The reception of Fifty Shades of Grey, the film were fairly analogous to Fifty Shades of Grey, the book: Critics roasted it alive, but audiences lined up around the block - driving the unconventional romantic drama to a hugely-profitable $571 million box-office and a pair of sequels green lighted before the ink had even dried on the deal for the first one. Plans are now underway for Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed to shoot back-to-back later this year, which means the hunt is on to cast the new characters who will appear in the high-profile sequels.
But one key role has already found its star: Kim Basinger has signed to costar in Fifty Shades Darker as Elena Lincoln, an enigmatic older woman who is one of the key figures of the series.
The Fifty Shades series chronicles the highly-unconventional relationship of sexually-inexperienced Anastasia "Ana" Steele (Dakota Johnson) and wealthy businessman Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), which is complicated both by Grey's deep emotional issues and his preference for sadomasochistic sex. While the first installment concluded with the pair splitting up, the relationship resumes and evolves over the course of the next two volumes, with Basinger's character - whose casting was reported by Variety - entering the frame (though her existence had been mentioned in the first film) as part of the plot of Fifty Shades Darker.
In the story, Lincoln (Basinger) is the woman who seduced Grey into an emotionally-unstable relationship when he was only 15; the lasting effects of which supposedly inform his psychological difficulties as an adult. In Darker, Ana discovers that the two are still involved - but as business partners in a salon enterprise. More troubling still, the older woman feels threatened by Ana's presence, while further melodrama involving armed stalkers and sabotaged helicopters pushes the plot further into soap-operatic territory in Fifty Shades Freed. The film has been described as "more of a thriller" than its predecessor, for related reasons.
The casting makes Basinger by far the most (previously) well-known star to join the franchise, which went through a who's-who of A-list actor/actress pairings for its leads before selecting the relatively unknown Johnson and Dornan. But the Oscar-winning actress also brings a sense of genre-legacy to the proceedings: Though known today for glossy dramatic roles in features like L.A. Confidential and I Dreamed of Africa, one of the actress' early breakout roles was the erotically-charged 9 1/2 Weeks; a controversial 1986 drama which also starred Mickey Rourke and was one of the first mainstream films to explore a relationship featuring elements of sadomasochism in a serious way. Despised by (most) critics on its initial release, the film also faced accusations of skewing the dominant/submissive dynamic of the pairing to the point of misogyny against female characters - a criticism that has also followed Fifty Shades from the page to the screen.
While Fifty Shades of Grey was indeed a massive hit, it also slipped from it's top box-office position fairly quickly and did not have an especially long life in theaters, leading many to question whether the series has any serious long-term viability. While fans of the book (which began life as Twilight fan-fiction and was published after changing the character names and certain plot details) can likely be counted on to continue turning out, much of the original box-office take is thought to have been driven by non-fans curious to see what the "big deal" was and the spectacle of unusually-explicit sex scenes in a big-screen theatrical release. Now that this curiosity has been largely satisfied, it remains to be seen whether mainstream audiences were enamored enough of the actual characters and plot to return for two more sessions.
Fifty Shades Darker is set to hit theaters on February 10th, 2017, followed by Fifty Shades Freed on February 9th, 2018.