Shades” will be able to take full advantage of the romantic holiday by becoming a date night event as well. If the picture can draw men, however begrudgingly, along with their wives and girlfriends, it could shatter several records. Internationally, the film is in nearly all territories in which it has passed muster with censors, so a global debut of more than $100 million seems conservative.
The production budget on the film is $39 million, so even if the headier projections prove unattainable, Universal will still see a nice return on its investment, all but guaranteeing a sequel.
“Fifty Shades of Grey” isn’t the weekend’s only new release skewed at adults. “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” a tongue-in-cheek, R-rated action adventure, should scoop up those men strong enough to resist a trip to the red room with their significant others. The film about an elite spy organization, directed by “X-Men: First Class” helmer Matthew Vaughn and starring Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson, should bring in more than $30 million when it debuts across 3,204 locations. “Kingsman” cost approximately $80 million to produce and has already opened in several foreign markets such as the U.K. and Australia, where it’s racked up $17.7 million.
The gender breakdown between the weekend’s two new films will help drive strong ticket sales, analysts say.
“This could be one of the biggest Presidents Day weekends in history,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak. “There’s great counterprogramming, and ‘Fifty Shades’ should be a nice Valentine’s Day gift to the industry.”
As for holdovers, last weekend’s champ, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” should mop up the family audience, pulling in roughly $40 million over the four-day holiday. The top five will be rounded out by “American Sniper,” which should pull in more than $20 million to cross the $300 million mark domestically, and “Jupiter Ascending,” the science-fiction bomb from the Wachowskis, which will make closer to $13 million.