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How to watch the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ movies in order

It's not all romance and roses for Ana and Christian.

This article mentions nonconsensual BDSM and sexual assault; please take care while reading.

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Forget romance and roses; the theme for Valentine’s Day in February of 2015 was a little less rosy and a little more grey and gaspy. Fifty Shades of Grey hit the big screen just in time for couples to pour into their local theater for the first installment of a film trilogy that took the idea of cuffing season to the next level.

Christian Grey is not just a name that seemingly demands respect, but a man who wears it like a badge of honor. When a quiet and unsuspecting Anastasia Steele stumbles upon the opportunity to interview the 27-year-old billionaire entrepreneur, she quite literally stumbles through the entire thing, but Grey finds her adorable, and that idea is as shocking to her as it is to him. 

You see, Grey is a man of very “singular” tastes, which also reads as the guy is a total dom (dominatrix), and there’s not a lot that surprises him, let alone that makes his heart skip a beat. He’s drawn to Ana in a way he’s never been before; if this were Twilight, we’d say that Ana was his own personal brand of heroin; if it were Pride and Prejudice, we’d say Ana bewitched Grey, body and soul. 

However, this is 50 Shades of Grey, and Ana absolutely threw Christian for a loop, but he wasn’t the only one. Ana knew she was crossing paths with someone powerful, but he would go on to change her world in a way she never anticipated. It wasn’t just the initial draw they felt to one another; every interaction between them changed things for her, but the film trilogy didn’t receive rave reviews from all audiences. 

In fact, some were downright troubled by the contents of 50 Shades. As Grey himself would say, he was 50 shades of f***ed up, and some in the kink community felt the same way while watching it. Before we get too far into that, however, let’s discuss what you came here for: the watch order for the film trilogy. How do you see each installment of this twisted romance unfold in the right timeline? As usual, we’ve got you covered. 

1. 50 Shades of Grey

Ana and Christian share a close moment in 50 Shades of Grey.

First things first, you start with 50 Shades of Grey, the film that started it all, inspired by a book of the same name. The story begins with Anastasia Steele meeting Christian Grey, opening the door to the sexual escapades of a billionaire Casanova. Ana’s meeting with Christian was all made possible because her friend and roommate, Kate, could not do an interview with him due to a pretty wicked sickness, but it felt more like fate stepping in to ensure that the paths of these two crossed.

We’re not in the business of kink-shaming; life is short, and if it makes you happy (and is legal and consensual), then we say to let your heart desires run wild — but the movie did draw criticism from those who saw it less about embracing your dark desires, and more about glorified abuse. 

The Atlantic was one of many publications that spoke about Grey not being a “true dominatrix” and the troubles of the film that paint the BDSM community in an unfair light; there are many “grey” areas of the movie in which Ana notes that she’s only “submitting” to avoid conflict, or because she’s not quite sure how to use her voice yet, where Christian is concerned. 

Speaking to a sex educator in the kink community, The Atlantic notes that this practice isn’t at all how genuine BDSM relationships are conducted. The rules are outlined in black and white from the beginning, even if they’re different for any club, event, or relationship. 

“It could be that ‘the standard is you don’t touch anyone you don’t know without their permission, and you don’t touch anyone’s belongings,’ she says. But, for example, other places might ‘require that all people who identify as submissive address all people who identify as dominant as sir or ma’am.’ No matter what, these guidelines are always explicit. ‘Rules are usually posted online, and then frequently, you can find a hard copy. Some parties you might go to might hand those to you as you go in. I’ve been to parties that make you read and sign standards of behavior as you walk in.’”

The thing about 50 Shades of Grey is that it showed more coercing from Grey, and less willing participation from Ana. As the book and film series continued, Ana grew more confident, but communication and understanding are cornerstones of the BDSM community; as E (the sex educator who spoke to The Atlantic) notes, the other is trust.

“Communication is one of the most important parts of kink and BDSM sex because that’s how partners establish trust. And trust is crucial: It’s why people let others tie them up naked…”

Trust and communication would grow more prominent in the relationship between Ana and Christian, but 50 Shades of Grey was certainly the movie that caused most people to feel like something just wasn’t right. With the two separated at the end following a lousy decision on Chrstian’s part, some audiences wouldn’t go on to see the films that followed.

2. Fifty Shades Darker

Christian and Ana share an emotional moment in 50 Shades Darker.

50 Shades Darker is the second film in the installment, and the movie sees Ana and Christian pick up their relationship after — shocker, we know — they ended things after Christian took it too far in the previous film. This time, the relationship is more on Ana’s terms, which means they have no rules, secrets, or punishments.

Ana begins to learn more about Christian’s past, but he doesn’t give her the full run down just yet — and to be honest, it’s heartbreaking to understand what he endured as a child and a young adult. He tells Ana that his mom was a drug user, but for each wall he takes down where his girlfriend is concerned, another sprouts up to hide even darker secrets. Christian didn’t get into his “lifestyle” the way some people do; he was all but forced into it, which Ana learns about halfway through the second storyline.

A woman who “took him in” after his mom’s death “introduced” (see also: assaulted) him, and he knew no other life. While his biological mother had never been able to care for him, this woman, Elena, “cared” for him in a way that was wildly inappropriate and illegal, but was still more than he’d been given before. He was confused, but he considered this to be a step up from what he’d faced on his own before.

As Ana begins to learn more about him, she understands all of the reasons that Christian has his walls up, and she meets the infamous Elena herself, and in newfound confidence, delivers quite the blow to her ego. The second film, and the book upon which it was based, both end on a happier note.

3. Fifty Shades Freed

50 Shades Freed sees Christian and Ana living their dream life together, a married couple who still enjoy Christian’s toys and playroom living as quite the powerhouse pair. The past can’t touch them anymore, right? … At least, that’s how it appears at first; what happens next, however, is enough to rock the foundation upon which they’ve finally secured their feet.

A threat from Christian’s past is waiting for the perfect moment to strike, but what this prior adversary doesn’t know is that Christian fought to get to where he is now, and he’s not going to let anyone get in his way, even someone he once shared a close bond with. It goes without saying that the third film is arguably the most emotionally-charged, but it’s also a peek into what healing looks like, even if it’s done in a way that’s less packaged and polished, and more gritty and all-consuming. Ana and Christian finally get to their own little piece of happily ever after, and while it took a lot more than they ever expected, it all appears to be worth it in the end.

If you’ve yet to dive into the books that inspired the films, you can find them of the same name, in the same order, by E.L. James at your local bookstore or library. Three additional books written from the perspective of Christian vs. Ana, simply titled Grey, Darker, and Freed, also exist for readers who want a new view of their story. As we explained earlier, there are mentions of BDSM that is nonconsensual, and mentions of sexual abuse, so please read with caution.


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Ashley Marie
Ashley Marie is a staff writer, beat leader, Disney fanatic, and Yellowstone expert. When she's not filling her friends in on all the entertainment news they can handle, she's drinking her go-to Starbucks order — a caramel macchiato, thank you — and wishing she was at Disney World or spending time at the Yellowstone Dutton Ranch. With a focus on positivity and kindness in journalism, Ashley has been writing for a decade and hopes to keep bringing you articles for decades to come.