Shades' success may reboot film sex

SEX SELLS: Fifty Shades Of Grey is on course to earn US$500 million globally. The film played in 3,646 theatres in North America, the largest release in history for an R-rated movie


    Feb 17, 2015

    Shades' success may reboot film sex


    MOVIEGOERS in America turned out en masse to see the sadomasochistic love story Fifty Shades Of Grey over the weekend, delivering a triumph for Universal Pictures and potentially altering Hollywood's approach to sex.

    Fifty Shades Of Grey, which cost US$40 million (S$54 million) to make, capitalises on Valentine's Day being on a Saturday and attracted an audience that was 68 per cent female, Universal said.

    The film, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and based on the erotic novel by E. L. James, played in 3,646 theatres in North America, the largest release in history for an R-rated movie, according to Nick Carpou, Universal's president of domestic distribution.

    Female fans of the best-selling book created a wave of interest that pushed past critics who gave the film terrible reviews. Also drowned out were those calling for a boycott, among them the feminist group Stop Porn Culture.

    There were also small protests overseas, where the film took in an additional US$158 million through Sunday. The movie was banned in some countries, including Indonesia, Kenya and Malaysia.

    R-rated movies tend to perform best in big cities and other politically liberal areas. But Fifty Shades Of Grey was enough of a cultural force that crowds turned out in traditionally conservative places like the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee, Mr Carpou said.

    "I never bought the argument that the sexual theme would keep people away," said Michael De Luca, a producer of the film. "People are not that prudish any more."

    The response to the film - which is expected to spawn two sequels - could have a ricochet effect in Hollywood, which, for decades, has been operating under an assumption that blatant sex is box office poison. The story of a naive student (Dakota Johnson) who enters into a kinky sexual relationship with a tormented billionaire (Jamie Dornan), Fifty Shades Of Grey has a frankness that recalls popular studio offerings from the 1970s.

    Emmanuelle, a soft-core erotic film, helped bail out a faltering Columbia Pictures in 1974. Last Tango In Paris took in about US$155 million at today's prices in 1973 for United Artists.

    But the Reagan era saw a shift in public mores. Pornography also became widely available on video cassette in the 1980s. Those factors contributed to a collapse in Hollywood-made erotic movies, film historians said.

    In 1995, the erotic drama Showgirls, rated NC-17, became such a punchline that studios overwhelmingly swore off the genre.

    Credit for the theatrical success of Fifty Shades Of Grey belongs in large part to Donna Langley, Universal's chairman, who won the film rights amid a bidding war.

    Rival studios credited Universal marketers with a simple yet highly effective advertising slogan: "Are You Curious?"

    The question was designed to resonate on multiple levels. Did the studio succeed in translating the book? What exactly is sadomasochistic sex? Universal also intended the question to play to the culturally curious - a sophisticated audience that simply did not want to miss out on a zeitgeist moment.

    Phil Contrino, chief analyst at, said on Sunday that Fifty Shades Of Grey was on pace to take in US$500 million worldwide without batting an eyelid. He called that a ticket-selling achievement "that's sure to shake up the definition of what a blockbuster can look like".