Writethru, Friday, 10:20 PM: E.L. James’ Fifty Shades Freed continues to keep it up at the B.O. with a $40 million-plusopening weekend, still only 14% off from the opening of Fifty Shades Darker last year ($46.6M), which is a solid ease for a threequel. Threequels are notorious for being the lowest out of a franchise’s bunch at the box office with the exception of most superhero movies.
Even more hope for Freed‘s longevity? The Universal erotic drama release ties up its second B+ CinemaScore tonight after Fifty Shades Darker a year ago; proof that the fans are attending versus when Fifty Shades of Grey was slapped with a C+. Uni insiders blamed that on non-fans sinking that pic’s grade.
And in second we have Sony Animation’s Peter Rabbit with $22M, which gets an A- CinemaScore tonight — which is the same grade that Illumination/Universal’s Hop earned. That was a similar project (sans the Beatrix Potter source material) built around a British comedian playing a rabbit. That Easter bunny film opened to $37.5M seven years ago and bounced to $108M domestic, $183.9M worldwide. Given the lack of family fare for quite some time, it will be interesting to see if Peter Rabbit jumps higher than that. Sony has a history for reigniting a children’s classic and succesfully turning into popcorn fare: Between two movies, Stuart Little logged $470M worldwide.
Even though this weekend will likely pale in terms of ticket sales when compared to a year ago’s $188.6M, which was built on Lego Batman ($53M), Fifty Shades Darker, and John Wick:Chapter 2 ($30.4M), next weekend is bound to thrust 2018 greatly ahead of 2017 with Black Panther‘s projected $130M-$160M. This weekend’s takeaway is that moviegoing remains very healthy, and as one film financier pointed out, “You have two films that weren’t that well received by critics which are leading the box office and bound to be profitable. Fifty Shades Freed is unwatchable!” Not every film is built for critics, nor should a film’s box office fate be determined by them, but Fifty Shades Freed and Peter Rabbit provide hope for studio executives that some titles can still be built to simply serve the entertaining needs of their audiences.
While Universal went to great lengths to induct the unfaithful (those who never read E.L. James trilogy) on the first Fifty Shades of Grey, they’ve relied on the brand’s fanbase (ComScore/Screen Engine’s PostTrak shows 81% females, with 59% ladies over 25 taking up the most seats), which they stoked socially, and a killer soundtrack recipe which works like it’s the 1980s all over again. While music was always an essential part of movie marketing back then, every now and then that extra ancillary kicks in, raising a pic’s profile further. Such was the case with the Twilight movies, and that’s definitely the case again with the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.
Social media monitor RelishMix expounds, “Universal took a page out of its playbook for Fate of the Furious and Sing! by consistently sharing music videos -which obviously included quick looks from Freed– throughout the campaign. Featuring a partnership with VEVO and some of today’s hottest musical artists like Rita Ora & Liam Payne, Sia, Beyonce and Justin Bieber, Freed has been dropping music videos now and again over the past two months leading up to open. In fact, the second most-viewed clip of the campaign behind the film’s official trailer is Liam Payne and Rita Ora’s ‘For You’ music video which has logged over 32M views”. Recently the soundtrack was made available to stream over the internet, with other big Freed music videos being Hailee Steinfeld and BloodPop’s “Capital Letters” at close to 6M over the last week and Julia Michael’s “Heaven” nearing 2M views. In addition, these artists further drive awareness for the pic on social, read Payne has 57M-plus social media followers while Ora, who appears in the movie, counts over 27M.
For a threequel, RelishMix is also praising Freed‘s half billion social media universe reach across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube even though it’s behind the previous chapters of Fifty Shades of Grey (890M) and Fifty Shades Darker (945M). Universal kicked off the campaign in September with an announcement teaser, generating more than 100M views. Two months later, the official trailer drew 200M views-plus. Taking a page from Warner Bros/New Line’s It haunted house in Hollywood, Uni staged the pop experience F I F T Y, which featured six artfully designed rooms –including Christian Grey’s famed red room of sex toys. Another opportunity for fans to share the love on social media. In addition to James, producer Dana Brunetti has always been generous in providing fans with BTS images and intel from the set. With producer Michael De Luca, left and author/producer James far right:
Another luxury boost for Freed: the New York flagship store of Saks Fifth Avenue has dressed its windows with the costumes and inspirations from the James Foley-directed film.
Heading into the weekend, RelishMix noticed that the conversation was split down the middle for Freed, though mostly positive. One point of conversation among fans is, of course, Anastasia’s pregnancy, which is teased at the end of the trailer. The divide between fans of the characters appears to be a debate about the accuracy of the film adaption from the books. Fans are also tagging female friends to make this movie a girls night out or boyfriends to make it a #DateNight, “such discussions far outweigh any other sentiment” observes RelishMix.Thirty-one percent of tonight’s crowed attended with 2 or more friends, while another 31% were on a date with a spouse/partner or boyfriend/girlfriend per PostTrak. Females at 56% are definitely recommending the threequel to their friends.
It is very hard to emulate the American Sniper-effect at the box office, which won over Middle America with a $350.1M domestic gross, even if its Clint Eastwood making another go-round with another American heroes’ tale, in this case The 15:17 to Paris which is looking at $12.6M in 3rd. Many have tried before: 12 Strong recently, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi a few years ago,but nothing pops. And if you even dote heavily on PTSD (heavier than American Sniper), read Thank You For Your Service or Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, that doesn’t pull in the masses at the B.O.
While 15:17 is obviously playing to the flyover states, that crowd isn’t impressed with a B- CinemaScore next to the As they’ve bestowed on 12 Strong and 13 Hours. That’s not good for business. Warners marketed the film as a thriller (which is a smart means to get folks in the door), but once you’re in, it’s a slow origins drama about the real guys who play their older selves. And they struggle to emote on screen. Rival executives point out the title being a problem as a selling point (what does it exactly mean?) in addition to the fact that many aren’t in the know about the the 2015 Thalys train attack and the three American heroes who foiled it. On the upside, Eastwood is always dependable about keeping his titles at a thrifty cost, and this one carries a reported production cost of $30M with Village Roadshow co-financing. But from a commercial and critical standpoint, Sully this is not. Oscar bloggers and pundits were always wondering if this title would get showcased in the heat of this year’s Oscar season, however, Warner Bros. was the wiser.
And as for the holiday holdover greats:
Sony’s other family pic Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle looks like $2.2M today for a three-day of $9.6M in Weekend 8, down 12%, with a running total of $365.4M. This momentum smells like it’s set to topple Sony’s Spider-Man 2 ($373.5M) to become the studio’s second highest-grossing title stateside after Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man ($403.7M).
And 20th Century Fox’s underdog musical The Greatest Showman looks like $1.6M today for a three-day of $6.1M, -20%,for a running total in Weekend 8 of $146.2M. The pic will soon overtake Les Miserables ($148.8M), and is less than $5M from overtaking Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s previous Oscar-winning song-scripted musical La La Land ($151.1M).
Fox Searchlight’s 13 Oscar nominee leader The Shape of Water is nearing $50M.
Industry estimates for Feb. 9-11:
1..) Fifty Shades Freed (UNI), 3,768 theaters / $18.4M Fri (includes $5.6m previews)/3-day: $40.3M /Wk 1
2..) Peter Rabbit (SONY), 3,725 theaters / $5.7M Fri /3-day: $22M /Wk 1
3..) The 15:17 to Paris (WB), 3042 theaters / $3.7M Fri /3-day: $12.6M /Wk 1
4.) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle(SONY), 3,126 theaters (-226) / $2.2M Fri /3-day: $9.6M (-12%)/Total:$365.4M/ Wk 8
5..) The Greatest Showman (FOX), 2,373 theaters (-215) / $1.6m Fri / 3-day: $6.1M (-20%)/Total: $146.2M/Wk 8
6..) Maze Runner: Death Cure (FOX), 2,923 theaters (-870) / $1.45M Fri /3-day: $5.7M (-45%) /Total: $48.7M/Wk 3
7..) Winchester (CBS), 2,480 theaters / $1.4M Fri (-61%) /3-day: $4.7M (-49%)/Total: $16.8M/Wk 2
8..) The Post (FOX/DW), 1,865 theaters (-597) / $863K Fri /3-day:$3.3M (-37%)/Total: $72.6M/Wk 8
9..) The Shape of Water (FSL), 1,780 theaters (-561) / $780K Fri /3-day: $3M (-33%)/Total: $49.7M/Wk 11
10…) Den of Thieves (STX), 1,468 theaters (-644)/ $733K Fri /3-day: $2.7M (-40%) /Total: $40.8M/Wk 4
PREVIOUSLY, Friday, 7:02 AM: Universal’s feature adaptation of Fifty Shades Freed, the last chapter in E.L. James’ BDSM trilogy, minted $5.6 million last night at 3,150 theaters. That’s a great start considering it’s only 2% behind last year’s $5.72M preview cash for Fifty Shades Darker.
Pre-weekend opening estimates are ranging from $33M all the way up to $39M on Fifty Shades Freed, but don’t be surprised if it creeps up into the $40M range. Fifty Shades Darker opened to $46.6M last February. In total this weekend, the global ticket sales for Fifty Shades Freed will push the trilogy past the $1 billion mark.
Last year,Fifty Shades Darker‘s previews (beginning at 7 PM) played at 3,120 venues, making it the sixth-best R-rated Thursday night preview of all time. Three years ago, Fifty Shades of Grey opened to $8.6M at 2,830 theaters on its first Thursday night, and currently ranks as the third-best R-rated Thursday night preview behind Deadpool ($12.7M) and The Hangover 2 ($10.4M).
Fifty Shades Freed is leading ticket sales for those pics in play this weekend on Fandango. A recent poll with 1,000 moviegoers showed that 59% plan to see the threequel as part of their Valentine’s Day plans, while 82% saw the first two titles on the big screen. A year ago, Fifty Shades Darker got a pop on the lovers’ holiday, grossing $11M and leading all titles that day.
Previews weren’t held last night for Warner Bros/Village Roadshow’s American hero Clint Eastwood drama The 15:17 to Paris and Sony Animation’s Peter Rabbit. They are expected to draw around $10M-$12M and $20M-ish, respectively, for the weekend.
Critics haven’t been wowed by any of this weekend’s wide entries, with Fifty Shades Freed earning a traditional slam of 13% Rotten, 15:17 getting a 21% Rotten Tomatoes Score, and Peter Rabbit an OK 60% fresh. Given the impact that Rotten Tomatoes usually has on a pic’s box office results, that really isn’t anything that Fifty Shades Freed and Peter Rabbit have to worry about. Both are largely Teflon against reviews: Fifty Shades Freed in its erotic soap opera is a destination for its female book fans, and Peter Rabbit is a premium family title, and there arguably isn’t another one of those the marketplace until Disney’s March 9 release A Wrinkle in Time.