'Fifty Shades Darker' Tracking Well Behind First Film in Box-Office Bow

Two years ago, 'Fifty Shades of Grey' was a box-office phenomenon when debuting to $85 million in North America over Valentine's Day weekend.

Has the curiosity factor worn off the Fifty Shades rose?

Two weeks out, prerelease tracking suggests sequel Fifty Shades Darker will open in the $35 million to $40 million range in North America over the Feb. 10-12 weekend.

That's less than half of the $85 million launch of Fifty Shades of Grey over President's Day/Valentine's Day weekend in 2015, when the lovers' holiday fell on a Saturday night. (This time, Valentine's Day falls on the following Tuesday, a distinct disadvantage.)

At the time, E.L. James' erotic book trilogy about a modern-day sadomasochistic relationship was a worldwide sensation (many dubbed the books "mommy porn"). Universal won a fierce bidding war for film rights to the books, with Fifty Shades of Grey ultimately grossing $166 million domestically and $571 million globally in theaters against a modest $40 million budget.

Those close to the sequel say a $40 million U.S. debut would automatically put Fifty Shades Darker in the win category, considering it cost no more than $55 million to make. They also note the first film opened well ahead of expectations, and that Fifty Shades Darker could open to lower expectations but play longer.

James exerted plenty of control over Fifty Shades Darker after clashing with Fifty Shades of Grey director Sam Taylor-Johnson. Universal hired her husband, Neil Leonard, to write the adapted screenplay and James Foley to direct.

Stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan reprise their roles as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey, respectively, in Fifty Shades Darker. The sequel will open in numerous foreign markets timed to its U.S launch.

Foley shot Fifty Shades Darker and threequel Fifty Shades Freed back-to-back.