This time, the women rode to Hollywood's rescue.
Film executives, who typically cast men as the heroes, were breathing easier after six movies each generated more than $10 million in ticket sales this weekend, fueling a dramatic 35% increase in total receipts over the same week a year ago.
Such films as "He's Just Not That Into You," which was particularly popular among women, beat expectations and suggested that the recession and rising unemployment rate have not yet damped movie attendance.
The three-day box-office total should top $152 million, according to box-office tracker Media by Numbers.
"The economic situation and the diversity of films in the market right now has played well for Hollywood," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Media by Numbers.
Studio executives said Sunday that the wider range of movies this year is producing better results.
The encouraging box office comes after a bruising week for media companies. Walt Disney Co., News Corp. and Time Warner Inc. all delivered quarterly earnings that were grimmer than expected, in part, because of lower profits from their film studios.
But audiences returned to the theaters last month to help spark a record January for studios.
This weekend, women were particularly smitten with "He's Just Not That Into You." The New Line Cinema film, starring Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Aniston, generated an estimated $27.5 million in ticket sales -- a strong showing that produced tears of joy for distributor Warner Bros.
About 80% of the audience for the film was female, but more guys should be heading to the movie houses next week, said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. domestic distribution chief.
"The girls will bring them in next weekend for Valentine's Day," Fellman said. "We are off and running and should do very well next weekend. We've got a big hit on our hands."
"He's Just Not That Into You" is the latest in a string of movies with strong female characters, including "Sex and the City," "Hannah Montana," "Twilight" and "Mama Mia," that has delivered big numbers, Dergarabedian said.
"Women continue to drive box office in a big way," he said. "And we still continue to, mistakenly, underestimate the power of the female audience."
Twentieth Century Fox's action picture "Taken" demonstrated plenty of muscle in its second weekend, coming in second with an estimated $20.3 million. That should push the total gross for the film, starring Liam Neeson as a father trying to rescue his kidnapped child, to $53.4 million.
"Taken" sales were off just 18% from its opening weekend, said Chris Aronson, senior vice president for domestic distribution at Fox. That's a rare feat in the movie world because most pictures plunge 50% or more in their second weekend.
"Coraline," the animated 3-D film from Focus Features that tells the story of an 11-year-old girl's adventures in an alternate universe, had a particularly bright opening with $16.3 million. It became the second highest-grossing weekend for a "stop motion" animated film, behind the 2005 release "Corpse Bride," which turned in $19.1 million.
"Going into the weekend, no one could figure out what this movie was going to do," Dergarabedian said.
In addition, more than 70% of the moviegoers saw the film in 3-D, according to studio estimates. That should please film executives who have been counting on 3-D movies to provide additional revenue.
Meanwhile, the Steve Martin caper "Pink Panther 2," from MGM and Columbia Pictures, stumbled, landing in a disappointing fourth place with $12 million in its opening weekend. That compares with a $20-million opening weekend for Steve Martin's first "Pink Panther" film.
"It was at the low end of our expectations," conceded Rory Bruer, president of worldwide distribution for Sony Pictures. About 56% of the film's audience was female.
The film is expected to have international appeal so "ultimately we will turn out fine," Bruer said.
Sony's other comedy was no slouch. "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" with Kevin James came in fifth with $11 million as audiences continued to find its humor arresting. Its domestic gross so far is $97 million.
"Paul Blart is just one of those movies that is popular with everyone," Bruer said.
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Preliminary results in the U.S. and Canada, based on studio projections:
*--* -- Movie 3-day gross Total Weeks -- (studio) (millions) (millions) 1 He's Just Not That Into $27.5 $27.5 1 -- You (Warner Bros.) 2 Taken (Fox) 20.3 53.4 2 3 Coraline (Focus Features) 16.3 16.3 1 4 Pink Panther 2 12.0 12.0 1 -- (Sony/MGM) 5 Paul Blart: Mall Cop 11.0 97.0 4 -- (Sony/Columbia) 6 Push (Summit 10.2 10.2 1 -- Entertainment) 7 Slumdog Millionaire 7.4 77.4 13 -- (Fox Searchlight) 8 Gran Torino (Warner 7.2 120.3 9 -- Bros.) 9 The Uninvited 6.4 18.4 2 -- (Paramount) 10 Hotel for Dogs 5.8 55.2 4 -- (Paramount) *--*
*--* 3-day gross Change Year-to-date gross Change (in millions) from 2008 (in billions) from 2008 $152.0 +35.6% $1.2 +19.4% *--*
*--* Note: A movie may be shown on more than one screen at each venue. Source: Media by Numbers Los Angeles Times *--*