Fifty Shades of Grey is the film of our times; one that defines us, speaks to audiences in a way few films ever have and reinvents a genre while introducing a new franchise all at the same time. Holy smokes!
Now. All hyperbole out of the way, you would think that the press coverage and media attention lavished upon Sam Taylor-Johnson’s sexually charged erotic thriller meant we now have some new type of Star Wars or Avengers-style superhero movie launch on our hands. Nope. Just a softcore adult movie, riddled with a documentary film’s worth of behind-the-scenes drama and tension, two actors who reportedly cannot stand one another, and a director who has refused to return for the sequel.
Just another day in Hollywood.
Mr. Grey Saw A Lot Of Us. (Though We Saw Little of Him).
Fandango told us their pre-release ticket sales were the biggest they had ever seen in fifteen years of existence. Exhibitors dumped out of showings of other movies to open up screens for it. One theater in New York City had the film available on all nine screens. And yet, no one really believed Fifty Shades of Grey would be the massive juggernaut of a film it turned out to be over its first four days.
Last week, we earmarked five records that Fifty Shades of Grey could potentially break in its opening three-day weekend:
- The largest opening weekend for an R-rated film is $91.8 million for The Matrix: Reloaded.
- The largest Friday for an R-rated film is $31.3 million for The Matrix: Reloaded.
- The largest box office weekend during the winter is American Sniper‘s $89.3 million a month ago.
- The largest February opening ever is The Passion of the Christ, which began at $83.8 million.
- The largest romantic drama opening ever belongs to Pearl Harbor, which opened with $59.1 million.
Let’s add a couple more existing records, which were in place on Friday morning:
- The largest President’s Day 4-day weekend opening is Valentine’s Day, which opened at $63.1 million in 2010.
- The largest President’s Day 4-day weekend opening for an R-rated film is the 2009 remake of Friday the 13th, which started at $43.6 million.
So where do those records stand now that the 3-day and 4-day weekend numbers are in?
- With a smaller than anticipated Saturday, Fifty Shades missed the largest opening weekend ever for an R-rated movie, finishing in fourth place with its $85.2 million beginning. That places the film fourth behind The Matrix: Reloaded ($91.8 million), the expansion of American Sniper ($89.3 million) and The Hangover Part II ($85.9 million).
- The film came up just short of the R-rated Friday record, earning $30.28 million in its opening day, a fraction behind American Sniper‘s Friday expansion ($30.34 million) and the aforementioned Matrix: Reloaded.
- American Sniper has also held its winter box office record by a $4.1 million margin over Grey.
But on the other hand…
- A boost in Sunday box office surged Fifty Shades of Grey ahead of The Passion of the Christ after all and the film landed the largest February opening ever. Insert joke about both films featuring flogging here.
- Though it is tenuous to call Pearl Harbor a romantic drama in the strictest definition of the phrase, Fifty Shades of Grey owns distinction as having that genre’s largest opening to date.
- Valentine’s Day? No match for the more taboo and adult E.L. James’ adaptation, which banked $93.0 million over its first four days.
- And Fifty Shades more than doubled Friday the 13th‘s 2009 debut.
And let’s add this one:
- Largest opening ever for a film directed by a woman. And she won’t be back for the sequel.
All in all, Fifty Shades of unmitigated success. With a budget of $40 million, and worldwide box office hurtling towards $300 million before it plays a second weekend, we have officially reached the zeitgeist with this one; a film we will continue to talk about in equal parts excitement and derision for many more months to come.
Wow. Simply. Wow. And now the downside to all this success.
Stories are emerging about the fights, squabbles, and challenges in bringing this film to the big screen. The Hollywood Reporter shared a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the constant obstacles E.L. James put in front of director Sam Taylor-Johnson as she tried to take James’ rather juvenile prose and make it sing on screen. Apparently, the producer, now with a rival studio, is glad to not have to work with James anymore and lead actors Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan were almost always on the side of Taylor-Johnson’s decisions in the making of the film. The director added in a recent Indiewire piece that she feels like she never wants to make another movie again.
Contracted for one film, Taylor-Johnson is out for Fifty Shades Darker. Locked into the franchise however are Johnson and Dornan, a joy for all involved as evidence, surfacing from the press junkets, press tour, and appearances the two actors made together, all but show a dislike or disdain for one another. Meanwhile, after selling 100 million books of her trilogy, and having a staggering amount of creative control over casting, costumes, production design, and screenplay (uh…oh…), E.L. James is not only raking in an unconscionable amount of money from all this misery, she also has become the target for much of the venom shared in public as to the struggles in getting the film finished.
Twilight fan fiction folks. You are buying what began as elaborate Twilight fan fiction.
Just so we are clear.
Pay attention to the Kingsman!
Oh by the way, another movie opened this weekend to a strong, overachieving number that few truly expected. Kingsman: The Secret Service was thought to land in the high-$20 million, low-$30 million range with even the most optimistic expectations. Playing the stereotype card, men dropped their women off in one theater with their girlfriends and scooted down the hall to see the bloody, James Bond-inspired, comedic action film which has given director Matthew Vaughn his largest non-franchise opening ever.
With $36.2 million for the weekend and $41.8 million for President’s Day weekend, Kingsman was a huge success and the film looks to find a cruising altitude of around $100-110 million in domestic box office by the time it ends its run.
Oscar winner Colin Firth drew high praise for reinventing himself as a quick-witted, bulletproof umbrella-toting action star of what could very well be the start of a new franchise in its own right. Firth plays the ringleader of a nexus of secret agents who brings a street kid into the fold. The movie builds to an insane mix of comedy, action, and suspense, with escalating blood, guts, and violence, and a sex scene which drew lots of chatter on social media.
Under the helming of Vaughn, Kingsman is Tarantino-level Rated R material and the film also made some big, bold dents in the box office ledgers as well. Already profitable when tabulating domestic and overseas ticket sales so far, Kingsman landed the third-biggest R-rated President’s Day Weekend opening of all time.
Some have said the success of Kingsman far exceeds that of Fifty Shades of Grey. While I think that is a bit foolish, it is safe to say that no one thought the film, with a clumsy title, challenging rating, and somewhat confusing marketing as to what the thing was about in the first place, would draw money to the level this thing did.
The $300 Million Movie
While it will likely fall short of The Passion of the Christ as the biggest grossing R-rated film of all time, American Sniper just moved past the $300 million threshold in domestic ticket sales and we will see what happens after the Oscars this Sunday. Conventional wisdom indicates that Sniper is likely winning one, and possibly both, sound categories, but has an uphill battle in its remaining categories, including Jason Hall’s screenplay, the film’s editing, Bradley Cooper’s performance and the film winning Best Picture.
If (and when) it loses Best Picture, the narrative will likely be that “liberal Hollywood” has a bias towards films embraced by conservatives. My issues with the film notwithstanding, American Sniper was never intended to polarize us into left and right political camps and the politicizing of the film is gross. But, like Lone Survivor on steroids, Sniper will continue to stay in the conversation for weeks and weeks to come.
Perhaps, it will eventually overtake The Passion of the Christ but despite all the controversy and debate and rhetoric thrown around about the film, Warner Bros. still shocked the world with making this thing such a massive hit – the biggest grossing film of Clint Eastwood’s career, in front or behind the camera, and Bradley Cooper becoming the star of two of the only three films to exceed $300 million in domestic box office from 2014 (Guardians of the Galaxy being the other).
Kids and Families Have Options!
In its second weekend, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water crossed the $100 million mark, far surpassing the 2004 numbers for the first SpongeBob SquarePants movie. Paddington saw a loss of more than 600 theater locations last weekend and somehow still managed to gain 10% in audience and raise its domestic haul to $64.0 million. Overall, Paddington has impressively banked $219 million worldwide.
Beyond The Top 10
The anti-Fifty Shades of Grey film we mentioned last weekend, faith-based romance Old-Fashioned saw a solid per screen average as it expanded from 3 theaters to 224 locations. Billed as a movie that proves “Chivalry Makes A Comeback”, the film finished in 16th place with just under $1 million in ticket sales. Freestyle Releasing will continue to add theaters and seem to be on pace to make this a nice faith-based alternative for audiences in the next few weeks.
Audiences were less interested in Still Alice, which expanded to more than 500 locations and saw business improve 93% from the week before. The per screen averages however were middling at best and Sony Pictures Classics is looking to push this hard after Julianne Moore’s anticipated Best Actress Oscar arrives on Sunday. The $5 million production has banked $4.6 million in five weeks of release.
Strong turnout continued for Shorts International’s screenings of the Oscar nominated short films and this year’s slate will prove to be the franchise’s most successful theatrical moneymaker to date. The 2015 compendium has grossed $1.8 million and must eclipse $2.2 million to achieve the distinction of being tops in the series. The studio just dropped a fantastic series of behind-the-scenes featurettes on nearly all of the 15 nominated short films through their YouTube channel. All of which, I highly recommend.
Also a quick note on the film What We Do in the Shadows, a vampire-spoof from the original minds behind “Flight of the Conchords”, starring Jemaine Clement from the HBO series. While it made $66k on two locations, upstart studios and collaborators Unisen and Paladin are looking to roll the film out in the coming weeks and it scored a very strong $32,900 per screen average, the biggest per screen average of any film playing anywhere all weekend long.
Next Weekend: A DUFF from McFarland in a Hot Tub.
If it finds an audience, Lionsgate may have something with The DUFF, a teen romantic comedy which tosses in equal parts My Fair Lady, Mean Girls and a few other familiar teenage movies for a surprisingly engaging little film. Mae Whitman steps out as a lead in the adaptation of Kody Keplinger’s novel, playing a high schooler who learns she is a DUFF in and among her peer group – the Designated Ugly Fat Friend. While this may initially seem to be a bad, bad idea for a movie, Whitman carries this thing far across the finish line and the film actually takes some hilarious zigs and zags when you least expect it. Teen audiences will likely embrace this, if they give it a chance.
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Five years or so ago, Hot Tub Time Machine rode its goofy premise and bawdy content to a modest domestic hit, which only grew into a cult favorite once it arrived on home video. Moving from MGM to Paramount, and retaining director Steve Pink and the main cast members, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 lands in theaters, hoping to be that goofy, nonsensical hit movie all over again.
We will see if this pops much interest a second time around. Word of mouth about Kingsman will likely hurt ticket sales, since the two films essentially draw from the target demographic of 18-30 year-old males. Paramount will not be carpet-bombing theaters with the film, though it will be well saturated and easy to find around the country.
Kevin Costner seems to now make movies which get released only in the first few months of the year and next up for him is McFarland, USA, a true story from Disney about a cross-county coach who brings athletics and running to an impoverished community. Directed by Whale Rider‘s Niki Caro, the buzz on this is that of all the Costner-led projects in the last couple of years, he really sells this thing quite well and the film is actually quite good. Likely drawing a more mature adult audience, there seems to be truly something for everyone this week.
Questions To Consider…
Fifty Shades of Grey will lose a ton of audience next weekend, but all signs point to it retaining the top spot. Can Kingsman hold off three new challengers and deliver a strong second weekend? Will teenagers seek out The DUFF? Will any Oscar hopefuls break the bank in anticipation of the biggest movie night of the year?
The Top 10 Grossing Films for the Week Ending February 16, 2015
Numbers reflect the 4-day President’s Day Weekend Totals.
1. Fifty Shades Of Grey (Universal)
$93.0 million, $93.0 million total, NEW (3,646 screens).
2. Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox)
$41.8 million, $41.8 million total, NEW (3,204 screens).
3. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water (Paramount)
$40.0 million, $103.1 million total, 2 weeks, -28% (3,654 screens).
4. American Sniper (Warner Bros.)
$18.8 million, $306.5 million total, 8 weeks, -19% (3,436 screens).
5. Jupiter Ascending (Warner Bros.)
$10.8 million, $33.9 million total, 2 weeks, -42% (3,181 screens).
6. Paddington (Weinstein Company/Dimension)
$5.8 million, $64.0 million total, 5 weeks, +11% (2,244 screens).
7. Seventh Son (Universal)
$4.8 million, $14.1 million total, 2 weeks, -33% (2,874 screens).
8. The Imitation Game (Weinstein Company)
$4.2 million, $80.3 million total, 12 weeks, -11% (1,551 screens).
9. The Wedding Ringer (Screen Gems)
$3.7 million, $60.1 million total, 5 weeks, -21% (1,456 screens).
10. Project Almanac (Paramount)
$3.3 million, $20.1 million total, 3 weeks, -37% (1,732 screens).
Domestic and international figures are actualized on Monday afternoons (excluding 4-day weekends) and courtesy of BoxOfficeMojo.com and other news outlets.