‘50 Shades’ Poised to Set Box-Office Record for Presidents’ Day

'Fifty Shades of Grey'
The British tea company Twinings has bowed to pressure from activists and customers and pulled a promotion linked to the R-rated movie “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Source: Universal Pictures via Bloomberg

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the film based on the best-selling sadomasochistic romance novel, is poised to set a box-office record for a movie opening on Presidents’ Day weekend.

The R-rated erotic drama, which has led to some protests, is forecast to collect $89 million in the U.S. and Canada over the extended holiday weekend for cinemas and its distributor, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures, according to Boxoffice.com. It opens Feb. 13.

Best-selling books provide rich source material for Hollywood filmmakers. The novel by E.L. James has sold more than 100 million copies, and with Valentine’s Day falling over the President’s Day weekend, Universal had an opportunity to promote a steamy drama.

“The fan base is massive, and Universal’s marketing has hit a lot of the right notes and people are responding,” Phil Contrino, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, said in an interview. As of last week, he had forecast $61 million.

The record for the holiday weekend is Warner Bros.’ PG-13 romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day.” The film collected $63 million over the long weekend in 2010, when the holidays also coincided, according to researcher Rentrak Corp.

Young women have been leading the ticket buying for “50 Shades.” Almost half of the pre-sales in the U.S were from fans below the age of 30 and two-thirds were women, according to data from Movio, which tracks about 30 million consumers for cinemas, studios and distributors.

‘Tracking Strongly’

“The film is tracking incredibly strongly, with slightly younger females who are being drawn back to the cinema expressly for this movie,” Will Palmer, Movio’s chief executive officer, said in an e-mail. “This demographic group tends to go to movies in a group. This and other indices suggest ‘50 Shades’ is going to be a major event movie.”

“Fifty Shades of Grey” stars Jamie Dornan as Seattle billionaire Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele, a college student, and follows their sadomasochistic sexual relationship. The online ticket seller Fandango has said it’s the fastest-selling R-rated movie in its 15 years.

Women’s rights groups have protested the film’s themes, which they argue glamorize sexual and domestic violence. Some were planning to picket the premieres.

British tea company Twinings, a unit of Associated British Foods Plc, bowed to pressure from activists and customers and last week pulled a promotion linked to the film.

“Controversy sells,” Contrino said. “It just makes people more curious.”

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