Special Features – Has Universal Missed the Boat with Fifty Shades of Grey?

Luke Owen ponders the point of making a Fifty Shades of Grey movie for 2014…

Fads. As a society and human race, we go through a lot of fads. Some of them stick around for some time while others fade into obscurity to only ever to be mentioned in conversations with the prefix, “do you remember…”.

For example, do you remember Pogs? They were one of the odder fads of the mid-90s, little pieces or cardboard that you stacked up only to knock down with a heavy plastic “slammer”. Not many people played the actual game and the collecting aspect was the real selling point, but they were forgotten about quicker than their speedy rise to popularity. One week, Pogs were all kids could talk about, then the next week no one cared. Not even ALF’s return in Pog form helped raise their public profile.

Some fads do last a while, lasting longer than anyone could have expected. Pokemon is a fad that took kids and young teenagers by storm in the late-90s and early 2000s. It was bright and colourful seizure inducing cartoon with a clever card game that accompanied it and the fad was brilliantly satirised in the South Park episode Chinpokomon. A lot of schools even banned the cards from being traded during lunch breaks because it got a bit too heated and out of hand. With this level of popularity in mind, Nintendo were quick to captalise on its success with a string of movies, more TV fodder, more cards and even more video games. But, as with all fads, Pokemon‘s popularity did eventually die down, leaving only the die hard fans sticking with it to line Nintendo’s pockets so long as they threw out a new game every once in a while.

Harry Potter is another franchise fad that captured imaginations, but unlike Pokemon, Harry Potter captured the imagination of an entire generation as well as their parents. The book series was a huge success and the movies did extremely well for Warner Bros, pulling in a whopping collective total of $7.7 Billion – placing it ahead of Star Wars and James Bond in terms of franchise money made. But since the book series ended and the final credit of the final film rolled, Harry Potter has faded into obscurity just like the other fads. Of course there are still the die hard fans like there are for Pokemon, but you don’t see the books or films invading popular culture like they once did and  the only conversations people have about it now are laced with nothing other than nostalgic feelings. When The Internship, a movie that felt dated before it even went into production, spoofed a game of Quidditch it felt so passe and out of touch. No one really cared about the boy with lightning scar anymore.

All of this brings us to Fifty Shades of Grey – a series of erotic novels that became an overnight success and was talked about by pretty much everyone worldwide.

For around 2 months, and then no one cared anymore.

Written by first-time author who had no intention of getting published, Fifty Shades of Grey was an inexplicable success story and has sold around 70 million copies around the world, turning its author into a multi-millionaire. What’s funny about the book’s short-lived popularity was that the majority of the conversations about it were based on how terribly written it is and how bad its story, character and dialogue was. The series essentially lived and died by a central gimmick – BDSM and explicit paragraphs about it. Many people bought all three books at the same time but never made it past the half-way point of the second one, giving up on its child-like writing in favour of proper books by genuine writers.

Having read certain sections of the first entry of the trilogy, I likened Fifty Shades of Grey as the novel equivalent of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. Story, motivations, themes, setting and interesting characters take a back seat to the spectacle of the gimmick that surrounds the main “plot”. You just need to replace giant transforming robots with kinky sex.

So with the Fifty Shades of Grey fad dead and buried and no one even giving it a second thought anymore, doesn’t it seem a bit late for Universal Studios to be announcing the casting of the movie adaptation?

The movie is set for release on August 1st 2014. By that time the book will be have been out for four years and its short-lived popularity would be two years old. It almost feels like Universal missed the boat when the bought the rights by not taking advantage of it when people still cared. This isn’t a stone-cold literature classic that has stood the test of time, nor is it Harry Potter which had the fortune of being released while the books were still being published. This is the equivalent of Nintendo trying to make their Pokemon movie now rather than striking when the iron was hot. The Fifty Shades of Grey iron is far from hot. Two years may not sound like a long time, but this is the Internet age and fads die out quicker than they once did. Just remember, Psy was popular around this time last year – and would you pay to see a movie about that in 2014?

There has been a lot of talk about how the movie will actually play out considering it’s NC-17 “plot” and studios’ desires for PG-13 rated movies to maximise profit margin, but surely we should really be looking as to why this movie is even being made at all? The ship has sailed, the interest is gone and no one cares. Universal would be better off investing time and money into a series of books that is currently popular in order to make more money (which is the aim of the game).

This is not Warner Bros. capitalising on the popularity of Harry Potter or Nintendo cashing in on the success of Pokemon. This is Universal trying to squeeze some money out of Pogs.

Luke Owen is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors and the host of the Flickering Myth Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @LukeWritesStuff.