There’s still a perpetual risk trying to bring overly explicit book adaptations to the big screen. As much as some audiences want to see these adapted, when a movie gets an NC-17 rating slapped onto the marketing campaign, it’s a surefire death at the box office. There hasn’t been a box office hit for an NC-17 movie since “Showgirls” in 1995. Even the most recently talked about NC-17 movie (“Shame”) didn’t crack any more than $3 million in total receipts.
People who want to get their jollies seeing explicit sex and violence in movies now realize that it’s already available on the Internet. Going to a movie theater now is relegated to something truly meaningful that can’t be found anywhere else. And making a trek to see a movie is strictly a family affair nowadays where we want to have a shared experience rather than sitting alone watching something other family members would shun.
That doesn’t bode well for things like “Fifty Shades of Grey”, which now is shaping up as the most troubled production in many a year. That’s because the weight placed on its cast is one that no actor or actress really wants when thinking about it more astutely. Yes, you can consider Charlie Hunnam leaving the cast as a form of a prison break from the Alcatraz of movies. Only the most naïve or power hungry would gladly visit his cell to take his place.
The burden might be even greater for Dakota Johnson who reportedly has some similar trepidation about taking the role of Anastasia. While she hasn’t ditched the role as of this writing, what happens if she does? Earlier this year, I wrote about the casting of “Fifty Shades of Grey” and wondered if every actress offered the part would ultimately turn it down. After Emma Watson turned the role down last spring, a number of people agreed with me that it seems almost impossible to make “Fifty Shades” into something commercially successful.
Considering it has to be given an NC-17 in order to fall in line with the book, there isn’t any other place for the movie to go than between a rock and a hard place (with pun more or less intended). If it releases in theaters as an NC-17, the key female demographic will just wait to see it on DVD rather than sit in a theater all by their lonesome. Should it be released with an R rating, fans will shun it because it’s been diluted.
Focus Features and Universal are in more of a predicament than they probably understand right now. Even if they go ahead with the project, no one is going to come out of that project the same, especially its cast who may experience the worst side of fame. Books will probably be written about it someday analyzing the harsh lessons it taught Hollywood.
What lessons will those be? Chances are, a high-profile book with graphic sex will never be made into a movie again simply because of the impasse it creates. It may also go into sexual psychology books as being the ultimate libido killer when it’s clear the written word still causes more arousal than any exploited actor can on the big screen.