Carrie Bradshaw is now Mrs. Big at the box office. On one of the most exciting weekends in recent multiplex memory, the Sex and the City movie stunned observers by earning a staggering $26.1 mil on Friday…only to experience a substantial decline on Saturday and Sunday. Still, the film seduced audiences enough for a hugely impressive estimated $55.7 mil opening — making it the best R-rated comedy opener ever and helping it knock Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull out of the top slot. At the same time, The Strangers turned out to be a brilliant piece of horror counterprogramming, scaring up a $20.7 mil debut. So — phew! — lots to talk about.
First: Sex and the City, whose monster bow exceeded expectations (including mine) in pretty much every way. Take that $26.1 mil opening day, which was better than even the $25 mil that Indy 4 earned on its first day (although that was a Thursday). The huge initial gross, fueled by strong anticipation among women and mammoth advance ticket sales, portended a weekend take in excess of $70 mil. So why didn’t Carrie & Co. wind up earning that much? One explanation could be a simple one: Everybody who was really dying to see the movie saw it on day 1. Additionally, it stands to reason that a flick for grownups would do well on Friday, when kids are still in school, and then fall off over the weekend, when families invade the multiplex.
Either way, that $55.7 mil premiere is one for the history books. It is by far the best of all time for a romantic comedy, and it’s also tops for a TV adaptation. It ranks as the No. 5 opening for an R-rated film (following those for a bunch of man-baiting movies like 300 and Hannibal). And when final weekend figures come out on Monday, it could be the fifth-top debut ever for New Line, the 40-year-old studio that was recently downsized to become a part of Warner Bros.
Whether the film can sprout the sexy legs it needs to become a major long-term hit, however, remains a bit unclear. If, in fact, everybody who really wanted to see Sex and the City has already seen it, and if it can’t attract any new fans (i.e. men), then it’ll have some trouble in the long run. But if the movie gains word-of-mouth momentum, overcomes a modest critical reception, and capitalizes on the fact that it’s the only film for adults of all genders for many weeks to come, then it could do quite well. It stands a chance of becoming a $200 mil-plus hit — or even approaching the $241.4 mil that My Big Fat Greek Wedding banked a while back. (And, to be honest, I hope it does: I saw Sex and the City at a jam-packed 10 a.m. Saturday showing…and I really liked it! Sorry fellas.)
Strong as it was, Sex and the City won the weekend because of one other thing: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (No. 2) couldn’t hang on to its lead. The film dropped 54 percent to earn $46 mil — a respectable decline that was, for the second straight week, exactly as I predicted. Nonetheless, Indy 4 became the seventh-fastest movie ever to crack the $200 mil mark; it now has $216.9 mil in the domestic coffer and appears to be somewhat immune to all that carping from its core audience.
The weekend’s third big story was the very-impressive $20.7 mil opening for the Liv Tyler-Scott Speedman shock-fest, The Strangers (No. 3). That sum is basically twice as much as most pundits predicted, and it’s one of the best this year for a horror movie; on a regular non-summer weekend, the fright flick likely would have been an easy victor. Truly, Universal’s Rogue Pictures genre division deserves kudos for recognizing an absence of fresh youth-baiting fare in the marketplace, making The Strangers savvy counterprogramming opposite Sex and the City and Indy 4.
Oh, and lest we forget the rest: Iron Man (No. 4 with $14 mil) and The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (No. 5 with $13 mil) rounded out the top five on a busy weekend whose cumulative gross was up a whopping 30 percent from the same frame a year ago. And if you’ll excuse me now, I’ve gotta go transcribe a love letter from Beethoven and e-mail it to my fiancée.