We’ve known for over a year that the film adaptation of E.L. James’s erotic bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey would be one of the big movie events of 2015. While the steamy S&M novel trilogy has sold millions of copies and is one of the best-selling book series of all time, capturing all that sex in a Hollywood film was always going to be a tricky task. Based on advanced ticket sales, it seems the fanbase of the novels has faith in the movie’s interpretation, as screenings are already selling out around the country.
Director Sam Taylor-Johnson needed to get the essence of what made fans love the book on screen while escaping an NC-17 rating and making a film that wouldn’t be too kinky for large amounts of people to watch together in crowded movie theaters, a much different experience than the insular one of reading book alone. Universal dated the pic for Valentine’s Day weekend to draw in the crowd of couples on dates and groups of women from the book’s mostly female fanbase. Big money has been put into making and promoting this movie and perfecting the delicate balance of how much sex is shown in what way will determine if it’s too racy for moviegoers or not sexy enough for fans of the books.
It seems that a lot of people have already been curious enough about the film to buy tickets in advance. In fact movie ticket selling site Fandango reports that Fifty Shades of Grey has been the fastest-selling R-rated movie in the site’s history, according to data cited by The New York Times.
Those sales aren’t just coming from places like New York and Los Angeles where one might imagine people are more blasé about sex on film. According to Deadline, which cited data from Fandango, the states with the strongest presale ticket sales for the movie have been in the South with Mississippi, Arkansas, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Alabama being the top five. Sales in the Midwest were also unexpectedly high. Those figures are much higher than expected in regions where strong R-rated films typically have a hard time performing well. Fandango reports hundreds of sold-out times for the film already from its opening on Thursday night through Valentine’s Day weekend in cities from Tupelo, Miss., to Houston, Texas.
These figures have led box office analysts to conclude that the film is likely to make around $60 million during its opening weekend, Deadline said. That’s a huge figure for a movie with a strong R-rating and a plot all about S&M that men will probably only go see if their girlfriends insist on it as a Valentine’s Day activity. Those high figures are even more significant when one considers that this movie and the book it’s based on is almost solely about sex and specifically a female-centered fantasy. Harper’s Bazaar reports that about 20 minutes or a fifth of the movie consists of sex scenes, which is the most in a mainstream Hollywood film in a decade.
Taylor-Johnson’s decision to cast basically unknown actors in the starring roles is another reason the film’s massive hype and presale figures are a surprise. Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have been doing a lot of press to promote the film, but they’re still two actors only known for a movie that hasn’t come out yet with no box office pull of their own.
James says that fans will be pleased by the movie’s interpretation of the book. “Fifty Shades of Grey is first and foremost a romantic love story, and the sex is only part of that. People who haven’t read the books might be surprised that there isn’t more sex on the screen, but that’s because they’ve gone by media reports of Fifty Shades, which have tended to err on the side of the sensational. I’m pretty sure the millions of fans who have the read the trilogy will think there is enough sex,” the writer told Variety.
Overall, the movie looks like it’s on track to be a huge success. Variety says that the film’s budget was $40 million, so if it hits projections then it will be profitable by the time opening weekend is over. Those figures will be further boosted by some having a three-day weekend for the President’s Day holiday on that following Monday. If the movie manages to pull off the delicate task of both appealing to the book’s fans and audience members not familiar with the novels then people will keep coming in to theaters for the racy romance.
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