In one of the under-the-radar moments in yesterday’s packed box office news cycle, Fifty Shades Darker surpassed xXx: Return of Xander Cage at the worldwide box office. The Paramount/Viacom Inc. release is still a big hit, thanks to China, with $159m in said territory and $338m worldwide on an $85m budget. And for a moment or two, the Vin Diesel sequel that bombed in North America with just $45m was the year’s global box office champion. But now that arbitrary and temporary title belongs to Universal/Comcast Corp.’s erotic drama, as Fifty Shades Darker has now earned $356m worldwide.
The $55 million-budgeted sequel to 2015’s blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey was never expected to approach the heights of its hype-driven predecessor. It was less of an event in the media and the pop culture zeitgeist. The loss of Sam Taylor-Johnson as director and Kelly Marcel as the writer meant there was less reason to celebrate the sequel’s would-be success. It’s different when a female-driven and female-targeted franchise stems from a female author, a female director and a female screenwriter than when it’s helmed by a female author, that micromanaging author’s husband (Niall Leonard) as the screenwriter and a new male director (James Foley, known for Glengarry Glenn Ross, Fear and The Corrupter).
But nonetheless, even with inferior reviews the second time out and less media handwringing, Fifty Shades Darker snagged a $46 million Fri-Sun debut weekend and has legged it to $109m domestic. That’s a lot leggier than the break-out original, which opened with an $85m Fri-Sun/$94m Fri-Mon debut and ended with “just” $166m domestic. But the film took off overseas as well, earning a $571m worldwide cume. And overseas audiences showed up for this chapter as well, giving the film a robust $246m foreign total for what is now a $356m global cume on a $55m budget. So for the moment, it is the year’s box office champion.
Actually, Fifty Shades of Grey held that title for its first two months as well, at least until Furious 7 earned a jaw-dropping $353 million domestic and $1.516 billion worldwide in early April. By the way, even if you count American Sniper as a 2015 release, which you shouldn’t, it only made $547m worldwide. This time out, Fifty Shades Darker won’t keep that title for very long. 20th Century Fox’s Logan will presumably top whatever total Fifty Shades ends with and Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is going to mop the floor with everything in two weeks’ time.
For the second time in a row, the Fifty Shades franchise outlasted a pretty packed early-year schedule of big films to dominate the global charts. Whatever misgivings I have about the original writer-director not returning to finish out the three-film franchise, it still matters that a mid-budget, R-rated, romance/sex-focused franchise aimed at and centered around adult women is the year’s biggest film three months out. It has outgrossed such conventional blockbusters as The Wall, xXx: Return of Xander Cage and current domestic box office champion The LEGO Batman Movie ($148 million-and-counting with $256m global on an $80m budget).
Fifty Shades Freed, which will end the Dakota Johnson/Jamie Dornan franchise next February, probably won’t make it a turkey. It opens on Feb. 9, 2018, the same pre-Valentine’s Day slot but since Black Panther debuts a week later (over President’s Day weekend), I’d expect nothing less than a brutal spanking from the Marvel superhero (adjust your fanfic accordingly). But that’s the beautiful thing about this three-and-out franchise. Even if it pulls an Allegiant next year, it’s so bloody successful the first two times out that the finale is basically gravy.
So yeah, I don’t have anything profound to offer about this. I just wanted to point out that despite poor reviews and smaller overall box office, a mid-budget, R-rated erotic drama aimed at women is the year’s biggest grossing film. It will remain that way for at least a few more days until it is topped by Logan and/or that other Harlequin romance aimed at women.