With the Super Bowl behind us, studios are reentering the box office fray one weekend before "Black Panther" makes a run at "Deadpool"'s President's Day record. Leading the charge is Universal's "Fifty Shades Freed," based on the final installment of E.L. James' best-selling erotic novel trilogy.
Trackers have the film scoring an opening in the upper $30 million range from 3,700 locations, with Universal expecting a start in the lower 30s against a reported $55 million production budget. . By comparison, the first film in the series, "Fifty Shades of Grey," opened to $85 million in 2015 while its sequel, "Fifty Shades Darker," opened to $46 million last year. "Grey" got a boost by having Valentine's Day coincide with its opening weekend, while "Darker" and "Freed" have Valentine's Day falling on a weekday. "Darker" made $11 million on Valentine's Day, compared to $9.3 million on its opening Sunday two days prior.
"Fifty Shades Freed" follows Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey after their wedding as they deal with both married life and enemies from their past that have returned to haunt them. Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, and Kim Basinger star, with James Foley directing from an adapted screenplay written by Niall Leonard.
Expected to come in second this weekend is Sony's family film "Peter Rabbit," based on the children's tales by Beatrix Potter. Directed by Will Gluck ("Annie") and starring James Corden in the lead role, the film is expected to gross $18-20 million this weekend, with Sony projecting a $16 million weekend. By comparison, Sony released two films for families with younger kids last year: "Smurfs: The Lost Village" and "The Emoji Movie," which grossed $13 million and $24.5 million respectively.
Finally, there's Clint Eastwood's true story thriller "The 15:17 to Paris," based on the story of how three Americans, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, stopped a terrorist attack on a train bound for Paris in 2015. Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow are releasing the film in 3,047 locations, with trackers expecting a $12 million opening. The book was adapted for the screen by Dorothy Blyskal, with Sadler, Stone, and Skarlatos playing themselves. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer also star.
While the impact these three films will have on foot traffic at theaters will pale in comparison to the $130 million-plus opening expected from "Black Panther" next week, it will help rejuvenate a box office picture that has largely been dominated by "Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle" through January. In fact, last week, "Jumanji" became the first film since "Titanic" 20 years ago to take the No. 1 spot on a February weekend after being released in December.
"We're in big need of a pickup right now," said comScore's Paul Dergarabedian. "So far, the 2018 box office is only just a little bit behind what we saw in January 2017, but when you have a film like 'Jumanji' staying at No. 1 through much of the month, it's a sign that it's a great time for something new to come in. The great news is that we've seen a lot of variety in what has been in theaters, and that should keep going this weekend with a thriller, a romance, and a family film."