Weekend Box Office Winners & Losers: The Inevitable ‘Fifty Shades’ of Green Headline

Universal Pictures

To paraphrase E.L. James’s officially licensed pleasure gel, this Valentine’s Day we all surrendered to Fifty Shades of Grey, and the box office exploded in a wallet-draining, cash-grabbing money-gasm that left us all shaken, exhausted, and, OK, maybe a little unsatisfied. (I’m sorry, but when else will I ever get to open a box office column with prose that bruise-purple?) Fair warning: This might mark the first box office report ever labeled NSFW — except, honestly, who hasn’t Googled “Fifty Shades official sex toys” on the company laptop?

And, hey, if the bespoke Hermes pleasure-saddle fits, wear it: Thanks to Fifty Shades, the domestic box office was up 17 percent over the same weekend last year. In fact, the total domestic box office has surged 11.4 percent over 2014 to almost $1.5 billion — $1.45 billion, more specifically, but what’s $50 million give or take to Christian Grey?1 So get comfy in those James-sanctioned handcuffs while I choose from among my tastefully appointed collection of box office factoid ticklers and let’s get started, shall we?

Winner: BDSM for the Starbucks Set

Giggle nervously at the tepid reviews all you want or complain that Sam Taylor-Johnson’s adaptation of America’s favorite naughty novels was about as hard-core as a vintage Playboy, but Universal doesn’t care. The executives are too busy flogging themselves with cat-o’-nine-tails made from our flayed $100 bills. Hey, it takes an undeniable mastery of blandifying cultural homogenization to make a bondage movie even your grandmother back in Ohio can enjoy. And boy did she ever: Fifty Shades of Grey easily won the weekend with $81.7 million at the North American box office through Sunday, and an estimated $91 million by the end of the Presidents’ Day holiday. Those aren’t quite American Sniper numbers, but they’re pretty damn close: According to Forbes, Fifty Shades of Grey marks the fifth-biggest R-rated opening, just below The Passion of the Christ, and the best Presidents’ Day opening of all time. However, it does put Sniper to shame once you look at the 50 shades of green it’s earning worldwide: Fifty Shades has cleared $158 million in 9,637 locations in 58 territories. That’s the biggest opening weekend internationally for an R-rated film, easily breaking The Matrix Revolutions’ $117 million.

There’s one more truly telling record that Fifty Shades set: biggest opening weekend for a film directed by a woman. The happy ending to this fetish fairy tale might just be the wake-up call it gives Hollywood. $248.7 million worldwide over the four-day weekend is a fanboy number on a distinctly un-fanboy $40 million budget. Fifty Shades of Grey could drop harder than the price of oil next weekend and the trickiest studio accountants still couldn’t hide its profits. But this wasn’t the next entry in the unending Marvel canon; it was a film written and directed by women and aimed squarely at women (over 25, no less!). If Fifty Shades shares anything with American Sniper, it’s an underserved audience — i.e., half the world’s population. See, turns out last year’s rumors of moviegoing’s death were greatly exaggerated after all: Hollywood just needed to make movies for audiences other than Comic-Con.

Winner: Colin Firth Politely Cracking Skulls

Of course, the fanboys still go to movies, and don’t forget the abandoned-boyfriend contingent stranded at the multiplex when their significant others’ Fifty Shades parties turned out to be far less exciting than they thought. To those poor lost souls, Fox offered cinematic sanctuary with Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, which took second place with a respectable $35.6 million domestic for the weekend (and a projected $41 million for the four-day holiday). Even on an $81 million budget, Kingsman should eventually pull in enough forsaken dudes to turn a profit — it’s no international bondage best seller, but the reviews are a little better. After all, who can’t enjoy Colin Firth giving a beatdown in a bar brawl armed only with his umbrella and a stiff upper lip? Incidentally, that $35 million marks Firth’s biggest debut ever — and Samuel L. Jackson’s 17th opening over $30 million, as the ever-helpful Forbes points out.

Loser: Jupiter Still Descending

To put the official nail in Jupiter Ascending’s coffin, the Wachowskis’ batshit extravaganza fell a hefty 49 percent from the already low pedestal of its opening weekend with $9.4 million. That brings the domestic total for the $200 million behemoth to $32.5 million. Add in all of those marketing costs and Warner Bros. gets the ignominious award for biggest write-down of 2015 so far.

Obligatory Winner: American Sniper

Fortunately, Warner Bros. can cry itself to sleep on a mattress stuffed with American Sniper money. Yep, Sniper’s still going: $304 million domestic and $389 million worldwide.

Winner: The Art House

Even the art house caught some of Fifty Shades’s spillover (albeit in numbers that Fifty Shades probably pulled in a suburban Arizona multiplex). Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows posted the best opening average of 2015 with $65,800 in two theaters, apparently on just a single screen each. Meanwhile, Richard LaGravenese’s adaptation of The Last Five Years pulled $45,100 in three theaters, which isn’t bad considering 99.99 percent of the original musical’s audience was probably lined up for Fifty Shades clutching their official Grey Enterprise Holdings teddy bears. Even the Christian romance Old Fashioned made $1,095,000 in its second weekend expansion. However, a licensed Old Fashioned chastity belt probably wouldn’t do the same business as the official Yours and Mine Vibrating Silicone Love Ring. Vive la différence!

The National Bondage Day Weekend Top Five

  1. Fifty Shades of Grey, Universal, $81.7 million
  2. Kingsman: The Secret Service, Fox, $35.6 million
  3. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, Paramount, $30.54 million ($93.7 million domestic total)
  4. American Sniper, Warner Bros., $16.4 million ($304 million domestic total)
  5. Jupiter Ascending, Warner Bros., $9.4 million ($32.5 million domestic total)

Filed Under: Box office, Movies, Fifty Shades of Grey, american sniper, universal

John Lopez is a Grantland contributor and a writer/filmmaker living in Los Angeles.

Archive @ jedgarlopez

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