fb-pixel Skip to main content

Hearts aflutter over debut of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’

“My boyfriend just sent me a confirmation e-mail with tickets for Valentine’s Day. I don’t think he’s a willing participant, but he’s taking one for the team,” said Meghan Daly, 29, from Avon, shown with her boyfriend, Paul Anderson.Debee Tlumacki for the Boston Globe

A nearly three-year wait had dwindled to mere days, and Liz Pulice grasped for words to capture the mood. “I don’t think anyone has been this giggly and excited since ‘Titanic,’ ” she said finally.

If you have to ask, don’t even bother.

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” the movie based on the erotic trilogy that has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, is opening in theaters Friday, with advance screenings Thursday night, and Shades Nation is in a state.

“If you are not talking about it,” said Pulice, 31, of Waltham, “it’s just because you’re not admitting you’re dying to see it.”


The raunchy series has been panned by critics for lack of literary merit, but fans looking for things other than a well-turned phrase have bought so many tickets that “Fifty Shades” has become the fastest-selling R-rated movie in Fandango’s 15-year history, according to the ticket-selling firm. Several local showings are already sold out.

The merchandising tie-ins have gone so far beyond the expected lingerie and related items that the faithful can buy everything from Fifty Shades wine to baby onesies (“9 months ago Mommy read 50 Shades of Grey”) to a Vermont Teddy Bear with “smoldering” grey eyes, a suit, and mini-handcuffs.

Last week, director Sam Taylor-Johnson reportedly announced that there will be two sequels.

At the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, the official “Fifty Shades” bear costs $89.99.

It’s hard to remember, but a few years ago, few people had heard of E.L. James, the former British TV executive who jumped off “Twilight” to write her own story, a kinky fan fiction tale about a billionaire CEO, Christian Grey, and Anastasia Steele, the virginal college student who falls for him.

“My heart is pounding a frantic tattoo, and for some reason I’m blushing furiously under his steady scrutiny. . . .”

What started as an underground phenomenon in 2011 exploded in 2012, when Vintage Books bought the English-language and audio rights, a move that was followed by a movie deal with Universal Pictures and Focus Features. The books have been translated into more than 50 languages.


And now, the film is about to hit theaters — after casting difficulties; tensions between author and director; the challenges of shooting an X-rated book with R-rated limitations; even a social-media campaign aimed at getting people to donate $50 to women’s shelters instead of seeing the movie, #50DollarsNot50Shades.

Analysts expect the movie to do $60 million at the box office opening weekend. Thanks to a last-minute deal, the movie will also play on 75 IMAX screens (although none local).

In preparation, fans are treating themselves to second, third, and fourth re-reads of the books.

They are tweeting and pinning and Facebooking. They are gobbling up publicity that has managed to go beyond the movie to sweep in almost all of Hollywood.

As People magazine gushed in a headline for a photo gallery: “How Stars Feel About Fifty Shades of Grey,” (Spoiler: Really, Really Good). Kim Kardashian used 11 exclamation points when talking about how amazing the movie is.”

Above all, the faithful — mommies, grannies, all the single ladies — are planning girlfriend outings, or surreptitious solo trips, ideally to out-of-town theaters.

At the Showcase SuperLux in Chestnut Hill, fans started calling in December asking when tickets would go on sale, and when the magic moment arrived, in mid-January, many showings sold out almost immediately, said Tony Pungitore, director of operations for theater operator National Amusements.

Showings have also sold out in Dedham, Foxborough, Randolph, Revere, and Woburn, he said.

“The unusual thing is that groups of ladies are trying to secure tickets; they want to bring 10 or 20 people,” he said. “When the demographic appeals to young women, they eat up the tickets like crazy.”


But men, some secretly eager, some less so, are being pulled into viewing plans.

“My boyfriend just sent me a confirmation e-mail with tickets for Valentine’s Day,” said Meghan Daly, 29, a publicist from Avon. “I don’t think he’s a willing participant, but he’s taking one for the team.”

In today’s world, no event is complete without marketing tie-ins, and in that regard Fifty Shades doesn’t disappoint.

Fans can buy “official” Fifty Shades of Grey wine (“White Silk” and “Red Satin”), and licensed adult novelties, approved by the author herself, and available online and also, surprisingly, at Target.

Not even plush toys are safe, as the merchandising frenzy has touched down at the Vermont Teddy Bear Company, where the official “Fifty Shades” bear costs $89.99, and comes with a warning, but not the one you might expect: “Contains small parts,” the alert on the website reads. “Not suitable for children.”

The company usually makes tamer bears, but a couple summers ago the president, Bill Shouldice IV, “noticed a few people were reading the book,” and figured why not.

At that time, he was not among the series’ millions of readers. “But part of the deal when you license [the name ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’] is that you have to read the books,” said Shouldice, whose literary tastes generally run toward action thrillers.

“The author doesn’t want people just trying to profit off it,” he said. “It’s about making sure we get the essence right.”


With just that integrity in mind, the licensing agency for the Americas has turned away many suitors, said Carole Postal, president of New York-based CopCorp Licensing.

“This is a serious program,” she said. “This is not to be poked fun at.”

“Erika [Leonard, the author’s real name] did not want to do anything that was not true to the characters,” she said. “We did not do fragrance because if you remember, Mr. Grey and Anastasia smell just wonderful on their own. We did not do video games, or comic books, or slot machines.”

The agency also handles licensing for “Downton Abbey,” and Postal noted that while the two stories are quite different, both do have licensed wine and bears.

“People want to bring home a piece of that excitement and feeling they have for the characters,” she said, be it the Dowager Countess and Lady Mary or Anastasia and Mr. Grey.

“They want to live the fantasy.”

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Universal Pictures and Focus Features

Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @BethTeitell.