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This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Call it blush vs. badass. Presidents Day weekend will feature one of the oddest box-office showdowns ever thanks to two edgy, R-rated films opening Feb. 13: Fifty Shades of Grey and Kingsman: The Secret Service. The former, of course, is Universal’s version of EL James‘ best-selling S&M novel. The latter is Matthew Vaughn‘s James Bond-meets-Kick-Ass adaptation of the comic, starring Colin Firth as a British spy training his protege. Early tracking suggests Fifty Shades will earn between $50 million and $60 million for the four days. Kingsman, targeting males not dragged to Fifty Shades on Valentine’s Day, is looking to open to $35 million or better, but it could overperform by appealing to a broader audience. In other words, who will get the big date-night bump? Fox has waged an aggressive screening program for Kingsman, which it believes will appeal to both genders (thanks in part to Firth). “I didn’t expect to want to hug this movie as much as I did,” says Fox co-chairman Stacey Snider.
Fifty Shades, sold as a steamy romance, certainly has the bigger brand awareness. But it’s unclear whether couples will want to see such taboo subject matter together or whether women will go in packs with their friends (record-breaking advance ticket sales suggest group activity). “We inherited a property with massive awareness, yet reading a book is a private experience,” says Michael Moses, Universal’s co-president of marketing. “Our job has been to transfer that into a communal experience and make it acceptable.” Says Rentrak’s Paul Dergarabedian: “It’s a perfectly programmed weekend. Fifty Shades is a movie that lends itself well to Valentine’s Day. And Kingsman is the perfect counterprogramming. Nothing says ‘I love you’ like having a choice.”
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