Weekend Wrap-Up

Fifty Shades of Box Office Glory

By John Hamann

February 15, 2015

You know, he doesn't *have* to sit on the arm. The couch is empty.

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2015 continues its torrid pace at the box office this weekend, as it gets three gifts: Valentine’s Day on a Saturday, President’s Day on Monday, and Fifty Shades of Grey.

For the box office, Valentine’s Day on a weekend is like a steroid. When Valentine’s falls on a Saturday, movies for adults end up playing like films for kids, where the Saturday is the big earner of the weekend instead of the usual Friday night date movie for the grownups. In 2009, the last time Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday, the weekend box office was the second biggest of the time frame between January 1st and May 22nd. In 1997, Titanic’s ninth weekend was Valentine’s Day, and the James Cameron film earned more that weekend than it did in its sixth weekend, and was within a million of what it earned over its opening frame. Titanic earned 128% more on Valentine’s Day Saturday ($13 million) than it did on that frame's Friday ($5.7 million). Valentine’s Day can be one of the most powerful moviegoing days of the year. This notion is accentuated by the fact that should Valentine’s Day fall on a weekend, it also lands within the President’s Day long weekend, which inflates box office even further.

This perfect storm of holidays made Fifty Shades of Grey the perfect fit for release this weekend, better than a prime summer release date or even a debut at Christmas. The weekend was good news for all films in release, not just date flicks, as our other newcomer, Kingsman: The Secret Service also over-performed. The Colin Firth starrer was forced to live in the shadow of Fifty Shades, but in the end, provided solid counter-programming against the female-centric Fifty Shades. Early year predictions had the first quarter 2015 box office lagging behind the strong start that 2014 received, but thanks to American Sniper and a couple of others, the box office has stayed strong versus last year. That trend continues that this weekend despite the dominance of The LEGO Movie, Ride Along and Frozen last year.


Our number one film of the weekend is Fifty Shades of Grey, the film based on the bestselling novel. You would have to be living under a rock to not know the erotically charged romance was coming this weekend. Universal deftly handled the ad campaign and the story that went with it, as they seemingly pushed a story about bad blood between the director and the writer and successfully controlled the rollout of the almost unanimous bad reviews without hurting the opening weekend. Reaction to a critical embargo would have turned the conversation on this one, and the fact that Fifty Shades received such poor reviews was almost a non-issue before opening. The film was bullet-proof heading into opening weekend and only cost $40 million to make, so there was almost zero risk to the filmmakers and Universal.

Things got started for Fifty Shades on Thursday, when the film earned a ridiculous $8.6 million from Thursday previews. That amount showed how much the book affected the reader. Like the film, critics hated the book, but it sold over 100 million copies and spawned two sequels, ensuring that the film's release would be extremely well attended. The Friday take came in at $21.6 million, so Universal reported a combined first day of $30.2 million, a record for the biggest opening day in February. This amount handily beat The Passion of the Christ's first Friday number. That film opened on February 25, 2005 and earned $26.6 million.

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