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    ‘Fifty Shades Freed’ commands $38.8 million to top box office

    “Fifty Shades Freed,” starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, finished at the top spot at the box office this weekend.
    Doane Gregory/Universal Pictures
    “Fifty Shades Freed,” starring Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, finished at the top spot at the box office this weekend.

    LOS ANGELES — In one of the more awkward box-office pairings in memory, the steamy, sexy sequel “Fifty Shades Freed” was No. 1 at North American theaters over the weekend, while the cuddly cute “Peter Rabbit” did well with children and finished in second place.

    “Fifty Shades Freed” (Universal Pictures), which did not delight critics, opened to ticket sales of roughly $38.8 million. Based on the third and final book in the “Fifty Shades” series by E.L. James, “Fifty Shades Freed” cost an estimated $55 million to make, not including marketing. It was directed by James Foley (“Glengarry Glen Ross”) and stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan.

    The “Fifty Shades” cultural fever ended a long time ago: Most readers discovered that a little of James’s writing goes a long way. But ticket sales for the final movie adaptation were solid, declining only 16 percent from initial results for its series predecessor, “Fifty Shades Darker,” a year ago.


    “Fifty Shades of Grey” kicked off the trilogy in 2015 with $85 million in opening-weekend ticket sales, an astounding total for an erotic drama, a genre that had long been out of favor at multiplexes. All told, the series has collected roughly $1.1 billion at the worldwide box office, including $98.1 million in international ticket sales over the weekend for “Fifty Shades Freed.”

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    “Peter Rabbit,” an animated-live action hybrid that cost Sony Pictures about $50 million to make, after accounting for government production incentives, took in $25 million in the United States and Canada, according to comScore, which compiles box office data. Directed by Will Gluck (“Easy A”), the PG-rated “Peter Rabbit” features vocal performances by James Corden (Peter) and Margot Robbie (Flopsy).

    Hollywood did not expect “Peter Rabbit” to register much interest. But a newly rejuvenated Sony picked a savvy release date — there are few family films in the market — and backed the film with a marketing campaign that made the 116-year-old Beatrix Potter character feel contemporary and even a smidgen cool, at least to the primary-school set.

    Clint Eastwood had a tougher weekend with “The 15:17 to Paris.” A reconstruction of the 2015 effort by Ayoub el Khazzani to kill passengers aboard a European train — thwarted by vacationing US servicemen — “The 15:17 to Paris” collected about $12.6 million, Eastwood’s lowest wide-release opening result since “J. Edgar” in 2011.

    Poor reviews and the absence of marketable stars (the servicemen starred as themselves) likely hurt the film, which cost Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow a modest $30 million to make. About 60 percent of ticket buyers were over the age of 50.


    Two films that just won’t quit rounded out the top five over the weekend: ‘‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’’ fell to fourth place with $9.8 million and ‘‘The Greatest Showman’’ took fifth with $6.4 million.

    Overall the marketplace is still down around 1.8 percent for the year and around 27 percent from the same weekend last year, which, comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian notes, saw the launch of ‘‘The Lego Batman Movie,’’ ‘'Fifty Shades Darker’,’ and ‘‘John Wick: Chapter 2,’’ all of which opened over $30 million.

    But the box office is expected to pick up this coming weekend with the release of ‘‘Black Panther,’’ which some analysts are pegging for a $150 million start.

    ‘‘This is the calm before the Marvel storm,’’ Dergarabedian said. “‘Black Panther’ is going to supercharge this marketplace when it opens later this week. I think it’s going to break records and spark a huge conversation.’’