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Top Ten Takeaways: Record February Weekend Led by ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’

Top Ten Takeaways: Record February Weekend Led by 'Fifty Shades of Grey,' 'Kingsman: The Secret Service'

What’s better than a holiday weekend? Two holidays in one. Valentine’s Day on Saturday, President’s Day two days later? Ideal. This configuration only occurs once every six years (when Leap Year works out). But the confluence has never had this impact, when an erotically charged romance led the way to three different films grossing over $30 million for the three day weekend.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal) is the big news, but even better for the industry is that three distinct audiences responded to top releases (Fox’s Kingsman: The Secret Service and Paramount’s “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water“) on the heels of Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper” passing $300 million. This unexpected bounty makes last summer’s disappointing results (from more conventional and costly tent-poles) a distant memory. 

This weekend’s Top Ten totaled $192 million, up a whopping $88 million from last year, which puts 2015 more than 11% ahead of year to date 2014. And remember the first quarter last year was considered decent. It was the summer period that led to the full year 5% tumble.

Lots of factors contributed, and the lessons learned aren’t obvious. (Wintry weather returning to the Northeast could dampen these projections.)

The Top Ten

1. Fifty Shades of Grey (Universal) NEW – Cinemascore: C+; Criticwire: C; Metacritic: 47; Est. budget: $40 million
$81,670,000 in 3,646 theaters; PSA (per screen average): $22,400; Cumulative: $81,670,000
2. Kingsman: The Secret Service (20th Century Fox) NEW – Cinemascore:B+; Criticwire: B-; Metacritic: 59; Est. budget: $80 million
$35,600,000 in 3,204 theaters; PSA: $11,111; Cumulative: $35,600,000
3. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water (Paramount) Week 2 – Last weekend #1
$30,540,000 (-45%) in 3,654 theaters (+13); PSA: $8,358; Cumulative: $93,673,000
4. American Sniper (Warner Bros.) Week 8 – Last weekend #2
$16,435,000 (-29%) in 3,436 theaters (-449); PSA: $4,783; Cumulative: $304,133,000
5. Jupiter Ascending (Warner Bros.) Week 2 – Last weekend #3
$9,430,000 (-49%) in 3,181 theaters (unchanged); PSA: $2,964; Cumulative: $32,551,000
6. Seventh Son (Universal) Week 2 – Last weekend #4
$4,153,000 (-42%) in 2,874 theaters (-1); PSA: $1,445; Cumulative: $13,423,000
7. Paddington (Weinstein) Week 5 – Last weekend #6
$4,150,000 (-20%) in 2,244 theaters (-644); PSA: $1,849; Cumulative: $62,343,000
8. The Imitation Game (Weinstein) Week 12 – Last weekend #8
$3,525,000 (-25%) in 1,551 theaters (-412); PSA: $2,273; Cumulative: $79,657,000
9. The Wedding Ringer (Sony) Week 5 – Last weekend #7
$3,400,000 (-28%) in 1,456 theaters (-682); PSA: $2,335; Cumulative: $59,743,000
10. Project Almanac (Paramount) Week 3 – Last weekend #5
$2,730,000 (-48%) in 1,732 theaters (-1,168); PSA: $1,576; Cumulative: $19,560,000

2 Holidays + 4 Hits = Records

Three films grossing over $30 million led to the best-grossing weekend since “Catching Fire” opened on Nov. 22, 2013, and the best ever in the January-April period except for one at New Year’s 2009. In other words, close to unprecedented.

The field is led by one widely anticipated hit. “Fifty Shades of Grey” indeed brought out a strong female audience (68%). Resistance from men helped to keep it from hitting the $100 million four-day mark. But “Fifty Shades” helped to draw crowds not normally seen this time of year: add three other projects that would normally be considered secondary for prime Christmas or summer playtime and the combined total should end up grossing in excess of $800 million in their domestic take. 

The three weak links in the Top Ten– “Jupiter Ascending,” “Seventh Son,” and “Project Almanac” –had combined production budgets over $300 million and likely domestic takes of $100 million. All are mainstream high-concept action-oriented films that fit inside the mold of typical studio releases.

“50 Shades” – The Series?

Most of the biggest film franchises this century have been based on successful novel series: “Harry Potter,” “Twilight,” “Hunger Games,” “The Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” series. Eight of the top 31 overall built on their major success in print. The three “Fifty Shades of Grey” books have sold over 100 million copies worldwide.

Their provocative sexual content and appeal separate from literary considerations set them apart from the others, although they share the intense female interest of “Twilight” and “Hunger Games,” as well as placing their female leads in unconventional settings that include, but are not limited to, romance.

But unlike the others, this project started at specialty division Focus (under its previous management), then taken over by parent company Universal, recognizing its mainstream potential. We can’t fault the results, particularly the choice of release date.

Read: 7 Reasons Why ’50 Shades’ Will Beat Weekend Box Office Predictions 

The advance consensus was that this would be front-loaded. Taking out the Thursday previews, Saturday increased better than 50%
from Friday, likely due to Valentine’s Day and significant pre-sales even
though anecdotal and a C+ Cinemascore evidence indicate a tepid audience response. So will this become a repeat success?

Unlike several other series, plans were not announced ahead of the release to follow up with sequels. The studio decided to await the results before going ahead with the next one tentatively set to gear up in June. Director Sam Taylor-Johnson now holds the record for best domestic live-action opening directed by a woman, besting Catherine Hardwicke (“Twilight,” who was clumsily replaced after its success) has indicated that she’s moving on–she was clearly not in control of the movie, as the studio was collaborating with James. Her film worked partly because she made it from a distinctively feminine point of view. She should get plenty of offers. 

What will Universal do? That is the question. Figure out what worked and improve on it? Or try what Summit did, ditch Hardwick and try to expand the audience to men? 

Kingsman: The Secret Ingredient

Curiously, on a weekend when some groups protested “Fifty Shades” as an affront to morals, it didn’t come close to being the most violent movie released. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” became a surprise success both domestically but also showed international appeal. Basically 007 on steroids, relying on non-stop action and in its way as justifiably R-rated as “Shades,” it has provoked no controversy. 

Director Matthew Vaughn has built a career on stylish violence (“Layer Cake,” “Kick-Ass”) before coming through with a successful “X-Men” effort. Fox took a chance on a British setting and older, erudite cast (led by Colin Firth), but then launched “Kingsman” with footage at Comic-Con last year focusing on what action fans thrive on: flashy violence, gore played for laughs, and lots of smart-ass ‘tude. 

The marketing clearly worked. The reviews at the low-end of favorable didn’t hurt, while the B+ borderline Cinemascore indicates some negative word of mouth. The gross nearly doubled yesterday from Friday is positive though, boosted by Valentine’s Day and some femme interest.

Women are drawn by a surprising element: Colin Firth. The actor, who since his Oscar winning “The King’s Speech” has seen only one film gross over $20 million, as an ensemble player in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy,” hardly seems to be a strong draw. But someone at Fox looked at Liam Neeson’s unlikely success leading another action genre hit series (“Taken”) and decided to take a chance. Someone guessed right, since Firth’s presence is the secret sauce. He classed up the film, broadening its appeal beyond those attracted by the violence.

Holdovers

The projected drops this weekend include a better Sunday (because of the pre-holiday factor for many), so their relative drops are all somewhat elevated despite the competition. The results:

–“The SpongeBob Movie: The Sponge Also Rises” – No question this remains a success, but a 45% drop is larger than usual for the second week of an animated film. It is about the same drop as 2004’s first in the series. Still, $30 million week two is about what would have been considered an adequate opening.

–“American Sniper” — Another week at the office for Clint Eastwood, down only 29%, now at $307 million and needing less than $30 million to become the top gross of any domestic 2014 release.

“Jupiter Ascending,” “The Seventh Son,” “Project Almanac” – All down between 40-50%, all from not great places, with only “Jupiter” having any chance to stay around the Top Ten another week. “Almanac”‘s low budget (but that marketing still adds up) has a chance to avoid big losses, even with better international results.

“Paddington” – The best hold of the week, only off 20% even though it lost a quarter of its theaters, and looking to jump to sixth with Monday matinees.

“The Imitation Game” – Down 25%, nearing $80 million, but now not a sure bet to hit $100 million unless it scores an upset Oscar win. Still, very impressive.

“The Wedding Ringer” – Down 28%, with a major Valentine’s Day boost Saturday (nearly tripling Friday), and also now three times its opening weekend, representing a better than expected hold.

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