Final Thoughts on Sex and the City

Hollywood has a very short memory and it's Tuesday now and Sex and the City is in the rear view mirror as two more typical summer entries prepare to bombard the theatres this weekend -- Adam Sandler's Don't Mess with the Zohan and the animated Kung Fu Panda. Neither one of those films interests me in the least.

But what was unprecedented, as I've said before, is that for a short time Hollywood shuddered and paused to think about women.

I'm not naive to believe that a film that was built around an event, was marketed brilliantly, and played up all the materialism and issues we are all nervous about in this recession, will change a mentality that has been dismissive at best and at most times down right antagonistic to women -- especially those of us who dare to age.

I'm impressed that a movie starring four women who actually have lines on their faces were embraced by women across the country and the world -- overseas the film made $37.2 million since last week -- in such large numbers.

I think the point is that something larger is happening and this movie didn't cause it, it just reflects it. Whether or not you are a Hillary Clinton fan there is a gender conversation happening in this country, and women (especially those white and over 60) are angry. Did the fact that we are living in a highly gendered moment help drive women to the box office? I don't pretend to know the answer to that. All I know is that the last few months women have been talking about things and letting anger show (see all the Hillary Clinton articles) that was just whispered about before.

Sex and the City as a film is not groundbreaking. It's really a typical chick flick -- a film with some feminist messages but with pretty clothes and a happy ending. It fits perfectly into the chick flick genre in this "post-feminist" world.

But think about it, over the last several months women have been surprising Hollywood and this weekend is just further confirmation of that fact. Remember Juno? Change-making movie. About a girl, written by a woman and embraced by everyone. Remember 27 Dresses? Opened to $23 million on a dreaded January weekend and has raked in over $155 million both foreign and domestic for a film that cost $30 million. How about Baby Mama? Opened at $17 million and has raked in $56 million since April 25. Does anyone remember these successes?

The big question that looms is, will the success of this film (which was the largest opening for a film that starred a woman beating Angelina Jolie's breast cones in Tomb Raider by almost $10 million) mean anything when other successes over the last years The Devil Wears Prada and Something's Gotta Give -- god I hate that we keep having to repeat those two films because there are no others to name) have done nothing to create more opportunities for women onscreen.

Again, I reached out to others for their thoughts as to whether anything might change and here are some of the highlights.

Gale Ann Hurd, Hollywood producer of Aeon Flux, The Terminator films and this summer's The Hulk among many other films:

The film is striking a chord. My feeling is that we'll be seeing many more iconic TV series, whose runs have ended, brought to the screen, like Friends. Just a hunch I have. Good news though, in that no one in the industry predicted this kind of box office. After The Devil Wears Prada and this film, I have a feeling we'll be seeing many more women's films set in the NYC fashion world. My daughter and her friends aren't label conscious at all, but still like PROJECT RUNWAY. Go figure??!!

Hollywood TV and screenwriter and woman who loves movies but hardly ever goes anymore:

I predict that there will be more Sex and the City movies but very few other changes in what types of movies Hollywood makes. I fully expect studio execs to explain away this weekend by saying the only way to get women to the box office is to have a TV show promote the movie for ten years before the movie gets made. The thing is they aren't interested in making movies for women because a) most of the heads of studios are men and b) the only thing those men assume other men (the only people who go to movies) find interesting about women is whether or not we are going to sleep with them.

Who we are, what we are curious about, what we are interested in just terrifies them. And now that we've proven that a movie that practically no men went to see can make 60 million in it's opening weekend, they're even more terrified. Because if they admit the truth, you don't need men to open a movie, then Hollywood would actually have to change. They might, for instance, have to hire a few more women and they certainly don't want to do that.

Paul Dergarabedian, President, Media By Numbers:

What Sex and the City teaches us is that it is unwise to ever underestimate the clout and power of women when it comes to the box-office. However, a film like this does not come along every week and any attempt to emulate or replicate this success, will be difficult. Sex and the City is a cultural phenomenon that combined well-rounded and truly distinctive characters with stories and situations that truly resonated with female audiences. Carrie Bradshaw and Co. gave women their very own Indiana Jones or Star Wars-style blockbuster. Can a Sex and the City 2 announcement be far behind?

Angela Robinson, director, Debs and Herbie: Fully Loaded:

The box office success of Sex and the City PROVES that there is a female movie-going audience out there with massive buying power that will come to the movies if stories are offered that relate to their experience -- Hollywood could make a windfall if they spent as much time developing and crafting movies about women as they do with the latest dude-centered comedy or comic book extravaganza. I'm sure studio executives will dismiss the box office as being solely based on Sex and the City's television run, but that just goes to show that female brands can do as well when properly exploited -- after all Spiderman and Ironman and Indiana Jones are all pre-sold brands as well. Women have been ignored at the box-office for too long -- I'm hoping the studios will get off their asses and greenlight a slate of movies that will actually address the half the human population that is dismissed each week.

Karina Longworth, Spoutblog:

I think we need to be really careful about throwing out charges of "sexism" or "misogyny" when it comes to critique of this film's quality or skepticism/caution about What it All Means for the future of the industry. I think it's true that if you give women something they want to see, they will pay to see it. Nevertheless, in a world of niche demographics, I think lumping every female moviegoer in the country in the same bucket will prove, going forward, to be dangerously reductive. That's the lesson here -- if we can agree that this same film wouldn't have had nearly the impact if it was "just" a 2.5 hour dramedy about women in their 40s and not an event pulling on a powerful nostalgia within the culture, then we should be able to agree that this success is more about branding than gender. If anyone can find another brand that means this much to this many women, maybe it'll translate into an equivalent hit. (America's Next Top Model: The Movie, perhaps? I'm not being totally facetious -- that shit is huge.)

Is this popularity founded on the perception of the group -- as women are very big on being social, on connecting, and having girl friend getaways, or coffee klatches, etc. Now, I connect online, to hundreds of women, rather than a few good friends locally. It's the connection, and the women of Sex and the City have it.

Another thing I wonder, that Hollywood should be paying attention to, is that women (and not a few men, I think) love that personal touch. That face to face thing. While we are all prominent in social media, we hunger for the face2face connection. Sex and the City is proving that women go to the movies too, and they aren't shy about doing it in groups. The whole "me and my girl friends are going to see Sex and the City" thing was really big... it harkens back to a day when women were comfortable out with each other, "manless" if you will. The movie really did expose (in a good way) women's thoughts, feelings, and dreams... much better than some other movies, like Thelma and Louise -- two women who were supposed to be strong and smart, but were dumb and weak (hence, they ended up driving off a cliff... the only ending that movie could have because, after all, wicked women like that do not belong in society, right?)

I hope we can see our way to recognizing the power of the purse -- to drive ALL sales in the U.S. Even movie sales. The worry is that women in Hollywood are not in positions of power. They still have to convince a man that their idea is worthy. If another movie like Sex and the City is pitched, it could be a hard sell. Despite the box office results. Men just don't want women intruding on their turf. Sad, but true.

Sasha Stone Awards Daily:

What they can learn is that women are a valuable demographic, like it or not. While some of us don't feel like we're included in that group -- I hate most Kate Hudson movies, for instance -- when it's this massive, it's worth paying attention to.

The tribal movies with women, like The First Wives Club or Steel Magnolias seem to do better with audiences than films about singular women on a journey. Why is this? Probably because women aren't likely to shell out their hard earned dough liberally; it has to be something with a marginal payoff. If they know they're going to laugh and have a decent enough time they will probably rush out to see the film. If it's just one woman and they don't like the woman, they won't go. This is what explains the popularity of Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts way back when: they were women most women liked, as well as men. Now, these seem to be divided. I blame this on the current trend of catering to the target demographic.

I think the youth/gossip culture has done serious damage to women 40 and above. In the useless battle to stay young the benefits of aging are lost. Producers should take note, actresses should take note -- there is still a market for stories about women with flaws. Sarah Jessica Parker has liver spots and man hands. She has had no work done. Cynthia Nixon is a woman who would never be cast as a sexy female lead in a Hollywood film were it not for the popularity of Sex and the City. Better Midler, Barbra Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg have been proving for years that flawed females sell yet there is constant pressure put on actresses like Nicole Kidman to be thin and wrinkle-free and most of all, young looking or else face not getting any good parts.

The point is that perfection doesn't sell nearly as well. This weekend proved that when women want to see a movie they don't have to ask mom and dad for the money; they just need to get out their debit card.

Is Sex and the City a good movie? Not really. But neither was the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or just about any other money maker this year. What else is new? What's new is that women's films, without crossover appeal for little boys, can stand perfectly well on its own.

Anne Thompson Thompson on Hollywood (from a posting):

Will Mamma Mia! and The Women do as well? Unlikely. Sex and the City is an established popular brand. There was an appetite for this movie. But Hollywood regularly underestimates the power of the female audience, and thus tends to starve them. Maybe the studios will wake up and take notice.