'Sex' rules: Is it just an exception?

Carrie Rickey
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

When Warner Bros. exec Jeff Goldstein went to bed Sunday night he was ecstatic about the record-breaking $55.7 weekend box office for "Sex and the City."

And Monday morning, when he found that the final tally was actually $57.3 million, he told his wife, "I guess we had more `Sex' yesterday than I thought."

"Unprecedented" is the word that Dan Fellman, Warners president of domestic marketing, is using to describe the success of the film, which took the record for the top-grossing first weekend for an R-rated comedy.

"Sex" had the fifth-best opening weekend for an R-rated movie and is the only film in that quintet, which includes "The Matrix Reloaded" and "300," to have a female lead. (Yes, Hollywood has categories to fit all occasions.) This is significant because last year, only five of the 50 top-grossing movies starred or were focused on women.

And it explains why last week, skeptics from Hollywood, Calif., to Hollywood, Fla., were betting that "SATC" would tank. Typical was the hater who complained to the Defamer Web site, "Who wants to see a movie about plow donkeys in lipstick?"

Roughly eight million moviegoers did (the average price of a movie ticket in the United States is $7), and they weren't exclusively female. According to exit polls, the Friday audiences were 85 percent femme, Saturday's 75 percent. While the Sunday figures have yet to be demographically crunched, Fellman and Goldstein expect the male/female ratio to become less skewed in the coming weeks.

Fellman says it's too early to say what lessons can be learned from this, but he's encouraged that "SATC" suggests that women can create a frenzy for a movie just as "we are accustomed to seeing in boys and men."

As studio execs digest the news and mull over "What Does It All Mean?" the Hollywood grapevine is humming. It's ironic that this breakout success is coming to Warners, which specializes in muscular hits such as "Batman," "300" and "Matrix."

"I hope that the overwhelming and unexpected success of `Sex and the City' will give Hollywood the permission to look at the women's audience differently," Melissa Silverstein, who writes the "Women & Hollywood" blog for the Huffington Post Web site, said in an e-mail.

Like some other female analysts, Silverstein (whose blog is at sees an apparent double standard. While observers worried last week whether men would go to a movie starring four women in their 40s and beyond, "Do you remember anyone wringing their hands about `Wild Hogs,' about four aging guys?"

"It would be sad if the Hollywood banking machine sees `Sex and the City' as an anomaly," says Terry Lawler, executive director of New York Women in Film and Television. "That's happened before, with `My Big Fat Greek Wedding,' `Daughters of the Dust,' `Something's Gotta Give' and `The Devil Wears Prada.'" These movies, Lawler says, "tend to be seen as exceptions rather than the rule, and no studios learn the lesson that there's an underserved audience out there."

And for one Hollywood analyst who called "SATC's" opening weekend "historic," predicting that it would be "the most popular female-driven film ever," a little history is in order. Back in the days before Hollywood divided audiences into male/female/under 30/ over 30, all movies were marketed to a general audience. Adjusted for inflation, two of the top three films of all time are female-driven: "Gone With the Wind" (No. 1) and "The Sound of Music" (No. 3).

"The Devil Wears Prada," the 2006 hit that scored a surprising $124 million at the domestic box office, made $201 million overseas. Which suggests that foreign moviegoers aren't as divided by gender as marketers seem to think the American audience is.






"I'm an Audience Member, Playing This Music for Us": An Interview With Keller Williams

Veteran musician Keller Williams discusses his special relationship with the Keels, their third album together, Speed, and what he learned from following the Grateful Dead.


Shintaro Kago's 'Dementia 21' Showcases Surrealist Manga

As much as I admire Shintaro Kago's oddness as a writer, his artistic pen is even sharper (but not without problems) as evident in Dementia 21.


Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad Proclaim 'Jazz Is Dead!' Long Live Jazz!

Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad bring their live collaborative efforts with jazz veterans to recorded life with Jazz Is Dead 001, a taste of more music to come.


"I'll See You Later": Repetition and Time in Almodóvar's 'All About My Mother'

There are mythical moments in Almodóvar's All About My Mother. We are meant to register repetition in the story as something wonderfully strange, a connection across the chasm of impossibility.


Electropop's CMON Feel the Noise on 'Confusing Mix of Nations'

Pop duo CMON mix and match contemporary and retro influences to craft the dark dance-pop on Confusing Mix of Nations.


'Harmony' Is About As Bill Frisell As a Bill Frisell Recording Can Be

Bill Frisell's debut on Blue Note Records is a gentle recording featuring a few oddball gems, particularly when he digs into the standard repertoire with Petra Haden's voice out front.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 4, James Chance to the Pop Group

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part four with Talking Heads, the Fall, Devo and more.


Raye Zaragoza's "Fight Like a Girl" Shatters the Idea of What Women Can and Can't Do (premiere)

Singer-songwriter and activist Raye Zaragoza's new single, "Fight Like a Girl", is an empowering anthem for intersectional feminism, encouraging resilience amongst all women.


VickiKristinaBarcelona Celebrate Tom Waits on "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" (premiere)

VickiKristinaBarcelona celebrate the singular world of Tom Waits their upcoming debut, Pawn Shop Radio. Hear "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" ahead of tomorrow's single release.


'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.