‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Dominates Box Office With Record $90 Million U.S. Debut

Huge Valentine’s Day powers the sexy Jamie Dornan-Dakota Johnson romance to biggest Presidents Day weekend ever

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the dark and sex-drenched romance drawn from E.L. James’ erotic bestsellers, ignited moviegoers’ passion and powered to $90.6 million in a dominating debut at the U.S. box office.

Curious couples ignited a massive $36.7 million Valentine’s Day turnout on Saturday, the biggest single day ever in February. That lifted the R-rated tale of love and sadomasochism starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson to the best Presidents Day and Valentine’s Day weekend openings ever.

Overseas audiences were even more turned on. “Fifty Shades” delivered with more than $150 million in its international rollout, the highest ever for an R-rated movie.

In all, “Fifty Shades” brought in nearly $240 million globally this weekend. Since its production budget was a relatively modest $40 million, it’s a major financial score for Universal Pictures. Those numbers virtually assure a sequel. While Universal did not confirm that Sunday, Dornan and Johnson are under contract, and director Sam Taylor-Johnson has said she’s in.

“Fifty Shades” wasn’t the only movie setting off fireworks this weekend.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service,” the R-rated comic book adaptation starring Colin Firth as a super spy, is on track to claim $41 million over the four days for Twentieth Century Fox. That would be about $10 million over analysts’ projections.

It was battling last weekend’s top film, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water,” for second place. The PG-13-rated family film got a boost from the kiddie crowd and also will finish at around $40 million.

“American Sniper” is still going strong in its eighth week and topped the $300 million mark domestically this weekend for Warner Bros. The Iraq War saga starring Bradley Cooper will finish the four days in fourth place with around $18.4 million,

To top expectations, “Fifty Shades” had to draw moviegoers who hadn’t read the books and it did.

Men made up about a third of the audience over the course of the weekend. That’s far more male than readership of James’ book trilogy, which has sold more than 100 million copies globally and skewed so female that they were dubbed “mommy porn.”

But a certain hearty holiday made the difference for “Fifty Shades.” Friday’s opening night crowd was about 82 percent women, but the number of males spiked on Saturday night.

“Valentines is a big deal for couples and a great relationship event,” said Universal distribution chief Nick Carpou, “and the date with the long Presidents Day weekend created a perfect storm for us.” “Fifty Shades” was originally scheduled to open last August, but after Charlie Hunnam exited the role of Christian Grey, it was pushed to this year.

“That was ideal, and this date positioned us to take full advantage of the romance angle, which is how we sold the film in our marketing campaign,” Carpou said.

The “Fifty Shades” weekend crowd was 68 percent female, and 58 percent over the age of 25. Roughly 52 percent were white, with Hispanics at 22 percent.

How the film plays going forward will be interesting, because audiences gave it a so-so “C+” CinemaScore. That’s in line with the critics, who have it at a weak 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and means it won’t get a big word-of-mouth lift.

“Fifty Shades” even did well with giant screen fans, and saw around $8.2 million, or roughly nine percent, of its domestic haul come from Premium Large Format showings. IMAX shifted its schedule last week to fit “Fifty Shades” in, and 85 screens brought in $2.1 million over the weekend. Attendance spiked by 85 percent Saturday, driven by couples celebrating Valentines.

While “Fifty Shades” topped the $61.3 million debut of “Valentine’s Day” in 2010 for the best Presidents Day opening, its $81.6 million three-day total fell short of the mark for the best R-rated three-day openings, set by “The Matrix Reloaded” with $91.7 million in 2010, the $85.9M debut of 2011’s “The Hangover 2” and the $83.9 million that “Passion of the Christ” debuted with in 2004.

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