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Early Tracking: Carrie Bradshaw and Friends Ready to Flex Their Box Office Muscles

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May 11, 2009 | 1:14pm EDT

This weekend, there is one for the girls at America’s multiplexes as Warner Bros rolls out the long-awaited Sex and the City movie. The series, which debuted in the late 1990s on HBO and ended its run in 2004, is a sure-fire hit with women. I saw an advance screening a few weeks back, and, although I will not spoil any of the surprises, it will be a completely satisfying experience for anyone who is a fan of the show.

The intentions of writer-director Michael Patrick King are modest. Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), Charlotte (Kristen Davis), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon) and Samantha (Kim Cattrall) are exactly who you remember them to be. The actresses slip on the characters like a comfortable pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes (if there is such a thing), and each character gets a nice little story arc.

Studios are wising up to the fact that every summer movie cannot be a teen-fueled blockbuster. As The Devil Wears Prada proved back in 2006, there is room at the multiplex for a film with pure female appeal. The Devil Wears Prada, featuring an Academy Award-nominated performance by Meryl Streep, opened to $27.53M on its way to a $124.74M domestic cume.

It is amazing that a movie, featuring four actresses in their 40s, is considered a big summer title, but thanks to cable TV, it is happening. Increasingly, the best roles for women 40+ are on television. Kyra Sedgewick (The Closer), Glenn Close (Damages), Holly Hunter (Saving Grace), Edie Falco (The Sopranos), Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) and Sally Field (Brothers & Sisters) have all found meaningful work on the small screen, and perhaps Sex and The City is an interesting trial balloon for the world of feature films. Success may mean green-lighting a few more movies featuring actresses, other than Meryl Streep, in their prime.

Industry tracking is proving rock solid for Sex and the City. My sources tell me that the movie has Un-Aided Awareness of 14 percent with Females compared to just 5 percent for last summer’s big ‘chick flick’ Hairspray at the same point in its marketing cycle. (Un-Aided Awareness is an excellent measure of buzz and anticipation.) Definite Interest is at 41 percent with Females 25+ vs. 38 percent for New Line’s 2007 musical, although Hairspray did a have 51 percent Definite Interest with Females Under 25 compared to Sex and the City’s 36 percent. Let’s call that the Zac Efron factor.

The overall First Choice score for Carrie Bradshaw and friends is a decent 9 percent, but that translates to 17 percent among females. In the demographic breakdowns for First Choice tracking data relayed to me, the film is skewing more adult for obvious reasons. 16 percent of all 21-24-year-olds name Sex and the City as their First Choice, meaning that, among women in that demo, the First Choice is above 30 percent. Over 30 percent of 25-34-year-old women also say it is their top movie to see, and almost 20 percent of women 35-44 and 45-59 say they will buy a ticket.

The filmmakers made a shrewd casting choice with Jennifer Hudson, serving as Carrie Bradshaw’s personal assistant. This is her first role since winning the Oscar for Dreamgirls, and she has contributed a very catchy song for the soundtrack. Hudson is also featured prominently in TV ads, which helps to broaden the audience for Sex and the City. Overall First Choice among African Americans is at 8 percent now, and it will likely improve as opening day approaches.

With Iron Man (Paramount) slowing, Prince Caspian (Disney) a disappointment and only male-driven Indiana Jones 4 (Paramount) to contend with in the marketplace, Sex and the City, in part because of its 2 hour plus running time, is getting a high percentage of multiple screen playdates. Also, a surprising number of exhibitors are offering Thursday night 12:01a preview screenings, and advance sales are reportedly brisk. I imagine that neighborhood nightspots will be serving up an above-average number of Cosmopolitans that night as well.

Because Females 25+ are generally not the crowd that always rushes out to see a movie on opening weekend, Sex and the City is more likely to open very well and then hold even better in coming weeks. I am looking for at least $30M on opening weekend, and with nothing particularly adult-skewing until Fox’s The Happening on June 13, this movie, starring decidedly grown-up women, has a chance to join The Devil Wears Prada and Hairspray in the very exclusive $100M Summer Chick Flick Blockbuster club.

Go to our Box Office section for recent weekend movie analysis.

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