November 10, 2008

Women are a Market

So I've been doing some research for a piece I'm writing. In the last decade, aside from this year, there has only been one female centric movie in the top 10 of the year -- My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002. The good news is that this year, as of this week, two female centric films are in the top ten -- Sex and the City and Mamma Mia! This is big news, especially since both of those films skew older.

This weekend's story in Variety acknowledges, what we already know, women are a market. But the story also annoyed me because older women and girls are lumped into one category.

Hollywood has long relied on female pics to be dependable earners that open modestly and play long, rather than being big grossers right from the start.

Until this year. For the first time that anyone can remember, three femme-driven films -- High School Musical 3: Senior Year, Sex and the City, Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert Tour -- opened to No. 1 at the B.O., making it abundantly clear that fangirls are every bit as important as fanboys.
I know there is the obsession of opening number 1, but to me, neither High School Musical nor Hannah Montana qualify as women's films. They are kids films. Why is a film about singing high school kids that is targeted at 12-year-olds compared in the same sentence with Sex and the City? Really?

For decades, more traditional romantic comedies have been a staple for studios looking to attract the distaff audience, with some of those females being counted on to drag their husbands or boyfriends along. What's distinct about films like "Sex and the City," or "Mamma Mia" is that they are more female-centric than a mainstream romantic comedy.

No one could believe it when "Sex and the City" grossed $20 million on its first Friday as women stormed theaters. That's an unheard of number for the typical chick pic, since the demo isn't known for rushing out on opening weekend.

"Females are galvanizing and turning out in huge numbers, just like young males," says 20th Century Fox prexy of distribution Bruce Snyder. "They are turning movies into event titles, making a pic's opening look more like a male actioner than a genteel female movie that would play out over a long period of time."

And we still haven't yet seen what's going to happen with Twilight which has are tons of fans out there both young and old. Nearly 100 shows are already sold out through Fandango and the film opens in two weeks. That's big.
Films playing mainly to women, rather than simply romantic comedies, have gradually been seeping into Hollywood's consciousness. In 2006, the runaway success of 20th Century Fox's The Devil Wears Prada was a wake-up call, since it wasn't a romantic comedy, but a comedy built around female characters. "Prada's" savvy writing and Meryl Streeps indelible portrayal set the bar high for the genre.

"There is no more loyal audience than the female audience," says Disney prexy of distribution Chuck Viane. "Females will go to a movie again and again. The number of repeat viewings is incredible. If you overlook females, you are ignoring a huge segment of the audience."

So when does a fluke become a trend? Everyone knows that The Devil Wars Prada did well as did Nancy Meyer's Something's Gotta Give yet female filmmakers keep getting told by the Hollywood suits think those films are flukes. Could it be that we are finally moving beyond the fluke excuse?
Studios like to claim their releases are four-quadrant films. But the latest crop of chick pics have shown there's nothing wrong with a high-profile two quadrant title, playing to tween and teen girls, older women -- or all of them.
Let's just hope that women's success at the box office this year doesn't only translate into more High School Musical type films but also acknowledges that women over 25 also go to the movies.
Femme-driven films score at B.O. (Variety)