Mark Harris: The Final Cut

Hollywood 'Shocker': Women Go To Movies

''Sex and the City'' a ''surprise'' hit? Only to people who refuse to get the message there's a universe of avid moviegoers who are not white males under 25, and who will pay to see a film that matters to them, even if nothing in it explodes

Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, ... | SEX AND THE CITY When movies like SATC hit, ''the industry and much of the punditocracy still condescend to them: Those gals from the office,…
SEX AND THE CITY When movies like SATC hit, ''the industry and much of the punditocracy still condescend to them: Those gals from the office, running off to their little movie, well, let 'em have their hen party''

Note to Hollywood: Women like movies

Have you heard the biggest, most unexpected, most mind-boggling entertainment news of the summer? You know that Sex and the City movie? It's a hit — no, not just a hit, a surprise hit! Surprise! A long-running TV series that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and an extremely loyal following turns out to be popular. Surprise! Women apparently can find a local multiplex without the assistance of men. Surprise! Sometimes two women, or three or four or five, will go to a movie together, even if they're not lesbians. Surprise! Apparently the United States has a high number of women — women who like to go to movies about women! They are, as Sarah Jessica Parker succinctly put it in EW last week, ''hungry for cinema.''

Does this sound familiar? Didn't we have this conversation with Hollywood already, on the occasion of the 1995 surprise hit Waiting to Exhale and the 2001 surprise hit The Princess Diaries and the 2002 surprise hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding and the 2006 surprise hit The Devil Wears Prada and the January surprise hit 27 Dresses? When industry professionals are rendered wide-eyed with shock by the same piece of information again and again, only two explanations (besides Botox) are possible: They're either, for lack of a daintier term, stupid, or they're deeply invested in pretending that the power of the female moviegoing audience is...surprising.

They're not stupid. So what gives? ''Surprising,'' in this context, connotes something that isn't supposed to happen, something that, in a business that depends on predictability, may even be undesirable. But calling something a surprise is also a reminder that it constitutes an exception to the rule, and thus provides reassurance that the rule still exists.

And the rule is: Movies are made for kids and young men who like things that move fast and go boom! When they become hits, it's not a surprise, it's the plan. Studios spend so much money to make and sell those films that they clearly expect a major return on their investment. But if you're not a kid or a young man, you are, in Hollywood parlance, part of a ''niche'' audience. Here are some examples of who the movie industry considers ''niche'': women, obviously. African Americans. Anybody over 35. Christians. Latinos. Gay people. Asians. Anybody who reads movie reviews. Anybody who reads anything. Including this article. A ''niche,'' by the way, is a term that means a recess in a wall. A small recess — like a spot for a knickknack. As far as Hollywood is concerned, you are either The Wall (big, broad, easy to find) or you are a Little Hole in The Wall (confusing, inessential, hard to target).

NEXT PAGE: Here's a genuinely surprising piece of news: In a season expressly designed to appeal to the hordes of kids who are out of school, two of the kiddiest movies so far, Speed Racer and Prince Caspian, have fizzled.

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