Universal’s ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ expected to close out franchise with a box-office win

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in "Fifty Shades Freed."
(Universal Pictures)

Universal Pictures will tie up its successful “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy with an expected win at the box office starting Thursday night, adding some sizzle to the movie business after a lackluster Super Bowl weekend at multiplexes.

“Fifty Shades Freed,” based on the third and final installment in the book series by British author E.L. James, is anticipated to gross about $33 million in ticket sales in the U.S. and Canada Friday through Sunday, according to people who have reviewed pre-release audience surveys.

That would be the lowest domestic opening in the series, but still enough to unseat “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” which returned to the No. 1 spot last weekend with about $11 million, bringing its worldwide total to $858 million.

The new “Fifty Shades” movie, along with Sony Pictures’ “Peter Rabbit” and Clint Eastwood’s “15:17 to Paris,” should give theater owners a boost after the box office totaled a modest $94 million last weekend as most people watched the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New England Patriots.

A $1-billion franchise

The “Fifty Shades of Grey” franchise has been a highly profitable investment for Comcast-owned Universal Pictures, which used the series about an inexperienced woman who falls for an eccentric billionaire to tap into a underserved adult female audience. The two previous films in the trilogy grossed a combined $950 million.

Released in 2015, the first “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened with $85 million domestically, on its way to $571 million in global box-office receipts. Last year’s follow-up, “Fifty Shades Darker,” debuted to $47.6 million and eventually collected $381 million worldwide.

The latest film, which again stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan, will likely open lower than its predecessor, following the pattern set by recent trilogies including “The Maze Runner” and “Pitch Perfect.” Universal anticipates that the estimated $55-million movie will continue to play strongly throughout the week, with Valentine’s Day falling on a Wednesday.

Will Peter Rabbit chew up ticket sales?

As Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey entice grownups, a cartoon rabbit will also try to get a nibble at the box office. “Peter Rabbit,” Sony Pictures’ modern-day computer-animated/live-action take on the Beatrix Potter character, is expected to gross $16 million or more in its opening weekend.

The studio is hoping the film, starring James Corden as the voice of the mischievous bunny, will play well with kids until Walt Disney Co. opens Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time” in March. A $16-million opening would be lower than the $24-million summer debut of Sony’s critically panned but commercially successful “Emoji Movie,” but higher than the studio’s April disappointment “Smurfs: The Lost Village.”

“Peter Rabbit” cost an estimated $50 million to make, factoring in production incentives from Australia, where “Peter Rabbit” animation company Animal Logic is based.

Lastly, Warner Bros. on Friday will release “The 15:17 to Paris,” the latest directorial effort by Clint Eastwood, about the three Americans who thwarted the 2015 Thalys train attack by subduing a gunman. In an unusual twist, the American men, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, play themselves in the film.

The movie, produced by Village Roadshow and Warner Bros., is expected to gross a modest $10 million to $12 million in the U.S. and Canada through Sunday. “The 15:17 to Paris” follows a handful of Eastwood-directed hits about homegrown heroism, including “Sully” and “American Sniper.”

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