In 2005- Stephenie Meyer wrote a book about a love triangle between a girl, a vampire and a werewolf. Twilight quickly spun out of control, spiraling from this basic premise into a complicated, multi-part treatise on abstinence and morality. Edward and Bella became props in a pro-life PSA, and the bestsellers launched a series of spectacularly bad films, which launched the careers of two major stars, whose subsequent relationship our future president Donald Trump tweeted about not once, but eleven times.
Now, thirteen years after a Mormon woman wrote some abstinence porn about a teen and an immortal who couldn’t do it, Fifty Shades of Grey, the Bella and Edward fan fiction turned literary phenomenon turned series of spectacularly bad films, just released its final installment—a movie about billionaire newlyweds who use butt plugs. Because, in the end, we all get what we deserve: a movie in which two clearly disassociated actors painstakingly lick drizzled ice cream off of each other’s genitals.
Thanks to Twilight, a generation of tweens and adolescents grew up with a preternatural desire for cursed, forbidden love and Robert Pattinson. In 2010, the series’ peak year, author Stephenie Meyer came in 59th on Forbes’ annual celebrity 100, with earnings of $40 million. In 2012, the year of the final installment, the Twilight film franchise had already raked in $2.5 billion at the global box office. Of course, a beloved YA series turned profitable film franchise is a classic equation, like Robert Pattinson plus painted-on abs or Taylor Lautner subtracting his shirt to reveal his natural abs. The success of Fifty Shades—a trilogy about a virgin who falls in love with a handsome, complicated, BDSM-loving billionaire—was a bit less expected.
E.L. James’ risqué series was credited with “transforming” the way that women consume erotica, becoming the first book to sell more than one million copies on Kindle. The trilogy also sparked a 25% boost in adult fiction sales, topped the New York Times’ best-sellers list for 30 weeks, and made James the highest-paid author of the year. In addition to making James richer than a fictional Seattle billionaire, Fifty Shades sparked a million knowing glances between subway Kindle readers and countless uncomfortable conversations. Suddenly, your mom wanted to talk to you about spanking and your partner was sending you Amazon links for Ben Wa balls.
When Universal Studies and Focus Features shelled out a reported $5 million for Fifty Shades’ film adaptation rights, they probably envisioned their own piece of a cultural phenomenon. By that measure, the movies—Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed—have been a complete disappointment. The film franchise has gotten more buzz for this Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik music video than for any singular installment. For a few years, Fifty Shades would show up at movie theaters around Valentine’s Day and offer a sort-of-appealing option for diehard franchise fans and large packs of drunk singles. I have never been to a Fifty Shades screening where the movie itself was funnier or more compelling than the audience’s heckles.
Of course, those of us who saw every installment were only subjected to around 6 hours of senseless dialogue—imagine the hell of being trapped inside of that franchise for years, storyboarding endless sex positions and racking your brain for some new way to use Rita Ora.
The franchise’s first two offerings, Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker, have been described as “boring”, “embarrassing”, “abysmally bad”, and “excessively stupid”. Writing on its final bow, Fifty Shades Freed, Vulture’s Kyle Buchanan correctly noted that, “No five-minute section in Fifty Shades Freed has any relation to the five minutes before it; the film just starts over. It’s Memento, but with butt plugs.” Emily Yoshida summed up the entire oeuvre as “a trilogy about a charming, intelligent young woman with just the right amount of self-awareness and sense of humor about herself, who happens to have a twisted kink for monogamy with the most boring man in the world.”