Three years since its film rights were shopped around for a reported $5M, Universal Focus Features’ R-rated Fifty Shades Of Grey is finally opening in theaters in what many distrib sources expect will be a $60M opening at 3,645 theaters over four days. Universal is looking at $50M, and is also unrolling the film day-and-date abroad where it could raise its global weekend opening to $100M.
However, Fifty Shades won’t own the entire adult crowd on its own. While the film based on E.L. James best-selling novel and ebook is a surefire draw for women, and for couples on Valentines’ Day, 20th Century Fox is appealing to those men avoiding the fangirl film with Matthew Vaughn’s action comic book adaptation Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is eyeing a weekend in the $20M range over three days with a possible four-day of $30M.
If moms aren’t completely distracted, than Paramount’s The SpongeBob Movie should post a decent drop of 40-45% from its $55.37M opening weekend, giving it $30M-$33M over FSS. Rentrak Theatrical is reporting that kids K-12 will be off this Monday at a share of 87% while 35% of all college students will be on break for the Presidents Day holiday. Kingsman, despite its R-rating, is also showing interest from the 18-25 crowd. While 2008’s Sex And The City is one of the comps to Fifty Shades in terms of its all-femme draw ($57M opening, $152.6M domestic B.O.), some distrib sources think that for the under 25 crowd, it will be a date film, and for the over 25, it will be a ‘girls night out film’. That breakdown could boil down to Friday, when most women will head out, and Valentine’s Day which is looked at as the quintessential date night; in fact it’s the reason why Universal moved the film from its original August 1, 2014 release date.
Among R-rated erotic drama, Fifty Shades Of Grey stands to be an anomaly. In the past, Hollywood rarely built these types of films for blockbuster success, and when they did, they were typically destined for arthouse success. Naughty fare like 9 1/2 Weeks, which many critics are referring to in their assessment of Fifty Shades, only made $6.7M but was considered a cult fave with its ice cube scene (which Fifty Shades pays homage to). Other low-grossing arthouse erotica abounds, read Henry & June ($11.6M), The Unbearable Lightness Of Being ($10M), however, two star-studded, glossy hard R sex dramas which received big major studio launches were Paramount’s 1993 Demi Moore-Robert Redford title Indecent Proposal which made $106.6M, and 1999’s Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman film Eye Wides Shut which earned $55.7M. But Fifty Shades is an anomaly in that it is based off of a bestselling fan-fueled literary franchise which has sold more than 100 million copies in 52 languages worldwide.
Fandango has reported record advance ticket sales across the heartland and the south; which is just jawdropping considering that the latter part of the country has typically ostracized NC-17 fare (Small theaters haven’t booked it, and newspapers avoided advertising such titles). Granted, Fifty Shades is R-rated, but it’s a hard one. MovieTickets.com is reporting that 42.3% of their Valentine’s Day sales are coming from Fifty Shades, with the title accounting for 28.3% on Friday, and 14.5% on Thursday previews. In the last 24 hours, 75% of all tickets sold by MovieTickets.com have been for Fifty Shades.
However, when Universal launched the first Fifty Shades billboards in five cities a year ago with the tag line “Mr. Grey Will See You Now” one studio marketing consultant observes “The campaign was promoted tastefully and with class and spoke to the quality of the story. It didn’t stray into other areas where a R-rating would connote.”
While E.L. James has engaged her 700K fans via Twitter throughout the production of the film, what has been key for Universal over the last year was broadening the audience for Fifty Shades beyond its fans. This was executed by using such pop icons as Beyonce, whose song “Crazy in Love” was used to tease out the first trailer back in July. RelishMix, which monitors the major studios’ social media, reports that the early teaser churned out 25M views with another 36M for Ellie Goulding’s Vevo video with a million views a day. Overall, RelishMix says that fans are reposting trailers, music videos and review spots with total views soaring on YouTube at 314M. Fifty Shades counts almost 8 million Facebook fans – 7x the following of the book.
Even before the marketing kicked in for Fifty Shades, the behind the scenes for this film has been a promotion in and of itself with fans following it closely. Deadline announced the bidding for the title in March 2012. Soon after casting TV comedy series actress Dakota Johnson in September 2013, Universal announced that Sons Of Anarchy star Charlie Hunnam had the lead role of Christian Grey. However 40 days later, Hunnam exited the part. Jamie Dornan, known for his work as The Huntsman on ABC’s Once Upon a Time, landed the lead by late October 2013.