Is ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ Coming Too Late To Ride The Book’s Popularity?

Matthew Loffhagen
(Photo: Universal)

The teaser for Fifty Shades Freed, the next book in the “sexy” series be EL James, has finally arrived, and, yeah, sure. More of the same. Maybe a bit of threat of violence, but in a non-sexy way. There’s a gun or something.

This is a movie that is happening.

So here’s the question – is this a franchise that’s even got legs anymore? Or are people kind of done with the temporary blow up in popularity that the Fifty Shades books enjoyed once everyone realized that it was just a less Mormon version of Twilight?

It’s no secret that this movie franchise hasn’t exactly set the world on fire – at least, not in a good way. Several major stars have publicly admitted to hating their work on the series, not least because nobody even remotely takes the movies seriously.

The leads have little to no chemistry, and often look bored by the whole experience of filming these things. In fairness, there’s nothing less enjoyable than pretending to be intimate on a well-staffed soundstage, but hey, that’s what they signed up for.

The box office paints a picture of diminishing interest in the series. In the time since the initial Fifty Shades boom, the fanbase for these films has clearly died off rapidly.

In 2015, Fifty Shades of Grey earned a very impressive $500 million in ticket sales, having pegged itself as a must-see Valentine’s Day movie that probably ruined a lot of couples’ date nights. Two years later to the day, Fifty Shades Darker only earned $300 million.

We’re still six months away from Fifty Shades Freed, which will again try to grab the Valentine’s Day couples crowd, two years after Darker. By that point, we’ll be six years away from the peak of the Fifty Shades popularity bubble back in 2012, which does seem like a long time to expect fans to have been excited by a lackluster movie series based on books that have gained a reputation as porn for grandmas.

Then, there’s the diminishing quality of the series. Rotten Tomatoes paints a pretty bleak picture – Fifty Shades of Grey managed a 25% approval rating with critics with an average score of 4.2, and an audience rating of 41%. Fifty Shades Darker, which was shot back to back with Fifty Shades Freed, managed an impressively bad 10% rating and an average score of 3.3 among critics.

Fifty Shades Darker
Source: Universal

Interestingly, though, Fifty Shades Darker was more popular with Rotten Tomato audiences than its predecessor – an even 50% of viewers liked this film, suggesting that maybe there is an audience for this – albeit one that’s increasingly unlikely to show up in movie theaters.

These movies might not be great, but there’s still a solid fanbase for them – one which is proving more vocal now that people who don’t like this kind of movie have gotten bored and stopped watching.

Despite the drop in popularity and financial reward, this series was always going to be finished – all in, the trilogy of movies will have cost around $150 to produce, and probably the same for marketing, against a total box office taking that’s already above $800 million.

The final movie in the series will make enough money for everyone to leave happy – bizarrely, both stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan are still getting work, which suggests that this might not have been a disastrous career move for either of them.

So, all in all, while Fifty Shades Freed is likely to suffer from a lot of ridicule and criticism, it’s going to make some money, and keep its lead actors in work for a while to come.

The fanbase might not be as big as it once was, but the joke’s on the haters – this series has still made a lot of people very, very rich, and they’re only going to make more cash when Fifty Shades Freed annoys audiences on Valentine’s Day 2018.

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