Much like S&M enthusiast Christian Grey, screenwriter Kelly Marcel knows how to titillate.
In a recent interview with The Sunday Times (excerpted in The Hollywood Reporter), Marcel revealed that she is "100 percent going there" with the big-screen adaptation of E L James' best-selling "Fifty Shades of Grey," claiming the film will receive an NC-17 rating from the Motion Picture Association of America.
A rep for Universal — the studio producing "Fifty Shades" — quickly responded, telling THR, "A screenplay has not yet been written, a rating has not been designated, and we have no further comment."
James' tale of billionaire businessman Christian Grey and his inexperienced paramour Anastasia Steele is an undeniably saucy one, with plenty of explicit sex scenes and references to all manner of kinkery. Fans have long wondered how a cinematic version could possibly garner an R rating without erasing the bulk of erotic content that, let's be honest, makes "Fifty Shades" what it is. So while Marcel's NC-17 claims may have buoyed hopes for a thoroughly faithful adaptation, box-office experts told MTV News that an R rating is more likely (and financially viable).
"The source material for 'Fifty Shades' was always destined to be a film that toed the NC-17 line," Exhibitor Relations box-office analyst Jeff Bock explained. "That said, there has never been a quantifiable success story for a film with an NC-17 rating, which is why you very rarely see one released anymore."
To wit, the highest-grossing NC-17 film of all time, according to Box Office Mojo, is "Showgirls," which since its release in 1995 has earned a little more than $20 million. In contrast, 2011's much-talked-about "Shame," starring Michael Fassbender, has grossed just under $4 million.
Historically, theater owners have been hesitant to show NC-17-rated films, making them a gamble for risk-averse studios. However, BoxOffice.com vice president/chief analyst Phil Contrino said that stigma is mostly imagined nowadays.
"I highly doubt that the 'Fifty Shades of Grey' movie will be released in theaters with an NC-17 rating," he said. "Even though the idea that major theater chains won't play NC-17 films is largely a myth, there's still a feeling that distributors lose out financially by choosing NC-17 over R. There's a lot of money to be made here and an R rating is a safer bet from a financial standpoint."
All of this doesn't mean, however, that Marcel won't deliver an NC-17-worthy script to Universal.
"My guess is they'll make something that needs to be trimmed to get an R rating and then we'll see an 'unrated version' on Blu-ray, which will help make the home market more lucrative after what's sure to be an impressive theatrical run," Contrino continued.
Bock agreed: "Odds are they may shoot an NC-17 script that will eventually be toned down in the editing process. Snip, snip...cut, cut."
Regardless of whether "Fifty Shades of Grey" submits to an NC-17 rating or a less-financially-risky R, Box Office Guru editor Gitesh Pandya is confident the film will dominate the box office.
"Since so few films with [an NC-17] rating are ever released, and they are mostly small artsy pictures, 'Fifty Shades of Grey' would be a blockbuster for that rating since most of the audience is of age anyway," he said. "But buzz about its rating this early in the process makes for some nice publicity. It should do gangbusters no matter what the rating is. The only thing that could make it go limp at the box office is if they fail to make a good movie."
So are we headed for our first NC-17 blockbuster? We'll know for sure laters, baby.