Box Office Guru Wrapup: Fans Power Sex to the Top Spot

Sex appeal rules the box office.

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Actor/producer Sarah Jessica Parker and her trio of gal pals showed the boys how it's done blowing away industry expectations with the launch of their much-anticipated comedy Sex and the City which took control of the number one spot at North American multiplexes. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the expected box office leader, settled for the bridesmaid position but held up relatively well in its sophomore frame. Another surprisingly strong debut came from the new horror film The Strangers which bowed in third place helping to give the marketplace some well-needed depth. Overall, the box office was red hot as for the first time ever two different films climbed north of $40M on the weekend after Memorial Day. In fact, business was so strong that the top ten was off only a scant 2% from the Friday-to-Sunday portion of last weekend's stellar holiday session.

Stepping out in style, fans powered Sex and the City to the top spot with an estimated $55.7M in ticket sales on opening weekend. The R-rated New Line-Warner Bros. pic averaged a stunning $16,968 from 3,285 theaters and ranked as the year's third largest debut behind only Indiana Jones ($100.1M) and Iron Man ($98.6M). Anticipation had been building for months with the HBO comedy's millions of loyal fans leading to brisk advance ticket sales, especially for opening day. This was an event film for female moviegoers and the numbers soared above even the loftiest of pre-release forecasts.

According to studio research, Friday's audience was a whopping 85% female with Saturday's crowd coming down only slightly from that figure. Opening day was dominated by groups of women going together just as males often do for a new Star Wars or super hero film. The budget was $60M which is rather high for a comedy, but with the Sex and the City brand being a worldwide phenomenon, it looks to be a moneymaker at the end of the day with the domestic tally on its way across the $100M mark. Critics had mixed feelings.

Sex reunited Parker with co-stars Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, and Kristin Davis while recent Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson was added to the cast. The film arrived four years after the series finale of the award-winning program which was just the right amount of time. Enough of an appetite was generated without the franchise becoming irrelevant. It set a new benchmark for the biggest debut by a female-led film stealing away the record held for seven years by Angelina Jolie for her 2001 action hit Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which bowed to $47.7M. The Carrie-Big wedding saga was the fifth biggest opening ever for an R-rated film trailing The Matrix Reloaded ($91.8M), The Passion of the Christ ($83.8M), 300 ($70.9M), and Hannibal ($58M). For New Line which is being folded into Warner Bros., it was the best opening of any film since the end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy in 2003.

Studios often program female-skewing films into the summer movie calendar as a way to offer options to those not interested in the non-stop flow of action films. But rarely does one become so big that it overshadows more expensive tentpole franchise films.

In its second weekend,Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull fell by a moderate 54% from its potent opening frame and grossed an estimated $46M. The Paramount release averaged $10,788 from 4,264 locations and upped its cume to an amazing $216.9M after 11 days. The PG-13 film is now on par with fellow adventure sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End which reached a similar $217.5M total in 10.5 days at this point last year following its $44.2M sophomore weekend take. If Crystal Skull can manage the type of declines that Pirates saw last June then it could finish its run in the same neighborhood as the Johnny Depp threequel's $309.4M final.

Steven Spielberg's newest film shattered the $200M mark on Saturday in its tenth day of release and stands as the second biggest blockbuster of the year after Paramount sibling Iron Man. By next weekend, the new Indiana Jones will burst onto the list of Top 50 all-time domestic blockbusters. When it does, the film that it will boot off the list will be Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Horror fans in need of a good scare came out in strong numbers for the new suspense thriller The Strangers which opened much better than expected with an estimated $20.7M. If the estimate holds, it will be the second biggest opening of 2008 for a horror film behind Prom Night's $20.8M from April. No fright flicks have opened since that teen hit so a hungry appetite from genre fans helped the Universal release bring out a sizable crowd. Playing in 2,467 locations, the R-rated hit averaged an impressive $8,394. The low $9M production cost will ensure that this becomes a profitable entry for Rogue Pictures.

According to studio data, more than half of the sales came from ethnic moviegoers. And with 43-year-old Sarah Jessica Parker and 65-year-old Harrison Ford running the box office, The Strangers saw much of its business come from young adults as 62% of the audience was under 25. The gender split was about even with females making up 51%. The home invasion fright pic saw the best gross of the year for a third-place film.

Still a muscular performer was Iron Man which dipped only 32% in its fifth session to an estimated $14M giving Paramount and Marvel a stunning $276.6M in 31 days. That boosted the Robert Downey Jr. actioner to number 35 on the list of all-time domestic blockbusters putting it just behind the $279.2M of 2004's Meet the Fockers. Budgeted at $185M, the super hero smash has the potential to soar to about $320M and finish up in the all-time Top 20.

Iron Man is the first film since last summer's The Bourne Ultimatum to gross over $10M in each of its first five weekends and generated the largest fifth-weekend take of any film since 2005's holiday blockbuster The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobee which took in $15.6M. Iron Man has been enjoying terrific word-of-mouth as fans have taken over the job of selling the picture.

Disney's $200M fantasy sequel The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian fell another 43% in its third weekend to an estimated $13M lifting the studio's 17-day total to a mediocre $115.7M. A final gross of $145-150M seems likely which would be about half of the $291.7M of Wardrobe.

Despite the arrival of Sex and the City holdover comedies held up remarkably well, even the female-skewing ones, posting declines of only 25-41% which is exceptional considering that the movies are coming off of a major holiday weekend. Fox's What Happens in Vegas enjoyed the smallest drop in the top ten slipping just 25% to an estimated $6.9M boosting the cume to $66.1M.

Universal's Baby Mama followed with an estimated $2.2M, off 34%, for a $56.1M total. Speed Racer was close behind with an estimated $2.1M, down 46%, giving Warner Bros. a weak $40.6M to date.

Sony's romantic comedy Made of Honor slipped 40% to an estimated $2M and has banked $43M to date. Rounding out the top ten was the list's eldest statesman Forgetting Sarah Marshall with an estimated $1M in its seventh weekend. Down 41%, the Universal release rose to $60.5M.

The top ten films grossed an estimated $163.7M which was up a healthy 28% from last year when Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End remained in the top spot with $44.2M; and up 28% from 2006 when The Break-Up debuted at number one with $39.2M. Author: Gitesh Pandya,