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'Fifty Shades' of 'Kingsman': The Valentine's Day box office battle

"Kingsman: The Secret Service" will now go head-to-head with "Fifty Shades of Grey" this Valentine's Day
"Kingsman: The Secret Service" will now go head-to-head with "Fifty Shades of Grey" this Valentine's Day
Created by William Cohen; Courtesy of Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox

Valentine's Day is usually the day for roses, chocolates, and romancing that special someone in our lives. But Valentine's Day 2015 will bring something entirely different as well – a box office battle of the sexes.

Yesterday, August 6, 20th Century Fox announced that Kingsman: The Secret Service, writer/director Matthew Vaughn's upcoming comic book adaptation featuring Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson, will be moving from its crowded October 24 date to February 13, 2015, where it will be facing off against Universal's much-publicized adaptation of E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey. While Fox's shift seems logical in moving it away from such a crowded dated, which sees four wide releases battling for box office supremacy that weekend, pitting an action film against a romance movie on Valentine's Day still seems fairly odd.

Seeing that, as of the publication of this article, Fifty Shades and Secret Service are the only films slated for release this weekend, this will certainly be on box office battle that will be interesting to follow. While calling it a battle of the sexes may seem a bit black and white, it certainly isn't hyperbolic either. Fifty Shades is clearly targeting female audiences, while Secret Service definitely seems to be targeting a more masculine crowd.

To determine which film will dominate, one only needs to look at Valentine's Day 2012, where a similar box office bout took place: Fox's A Good Day to Die Hard and Warner Bros.' Beautiful Creatures – a veritable action film and an adaptation of a popular romance novel. Now, this is far from an apples-to-apples comparison, seeing that there were two other films that opposed these films in 2012 (romantic drama Safe Haven and animated family film Escape From Planet Earth). Regardless, we may see a similar pattern here.

Fifty Shades of Grey was slated to go unopposed for a few good reasons. E.L. James' best-selling novel has become a worldwide sensation, resonating with female audiences of all ages. With sales being where they are currently for the novel, a movie adaptation seemed almost inevitable. Despite the fact that women are far more reliable moviegoers than men, female-driven movies are still few and far-between. Before February 13, the only female-driven films being offered are The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 in November and Into the Woods in December, the latter being an ensemble comprised of as many men as women, so it is all-together possible Fifty Shades not only takes off, but becomes a “girls' night out” event film, much like 2008's Sex and the City or 2012's Magic Mike.

Given the highly mature subject matter of the novel, which is vividly teased in the first trailer for the film, it's hard to imagine the film is saddled with anything less than an R rating, making comparisons to Sex and the City and Magic Mike rather apt. However, unlike these two movies, the content of Fifty Shades could become its downfall.

While its themes and taboo nature made the novel the best-seller it is today, films are not viewed the same way as books are. Though some carry a “mature audiences” warning on them, books can be essentially bought and read by audiences of any ages. The same cannot be said for movies. An R rating always makes it difficult for younger audiences to go, and, given the novel's Twilight fan fiction history, that could arguably prevent a portion of the novel's readers from going.

Also, films about a tight-knit group of female friends talking frankly about sex and relationships or about male strippers has girls' night out written all over them. On the contrary, a film about bondage and domination may simply be too taboo for mainstream audiences. Where the book could be read in private, seeing Fifty Shades in a packed theater may become embarrassing, and therefore a deterrent, only attracting the morbidly curious outside of the readers old enough to by a ticket. Though it's more than a safe bet it grosses more than Beautiful Creatures' $19.5 total, how much more is yet to be seen.

The performance of Kingsman: The Secret Service seems even less predictable. While it's easy to compare Secret Service to A Good Day to Die Hard because both are action films put out by Fox, the similarities quickly end there.

Good Day to Die Hard was the seemingly rare fifth installment to a venerable action franchise featuring Bruce Willis, who continues to be a reasonable box office draw, though far from where he was given his inconsistent track record as of late. Though the film's domestic intake of $67.3 is far superior to what Willis' Expendables co-stars were bringing in around the same time frame, this is still far from hit status (though its worldwide grosses picked up the vast majority of the slack).

Secret Service is certainly not a high-profile sequel to an action franchise, but that shouldn't disqualify its chances either. In fact, being a comic book adaptation, at the very least, evens the playing field against Fifty Shades of Grey. Sure, judging by the trailers, it seems like a bizarre action comedy, but a good indicator of success is Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy. Both are more obscure comic titles adapted by favorites in the geek community, relying heavily on both comedy and action in the trailers, and casting highly recognizable actors in lead roles. Guardians tapped writer/director James Gunn, featured actors such as Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, and is already becoming a runaway hit. While Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson aren't exactly the same kind of draws, writer/director Matthew Vaughn certainly is. Having a solid track record adapting comic books with Kick-Ass and X-Men First Class, Vaughn's clout certainly could earn Secret Service a some serious credibility.

However, while Secret Service will more than likely land a comparatively tamer (and more viewer-friendly) PG-13 rating, the key to success here is advertising. There is absolutely no doubt that, while Marvel's brand recognition certainly helped, the key to Guardians' success was the constant presence of the trailers, as well as a steady stream of television and social media ads. While this schedule change gives Fox the opportunity to do the same for Secret Service, they would need to start soon if they hope to compete with Fifty Shades. Though Guardians managed to attract an impressive female audience, it did so by hinting at a possible romance between two of the lead characters in the ads, and having an attractive male lead in Chris Pratt. So far, the trailers for Secret Service have neither.

Conversely, romance doesn't necessarily spell success on Valentine's Day. This past Valentine's Day, for instance, saw the debut of three romantic films (About Last Night, Endless Love, and Winter's Tale), and neither of them managed to gross higher than this year's RoboCop ($58.6 domestic) which opened on the exact same day. This could bode well for Secret Service, seeing that, again, it's almost certain to gross more than RoboCop. However, like Fifty Shades, it's hard to determine how much more.

What will ultimately determine a victor this upcoming Valentine's Day's box office bout is the date factor. Which film are couples more likely to see? Fifty Shades of Grey may be too sexually charged for women, and too thematically similar to Twilight for men, to want to see on this holiday date night, and, while The Secret Service does seem to be a classier comic book adaptation, it may seem like a Bond film without Bond, which some women may not be interested in.

As always, only time will tell.

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