It’s Valentine’s Day weekend as well as Presidents’ Day weekend, which means it’s time to celebrate all of the country’s great forefathers, as well as the patron saint of making sure that all guys keep our wives and girlfriends happy by remembering to treat them special a few times a year, starting on February 14’s Hallmark holiday.
Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to release a romantic movie for date night on Saturday, which is why it’s absolute genius that Focus Features/Universal decided to release the first big screen adaptation of E L James’ S&M erotica Fifty Shades of Grey… because I guess S&M can be kind of romantic, right? I really wouldn’t know.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, then you probably missed the bestselling novel sensation when it spun-out of James’ “Twilight” fan-fiction creating a similar buzz as the vampire romance series among young women and housewives who devoured every page of the three-volume novel. There was a bit of a bidding war for the movie rights with the news media chomping at the bit whenever anything was announced about the movie, whether it be director Sam Taylor-Johnson, whose only previous feature was Nowhere Boy, starring her much-younger future husband Aaron Taylor-Johnson.
Then it was announced that Charlie Hunnam of FX’s “Sons of Anarchy” would play the coveted role of billionaire sadist Christian Grey with Anastasia Steele being played by Dakota Johnson, the daughter of ‘80s hottie Melanie Griffith (who had a famous bondage scene in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild) and Don Johnson from “Miami Vice.” It wasn’t long before Hunnam stepped down, to be replaced by Irish actor Jamie Dornan, who I honestly had never heard of before his casting. Apparently, he’s starred in shows like ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” and the British show “The Fall,” neither of which I’ve watched.
Granted, having lesser-known actors star in the movie is a double-edged sword, because while it allows moviegoers to accept them as the characters they read about in books, it won’t help to attract them to see the movie specifically for the actors in the roles. Kristen Stewart, Shailene Woodley and Jennifer Lawrence all had made their name from other movies before being cast in their breakout young-adult franchises, although clearly appearing in those movies really helped their Q-rating when it came to other movies. One expects that starring in Fifty Shades will greatly help raise awareness of Johnson and Dornan, but right now they just don’t have the box office clout one would expect to bring to a high-profile movie like this one.
There’s also a huge curiosity factor for those who haven’t read the books but have heard about them for years and will use the movie as a chance to check it out. Expect large groups of women to rush out en masse on Thursday and Friday night to see the movie as a group with couples probably waiting to see it over the weekend.
The potential for romance will make this a great date movie over Valentine’s Day weekend so expect wives, girlfriends (and boyfriends) to want their spouses and significant others to take them to see the movie, possibly on Friday but also on Valentine’s Day proper on Saturday. This should help keep it from being too frontloaded although expect a big drop-off on Sunday and Monday. Movies that have been greatly helped by the holiday include the appropriately-titled Valentine’s Day and the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore rom-com 50 First Dates (although none of those dates involved S&M). For whatever reason, IMAX is getting into the craze by having the movie on 75 screens and I guess there will be some weirdos who will want to see kinky sex on the biggest screen possible.
This movie is going to be huge, maybe not on the scale of The Hunger Games, but definitely on par with last year’s Divergent and if you add together the fans of the books and those who are curious from all the buzz, this movie is going to have a big opening, making upwards of $65 million in its first three days with another $15 million or so on Presidents’ Day Monday. We’ll have to see how it fares in terms of legs because it’s the kind of movie that would normally be frontloaded, especially opening over Valentine’s Day where it’s going to get a huge boost, but it should be good for roughly $150 million or more by the time it leaves theaters with March’s Cinderella and The Divergent Series: Insurgent taking over.
Offered as counter-programming for single guys and those independent enough to be able to go out on Valentine’s Day weekend without their ladies is Matthew Vaughn’s Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox), an action-comedy take on classic James Bond films, adapted from the Mark (Kick-Ass), Millar & Dave (Watchmen) Gibbons comic book “The Secret Service,” which came out a couple of years back.
While the comic book “The Secret Service” might not have the circulation of some of the other comics that have been adapted into movies (like Watchmen), Vaughn has pulled together an incredible cast to turn Kingsman into its own thing with Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Caine being the big draws for a movie that offers a lot of cool action for those who have already seen Taken 3 and American Sniper.
Now if you look at previous movies based on Millar’s comics, Wanted is still the biggest hit–if you don’t count the influence that Millar’s “The Ultimates” had on Marvel’s The Avengers–having grossed $134 million after a $51 million opening, but that also had Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, arguably bigger box office draws. Vaughn’s adaptation of Kick-Ass grossed less than $50 million total after an opening of $19.8 million, which doesn’t bode well for his latest venture.
Colin Firth doesn’t generally do movies like this much, and his fanbase tends to be older, although it’s certainly a fun thing to see him playing a James Bond-like character finally. Firth’s biggest movies to date are The King’s Speech, for which he won an Oscar, the musical Mamma Mia! And the animated A Christmas Carol, all of which grossed between $135 and 145 million. But those were definitely anomalies and Firth has only had one movie since winning the Oscar that grossed more than $11 million and that was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy with just $24.1 million. That’s not a good sign that Firth is a box office draw, but importantly, Vaughn has Samuel L. Jackson playing the role of Richmond Valentine, a billionaire with a crazy plan to “save the world,” and Jackson’s going to be as much or more of a draw with his amazing track record for playing characters in franchises like the “Star Wars” prequel and more recently, becoming Nick Fury for Marvel Studios’ biggest movies including The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both actors have big enough names that they’ve been doing the talk show circuits to help drum up awareness for the movie in a way that can’t really be done with trailers/commercials (although the same could be said for Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore with Seventh Son and we saw how that turned out).
The good thing is that reviews for the movie (which opened a couple weeks back in the UK) have been excellent with Fox wisely screening the movie quite a bit in advance for various audiences including at the annual ButtNumbAThon, which is a great litmus test for cool movies coming down the pike. (Kick-Ass played there as a work-in-progress five years back, too.) Fox has also been slamming the airwaves with commercials for the movie, including a spot during the Super Bowl and other shows geared specifically for the guys who this movie is targeting.
At this point, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper may seem like old hat to some even if it’s probably going to continue to do well this weekend with continuing word-of-mouth, but with both of last week’s movies not being received well, this should be the first choice for guys this weekend with buzz being strong enough going into the weekend that it should make a strong play at least for third place behind Fifty Shades of Grey and last week’s hit The SpongeBob Movie, both which are playing to different audiences. Expect Kingsman to take in $8 to 9 million its opening day and around $28 million over the four-day weekend, maybe slightly more, although it’s probably going to tap out around $75 to 80 million rather than going for $100 million.
This weekend last year was also Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day, but even with four new movies, it was all about The LEGO Movie, which remained #1 with $62.5 million over the four-day weekend, down 10% from its amazing opening weekend a week earlier. Valentine’s Day and the popularity of Kevin Hart greatly helped About Last Night (Screen Gems-Sony), which opened with $27.8 million in just 2,253 theaters or $12,356 per theater, with most of that money coming on Friday, which was Valentine’s Day. In fact, it made 46% of its opening weekend on Valentine’s Day and ended up grossing less than twice its opening weekend theatrically. While there were high hopes for the action remake of RoboCop (Sony), it ended up not doing that much better than the remake of Total Recall, grossing $25 million over the four-day weekend in over a thousand more theaters than About Last Night. It grossed just $58.6 million domestically but made up for it overseas with another $184 million, which allowed it to cover its $100 million production budget. The third movie trying to capitalize on Valentine’s Day was also the third remake of the weekend, this one being Endless Love (Universal), which grossed just $14.4 million, again much of that on Friday. The last romance of the weekend was the poorly-reviewed Winter’s Tale (Warner Bros.), starring Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe, which bombed with just $8 million in 2,965 theaters or $2,717 per location. The Top 10 grossed $182 million over the four-day weekend and the pairing of Fifty Shades of Grey, Kingsman, The SpongeBob Movie and American Sniper should guarantee that this weekend does even better.
This Week’s Predictions –
All of the predictions below are for the 4-day holiday weekend (and they’ve been updated slightly):
1. Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal) – $81 million N/A (up 2.5 million)
2. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount) – $41.0 million -25% (down .5 million)
3. Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox) – $30 million N/A (up 2 million)
4. American Sniper (Warner Bros.) – $20 million -14%
5. Jupiter Ascending (Warner Bros.) – $10 million -45%
6. Paddington (TWC-Dimension) – $4.6 million -8%
7. Seventh Son (Universal/Legendary) – $4.5 million -38%
8. The Imitation Game (The Weinstein Company) – $4.3 million -9%
9. Project Almanac (Paramount) – $4.0 million -25%
10. The Wedding Ringer (Sony/Screen Gems) – $3.3 million -31%
The first comedy sequel of the year, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Paramount), takes on the second Kevin Coster movie of the year with McFarland, USA (Disney), while The DUFF (CBS Films) just leaves us scratching our head on how to describe it.
This Week’s Must-Sees
I’m happy to say that there are two really good movies out in limited release this weekend, not that either of them are great date movies for Valentine’s Day, because one is about a divorce and the other is… well, also about a divorce (of sorts). I guess if you want to give your mate/spouse the hint, you should take them to see one of these movies on Valentine’s Day.
GETT: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (Music Box Films)
Writer/Directors: Shlomi Elkabetz, Ronit Elkabetz
Stars: Ronit Elkabetz, Simon Akbarian, Menashe Noy, Sasson Gabai, Keren Mor
Of Note: Israel’s selection for the Oscars is this film from Ronit and Shlomi Elkabets, starring the former (whom some might remember from her appearance in The Band’s Visit) as a woman trying to get a divorce from her stubborn husband (Simon Akbarian) who refuses to grant it to her. Essentially, we have a trio of rabbis listen to the two parties argue why they should or shouldn’t get divorced as a stream of witnesses, neighbors and family, share their opinions. For a dialogue-driven character piece that takes place almost entirely within a Jewish courtroom, it’s a movie that keeps you invested for its entire two hours, and it’s a shame that the Academy didn’t deem this worth of an Oscar nomination, because it’s better than many of the films that did get nominations, but they also didn’t nominate the equally great Fill the Void, so the nominating committee are a bit hit or miss when it comes to Israeli films.
The Last Five Years (RADiUS-TWC)
Director: Richard LaGravenese
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Jeremy Jordan
Of Note: The Oscar-nominated writer of The Fisher King and director of Freedom Writers, P.S. I Love You and Beautiful Creatures helms this adaptation of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway musical that shows the relationship of musical theater actress Cathy (Anna Kendrick) and aspiring author Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) over the five years from when they first meet, through them getting married until the relationship starts to fall apart. The film uses a unique chronological plot device to tell her story from one direction and his from another. It opens in select cities and on VOD on Friday.
Other Limited Releases of Note:
The Rewrite (RLJ/Image Entertainment)
Writer/Director: Marc Lawrence
Stars: Hugh Grant, Marisa Tomei, Allison Janney, J.K. Simmons, Chris Elliot, Bella Heathcote
Of Note: Hugh Grant reteams with director Marc Lawrence (Music and Lyrics, Two Weeks Notice) for their third rom-com together, in this one playing Hollywood screenwriter Keith Michaels who has gotten divorced and has been left with bad debts. His agent arranges Keith to take a job as a screenwriting professor in upstate New York where he becomes invested in the lives of his students including a single mother played by Marisa Tomei. It also stars J.K. Simmons, Allison Janney, Chris Elliot and Bella Heathcote (Dark Shadows).
What We Do in the Shadows (Paladin)
Director: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement
Stars: Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, Jackie van Beek, Jonny Brugh, Cori Gonzales-Macuer, Stu Rutherford
Of Note: The director and star of Eagle vs. Shark who also collaborated on many episodes of HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” reteam for this mockumentary about four vampire roommates from different eras trying to struggle with the latest in technology while taking on a faction of local werewolves.
Old Fashioned (Skoche Films, Motion Picture Pro Studios)
Director: Rik Swartzwelder
Stars: Rik Swartzwelder, Elizabeth Ann Roberts
Of Note: This romantic drama stars director and co-writer Rik Swartzwelder as a former frat boy named Clay Walsh who runs an antique shop in a small Midwestern college town where he meets Amber, a free-spirited woman who rents the apartment above his shop and Clay has to try to resist her charms.
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead (IFC Midnight)
Director: Kiah Roache-Turner
Stars: Jay Gallagher, Bianca Bradey, Leon Burchill, Luke McKenzie, Yure Covich, Catherine Terracini, Keith Agius, Meganne West
Of Note: A zombie apocalypse film set in the Australian Outback starring Jay Gallagher as a mechanic family man who soups up his car and arms himself to save his sister from a deranged doctor.
Girl House (eOne Films)
Director: Trevor Matthews
Stars: Slaine, Ali Cobrin, Adam DiMarco
Of Note: A twisted horror film about a girl who moves into a house that streams content to an X-Rated website and what happens when a deranged fans finds out where the house is, forcing her to fight for her life. Um, yeah.
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Copyright 2015 Edward Douglas