Retrospective: Was Fifty Shades Of Grey Really That Bad?


Based on the much-maligned but hugely popular novel by E.L. James, the first Fifty Shades Of Grey movie hit cinemas in February 2015, and caused a storm around the world.

Yet reviews for the film were scathing and it’s become a running joke in film circles in recent years. But if we take another look back, was Fifty Shades Of Grey really that bad?

The Statistics

Looking purely at the numbers, we can draw clear conclusions about what most people thought about Fifty Shades.

On the one hand, critics annihilated the film in their reviews, as it ended up with a rotten 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, along with an extremely mediocre 46% on Metacritic. Meanwhile, it won no less than 5 awards at the Golden Raspberry Awards that year, taking home the joint top prize for Worst Picture.

With those reviews, it’s no wonder that Fifty Shades is a laughing stock to this day. But as we know, critical reception doesn’t tell the whole story.

Fifty Shades Of Grey was a massive box office hit. It made $571m at the international box office (the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time up to that point), and broke countless records along the way.

The hype for the film was palpable, almost like a piece of event cinema that only comes around once in a generation. And given the popularity of the original novel, there was clearly an audience willing to buy into that hype.

Also, if you look at audience reviews, there’s a clear discrepancy between male and female viewers. On IMDb, men on average gave Fifty Shades 3.8/10, whereas women were a whole point higher – at 4.8/10.

That’s not stellar, but neither is it in the territory of truly atrocious cinema. And after all, Fifty Shades has a clear audience, and it seems from all the numbers that it did a pretty good job of satisfying them.

So What’s So Bad About It?

Even with that massive box office success and relative audience popularity, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who genuinely thinks Fifty Shades Of Grey is a masterpiece.

Much like the novel that it’s based on, the film was controversial for its portrayal of an abusive relationship, all the while depicting its female lead, Anastasia Steele, buckling almost entirely under the pressure of a controlling partner in Christian Grey.

Fantasies and niche interests aside, it’s hardly the most inspiring story, even though the film does end on a rather more hopeful cliffhanger.

What’s more is that, despite the excitement surrounding the film’s risqué, erotic nature, Fifty Shades Of Grey is really rather tame.

It tries to excite with moments of explicit and kinky intimacy, but it’s nothing you won’t see in many other films. Only without any real emotional depth, those sex scenes are just a lot more boring.

And that’s one of the biggest and most consistent criticisms of Fifty Shades Of Grey: it’s a boring film. Originally written as a work of Twilight fan fiction, the film is based on equally dull source material, and does little to bring genuine emotional power and intensity to the table.

Running for an overlong 125 minutes, Fifty Shades is trivial at best, and laughably bad at worst. It takes itself too seriously, and seems to expect you to get excited about a story that, in reality, is anything but thrilling.

Is There Anything Good About It?

Well, yes. Fifty Shades Of Grey isn’t a masterpiece, but it has most of the ingredients needed to make a good film.

Above all, it’s one of the sleekest, coolest-looking films you’ll ever see. Despite its terrible plot, director Sam Taylor-Johnson injects the film with a unique and striking sense of elegance, using slick silver and grey motifs all the way through in a memorable and satisfying manner.

Also, Fifty Shades Of Grey has a really entertaining and memorable soundtrack. Beyoncé’s re-recording of “Crazy In Love” was a hit in the trailer, and works brilliantly in the film.

Meanwhile, a number of other erotic remixes of hit songs saw the film pick up nominations at both the Golden Globes and the Oscars, for Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” and The Weeknd’s “Earned It” respectively.

So, while the film’s screenplay is roundly terrible, on the surface, Fifty Shades Of Grey isn’t half-bad. It’s a well-made, well-directed and enjoyably sleek film with a memorable and unique atmosphere.

The performances from Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan leave a little to be desired, but there’s little to work with in such a poor screenplay.

Still, director Sam Taylor-Johnson pulls out all the stops to make the film as good as it can be, and does a rather good job – before pulling out of the series ahead of the sequels.

And with all that, it’s fair to say that Fifty Shades Of Grey isn’t all that bad. Its reputation is a running joke, but if you go back and look at the film, there’s a lot more to appreciate than you might expect.

What About The Sequels?

What, Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed?

They really were bad. Steer clear.


About Author

The Mad Movie Man, AKA Anthony Cullen, writes articles and reviews about movies and the world of cinema. Since January 1st, 2013, he has watched and reviewed a movie every day. This is the blog dedicated to the project: