Fifty Shades Of Grey just had its first press screening here in Berlin, where the film also is debuting as a Berlinale Special Gala presentation. The reaction from the press, which gathered a full 90 minutes before go-time to jostle for seats, was largely on point with reviews that have sprung up throughout the day.
There were titters at some lines and scenes of the erotic coupling of troubled billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and graduating college student Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). But many praised the film for improving on the books by EL James. The biggest complaint from both men and women was that the sex play has been toned down from the novel series that has sold more than 100M copies worldwide. Admittedly, I am one of the roughly 32 women in the world who has never read the books, and even though some of the hyped BDSM scenes were repetitive and vanilla’d, that’s not going to stop opening grosses on a movie with such a wanna-see factor — especially amongst the millions of women abroad who have read the books.
Beginning today and through Valentine’s weekend, Unviersal and Focus’ Fifty Shades rolls out in 57 markets along with the U.S. and Canada. Advance sales have been through the roof, with more than 4.5M tickets sold in places like the UK, France and here in Germany. A loose estimate of box office on those prebought tickets already places the film, whose budget is estimated at about $40M, at around $36M. The first paid showings were today in France, Belgium and Switzerland. In France, the 2 PM showings in Paris sold 4,501 tickets across 26 screens, making it the biggest first screening of 2015 there — above such films as Taken 3 and last week’s No. 1 film, Papa Ou Maman?
Domestically, the movie is looking at a $60M start, as my colleague Anthony D’Alessandro reports. Internationally, it could be even higher, with sources predicting as high as $80M. The film has been banned in Malaysia and Indonesia and is unlikely to eventually have China figure in the mix, while some think Latin America might be soft, though not flaccid. So, Europe is expected to be the dominant factor. The UK ratings board gave it an 18, which is equivalent to an NC-17, meaning it will sacrifice some of its audience there, but the biggest plays are expected to be Germany and France. It might be that the curiosity factor drives international opening grosses and that the theatrical tail will be cropped, but I’ve heard overseas ultimately could hit in the region of $280M. The film is also nicely teed up for a sequel as it ends abruptly and, for those hooked by the story, leaves the door wide open to wanting more.
In any case, the press corp was on high alert to be assured a seat at the Cine Star IMAX theater this evening, with folks told to start lining up at least an hour or more before the start time. A scrum of international reporters then jostled for pole position (and some cheekily saved spaces for late-comers) at the 250-seat theater. Ultimately, many were turned away. Inside the theater, as folks took their places, there was no SRO. A Cine Star employee warned: “Please take your seats. Don’t stand because you might fall and then we would have to call an ambulance and stop the movie.” Another said over a microphone, “I hope no one is reserving seats for people I’m not going to let in.”
Dornan and Johnson are here along with director Sam Taylor-Johnson, producer Dana Brunetti and author James. But they are not doing press as a global junket was organized in New York last week. Individual-territory pressers might have been overload. As one person says: “Everything has gone right for this movie. It turned out well, there’s been nothing disastrous, and it’s gained steam rather than losing steam.” Steamy enough for some, or not.