Universal, Focus Acquire Rights to 'Fifty Shades of Grey'

Fifty Shades of Grey Cover - P 2012

Fifty Shades of Grey Cover - P 2012

E.L. James' erotic trilogy -- being referred to as "mommy porn" -- drew strong interest from many of the biggest buyers in Hollywood.

The auction for Fifty Shades of Grey is over.

Universal and Focus partnered to beat out a slew of studios, producers and financiers to nab the rights to the E.L. James’ erotic best-seller and its two follow-ups.

Universal picked up the rights to the books, though specialty label Focus Features will market and distribute the film.

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The full three-book story, which includes Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed, details the erotic relationship between a damaged young billionaire and a naive female college graduate. Inspired by the Edward and Bella characters in Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling Twilight novels, it originally was posted online as fan fiction. Web interest led to an Australian publisher distributing the books.
Random House division Vintage Books picked up U.S. publishing rights to the trilogy March 10. Recently released in ebook format, Grey shot to the top of the New York Times and Amazon best-selling ebook lists, and Vintage plans to publish a paperback edition April 17.

Hollywood interest erupted in the past two weeks, no doubt spurred by a New York Times article that detailed the passionate readership. When the author and her agent, Valerie Hoskins, came to L.A. last week, studio heads and producers came to them hat in hand at Soho House meetings. New Regency put in an early bid of $3 million, and Sony late last week bid $5 million, according to sources.

Focus is a logical place for Grey as it has an impressive track record of taking tough material and not only making artful and award-winning work but also making something that can transcend a core audience and generate broader appeal. Brokeback Mountain, with its gay themes that on paper would have only attracted a L.A.-NY crowd but ended up being part of the larger popular culture, is a prime example.