It's official: the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is heading to theaters on August 1, 2014 via Focus.
The film's box office potential is immense. Author E.L. James' steamy novel about an intense sexual relationship between a billionaire and a college student has sold more than 70 million copies worldwide. A built-in audience of that size is the kind of asset that film distributors dream of tapping into. If Focus cranks out a strong film and orchestrates a marketing campaign that taps into obsessive fans of the novel, then they could end up with their biggest hit of all time. Brokeback Mountain, another sexually-charged film that had people buzzing, is currently Focus' #1 hit to date with an impressive $178.1 million global haul.
There are a lot of decisions to be made before Fifty Shades hits theaters next August. If Focus opts for an R rating, director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy) will be forced to hold back on an adaptation that could effortlessly snag an NC-17. Then there's the casting. Fans of the novels have no doubt already cast the movie in their heads, so a potential backlash is a strong possibility if choices miss the mark. Johnson is married to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, star of Kick-Ass 2 and the upcoming Warner Bros. reboot of Godzilla, but the young actor has already publicly denied that he'll take on the role of 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey. Other up-and-comers may be hesitant to take on one of the lead roles for fear of it dominating their careers, which means that two unknowns could end up snagging the parts. Casting unknowns would help Focus keep the budget down, and it would also be easier to lock them down if production goes forward on the two books that followed 50 Shades.
It's worth noting that film adaptations of controversial books don't always lead to strong box office receipts. Take American Psycho, for instance. The 2000 adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' violent novel grossed an anemic $34.3 million globally before reaching cult status on DVD. Yet the problem with American Psycho could have been timing. The novel was originally published in 1991, so by the time the adaptation hit theaters the controversy had passed. 50 Shades is still very fresh in the minds of those who've read it. It wouldn't be hard for Focus to fan the flames of controversy, especially if an initial cut of the film is slapped with an NC-17.
Fifty Shades could end up tapping into the same audience that lined up for Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut. The combined power of Kubrick and stars Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman spurred patrons to catch a dark sexual odyssey that they probably would have skipped otherwise. Eyes Wide Shut managed $162.1 million globally, $55.7 million of which came from North America. When adjusting for inflation, the North American haul would be roughly $87.4 million. Focus would certainly be pleased with a figure that high.
Let's also not forget the success of Magic Mike. Steven Soderbergh's often-scathing look at the world of male strippers turned into a must-see for women of all ages. The result: a $160.7 million global cume. It's possible that Fifty Shades could become the next big "Girls-Night" movie along the same lines.
Or there's Sex and the City. The two theatrical releases spun off from the popular HBO show combined for more than $700 million in global receipts, $415.3 million of which came from the first film alone. Capturing even half of the SATC audience would be a huge victory for Focus.
The August release date indicates confidence on the part of Focus. They are clearly banking on the film to serve as counter-programming to summer blockbusters. A film like 50 Shades could do very well with females moviegoers who crave something other than big-budget action tentpoles. August used to be viewed as a dumping ground, but that's not the case anymore. Female-skewing flicks such as The Help and Hope Springs--more wholesome efforts than 50 Shades, obviously--have recently performed well in August.