Amazing b.o.take for 50 Shades. Cinemas full of middle aged women's groups. But anecdotal evidence they all disappointed!— Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) February 14, 2015
This is a tweet written by News Corp CEO Rupert Murdoch about the motion picture Fifty Shades of Grey. Because tweets are limited to 140 characters, I will do Mr. Murdoch the favor of unpacking his cultural observation / joke.
- Fifty Shades of Grey has made a lot of money.
- Fifty Shades of Grey's appeal is limited to a specific demographic ("middle aged women's groups").
- Subtext: this demographic has questionable legitimacy.
- Fifty Shades of Grey was not critically well-received by this demographic (and, it goes without saying, actual film critics).
- Subtext: a film that grossed $235 million globally in its opening weekend has questionable legitimacy.
Fifty Shades of Grey had the biggest opening weekend for a film directed by a woman (Sam Taylor-Johnson) in box office history. It grossed $81.7 million domestically in its first three days, over $10 million more than the Catherine Hardwicke-directed Twilight, which made $69.6 million in its debut. In somewhat fuzzier demographic terms, you could make a strong argument that Fifty Shades of Grey is the largest opening weekend for a female-targeted motion picture. It is further proof for those that still stubbornly refuse to believe that women will go to the movies when they are marketed to.
Further proof for those that still stubbornly refuse to believe that women will go to the movies
It's reminiscent of the opening weekend for The Heat, the 2013 buddy cop film starring Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy, which surprised a lot of industry types when it trounced the Channing Tatum / Jamie Foxx summer action flick White House Down. Perhaps that success could be explained away by the fact that The Heat was a raunchy Apatow-lineage comedy, and men did not have to be embarrassed about enjoying it just as much as people who have the same chromosomes as its stars. Fifty Shades, though — that's just for the ladies, right? (And their significant others, who are almost universally depicted as being "dragged" to the film.) How much appeal could an explicit, ultra-soft-core S&M fantasy possibly have in a global market? Especially one that, by all accounts, is not very good?
'50 Shades' officially the biggest opening for any film directed by a woman. Not sure this is a good thing...— PRNewser (@PRNewser) February 16, 2015
It's incredible that anyone could still underestimate Fifty Shades after it became an international best-selling book and nearly single-handedly gave everyone an excuse to get a Kindle, but here we are, in a fresh tidal wave of "there goes culture" hand-wringy jokes. No, Fifty Shades of Grey is not a very good movie, and it's just the latest example of a marketing hypefest that, depending on your expectations, ended in disappointment. But as Badass Digest's Devin Faraci pointed out, there's a specifically gendered dismissal of Fifty Shades that is infecting the bulk of the criticism of the film.
Women want to see movies that are made with them in mind. The quality of these movies is of secondary import. We want good, Oscar-worthy films made with us in mind. We want R-rated comedies made with us in mind. Sometimes, we also want trash and sensationalist bullshit made with us in mind. (Just like men — I know, crazy, right?) We want to see evidence that studios want our money — that they have remembered that we have money, and moreover, have the wherewithal to spend it wherever we want.
Women have money and the wherewithal to spend it wherever we want
Despite the leaps and bounds television has made over the years, one thing that film will continue to have in its favor is the lack of a target demographic. All that matters is getting people into seats; while there is some in-film advertisement in the form of product placement (perhaps most egregiously in your precious, important, not-at-all-disposable superhero movies), how we spend our money after buying a movie ticket is not as important. Movies are not a means to an end in the way that television, on some level, will always be.
So let's say that Mr. Murdoch's hypothesis — that Fifty Shades was uniformly seen by "middle aged women's groups" (whatever that is) — is in fact correct. Follow up question: Who cares? Their money still works, even if they're not in the market for a Chevy truck or a Gillette razor. And Universal, to its credit, is apparently wise to this: the second and third installments of the Fifty Shades trilogy have already been green lit.
Great, you may say. Another brainless money-printing franchise sequelfest. Humanity is going down in flames. And I won't necessarily argue with that. But if someone honestly tries to tell me that Fifty Shades, and Twilight, and The Hunger Games are the chief perpetrators in this assault on art and culture, I'm just going to patiently sit back and wait three months, when that same person is clutching their midnight ticket for Avengers: The Age of Ultron like killer robot James Spader is the cinematic highlight of their year.