"Fifty Shades of Grey" is poised to whip up big box-office numbers over the Valentine's Day weekend.
The adaptation of E.L. James' wildly popular erotic novel could make more than $60 million over the four-day holiday weekend, which also includes Presidents Day, according to people familiar with prerelease audience surveys.
That would position it to set a record for the biggest Presidents Day weekend opening -- and put the film ahead of fellow box-office newcomer "Kingsman: The Secret Service," which is expected to pull in $30 million to $35 million.
The Presidents Day weekend is typically a robust time for the industry as moviegoers, many with a day off from work or school Monday, flock to theaters.
Currently, romantic comedy "Valentine's Day" holds the record for the holiday weekend. It debuted to a solid $56.3 million in the U.S. and Canada in February 2010. The previous record holder was 2007's "Ghost Rider," which collected $45.4 million.
"Fifty Shades of Grey," which is being released by Universal Pictures, follows kinky billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his demure love interest Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). Universal is projecting the film will gross a more-modest $50 million over the four-day weekend.
Fandango, the nation's largest movie ticket company, reported hundreds of sold-out showings for "Fifty Shades of Grey," beginning with the first 8 p.m. screenings on Feb. 12 and running through the weekend.
In a state-by-state analysis of the advance sales patterns, Fandango said that presales in Southern states were significantly higher than expected.
MovieTickets.com, another ticketing service, reported Wednesday that 75% of all tickets it sold in the preceding 24 hours were for "Fifty Shades."
Some theaters are making an event out of it. Cinépolis, in Thousand Oaks, is selling a "Valentine's Loveseat Package" to moviegoers who want to watch the film "like a total boss." The package, offered on Valentine's Day, includes two tickets, a bottle of "Fifty Shades of Grey" wine, a blanket and a dessert to share.
Universal utilized the Web to pull in fans through interactive experiences. On the movie's official website, users can visit Mr. Grey's Seattle apartment, unlocking different areas by clicking on various promotional items around the virtual abode.
There have been some marketing obstacles, however. Some have openly poked fun at the stars for lacking chemistry. After the two presented at the Golden Globes award ceremony, Twitter users pointed out their stiff, awkward interaction, some suggesting the stars hate each other off-screen.
And some fans of the book's highly sexual nature have expressed disappointment that only about 20 minutes of the film's 100 minutes reportedly include sex scenes.
Regardless, people have been buzzing over the film on social media. When the trailer was released last July, it racked up 36 million online views in its first week. Since Jan. 1, the film has averaged about 73,000 tweets a day.
For those not pining for romance, "Kingsman" offers up an action alternative.
Based on a comic book, the film follows a street kid (Taron Egerton) after he is recruited into a secret spy organization by Harry Hart (Colin Firth). Samuel L. Jackson and Michael Caine also play in the film.
Fox partnered with Google to promote the film through an interactive website, "Become a Kingsman," which puts users in control of a major action scene in the movie, allowing them to fight as Firth's character.
After users click the "become a Kingsman" button, a message pops up that reads: "I hear you're keen to become a Kingsman knight. My compliments on your superb taste in international intelligence agencies. To join Kingsman, first you have to prove your potential. Your life will only be put in danger half a dozen times, nothing to worry about. Right, off you go."
The R-rated film is likely to draw a largely male audience and attract moviegoers who want to avoid the
Meanwhile, Paramount Pictures' "The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water," which was No. 1 last weekend, should again attract families and teenagers. It could add about $30 million.
War drama "American Sniper" may cross the $300-million mark domestically. The Clint Eastwood film, which is nominated for six Academy Awards, has pulled in roughly $284 million in the U.S. and Canada to date.
"Jupiter Ascending" is also likely to stay in the top five by adding a projected $10 million to $15 million.