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"Fifty Shades" Is The First Wave Of An Influx Of Women-Driven Films

Fifty Shades of Grey's record-setting box office weekend is just the first volley in what promises to be a banner year for female-driven movies.

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Fifty Shades of Grey exploded at the box office this weekend, with a rousing estimated three-day gross of $81.7 million. That amount is more than ample to thrash the previous President's Day/Valentine's Day weekend record, held by 2010's Valentine's Day (with $56.2 million). Fifty Shades' opening weekend also now ranks as the best-ever debut for a contemporary romantic drama, whipping past last year's The Fault in Our Stars (with $48 million). The only other film released in February that has even seen this kind of money is 2004's The Passion of the Christ (with $83.8 million).

In truth, Fifty Shades' climactic box office eruption isn't much of a surprise — the E.L. James book on which it's based is a global phenomenon that famously boasts a readership of some 100 million worldwide. Those are Harry Potter numbers. And indeed, Fifty Shades pulled in an equally eye-popping $158 million overseas, with number one openings in the U.K., Ireland, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and the Philippines.

According to data provided by Universal Pictures, the domestic audience for the film was also predictably skewed toward women: 68% female versus 32% male. But that is not quite as drastic a split as it could have been: When Sex and the City opened in 2008 with $57 million (or $65.9 million in 2015 dollars) — and seemingly introduced to Hollywood the decades-old phenomenon of women going en masse to see a movie together — the audience was reportedly 75% female.

Still, Fifty Shades more than makes good on Sex and the City's promise of blockbuster box office delivered by a studio movie primarily concerned with women — both as characters and as ticket buyers. What is even more remarkable, however, is that this will not be the only time that description could be applied to an anticipated 2015 box office hit.

Over the course of this year, Hollywood's major studios are scheduled to release well over a dozen feature films that star and showcase women — from grand costume fantasies to hard-R comedies, macabre horror films to sweeping sci-fi sagas. Seven studio movies with women as the main characters will open during the summer alone. Just two years ago, only one studio film starring women, The Heat, opened during the summer.

Here is a brief preview of what to expect this year:

Cinderella

Jonathan Olley / Disney

Opens: March 13

Lily James (Downton Abbey) steps into the title character's iconic glass slipper as she contends with her wicked stepmother (played by Cate Blanchett), in this live-action adaptation of the classic Disney-fied fairy tale.

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The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate

Opens: March 20

Life promises to get even more surreally complicated for Tris (Shailene Woodley) in the second installment of this psychologically driven thriller franchise based on the best-selling YA book series.

Pitch Perfect 2

Universal Pictures

Opens: May 15

Producer and co-star Elizabeth Banks makes her feature directing debut with the sequel, which follows distaff a cappella group the Barden Bellas to an international singing competition.

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Tomorrowland

Disney

Opens: May 22

George Clooney and Hugh Laurie may be the most famous names in this movie, but its protagonist is a girl (Under the Dome's Britt Robertson) who discovers a key to a fantastical alternate dimension unbound by possibility.

Spy

Larry Horricks / 20th Century Fox

Opens: May 22

Reuniting with her Bridesmaids director Paul Feig, Melissa McCarthy plays desk-bound CIA operative Susan Cooper, who volunteers to take on a dangerous field assignment after the identities of all the best agents is revealed.

Inside Out

Disney-Pixar

Opens: June 19

In Pixar's film about the inner emotional world of a young girl, Amy Poehler voices Joy, the embodiment of the girl's primary emotion, who has to contend with Sadness (The Office's Phyllis Smith) when the girl's life begins to fall apart after her family moves to a new city.

Magic Mike XXL

Warner Bros.

Opens: July 1

OK, this is cheating — the main characters in this movie are most certainly men. But they are male strippers, and the entire point of this movie is to make women (and gay men) happy. So it counts.

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Trainwreck

Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictures

Opens: July 17

Amy Schumer brings the boozy, floozy comic persona from her hit Comedy Central series to this romantic comedy she wrote and stars in, about a commitment-averse woman whose life is upended when she meets a nice guy (Bill Hader).

Ricki and the Flash

Bob Vergara / TriStar Pictures

Opens: Aug. 7

Meryl Streep is a rock-and-roll star who returns to her estranged family to try to patch up their relationship after she abandoned them to chase after her dream. Diablo Cody (Juno) wrote the screenplay.

The Intern

Steve Sands / GC Images

Opens: Sept. 25

An editor at a fashion website (Anne Hathaway) hires a 70-year-old man (Robert de Niro) to work as an intern in the latest comedy from writer-director Nancy Meyers (It's Complicated, Something's Gotta Give).

Crimson Peak

Kerry Hayes / Legendary Pictures

Opens: Oct. 16

A young aspiring author (Mia Wasikowska) is brought to a haunted house by her prospective lover (Tom Hiddleston) — and his fearsome sister (Jessica Chastain).

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The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2

Murray Close / Lionsgate

Opens: Nov. 20

The final installment in the enormously successful franchise follows Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) as she battles to take down the totalitarian Capitol.

Sisters

K. C. Bailey / Universal Pictures

Opens: Dec. 18

When two grown sisters (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) learn their parents are selling their childhood home, they decide to throw a giant blow-out house party to say goodbye. Longtime Saturday Night Live writer Paula Pell wrote the screenplay.

Joy

Eric Charbonneau / Invision / AP Eric Charbonneau

Opens: Dec. 25

Jennifer Lawrence joins up again with director David O. Russell (American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook) for this biopic of Joy Mangano, the single mother who invented the Miracle Mop. Annie Mumolo (Bridesmaids) wrote the script.

This surge of female-driven movies is the result of the molasses-slow pace at which Hollywood reacts to change. Spider-Man was an astronomic hit in 2002, but it took another six years before superhero movies began to dominate the box office charts as they do today. Similarly, the enormous success of Sex and the City in 2008 and Bridesmaids in 2011 did not immediately inspire a torrent of feature films like them. But between the dual box office phenomenons of Twilight and The Hunger Games, the lucrative notion that women make up half the population on Earth has finally started to dawn on Hollywood executives.

By the same token, the magnitude of this very welcome growth should not be overstated. Women are still woefully underrepresented in directors' chairs, and the overwhelming heterosexual whiteness of the characters in the aforementioned movies is rather impossible to ignore. On both scores, television — which operates at a much faster decision-making metabolism — is already light years ahead of the movie business, with several ratings hits featuring people of color and being driven (both behind and in front of the camera) by women. So perhaps by the 2020s, we can hope to start seeing a similar burst of diversity in feature films.

Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:

1. Fifty Shades of Grey* — $81.7 million

2. Kingsman: The Secret Service* — $35.6 million

3. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water — $30.5 million

4. American Sniper — $16.4 million

5. Jupiter Ascending — $9.4 million

6. Seventh Son — $4.153 million

7. Paddington — $4.150 million

8. The Imitation Game — $3.5 million

9. The Wedding Ringer — $3.4 million

10. Project Almanac — $2.7 million

*Opening weekend

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