Women flexed their box-office muscle this weekend as "Sex and the City" racked up $55.7 million to dethrone "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," according to studio estimates.
The Warner Bros. movie took the No. 1 spot away from the Harrison Ford sequel and also notched the highest opening ever for a romantic comedy, capturing that honor from Will Smith's "Hitch," which had tallied $43.1 million in 2005.
Huge ticket sales for Friday's opening day propelled the R-rated comedy, based on the HBO television series and with Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis reprising their roles as pals Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.
The opening night crowd was estimated at 85% female -- and 80% older than 25 -- although theater owners told the studio that audiences were about 75% female during the rest of the weekend as it played a bit more as a date movie. Along with husbands and boyfriends, gay males are part of the show's fan base.
Prerelease tracking surveys had pointed to an opening of about $25 million, but they failed to capture an unusually passionate groundswell for the ensemble film.
"The cosmos were pouring and the girls came out in strength," said Dan Fellman, the president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., referring to the show's signature cocktail. "There has never been, in the history of our industry, a female-driven movie that's created a frenzy like this."
Fellman said the closest thing might have been Super Bowl weekend's 3-D hit "Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour," which attracted throngs of much-younger females when it came out.
Paramount Pictures' "Indiana Jones" took in $46 million over the weekend, dropping 54% from its opening, to rank No. 2. The horror film "The Strangers" from Universal's genre arm Rogue Pictures amassed a better-than-expected $20.7 million to finish No. 3.
Boosted by midnight shows and viewing parties around the country, "Sex and the City" grossed $26.9 million in its first day before falling off steeply on Saturday and Sunday, when it was outperformed by "Indiana Jones," according to the estimates.
Final box-office figures come out today.
"Sex and the City," which cost an estimated $55 million to $65 million to produce, could end up grossing $175 million or more domestically if its legs are solid. Studio executives would be encouraged by sales today of $5 million or more.
Though reviews are mixed, moviegoers surveyed on opening weekend gave it high scores.
"Sex and the City" also got off to a robust start overseas, hauling in an estimated $39.2 million from 13 territories, including Britain, France and Germany, and ranking No. 1 or No. 2 in each.
Diane Keith, 47, a jewelry saleswoman in Edmond, Okla., said she and her husband and another couple tried early in the week to get advance tickets at a new Oklahoma City theater that serves alcohol, in order to toast the film in style on opening night with cosmopolitans. Because of advance sell-outs, they had to see it at another venue.
"The movie deals with the kind of issues that come up in people's lives," Keith said, pointing to one character's unexpected pregnancy and paralyzing fears, and another's obsession with work to the detriment of her marriage.
Fantasy elements, such as Carrie's fetish for $525 designer shoes, are also alluring, Keith said.
"When we came out of the theater I told my friend that I want to go to New York just to go shopping. That's on my list."
Warner Bros. had originally passed on making "Sex and the City." The studio recently inherited the picture when smaller corporate sibling New Line Cinema was folded into Warner by parent Time Warner Inc.
Now, Fellman said, New Line and Warner "certainly hope" to get a sequel quickly into the works.
"The Strangers" proved to be successful counter-programming, with ticket sales twice as high as expected.
The R-rated film, starring Liv Tyler, benefited from being the only significant horror movie in the market, said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of domestic distribution.
"The Strangers," produced for $9 million, drew audiences that were evenly split between males and females and were more than 60% under 25.
Industrywide, box-office revenue jumped about 30% from the same weekend in 2007, giving Hollywood a boost during an up-and-down early summer season.
"Iron Man" and "Indiana Jones" are the first two films of the year to top $200 million at the domestic box office, but "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" has under-performed lofty expectations and the costly "Speed Racer" is an outright flop.
"Sex and the City" will face competition from two high-profile comedies starting Friday, when the new releases include "Kung Fu Panda," from DreamWorks Animation SKG and distributor Paramount, and Adam Sandler's "You Don't Mess With the Zohan," from Sony Pictures.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
"Sex and the City" and "The Strangers" both outperformed expectations in their opening weekends. "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" became the second movie of the year (after "Iron Man") to top $200 million at the domestic box office. The romantic comedy "What Happens in Vegas" continues to hold up strongly in the market. Preliminary results (in millions) in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* Rank Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks -- (studio) (millions) (millions) 1 Sex and the City $55.7 $55.7 1 -- (Warner Bros.) 2 Indiana Jones and the 46.0 216.9 2 -- Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- (Paramount) 3 The Strangers 20.7 20.7 1 -- (Universal) 4 Iron Man 14.0 276.6 5 -- (Paramount) 5 The Chronicles of Narnia: 13.0 115.7 3 -- Prince Caspian -- (Disney) 6 What Happens in Vegas 6.9 66.1 4 -- (20th Century Fox) 7 Baby Mama 2.2 56.1 6 -- (Universal) 8 Speed Racer 2.1 40.6 4 -- (Warner Bros.) 9 Made of Honor 2.0 43.0 5 -- (Sony) 10 Forgetting Sarah Marshall 1.0 60.5 7 -- (Universal) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2007 (in billions) from 2007 $175.0 +29.8% $3.58 -2.8% *--*
Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each venue.
Source: Media by Numbers