It would be insulting to say that the Fifty Shades film series has been in any way revelatory for the film industry, especially being born out of a notoriously terrible series of books that seem almost entirely responsible for the film’s success (as well as an incredibly well-executed Valentine’s release campaign). Bolstering this popular appeal are the numerous music acts that litter the soundtracks, with the final ‘Freed’ chapter featuring Rita Ora, Liam Payne, Sia, Ellie Goulding, Dua Lipa, and many others. These songs signify the appeal of a film that simultaneously tries to be edgy and daring while also inoffensively appealing to young couples on Valentine’s day.
Nevertheless, so-called ‘R rated’ films are experiencing something of a resurgence, with Deadpool, It, and Logan all within the highest grossing R rated films of all time, and all being released within the last two years. Of course, these films are very different in both style and content to Fifty Shades, but definitely suggest a Hollywood more willing to spend on R rated films, and also an audience who provide the money for such ventures. Despite the contrast between these films, It and Deadpool have a similar communal appeal for couples, offering an equally viable yet very different type of thrill.
[Fifty Shades is] a film that simultaneously tries to be edgy and daring while also inoffensively appealing to young couples on Valentine’s day
Another issue when considering whether Fifty Shades has “opened doors” are the debates around the films, with many arguing that they are misogynistic and offer a distorted view of BDSM communities. On the other hand, recent critics, including Stephanie Zacharek, have argued that much of the hatred towards the series heightens a sense that films aimed towards women are not valid. She questions why Fifty Shades needs to be referred to as a “guilty pleasure.” Arguably we should feel just as guilty about other R rated box office hits. Indeed, what is Deadpool if not an overrated and pretentious exercise in self-congratulatory one-note humour?
We should recognise that Fifty Shades has not opened doors for more nuanced films about sexuality, but the prospect is exciting; with mainstream films such as Logan exploiting the possibilities generated by their respective genres, but extending beyond them in a critical way. Unfortunately, there is reason to be less excited, as most film-rating boards favour explicit violence over sexual content, uncomplicated and timid films about sex are being encouraged. The critic Mark Kermode has recognised that the last two films of the series fit into the thriller genre most appropriately, with the sexual relationship of Anastasia and Christian being at the forefront in only the first entry of the series.
‘R rated’ films are experiencing something of a resurgence
This industry-determined timid attitude towards sex is even more disappointing considering that some of the greatest films of all time explore the extremes of sexual desire and obsession. Both Vertigo and Black Narcissus epitomise the exploitation of cinema’s heightened emotional impact to create lurid and brilliant movies that explore sexual desire in a very subtle way. Due to their age, these films avoid using sex scenes of any description, but it seems logical that filmmakers could create some incredible work by exploring sexual themes in a way that is more firmly rooted in reality. Ultimately, we are far more accustomed to watching someone being beaten to a pulp than to seeing human genitals, and this is a bit of a shame.