By Dave McNary
LOS ANGELES, (Variety.com) - Universal's opening of "Fifty Shades Freed" is dominating North American moviegoing with a solid $38.8 million opening at 3,678 locations as the business awaits the arrival of "Black Panther."
Sony's launch of family comedy "Peter Rabbit" wound up with a better-than-expected $25 million at 3,725 sites. Warner Bros.' debut of Clint Eastwood's thriller "15:17 to Paris" arrived above forecasts at $12.6 million at 3,042 venues for the weekend.
A pair of holiday season holdovers in their eighth weekends took fourth and fifth as Sony's "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle" finished with about $10 million at 3,126 sites and Fox's "The Greatest Showman" grossed $6.4 million at 2,373 screens. "Jumanji" will finish the weekend with about $365 million in 38th place on the all-time domestic grosser list, $3 million behind "Despicable Me 2."
The finale of the "Fifty Shades" trilogy -- referred to in marketing materials as "the climax" -- is also launching in 57 international markets this weekend with about $100 million, which brings the franchise total to about $1.09 billion.
The weekend saw a significant increase in moviegoing in the wake of a slow Super Bowl session with $138 million, up 46%, according to comScore. Overall business was off 27 percent from the same weekend a year ago, when "The Lego Batman Movie" led with $53 million.
Moviegoing will receive another major boost over the Presidents Day weekend with Disney-Marvel's "Black Panther" opening Feb. 16 and forecasted to take in as much as $150 million during the Friday-Monday period.
"This weekend is merely the calm before the proverbial Marvel-powered storm as 'Black Panther' is poised to leap into theaters with potentially record-breaking results," said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with comScore.
"Fifty Shades Freed" sees Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson return as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele in the conclusion of the events set in motion in 2015's "Fifty Shades of Grey" and 2017's "Fifty Shades Darker." The "Fifty Shades Freed" launch wound up above forecasts -- but was not as strong as its predecessors, "Fifty Shades of Grey," which opened with a sensational $85.2 million in 2015, and "Fifty Shades Darker," which opened with $46.6 million on the same weekend last year.
"Peter Rabbit," a live-action/CGI animated film from Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation, saw an uptick in Saturday business to finish well above recent projections. James Corden is voicing Peter Rabbit in a contemporary comedy highlighted by his feud with Mr. Thomas McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson) as they rival for the affections of the warm-hearted animal lover who lives next door, played by Rose Byrne.
Eastwood's "15:17 to Paris" is based on the book "The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes" by Jeffrey E. Stern, Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler, and Alek Skarlatos, about the 2015 Thalys train attack. The film stars Stone, Sadler, and Skarlatos as themselves. Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer also star.