Happy Hour? Try Nightcap

Cosmos, martinis, and four-inch-heel Manolos were exciting in the late '90s-but will enough women line up to see Sex and the City now? Probably not.
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This Friday, the femme fatales at the heart of HBO's hit series make their big screen debut. Don't pretend you haven't noticed.

There was the breathless 19-page spread-and cover-in Vogue magazine this month, and a series of stories in the New York Times. Reports of runaway advance-ticket sales on Fandango.com made the rounds. And data from the Hollywood Stock Exchange, a Cantor Fitzgerald-owned prediction market for box-office receipts, shows traders expect the movie to make $75 million over its first four weeks.

But all the glamour and glitter is causing some in the industry to wonder if the Sex and the City franchise-like a mid-40s single New Yorker-is past its prime.

"I think this is pretty much the end," says David Poland, editor of industry blog MovieCityNews.com.

While interest in the movie is at fever pitch, Poland points out that the syndicated episodes aired on TBS since HBO ended the show have been a disappointment. Its first week on TBS, the show garnered 4 million viewers, but ratings quickly plunged. Soon, reruns of Family Guy and Everybody Loves Raymond were outperforming S.A.T.C., according to trade publication Media Life.

And while HBO declined to comment on DVD sales for the series, the complete collectors' gift set now sells on Amazon.com for under $200, 34 percent off the list price of $300.

There's also plenty of industry chatter speculating that the raunchy movie, despite the excitement of fans, will suffer from performance anxiety in theaters.

"If you believe the hype, it's going to be bigger than the new Indy movie" released Thursday, says Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations, a Los Angeles-based entertainment-research firm.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the latest flick in the Indiana Jones series, grossed $311 million worldwide ($151 million in the U.S.) in its first weekend at the box office. Bock sums up the chances of S.A.T.C. matching that: "Impossible."

That hasn't stopped executives at Warner Bros., the studio that absorbed New Line Cinema, which made the film, from saturating New York and L.A. with trailers and posters, and milking partnerships with brands like Mercedes-Benz and Skyy Vodka.

Part of the marketing frenzy, says Bock, is the recent flop of Speed Racer, another Warner film. Since that disappointment, the studio has ratcheted up the pace of the Sex campaign even more, burying the movie under an avalanche of S.A.T.C. ads. But for several reasons, Warner Bros. may be doing a walk of shame the morning after Sex.

For one thing, the film is rated R, chock-a-block with the explicit sex scenes that made the show a hit. That rating will limit the show to adults-and exclude a cadre of precocious female teens dying to spend their allowance on a ticket.

The movie's run time, over two hours, reduces the number of daily showings a theater can have, which in turn reduces the profit opportunity.

The surprise-filled plotline may not lend itself to repeat viewing. And the movie's target audience, metropolitan women and gay men, is still excruciatingly niche.

Surprisingly, S.A.T.C. may be profitable anyway. While its budget has been reported at between $50 million and $65 million, plus another $50 million for marketing, Bock says that overseas ticket sales are expected to push its total gross to more than $100 million. He adds that ancillary markets like DVD sales, pay-per-view fees, and TV rights for the film will also prove lucrative, and predicts that, if the film grosses even $60 million to $70 million domestically, there will be talk of a sequel.

Even if appetite for the story line doesn't get old and tired, however, the characters will. In the movie, Carrie can't manage to text message. Samantha celebrates her 50th birthday. But as long as the ladies remain cash cows, it seems they won't be retiring anytime soon.

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