Box Office Preview: How High Can ‘Sex and the City’ Go?

Everyone in Hollywood is asking an intriguing question this week: “How high can Sex and the City go?” After all, the average red-blooded American male will have to be dragged into the theater to see Carrie Bradshaw and friends (although, gay men will likely be among the movie’s early attenders). According to industry tracking relayed to me, an astounding number of American women have a weekend appointment to see these four 40+ actresses in their first big-screen adventure.

The summer blockbuster season has traditionally been devoted to major “tentpole” movies, featuring superheroes, explosions and animated animals, but that may be changing. Fox scored big with The Devil Wears Prada in 2006, proving that there is room at the multiplex for a film with pure female appeal. Prada opened to a $27.5M weekend on its way to a $124.75M domestic cume. Then last summer, New Line grabbed an almost identical $27.47M with the opening weekend of the female-skewing Hairspray, translating to $118.87M domestic.

With all of that said, it is amazing that a movie, featuring four actresses in their 40s, is considered a big summer title, but thanks to HBO, it is happening. Increasingly, the best roles for women 40+ are on television. Kyra Sedgwick (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 mature actresses to demonstrate their box office clout.

Three movies with female leads have been notable successes in 2008. 27 Dresses (Fox), starring Katherine Heigl from Grey’s Anatomy, debuted to $23M in January on its way to a domestic cume of $76.8M. Then came the Digital 3D phenomenon Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds (Disney), which enjoyed a meteoric $31.1M opening weekend, finishing with a tween-fueled $65.2M. Also the all-girl comedy Baby Mama (Universal) succeeded last month with a nifty $17.4M opening, and it is still in the top 10 with a current cume of $53.3M.

Finding box office hits with women 40+ as the undisputed star (or at least co-lead) are much more rare. This year, the beautiful 40-something Diane Lane headlined Sony’s Untraceable, which managed only $28.6M, and 60-year-old Diane Keaton was one of three leads in Overture’s Mad Money, a disappointment totaling just over $20M. Whether it is sexism, ageism, or some combination of the two, mature women are not given many opportunities to succeed as above-the-title stars at the movies.

Glenn Close, who recently won the Golden Globe for her work on F/X’s Damages, has what appears to be the biggest opening ever for a 40+ actress with the 1996 version of 101 Dalmations, which grabbed $33.5M in its opening frame and went on to generate $136.2M domestic. Also, when she was exactly 40, she succeeded as another anti-hero, Alex Forrest, in Fatal Attraction, a $150M+ blockbuster. The aforementioned Streep, who earned an Oscar nomination for her riff on Anna Wintour in The Devil Wears Prada has the second-best opening with a 40+ female lead. 

Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky FridayShirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment and Katharine Hepburn in On Golden Pond also scored $100M hits past the age of 40. Additionally, Diane Keaton has proved to be a bankable star in her prime with Something’s Gotta Give ($16M opening – $124.7M cume) and First Wives Club ($105.4M cume), which starred fellow 40+’s Goldie Hawn and Bette Midler.

Now along come Sarah Jessica Parker, Cynthia NixonKim Cattrall and Kristin Davis, all somewhere north of 40, and they are a regular Fantastic Four (sans superpowers). Harry Medved from Fandango, reports that hundreds of showtimes for Sex and the City are already sold out across America, including a fair number of 12:01a shows tonight. 10,000 moviegoers have been surveyed on the Fandango showtimes and tickets page, and Harry says that 67 percent plan to attend the movie this weekend with a group of female friends, 88 percent plan to attend a Sex and the City get-together either before or after the show and 68 percent plan to drink Cosmopolitans at their respective parties.

The latest industry tracking indicates a spectacular opening as well. Un-Aided Awareness among women is at 17 percent, and Sex and the City has 99 percent Awareness with Females 25 Plus. The movie is tracking slightly better with Females 25 Plus with Definite Interest at 49 percent compared to 35 percent with Females Under 25. In the all-important First Choice column, Sex and the City is reportedly at 24 percent with Total Females and 30 percent with Females 25 Plus. How many men will wander into the multiplex to check out the these NYC girls this weekend? First Choice among Males for Sex and the City is at only 3 percent.

On Tuesday, I forecasted a $30M opening for this former New Line property, but I am raising my estimate to the $33M-$36M range. Truthfully, anything over $30M is a triumph as Females 25 Plus are not notorious opening weekend attenders, but this has the feel of a phenomenon instead of just a movie. And, by Monday morning, Sarah Jessica Parker and friends will likely have the biggest opening ever for 40+ women at the top of the box office marquee. 

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount) should hold up well on its 2nd weekend with a 3-day of $49M-$52M or so. The Steven Spielberg-directed sequel is helped by the fact that both of the new wide releases this week are rated R. That will also help Iron Man near or possibly even surpass $275M domestic with $10M-$13M. Narnia 2 (Disney) continues to struggle with unimpressive weekday holds, and I think Iron Man has a real chance to post a better weekend gross (although Prince Caspian will be in that same $10M-$13M range).

The other new wide release is The Strangers (Rogue), which has picked up steam thanks to an excellent, though disturbing, TV ad campaign. My sources tell me that the movie has Un-Aided Awareness of 7 percent, but just a 53 percent Total Aware. With a 10 percent First Choice, the slasher pic has a shot at $10M and a 5th-place finish.


1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount): $50M

2. Sex and the City (Warner Bros): $35M

3. Iron Man (Paramount): $12.5M

4. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (Disney): $11.75M

5. The Strangers (Rogue): $10M

6. What Happens in Vegas (Fox): $6.1M

7. Speed Racer (Warner Bros): $2.1M

8. Baby Mama (Universal): $1.9M

9. Made of Honor (Sony): $1.8M

10. The Visitor (Overture): $800,000