Now Showing: Grrrl Power

Does the female sex sell?

Judging from “Charlie’s Angels” $75.4 million take in two weeks, the answer is a definite … maybe.

The Drew BarrymoreCameron DiazLucy Liu starrer has overcome its infamous casting, script and $90 million production woes to become a bonafide hit. Milking its combination of cleavage, kung-fu fighting and Diaz‘s dance moves, “Charlie’s Angels” urged moviegoers to “get some action,” which they did, taking a strong summer for women and kicking it up a couple notches.

Once upon a time — er, last spring, actually — the Island of Moneymaking Girl-Power Movies only had one survivor: Julia Roberts. Sandra Bullock is in career rehab, Jodie Foster‘s a hit-or-miss. Meg Ryan and Michelle Pfeiffer owe half their box office draw to their huge male co-stars, while Sharon Stone is banking on “Basic Instinct 2” to revive her appeal. And Demi Moore … well, that $12.5 mil for “Striptease” seems like a looong time ago.

Sounds bleak? Maybe not. The summer, while producing some of the weakest movies in recent memory, has managed to power up some hits with female-heavy marquees. Devoid of huge budgets, these films waited patiently while Tom, Mel, Eddie, Jim and Harrison duked it out before making their marks. Examples:

Bring It On” Costing just $10 million, this comedy about a cheerleading competition bested Wesley Snipes‘ “Art of War” and knocked off Jennifer Lopez‘s “The Cell” (see below) to claim the top spot with $17 million in late August. Boasting no marquee names (it stars Kirsten Dunst, Gabrielle Union and Eliza Dushku), the film showed surprising legs (no pun intended) and has gone on to gross $67 million to date.

The CellJennifer Lopez became the highest-paid Latina actress in 1996 with her $1 million leading role in “Selena.” “The Cell” put her in Virgin Mary robes, black bodysuits and a Hannibal Lecter muzzle contraption (is that moving up? We’re not sure.). Audiences, intrigued either by the movie’s visuals or Lopez‘s derriere in those tight outfits (or both), bit the first weekend, giving the $33 million thriller a $17.5 million opening. “The Cell” eventually tapped out at $61 million or so — not a blockbuster, but enough to give Lopez a foothold for her next flick’s salary negotiations.

Coyote Ugly” Girls dancing to Rob Base on top of a bar in tight jeans, splashing water on themselves and serving beer. Lather, rinse, repeat. Touchstone Pictures’ marketing department knew what it was doing when it hyped the ogling quotient and fierce-grrrl message (“tonight they’re calling the shots”) in trailers rather than its cheesy “Flashdance“-inspired story about a wide-eyed girl (Piper Perabo) who works at the bar Coyote Ugly while she launches her songwriting career. It barely earned back its $45 million budget (it’s grossed about $60 million), but that still ain’t bad for a film with a baffling title and no names (just faces) above the marquee.

And here’s a peek at female-driven films to look forward to: “102 Dalmatians” — Opens Nov. 22. Sequel to the 1996 film, which made about $137 million. Glenn Close looks to score again as memorable madwoman Cruella De Vil.

Miss Congeniality” — Opens Dec. 22 in New York. FBI agent Sandra Bullock has to tweeze her eyebrows to go undercover at a beauty pageant. Bullock‘s last film, the alcoholic comedy-drama “28 Days,” languished at about $38 million, but she should shine here in a quirky role, supported by “The Cider House Rules” Oscar winner Michael Caine.

“Sugar and Spice” — Opens Jan. 26. Mena (Suvari), Marley (Shelton), Marla (Sokoloff) and Melissa (George) are a bunch of cheerleaders who go on a crime spree. Isn’t that cute?

The Wedding Planner” — Opens Jan. 26. It’s Jennifer Lopez again, this time going for a Sandra Bullock-esque role as the title character, falling for the groom (Matthew McConaughey) of the wedding she’s coordinating.

And let’s not forget 2001’s other offerings: “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” aka The Movie Renee Zellweger Gained Weight For; the Drew Barrymore starrer “Riding in Cars With Boys,” directed by Penny Marshall; and next summer’s ultimate girl-power gig — Angelina Jolie as buxom archaeologist Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider,” based on the popular video game.

Get some action, indeed.