Weekend Box Office: “Grey” Whips Up a Big Opening

Fans of the EL James novel Fifty Shades of Grey withstood some brutal winter weather to help propel the Universal drama to a President’s Day holiday weekend record. The critically slammed erotic drama was joined by a strong start for Fox’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and excellent holds for Paramount’s The SpongeBob Movie and Warner’s American Sniper, the latter which crossed the $300 million mark on Sunday as it continued on its quest to become the number one film released in 2014.

It received a dismal 26% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an even more dire 3.9 rating from IMDB users. But all that negativity didn’t stop Universal’s $40 million adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey from stimulating moviegoers on 3,646 screens this weekend where it earned a big $81.7 million. Factor in President’s Day on Monday and the studio is looking at an opening north of $90 million. Be it the three or four day figure, the numbers generated by Grey easily trump the previous record holder, 2010’s Valentine’s Day, which had a $56.3 million opening. The domestic debut for Grey is the second biggest in February history behind The Passion of the Christ.

With Thursday’s $8.9 million added into Friday’s totals, the first full day of domestic business was $30.3 million. With the help of Valentine’s Day falling on a Saturday, business leapt 21% to $36.7 million. Sunday’s drop was a possible sign of a short shelf life, however. Universal is estimating that Sunday’s revenue will come in at an estimated $14.67 million, which would represent a steep drop of 60%. Whether that is a post-Valentine’s Day associated drop or the simple fact that the film has zero appeal past its female demographic remains to be seen.

Still, by the time Mr. Grey and Anastasia Steele (that is really her name?) decide the safety words are “home video market”, the film should prove to be a highly profitable endeavor worldwide. Opening overseas day and date with North America, Grey brought in a record-setting (for an R-rated feature) $158 million from 58 global markets this weekend. The total is the second-biggest weekend ever for a Universal Pictures release overseas right behind 2013’s Fast and Furious 6. Shades’ $55.1 million from Valentine’s Day is also the single biggest day overseas in studio history.

Another R-rated feature opening this weekend, Fox’s Kingsman: The Secret Service, wasn’t quite on the same level as Fifty Shades of Grey when it came to ticket sales, but it certainly did make its presence known. The well-reviewed espionage flick directed by Matthew Vaughn (X-Men: First Class, Layer Cake) and starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton and Samuel L. Jackson arrived on 3,204 screens this weekend after being delayed from its October 2013 release date.

With strong reviews and an even stronger ad campaign backing it Kingsman nabbed a great $35.6 million in its first three days of domestic release. Given the positive reception from ticket buyers –Saturday’s business surged 47 percent over opening day- Kingsman should have a nice theatrical run ahead of it both here in the States and an even bigger run overseas, where the film has earned a solid $43.8 million so far.

Last week’s number one champ The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water dropped 45% from its opening numbers but still managed to earn $30.5 million in its second go around on 3,654 theaters to bring its ten-day total to $93.6 million. The Paramount release should cross the $100 million mark within the next two days.

With kids on winter break this week and no real competition on the horizon until Disney’s Cinderella arrives in a few weeks, SpongeBob should see solid numbers throughout the next couple of weeks. Lack of competition could help Bob and pals reach the $140-150 million milestone by the end of its run. Foreign totals for SpongeBob thus far sit at $46 million.

In fourth place was the Warner Brothers blockbuster American Sniper, which became the second highest-grossing R-rated feature of all time (pre-inflation) this weekend thanks to a $16.4 million weekend on 3,436 screens. Off only 29% from last weekend, the Clint Eastwood drama has earned a spectacular $304.1 million, enough to move it into the Top 50 all-time domestic grossing films.

Given the film’s superb holds over the past five weeks American Sniper should have no problem surpassing The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part One within the next two weeks to become the highest-grossing release of 2014. Should the movie pull an upset next Sunday night at the Academy Awards and take Best Picture, the film may even surpass The Passion of the Christ to become the highest-grossing R-rated film ever released (again, pre-inflation). Foreign totals currently stand at $85.7 million.

The news isn’t as rosy for Warner’s other title out in wide release, the sci-fi dud Jupiter Ascending. The $176 million production dipped 49% from its disappointing opener one week ago to earn $9.4 million from 3,181 theaters. After ten days, the latest project from the Wachowski Siblings has pulled in $32.5 million and will be lucky to make it to the $50 million mark by the end of its domestic run. Foreign markets have contributed $59 million thus far.

The remainder of the top ten is as follows:

  1. Seventh Son (Universal) $4.153 million (-42%); $13.4 million
  1. Paddington (Weinstein) $4.150 million (-20%); $62.3 million
  1. The Imitation Game (Weinstein) $3.5 (-25%); $79.6 million
  1. The Wedding Ringer (Sony) $3.4 million (-28%); $59.7 million
  1. Project Almanac (Paramount) $2.7 million (-48%); $19.5 million

Next weekend sees the arrival of The DUFF, McFarland USA and Hot Tub Time Machine 2. Unless it drops 70% or more watch for Fifty Shades of Grey to remain, ahem, dominant in the number one position.

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