'50 Shades of Grey' sets record at the box office

“Fifty Shades of Grey” sizzled at the box office, setting new records for the highest grossing Presidents Day Weekend opener of all time and ranking among the biggest R-rated debuts in history.

The erotic drama performed like a comic book movie, albeit one with much naughtier costumes, picking up $81.7 million from 3,646 locations over the three-day period. That easily trumped the holiday’s previous record-holder, the 2010 debut of the romantic comedy “Valentine’s Day,” which kicked off with $56.3 million.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” will do more than $90 million over the four-day holiday.

It’s been more than a decade since “Basic Instinct” and “Disclosure” heated up the box office with sexually charged big-screen fantasies. The advent of the internet had made kinky cinematic adventures seem positively anachronistic, but by mixing romance with bondage, author E.L. James was able to put a fresh spin on a limp genre. It’s an approach that could usher in a new period of sexual candor — at the very least it seems likely to last through “Fifty Shades” parts two and three.

In marketing materials, Universal Pictures and Focus Features, the studios behind the $40 million production, emphasized the love story elements of the tale of a brooding billionaire (Jamie Dornan) who whisks a timid college student (Dakota Johnson) away into a world of airplane rides, pregnant pauses, impossibly tight jeans, and the occasional detour into S&M.

The movie business tends to be fixated on youth, but this Presidents Day weekend was remarkable for the amount of adult-oriented content it boast. “Fifty Shades of Grey” wasn’t the only R-rated picture that did impressive business at the multiplexes — 20th Century Fox’s tongue-in-cheek spy thriller “Kingsman: The Secret Service” premiered to $35.6 million from 3,204 locations. It should do more than $41 million over the four-day holiday.

Filmed for $81 million and directed by “X-Men:First Class” helmer Matthew Vaughn, “Kingsman” features Colin Firth as a sort of ass-kicking George Smiley and newcomer Taron Egerton as the street-tough he takes under his impeccably tailored wing.

Last weekend’s champ, “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” was able to mop up the family business, earning an estimated $32.2 million for the three day weekend. The animated sequel will have made more than $100 million by the time the holiday ends.

Warner Bros.’ “American Sniper” blasted past another benchmark, crossing $300 million at the domestic box office after adding another $16.4 million over the weekend.

Fifth place finisher “Jupiter Ascending” insured that there will be write-downs at Warner Bros. The science-fiction adventure took in $9.4 million for the three day period and has made $32.5 million since it debuted last weekend. Its $176 million production budget and tens of millions in marketing and distribution costs make profitability nearly impossible.

Among milestones, “Big Hero 6″ passed “Beauty and the Beast” to become the third highest-grossing Disney Animation release with $219.3 million, behind “The Lion King” and “Frozen.”

On the art house front, the Anna Kendrick musical comedy, “The Last Five Years,” pulled in $45,107 across three screens, for a per-screen average of $15,036. The Radius-TWC release also debuted on video-on-demand. The indie label’s “Citizenfour,” the Oscar-nominated documentary about Edward Snowden, made $31,138 this weekend from 17 theaters, pushing its total to $2.6 million.

Click here for more in Variety.