This was inevitable: Sam Taylor-Johnson, the director of the hit movie adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, will not return for the sequels, she announced Wednesday night. She and the trilogy's author, E.L. James, struggled to see eye-to-eye during the filming, so despite the epic success of the movie, it's not surprising that Taylor-Johnson might move on to less "painful" projects.
But panic has naturally ensued, given that the movie was far better than it had any right to be. Taylor-Johnson took the source material - cheesy, middling erotica about a virginal college co-ed and a bondage-loving businessman - and transformed it into sort of a comedy. It wasn't as sexy as the book, but audiences didn't seem to mind. The movie has raked in an outlandish sum of money: more than $558 million worldwide.
That kind of success naturally warrants a sequel or 10, and the movie's stars Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan have signed on for three films (while reportedly hoping to get paid more for them). It's unclear whether Taylor-Johnson had signed on for only one movie or broke a multifilm contract after the difficulty of filming the first.
The director has halfheartedly downplayed the on-set tiffs, admitting that James (who maintained a lot of power over the movie adaptation) was "vocal" on set.
"We'd often clash and have to find a way to work through that to get to some sort of resolution," Taylor-Johnson told the Hollywood Reporter. "She would be the first to say as well that it was not easy. It was not easy. But we got there. I think both of us felt it was an incredibly painful process."
Then again, the movie's producer Dana Brunetti believes the whole thing got blown out of proportion. He maintains that whatever the creative differences between Taylor-Johnson and James, they weren't atypical for a movie set.
Either way, Taylor-Johnson is taking the high road with her widely-released statement:
"Directing Fifty Shades of Grey has been an intense and incredible journey for which I am hugely grateful. I have Universal to thank for that. I forged close and lasting relationships with the cast, producers and crew and most especially, with Dakota and Jamie. While I will not be returning to direct the sequels, I wish nothing but success to whosoever takes on the exciting challenges of films two and three."
She must have accidentally forgotten to thank James.
But on to the future of the franchise. There's concern, naturally, that Taylor-Johnson was the sole reason the movie was even watchable, since the source material was only barely readable (especially those first 100 sexless pages). But this development isn't necessarily a bad thing. Franchise films routinely change hands, and sometimes it's a huge boon for both producers and viewers.
The most obvious example would be the Harry Potter franchise. Four different directors worked on the series' eight films. Alfonso Cuaron, the bold auteur behind Y Tu Mamá También and Gravity, brought a dark and imaginative spin to Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkhaban - which felt completely different from the first two films, directed by Chris Columbus, the man behind family-friendly Mrs. Doubtfire and Home Alone.
But the distinctive approaches gave a freshness to the franchise. Regardless of disparate visions, all of the movie in the Harry Potter series were critically hailed blockbusters.
Meanwhile, just because a director stays on for more follow-ups doesn't mean that the quality of a trilogy or franchise is going to stick around with him or her. Exhibit A: Todd Phillips and The Hangover Part III.
And let's not forget that Taylor-Johnson's instincts weren't always infallible. At one point, she gushed about a dream sequence with jellyfish that she shot. "They're so sexual, jellyfish, when you look at them in tanks - just the way they move, the fluidity," she told the Daily Mail. The scene ultimately got cut because apparently no one else fully appreciated the eroticism of stinging, gelatinous sea creatures.
There's plenty of room for the Fifty Shades follow-ups to improve upon the first.
For all its unexpected wit, it also felt pretty tame for a romantic drama that featured a "red room of pain." That just leaves one question: After all the bad publicity, what director is masochistic enough to want to work with James?