and the City’
‘Sex and the City’ Leads Weekend Box Office
LOS ANGELES — “Sex and the City” and its legion of female fans over the weekend gave Hollywood exactly what it needs to survive an uncertain summer movie season: an unconventional hit.
The romantic comedy, based on HBO’s long-running television series of the same name, unexpectedly overtook the latest “Indiana Jones” movie at the domestic box office, bringing in an estimated $55.7 million since opening with midnight shows on Thursday, according to Warner Brothers., which released the film.
The performance fell short of the $70 million-plus opening some foresaw after sellout crowds — 85 percent of the ticket buyers women, many viewing in groups — brought the film about $26 million in sales on Friday. Still, the weekend opening far exceeded industry expectations, which only a week ago were looking something closer to the $27.5 million taken in by “The Devil Wears Prada,” a similarly female-driven hit released by 20th Century Fox in June of 2006.
“It is kind of mind-boggling,” Sarah Jessica Parker, the “Sex and the City” star, said in a telephone interview from her Manhattan home on Saturday. “We are thrilled and humbled that the audience came out.”
“Sex and the City,” of course, benefited from the enormous audience awareness that came with the television series’s six seasons, strong DVD sales and continuing appearances in syndication on TBS. There was also no shortage of media attention showered on the return after four years of Carrie, Miranda, Samantha and Charlotte, whether features about their clothes, their men or the show’s enduring influence (for good or ill) on the culture.
And yet surprise at the weekend performance was palpable, even among those who made the $65 million film. Ms. Parker, for instance, said she did not intend to sit home this weekend monitoring the box office results. But by late Friday, fans were sending messages and even photographs to her cellphone of women in line outside movie theaters across the country. (As the weekend went on, more men showed up, according to Warner Brothers.) A clutch of negative reviews did nothing to dampen the thirst for making a night or day of it at the theater.
“It’s a cultural phenomenon; it’s an absolutely incredible opening,” said Dan Fellman, Warner’s president for theatrical distribution, speaking by phone on Sunday. First-weekend ticket sales, he noted, were far beyond those of other R-rated comedies, including “American Pie 2” from Universal Pictures in 2001 and “The Wedding Crashers” from New Line Cinema in 2005.
The weekend opening also ranked as the strongest ever for a movie carried by a female lead (at least if ticket-price inflation is not taken into account). Paramount’s “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was the previous record-holder, with $47.7 million in ticket sales for Paramount during its opener in 2001.
“I am so excited about the possibilities for movies about women,” Ms. Parker said.
Ms. Parker credited Michael Patrick King, the movie’s writer and director, with creating an update of the hit HBO television show that brought the characters forward. “It’s a movie about being a grown-up,” she said.
Grown-up women have never exactly been absent from the big screen. Women’s roles have been as complex and varied as Helen Mirren’s turn as Queen Elizabeth II, which won her an Oscar in 2007, and Meryl Streep’s performance as the semi-monstrous fashion magazine editor in “Prada,” which turned into a box office smash.
But the female audience has seldom showed its potential in the way it did this weekend.
As “Sex and the City” placed No. 1 for the weekend, Paramount’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” dropped to second. The film, directed by Steven Spielberg, had a strong $46 million in ticket sales, bringing its total to $216 million since opening on May 22.
But the weekend’s second major surprise came from Universal, which had some good news, even as its backlot suffered a major fire over the weekend. “The Strangers,” a horror film made for about $9 million, took in $20.7 million for the company’s Rogue Pictures specialty unit.
Like “Sex and the City,” the horror film was rated R — usually a limiting factor at the spring-summer box office, which has traded in recent years on sequels and fantasy films with softer ratings. Yet the movie became Universal’s biggest of the year, beating its “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” And it raised hopes that audiences will respond in large numbers to a number of studio films like “Pineapple Express” from Sony Pictures Entertainment and “Tropic Thunder” from DreamWorks and Paramount, which, in the coming weeks, will test viewer willingness to turn out in large numbers for something other than repeat performances.
Hollywood could use the help. Even with the strong performances of the Top 3 movies this weekend, year-to-date results still lag last year’s total. According to Media by Numbers, a box-office tracking firm, tickets sales are off about 2.8 percent and attendance is down 5.5 percent compared with the corresponding time last year.
Whether the rest of the summer’s entrants will excite moviegoers as much as last year remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: The striking success of “Sex and the City” will spark immediate talk of another movie with Ms. Parker and her sidekicks — Cynthia Nixon, Kim Cattrall and Kristin Davis.
“They might be talking about a sequel,” she said. “But it still feels like we’re opening this movie.”
She added: “Michael and I still have never discussed it. It would have been greedy.”