A chick pic is about to break the glass ceiling at the Memorial Day weekend box office. And it's R-rated. Warner Bros./New Line broke the rules with the release of Sex and the City 2 at 12:01 am Thursday in 3445 theaters. No femme flick has ever dominated the Memorial Day frame in the B.O. tracking era (post 1982). Furthermore, the charts haven’t seen a No. 1 R-rated opening since 1993’s Sylvester Stallone action title Cliffhanger which hooked $20.5 million. During the '80s and early '90s, an R-rated action title wasn't an uncommon B.O. champ for the holiday.
Not to mention, Memorial Day is home to family films and guy-friendly PG-13 franchises, such as Sex’s main foe, Disney’s Jerry Bruckheimer sword-and-sandal title Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, bowing in 3646 sites. Femme flick bows are rarely scheduled over Memorial Day: when they are it’s usually as counter-programming. But this weekend, despite weak reviews for the pre-sold sequel Sex and the City 2, Sarah Jessica Parker's Abu Dhabi posse looks to knock out beefed-up Jake Gyllenhaal's parkour-crammed desert fantasy adventure, which scored just $18-million overseas last weekend in 19 countries. Disney distribution president Chuck Viane thinks there’s plenty at the multiplex to satisfy a variety of tastes. Sex and the City fans "are very female and we’re very male. This weekend, people will go to the movies twice.”
One of the more successful chick pic openings over Memorial Day weekend belonged to the Julia Roberts 1999 romantic comedy Notting Hill which played against the second frame of Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace, grossing $27.7 million over four days.
When the first big screen adaptation of the HBO Emmy-winning sitcom first bowed on May 30, 2008, grossing a wondrous $57 million, it didn’t really face any serious competition. Rogue Pictures horror thriller The Strangers wasn’t that much of a threat. So why not bow Sex in a summer weekend where it’s not bumping against a film that cost more than $200 million? “I like records,” declares Warner Bros. distribution chief Dan Fellman on the studio’s decision to go out over the holiday period. “This is one of the most successful weekends and we have a strong picture, which established itself the first time. The movie screens well. The audience loves it and many of them like it better than the first one.”
Prince of Persia has all the earmarks for a Memorial Day release: it has built in brand awareness among males from its 21-year old videogame source material and it's the first chapter in an anticipated film series. Nonetheless, while it boasts better reviews than Sex, it is tracking behind the Sarah Jessica Parker headliner. Also, while Gyllenhaal is a popular leading man with a female fan base, he is not an established marquee draw in an action tentpole.
How high can Sex climax? The picture looks to outstrip the first installment’s opening over four days. Already Sex has seduced $2 million in domestic pre-sales. Industry sources believe that Sex can sell about $80-million tickets over its five-day frame. With Sex getting a leg up on its Thursday opening, Disney foresees a level playing field from Friday onward, not to mention an eventual boost when more children are released from school in weeks ahead. Industry estimates are putting Prince of Persia's opening gross in the lower-to-mid $40-million range over four days.
Most of the time, Bruckheimer films, particularly in the first chapters of a new franchise, tend to have long legs. The first Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl made 23% of its total $305.4 million domestic haul over its Wednesday through Sunday period, while 2004’s National Treasure minted 20% of its $173 million during its opening weekend. The average tentpole typically makes as much as 40% upfront.
The wild card is DreamWorks’Shrek Forever After. Through its initial five days, the 3D film has gobbled up $81.2 million, and the holiday has always been a fertile frame for the series’ sophomore sessions: the first chapter saw gains in its weekend receipts, and Shrek 2 rallied the top spot with a $96 million take in 2004. However, heading into the weekend, Shrek Forever After isn’t looking too strong: Monday brought $5.7 million and Tuesday $4.7 million, much lower grosses than its last two sequels over the same comparative frame. With strong reviews and an A Cinemascore, the movie's poor performance is likely due to greedy exhibs charging too-high ticket premiums. They cooked their golden 3D goose.
The Two Sides of Memorial Day
Studios tend to approach Memorial Day in two ways. Usually one studio schedules a gargantuan franchise sequel--such as 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which grossed $126.9 million over four days--that competing distributors won’t even attempt to play against. In that case, a title can yield a record B.O. four-day opening, often over $100 million.
This year’s frame is following a trend on par with 2005 (Adam Sandler comedy The Longest Yard vs. animated toon Madagascar) or last year (Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian vs. Terminator Salvation) whereby two films --which appear to be tentpoles-- face off against each other, maxing out their demos and charting lower grosses. If such titles were dated during another weekend, facing zero competition, their returns might be higher.
The Memorial Day weekend will become a battleground, explains Viane, when “a studio will land the spot first. If there is something we have in our movies that will compliment another (demo), we’ll put it out there. It makes a perfect competitive marketplace.”