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Forecast: 'Fifty Shades' to Dominate Valentine's Day Box Office

by Ray Subers
Fifty Shades of Grey
 

 
February 12, 2015

Friday AM Update: Fifty Shades of Grey opened to an estimated $8.6 million from Thursday night shows at 2,830 locations. That's the biggest Thursday night ever for Universal ahead of Fast & Furious 6 ($6.5 million), and ranks second all-time for R-rated movies behind The Hangover Part II ($10.4 million).

It's also in the same class as 2014 blockbusters like Transformers: Age of Extinction ($8.75 million), The Amazing Spider-Man 2 ($8.7 million) and X-Men: Days of Future Past ($8.1 million). If it plays like those movies, it will wind up with around $100 million over its first four days. Of course, it could play like a Twilight movie and wind up around $50 million. It also remains to be seen what kind of impact a Saturday Valentine's Day has on the movie's weekend.

Meanwhile, Kingsman: The Secret Service opened to $1.4 million at 2,569 locations. That's roughly on par with Taken 3's $1.5 million Thursday night haul last month. It now feels like a safe bet that Kingsman reaches $30 million by the end of the long weekend.

Forecast: The long-awaited big-screen adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey is poised to set a handful of box office records when it hits theaters this weekend.

The hotly-anticipated movie is virtually guaranteed to set a new high mark for President's Day weekend, and it could even top The Matrix Reloaded's record for biggest R-rated opening ever.

Meanwhile, Kingsman: The Secret Service could reach $30 million over its first four days, which would be a good result for this R-rated comic book adaptation.

As the movie's recent Super Bowl spot seemed eager to point out, Fifty Shades of Grey has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. That's a stunning number, and makes it a book phenomenon on par with the likes of Twilight, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter. The Super Bowl commercial also noted that the trailer for the big-screen adaptation has received over 250 million views, which is another truly remarkable figure.

Taken at face value, those numbers should pretty safely translate in to a pretty massive debut—$100 million or more, perhaps. In this case, though, it's not quite that simple. First, the book fits squarely in to the "erotic fiction" genre, and has a heavy emphasis on sadomasochistic behavior. There's some question as to whether those who read the book in private will feel comfortable joining hundreds of other people to watch some of the more risque material depicted on-screen.

To address this, Universal's marketing campaign has promoted the movie first-and-foremost as a romance, while only hinting at the less savory material. This seems to have helped win over some book readers who may have been on the fence: Fandango reported last week that the movie is selling much better than expected in conservative states like Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Alabama.

The movie's other potential issue is whether or not it can reach true blockbuster levels without a substantial turnout from men. The comparison that's often cited here is the first Sex and the City movie, which only made it to $57 million on opening weekend despite being a genuine phenomenon among women.

Approaching opening weekend, this honestly doesn't seem like it's going to be a huge problem, either. According to MovieTickets.com, Fifty Shades of Grey is selling better on Valentine's Day than it is on opening day, which suggests that this has become a strong date night choice. The current Valentine's Day record belongs to the aptly-titled Valentine's Day, which earned $23.4 million on that date in 2010; look for Fifty Shades of Grey to pretty easily top that number.

Even if men haven't really bought in, the movie should still be able to succeed without them: the audience for the Twilight series was around 80 percent women, and that didn't really seem to slow those movies down much.

Speaking more generally, Universal's campaign has done an excellent job building awareness, and seems to be converting said awareness in to ticket sales. In particular, the choice to conceal the infamous "Red Room of Pain" has been a smart one, and mirrors the strategy employed by Lionsgate with the first two Hunger Games movies; simply put, if you want to see what's behind the curtain, you need to buy a ticket.

On Fandango, Fifty Shades of Grey pre-sales rank fourth all-time behind The Twilight Saga: New Moon, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and The Hunger Games. All three of those titles opened north of $142 million, while the fifth title (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1) opened to $138.1 million. This seems to suggest that a $100 million debut is a real possibility (Universal is more modestly predicting a $60-million-plus start).

Even if it doesn't quite reach $100 million, it could still set a handful of records, including biggest President's Day weekend ($63.1 million), biggest February debut ($83.8 million), and biggest R-rated opening ($91.8 million).

The Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon extends well beyond these shores. The movie opens in 57 markets this weekend, including France, Australia, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Russia, Spain and the U.K. Gone Girl recently earned $200 million overseas, which seems like a safe bet for Fifty Shades of Grey as well.

Continued with a look at 'Kingsman: The Secret Service,' along with official weekend predictions >>

Discuss this story with fellow Box Office Mojo fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @boxofficemojo, and follow author Ray Subers at @raysubers.

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