Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sex And The City does $27 million on Friday. "I don't think anybody could have predicted that ... they would try to use an airplane as a missile..."

Again, pardon the crude analogy, but the Condoleezza Rice quote above fits the bill. Apparently, even my high-end estimates of as much as $50 million were off by as much as 1/3. As I walked by the Callabasas Commons last night around 7:00pm and saw the lines around the block (maybe a dozen men total), I immediately gave myself a mental kick in the ass.

According to most box office sites (all of whom are 'shocked' and 'stunned'), Sex And The City has a one-day Friday take of just under $27 million. That means, assuming it isn't insanely front loaded, it'll end up with at least $70 million. Hardcore front loading is a possibility, but judging by the complete Saturday evening sell-outs at the Arclight Hollywood, I doubt it.

Of course, if it passes a mere $70.8 million (about 2.7x the opening Friday), it'll surpass 300 as the third biggest R-rated opening in history (behind Passion Of The Christ's $83 million and The Matrix Reloaded's $92 million). And this is a far more impressive performance than 300. Despite cliches to the contrary, lots of women went to 300 and enjoyed it (because, again, some women enjoy bare-chested muscle men running around with swords just as much as men do, albeit some of them for different reasons). Judging by the data and personal observation, there aren't many men at Sex And The City this weekend.

I was wrong. I guessed at the high end of expectations and still vastly underestimated the likely three day take. But I won't act stunned and shocked, because I should have known better. I was wrong and that's because I underestimated the core audience. Plain and simple. I screwed up because I chose The X-Files: Fight The Future ($30 million opening, $84 million final) as a template rather than the obvious one. I was also wrong, as were many others, about the lack of precedent for this kind of film. There is one painfully obvious precedent that, had I remembered it and used it as a guide, would have allowed me to peg the Friday numbers on the nose, and come pretty close to the three day figures. D'oh!

Call it sexism, call it arrogance, but even on the eve of this performance, male analysts and studio execs are still shaking their heads in disbelief. The reaction of the usually reasonable Jeff Wells' reaction sums up the lines of attack I'm reading in other places. It claims, among other things, that it is merely a one-weekend wonder and is thus not a hit. Yes, because a $65 million movie making at least $65 million in three days is a real flop if it collapses next weekend and only ends up with $150 million. Oh, and one weekend wonders have been hits - 'quick-kill blockbusters' - since Batman Returns in 1992. For the record, if it does 2.5x the Friday number it ends up with $65 million. If it does 2.5x its opening as it's final gross, it ends up with $163 million (a very similar take to The Simpsons movie on both counts and ironically identical to the 1992 domestic take of Batman Returns).

I have not seen the film and may not see it anytime soon. It is likely not my cup of tea and frankly the only reason I would see it is to participate in the conversation that will surround the film in the coming days. But the cries of anguish, the charges that it is an Al Qaeda recruitment film, the charges that it is the equivalent of the 'OJ Simpson verdict' in terms of showing women in a negative, superficial light is insane and downright sexist.

Mass audiences embrace all kinds of films that are stupid, superficial, or just plain terrible and they have for a century. Now that women are enjoying a film aimed at them that is just as sugary, fantastical, and (allegedly) fantastically terrible as Ghost Rider or Top Gun, the men in Hollywood are frothing at the mouth in amazement and condemnation. If anything, this will be good for female entertainment. Hopefully, now women can be allowed to enjoy films targeted at them that are just as fluffy and superficial and wish-fulfillment-y as Transformers (god help me if Sex And The City is as bad as Transformers). And, eventually, they can enjoy such films without being criticized for it. Yes, there are those who wish that every black-themed film was Rosewood or Do The Right Thing, but progress comes when black people can enjoy Soul Plane without being criticized for it by blacks and whites alike.

Sex And The City is just a major film aimed at women that is (apparently) just as superficial and goofy as fantastical as most of the wish-fulfillment aimed at young boys. The huge opening number merely points out how few of these are made for women. Nice work, New Line, er... Warner Bros.

Scott Mendelson

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