Hollywood holds nothing in higher regard than the "four-quadrant" hit -- one that appeals to males and females, young and old alike.
The question surrounding Warner Bros.' "Sex and the City," this weekend's major release, is how far it can get on 2 1/2 quadrants.
The R-rated movie, made for an estimated $55 million to $65 million, is tracking strongly among females over 25 -- the core audience for the ensemble piece, spun from HBO's sitcom about four friends of a certain age and their relationships with men -- and among younger women too. It also figures, like the TV show, to attract an unofficial half quadrant in the form of gay males (plus a few straight guys who, like Projector, are fully in touch with their feminine sides).
That won't add up to a $100- million opening weekend like "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" just dug up. But it should lead to a launch of around $30 million and a No. 2 ranking for the weekend, positioning the film, if it holds up, to become a success on the scale of "The Devil Wears Prada," which reached $326.3 million in worldwide ticket sales. "Indiana Jones" is likely to repeat at No. 1 this weekend with close to $50 million.
Producer Darren Star, who also created the TV show, said that although the cable series ended its six-year run in 2004, the property has never been more popular thanks to its robust DVD sales and syndication on broadcast stations (even with most of Projector's favorite scenes edited out).
" 'Sex and the City' has not really left the zeitgeist," Star said.
The picture, opening today at 3,285 theaters in the U.S. and Canada, won't perform like your mother's chick flick. Films aimed at adult females often open to moderate business and, if word of mouth is encouraging, the audience turns up at its own pace, sustaining the box office for weeks.
Because of its loyal following, however, "Sex and the City" is more like a "fan boy" movie for women, with eager customers already turning opening night into an event. By Thursday, ticket sellers Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com reported several hundred early sell-outs for today's shows, starting at 12:01 a.m. in the tradition of summer spectacles.
Groups of women in cities including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Minneapolis are planning viewing parties for tonight, which could fuel a huge opening day followed by drop-offs Saturday and Sunday. Hollywood's early summer season has been mostly a parade of action and family movies -- "Iron Man," "Speed Racer," "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian," "Indiana Jones" -- so now comes girls' night out.
Although romantic comedies are a staple of the release calendar year-round, some movie fans believe Hollywood too often neglects older females. In a Fandango.com poll this week, 71% of more than 10,000 respondents answered "no" to the question, "Is Hollywood creating enough movies that speak to the adult female audience?"
Written and directed by Michael Patrick King, "Sex and the City" reunites stars Sarah Jessica Parker (as the fashion freak Carrie), Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon along with their love interests and gay pals like Mario Cantone's opinionated wedding planner.
Reviews are only lukewarm -- RottenTomatoes.com says 61% of the 62 reviews it canvassed were favorable -- but the movie remains faithful to the risque, glossy flavor of the show, and it could satisfy fans with its story arcs for each of the main characters built around the theme of being true to your heart and to your friends, even when those ideals prove elusive. The film is rated R for "strong sexual content, graphic nudity and language" (but nothing racier than the TV show if that's what you're hoping for).
Dan Fellman, president of domestic distribution at Warner Bros., which inherited "Sex and the City" when New Line was folded into its larger corporate sibling by parent Time Warner Inc., said the studio "would be thrilled if we could do 'Prada' business this weekend."
"The Devil Wears Prada," a couture satire starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, opened to $27.5 million in June 2006.
Bullish box-office analysts say "Sex and the City" will open better, perhaps topping the Jennifer Aniston-Vince Vaughn relationship comedy "The Break-Up," which launched to $39.2 million two summers ago with an audience that was two-thirds female.
Pre-release tracking for "The Break-Up," however, showed higher interest among men.
"Sex and the City" is this weekend's first choice among 18% of moviegoers, according to one survey, but with a major gender divide. The movie is the top pick of 33% of females over 25 and 26% of females under 25 -- but only 12% of males over 25 and 2% of males under 25.
This weekend's other wide release, Rogue Pictures and Universal's home-invasion horror film "The Strangers," starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, looks headed for an opening of slightly under $10 million, similar to "George A. Romero's Land of the Dead" from 2005. "The Strangers," produced for $9 million and marketed with the ol' scary-people-in-masks angle, carries an R for "violence, terror and language."
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"Sex and the City" will be the strongest new film in the market, but the latest "Indiana Jones" adventure could repeat at No. 1. These figures are The Times' predictions. Studios will issue weekend estimates Sunday and final results Monday.
*--* Rank Movie 3-day Through the Weeks prediction -- (studio) (millions) weekend 1 Indiana Jones and the $49.1 $223.9 2 -- Kingdom of the Crystal Skull -- (Paramount) 2 Sex and the City 31.0 31.0 1 -- (Warner Bros.) 3 The Chronicles of Narnia: 12.2 115.4 3 -- Prince Caspian -- (Disney) 4 Iron Man 10.9 263.0 5 -- (Paramount) 5 The Strangers 9.0 9.0 1 -- (Universal) 6 What Happens in Vegas 4.8 64.3 4 -- (20th Century Fox) 7 Speed Racer 2.0 40.4 4 -- (Warner Bros.) 10 Forgetting Sarah Marshall 1.0 60.5 7 -- (Universal) *--*
Source: Times research