Ahead of its release last weekend, Fifty Shades of Grey had already made enough in advance ticket sales that Universal was promising sequels. But the R-rated romance that had women turning out in droves has turned out to be a record-breaking hit.
Box Office Mojo reports Fifty Shades of Grey took in $81.6 million domestically, making it the highest grossing Presidents Day weekend release of all time, and the fifth highest opening ever for an R-rated movie. Making that second achievement more interesting is the company it now keeps.
1. The Matrix Reloaded ($91.7 million)
2. American Sniper ($89.2 million)
3. The Hangover Part II ($85.9 million)
4. The Passion of the Christ ($83.8 million)
5. Fifty Shades of Grey ($81.6 million)
Often top box office honors in lists like these are held by sequels, accounting for two of these titles. Then you’ve got American Sniper and The Passion of the Christ both titles embraced by conservative groups as part of political movements/cinematic experiences, which helped both films to incredible box office success. While critics and audiences are still debating the value of Fifty Shades of Grey as a film, its win this weekend could prove a tipping point for the genre of “women’s films.” (The fact that that’s considered a genre when women make up 51% of the population is something I am not getting into at the moment.) Basically, love it or loathe it, Fifty Shades of Grey is a game changer as it proves the box office power of women, who made up 68% of its audience.
The New York Times further posits the film’s popularity could impact the way Hollywood films depict sex, considering that the kinky (well, mildly kinky) content had the greatest ticket sales in such “conservative” states as the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee. This is a major change. Typically rated-R fare fares better in liberal and urban areas. But even the screenings at Disney World sold out all weekend long.
Plus, Fifty Shades of Grey is not only thriving domestically. Despite protests to its sexual content and bans in Indonesia, Kenya and Malaysia, Fifty Shades of Grey has already taken in $158 million overseas.
I was in the camp of being pleasantly surprised by Fifty Shades of Grey. In it, virgin Anastasia Steele gets a billionaire BDSM-demanding boyfriend. But despite this groan-inducing premise, the script by BAFTA-nominated screenwriter Kelly Marcel shows her enacting an admirable amount of agency, and determining her own boundaries—even when Grey bullies.
There’s definitely flaws in the film, namely that romantic lead Christian Grey is a manipulative and obsessive asshole. But director Sam Taylor-Johnson worked hard to make this more than was expected, and it shows. Perhaps it’s still not a great film. But the public’s thirst for a film about a woman’s sexual evolution that actually focuses on her desire is a big deal. Yes, the film is problematic. But as The Interview showed, it’s not always the best movies that change the world.