Weekend Box Office: FIFTY SHADES OF GREY Falls Short of Record with $81.7 Million

     February 15, 2015


The promise of a record-shattering debut for Fifty Shades of Grey has fallen a bit short. Instead of a $90 million weekend and $100 million four-day opening, the adaptation of E.L. James’ hotly-debated first novel has earned an estimated $81.7 million between Friday and Sunday. That’s still giant. In fact, it tops the 2008 launch of the first Twilight film. It just doesn’t clinch the all-time February record or the overall record for an R-rated debut. Fifty Shades will easily set a new benchmark for the President’s Day holiday, however, but that just doesn’t sound as impressive – or as hot – as many fans would have liked.

fifty-shades-of-grey-poster-dakota-johnsonIn the end, Fifty Shades of Grey wound up with the second-highest February debut of all-time, falling just short of the $83.8 million of The Passion of the Christ. It’s clear now that Mel Gibson’s 2003 epic is determined to hold that February record forever. Grey also locked down the fifth-highest R-rated debut in box office history, behind The Matrix Reloaded, American Sniper, The Hangover Part II and, again, The Passion. As for the the record Fifty Shades did break? The former President’s Day title belonged to Valentine’s Day, which earned $63.1 million over the four-day holiday frame in 2010.

How did Grey go from what looked like $90 million-plus yesterday to $81.7 million today? Universal is quick to point out that it never expected the film to reach $80 million. The ever-escalating projections (my own included) were the product of the film’s record-breaking online pre-sales and the reaction of James’ devoted fanbase to early screenings of the film. The calendar was also supposed to play a role. The nominally ‘romantic’ film was expected to draw couples in big numbers on Saturday, aka Valentine’s Day.

A majority of fan-driven content like Fifty Shades winds up being front-loaded at the box office, which means that big Friday grosses are followed by declining sales on Saturday and Sunday. Twilight is a good example of this phenomenon: in its first frame in 2008, the film’s box office dropped 40% from Friday to Saturday. The reason Fifty Shades looked like it could be an exception to the rule comes down to Valentine’s Day. The holiday only falls on a weekend a couple times each decade, so studios with date-night content on their schedules can clean up when the calendar aligns. In fact, the combination of a four-day holiday weekend and a Valentine’s Day Sunday helped push Valentine’s Day to its record opening in 2010.

But a holiday can only get you so far. Audiences gave Fifty Shades of Grey a fairly dismal C+ CinemaScore (male audiences gave it a C). Add to that the poor critical response to Grey (26% on Rotten Tomatoes) and the whole ‘Valentine’s Day bump’ was pretty-well neutralized. The movie fell 21% from Friday to Saturday. That’s not the dramatic drop that Twilight experienced, but it’s not the 27% uptick that Valentine’s Day realized on February 14th either.

All of this does nothing to diminish Fifty Shades of Grey‘s box office accomplishment. Far from it. Most films only dream of a $81 million opening – in any month. Grey also has its budget to take into consideration. The film cost just $40 million before marketing and has already brought in almost $240 million worldwide. Plus, after only three days, Fifty Shades of Grey is already the third-highest grossing domestic film of 2015. American Sniper opened at the end of 2014, which leaves only The SpongeBob Movie and Taken 3 with a higher overall totals.

kingsman-the-secret-service-colin-firth-mark-hamillThough the preceding six paragraphs seem to indicate differently, Fifty Shades of Grey was not the only new film in theatres this weekend. Nor was it the only R-rated title to exceed box office expectations. Kingsman: The Secret Service opened with an estimated $35.6 million from 3,204 locations. Not only does that beat the $25 million that was originally projected for the film’s debut, it also crushes the $19.8 million of 2008’s Kick-Ass. Like, Kingsman, Kick-Ass was directed by Matthew Vaughn and adapted from a comic book co-created by Mark Millar. Kingsman has garnered positive word of mouth (71% on Rotten Tomatoes; B+ CinemaScore) so it has a good shot at outliving its role as this weekend’s ‘mommy-porn’ counter-programmer.

The overall domestic box office total reached over $207 million this weekend, up 16% from the same frame in 2014. Next weekend promises to be a lot less dramatic, at least from a financial perspective. Three new films will hit theatres in wide release: Hot Tub Time Machine 2, McFarland, USA and CBS Films’ The DUFF. Unfortunately, all three titles combined will not come close to taking down Fifty Shades, which – barring a miracle – will remain North America’s number one film for a second weekend.

 Title Weekend Total
1.  Fifty Shades of Grey $81,700,000 $81.7
2.  Kingsman: The Secret Service $35,600,000 $35.6
3.  The SpongeBob Movie $30,540,000 $93.6
4.  American Sniper $16,435,000 $304.1
5.  Jupiter Ascending $9,430,000 $32.5
6.  Seventh Son $4,153,000 $13.4
7.  Paddington $4,105,000 $62.3
7.  The Imitation Game $3,545,000 $79.6
9.  The Wedding Ringer $3,400,000 $59.7
10.  Project Almanac $2,730,000 $19.5


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