'Sex' will sell, but it won't crack 'Skull'

Indy likely to rake in another $50 mil in second weekend, making Carrie a bridesmaid

When studio release slates for the summer boxoffice season were first unveiled, Warner Bros. was thought to have a potential underperformer on its hands with "Sex and the City."

Don't believe it. Must-see interest in prerelease tracking surveys has been growing impressively during the past two weeks, and online-ticket service Fandango reports almost unprecedented group purchases by women.

Another such service, MovieTickets, said "the number of tickets sold nearly quadrupled overnight between Monday and Tuesday." The online ticketer said more than 85% of its advance sales were for the R-rated "Sex."

Elsewhere this weekend, Universal unspools its youth-oriented horror film "The Strangers" in wide release. The studio hopes for at least the high-single-digit millions from the R-rated release, produced by Universal's Rogue genre unit for an estimated $9 million.

Horror films tend to skew female, but Universal distribution president Nikki Rocco has no qualms sending out "Strangers" in the same frame as "Sex."

"It has totally different psychographics," Rocco said. "It has a different appeal to a different audience and is a great alternative choice for those who won't be interested in seeing the competitive film."

The frame also represents an important second session for boxoffice behemoth "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" from Paramount and Lucasfilm. If "Skull" grosses even half as much as it did during its first Friday-Sunday, that would mean a cool $50 million session.

So even a top-performing "Sex" is unlikely to win the weekend boxoffice.

Meanwhile, "Sex" naysayers said it might prove tough for the film to match the appeal of previous female-built boxoffice successes like June 2006's "The Devil Wears Prada," which bowed with $27.5 million domestically on the way to a $124.7 million gross. That's because female-skewing films tend to tote less-restricted ratings than "Sex."

Also, though the big-screen "Sex" should draw well among the fervent fan base of the former HBO series, the show's six-season run ended more than four years ago.

Still, with advance sales going so well and anecdotal evidence galore of planned girls-night-out trips to the nation's multiplexes, how hot might "Sex" get this weekend? Figure on something in the $25 million-$35 million range.

Produced for less than $60 million, the film's being slotted in the summer-tentpole season strikes some as a gutsy gambit for Warners.

"It will be interesting to see the big-screen version of 'Sex and the City' compete with testosterone-filled action flicks and comic book adaptations," said Patty Williamson, a film professor at Central Michigan University.

"It's going to be terrific," Warners distribution president Dan Fellman said.

Foreign territories including France and England got "Sex" a couple of days early and performed better than they did with "Prada," Fellman added. (partialdiff)