Fifty Shades Freed, the last title in the E.L. James BDSM romance trilogy revolving around business magnate Christian Grey and young Anastasia Steele, will have something to scream about at the box office this weekend. The threequel’s estimated global opening of $113 million-$130 million will propel the franchise past the $1 billion mark, no small feat for a trio of films that have a combined production cost of about $150M — and were never released in China.
It’s also remarkable considering the history that bawdy adult fare has had at the box office. Yeah, yeah, there was Basic Instinct back in 1992, which racked up more than $352M globally at the time, but that movie was generally a thriller, and not steeped in so much sex. Movies like Shame ($3.9M) and Showgirls ($20.3M) have always been challenged at the B.O. Universal had the first NC-17 release ever back in 1990 with Philip Kaufman’s Henry & June ($11.6M domestic), and the rating always came with a stigma: Certain chains refuse to play such fare, while some newspapers in the South won’t run ads.
Of course, peg a great deal of Fifty Shades‘ success to its massive 125M-plus in global book sales, not to mention that Universal launched the movie trilogy as an accessible, classy date film drumming up a great deal of curiosity among non-fans with a riveting outdoor campaign, and folks like Beyonce dropping the trailer with a song from the film. Fifty Shades of Grey ended its global run at $571M ($166.1M was domestic) off a $40M production cost. Fifty Shades Darker last February opened to $46.6M, legging out to $114.6M domestic and $381M worldwide off a $55M production cost.
Per industry estimates, Fifty Shades Freed is set to tie up between $80M-$90M overseas this weekend in 56 markets including France, Germany, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and Japan (but not yet Middle East and Korea), with a total franchise overseas haul of $700M. Stateside, Universal sees the pic opening around $33M, but there are those who believe it’s apt to do much higher, between $36M-$40M. Friday’s Winter Olympics opening ceremonies could slow business, though the Summer Games traditionally has made more of a dent on moviegoing.
In a Rotten Tomatoes era which has a Svengali effect on the box office, Fifty Shades movies are critic-proof, and film reviewers aren’t any more forgiving slamming this James Foley-directed title with a 13% Rotten score, the second lowest of the three (Fifty Shades of Grey earned a 25% Rotten and Fifty Shades Darker logged a 10% Rotten score).
Fifty Shades Freed kicks off at 7 PM on Thursday and will play around 3,700 theaters, including Imax (or Cl-Imax, as some are calling it). The large-format exhibitor played the first 2015 movie on a portion of Imax screens, juicing the pic’s ticket sales to a then-Presidents Day/Valentines Day/February weekend record of $93M before Deadpool upset that with $152M. Fifty Shades Darker also played in Imax.
Fifty Shades Freed opens today in France; the last two films were shot simultaneously, with the South of France factoring heavily in the second. The trailer includes a tantalizing scene for Jamie Dornan fangirls that was filmed at Paloma Beach in St Jean Cap Ferrat, an idyllic summer destination. Reflecting the role France plays in the movie, a lavish international premiere was held on Tuesday in Paris.
Fifty Shades Freed could face competition in France from Maze Runner: The Death Cure and from Clint Eastwood’s The 15:17 to Paris, which both open today. The latter pic is expected to deliver to Warner Bros/Village Roadshow about $10M-$15M stateside at 3,042 locations. No previews on that drama about three Americans who foil the 2015 Thalys train attack. The pic is based on the novel by Jeffrey Stern, Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone, and the latter trio star as themselves in the film.
France was the No. 1 market on the first Maze Runner and its sequel The Scorch Trials, after China. Eastwood is revered in these parts — France was narrowly the No. 2 offshore market for American Sniper — and the subject matter of 15:17 hits close to home. In the first 2 PM screenings today in Paris (not always indicative of how movies play in the provinces), there are fewer than 20 admissions separating the three films.
At historical rates, Fifty Shades of Grey finaled at $404.8M overseas. The film was a phenomenon that met pent-up demand and inspired massive pre-booking in the UK, France and Germany (plus some hand-wringing at UK hardware stores on alert for queries about rope and tape). It screened in a big showcase premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in 2015 and ultimately counted Germany as the No. 2 market.
Overseas, Fifty Shades Darker bowed to $98.5M at today’s rates without previews, and to $105.6M with previews. Fifty Shades Darker did not have the newness factor going for it, but bowed with 51 No. 1s out of 57 markets last year and was the fourth-biggest start for an R-rated film at the time. It ended its run with $266.5M offshore. Germany was the top play.
Traditionally, the top markets for the Fifty Shades series have been a mix of the UK, Germany, France, Italy and Brazil, and there’s little reason to think that will change this time around. One thing the franchise doesn’t have going for it is the momentum in some emerging Asian markets like Malaysia and Indonesia, which have been throwing off significant numbers of late but where these films don’t play because of the content.
Along with the Paris premiere with Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Rita Ora, Eric Johnson, director Foley and producers James and Marcus Viscidi in attendance, the stars have been out making the rounds. Ora and Liam Payne co-hosted BBC Radio 1’s program with Nick Grimshaw in the UK and Dornan made a memorable appearance on Graham Norton’s couch last month.
Also this weekend, Sony Animation is making a go at families with its updated version of the Beatrix Potter children’s classic Peter Rabbit. Sony thinks it will open to $16M at 3,700 theaters given the recent damper on kids pics like Paddington 2 ($11M opening). However, that’s hardly a comp: Sony has a lot of heart and soul invested in this, and the trailers emphasize the wild fun of it all. Analysts have the pic opening much higher, between $20.5M and maybe even as high as $25M. Peter Rabbit was made with a sizable Australian tax credit at a net of $50M.
Sony’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle looks to ease 35% for around $7M as its total cume climbs to $361M-plus. It’s already Dwayne Johnson’s biggest domestic grosser of all time, smoking Furious 7 ($353M), and it’s still Sony’s third-best title stateside behind Spider-Man ($403M) and Spider-Man 2 ($373.6M).
No Thursday night U.S.-Canada shows on Peter Rabbit or 15:17 to Paris.