Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2008: #7: Sex Sells, Women Buy

By David Mumpower

January 9, 2009

We dare one of these girls to wear some simple Chuck Taylors one day.

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Behold the power of the vagina. Sure, they symbolize the very essence of life, but prior to 2008, there had been no direct link between the chick flick and the box office explosion. That all changed on May 30, 2008.

Historically, big screen versions of television programs had been modern spins on the premise. Mission: Impossible, The Addams Family, The Flintstones, and Alvin and the Chipmunks are all good examples of this. Recent years have borne witness to a new type of television adaptation, however. Popular programs such as The Simpsons, South Park, and Rugrats leveraged television ubiquity into box office gold. Even lesser known works such as Da Ali G Show and Aqua Teen Hunger Force have made cinematic appearances with varying degrees of success. But none of these films attempted to do what Warner Bros. did with Sex and the City. It is the boldest movie adaptation of a television program to date.

On February 22, 2004, HBO's long running staple sitcom, Sex and the City, ended its television run with a series of events that tied a nice little bow on the show's four main characters. Samantha Jones, the horniest woman on television, became surprisingly domesticated thanks to a healthy relationship with a younger model named Smith Jerrod. Charlotte York, the sweetest woman on cable TV, discovers she cannot have children, so she adopts a Chinese girl and names her Lily. Miranda Hobbes, the cliché career woman on the show, gets married and has a son named Steve. And Carrie Bradshaw, the face that launched a thousand Maybelline ads, broke up with a guy everyone knew she would never wind up with in order to get back together with Big, the guy everyone knew she was always destined to be with. This is what I'm told, anyway. Born with a penis, I was automatically discounted as a potential viewer of the series.


The point is that Sex and the City ended neatly with all the storylines resolved. Despite this, the rumor of a movie started even before the final episode aired. DVD sales, still a relatively new phenomenon at the time, plainly established this series as one of the most popular for the format. Soon afterward, PG-13 version re-runs started airing on TBS and again proved unexpectedly lucrative for all involved. The financial justification for a movie version of Sex and the City was there. The question was whether solid DVD sales and a newfound non-premium channel cable audience would directly lead to movie ticket sales, particularly for a story that had already given all of its major players their "and happily ever after" endings. The answer was yes.

The first sign came from Fandango. The popular online ticket retailer posted some numbers about the early buzz for Sex and the City and those numbers astounded. Despite a product that naturally alienated 49% of potential movie-goers, the women of HBO's co-anchor program (alongside The Sopranos) proved to be a huge box office draw. By the middle of the week of Sex and the City's release in May, 92% of all ticket sales tracked on Fandango were for this one film. So impressive were the results that people began to consider whether this title could shatter box office records. By the time of its release date on May 30th, over 1,000 theater sellouts had been registered. Equally impressive was the news that many of them were for Friday evening, indicating that most of the diehard fans waiting to see the project were not going to wait.

May 30th became something of a movie theater phenomenon for the ages. Gigantic groups of women had Sex and the City parties where they showed up at a designated friend's house, had heaping batches of cosmos, got in their designated driver's car (this is how I'm choosing to believe it happened rather than the other option), and made their way to the theater. Bars across the country lost business as all of the inebriated women celebrated Ladies' Night at the Cineplex instead.

Sex and the City earned $26,771,052 on its first day in theaters, one of the strongest single day performances in box office history. The film would go on to make $56.8 million over its entire opening weekend and finished with $152.6 million domestically. That total amounts to the 11th most successful 2008 release, domestically. More surprisingly, Sex and the City did even better in foreign markets, making $408.9 worldwide. Combined with its DVD revenue, this HBO television show has made over half a billion dollars for its movie adaptation against a production budget of only $62.5 million. This offers irrefutable evidence once and for all that this is not a man's world. It could, however, be the first sign of an impending return to glory for Amazons. Amazons who wear only the finest jewelry and clothing.



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