Sunday, March 8, 2009

Watchmen v. Sex and the City

I saw this in the comments section of another blog and it seemed worth repeating here: Sex And the City (reported budget of about $60 million) earned about $57 million on its opening weekend domestic. Ultimately it brought in about $152 million domestic. It was released by New Line just as it was being dramatically downsized by Time Warner last summer.

The final numbers aren't in for Watchmen but it seems fairly certain that this film (reported budget of $150 million plus) earned less than SATC in its opening week (Hollywood Reporter says $55.7 million). I would be willing to wager it will not reach SATC's final grosses domestically. Warner Bros. distributed it North America (but Paramount has international and Fox gets a cut due to legal wranglings).

Now clearly domestic box office is a relatively small portion of the overall pie for media companies these days. Nonetheless, I find the divergent ways these films have been discussed and positioned in the media to be fascinating.

It is interesting to consider the gender politics involved in the press coverage, critical response, and online discussions about Watchmen v. Sex and the City. It amazes me that, in this day and age, every time a female-targeted movie "hits" at the box office, it is a "huge surprise" given its presumed "niche" audience (see also: Devil Wears Prada, Mamma Mia and most recently, He's Just Not That Into You). The lower budgets invested in these films, compared to male-targeted effects-driven action films, is itself indicative of the lower expectations. Yet Watchmen, because it is geared to the most desirable of audiences, is not conceptualized as niche in the same way -- though it is every bit as much of a niche product.

Oh-so-much more could be said about the ways the two films and their target audiences are conceptualized by various sectors of the industry (not to mention by the press). Alas, I must get back to work. Others' thoughts are welcome, however!

Also: it's worth underscoring that none of these remarks speak to my opinion of the aesthetic or narrative attributes of either film (personally I preferred Watchmen, but still had major problems with it). Discussing each film's relative merits, however, is the subject for a completely different blog entry.


  1. I find it interesting that Watchmen is thought of as a film chicks won't necessarily go see (the stereotype of all comic book audience being geeky boys only)--whereas not only did I go with one of my female friends the night it opened, but nearly every chick (geek or not) I know has gone, and very few of us had any desire to see SITC.

    The "invisible" female genre fan thing would amuse me, if it didn't frustrate me so much. Yes, we're in the minority. But we're a pretty sizeable minority, these days. There is a lot of female audience out there who go see genre flicks on their own because they dig them, without a boyfriend "making" them go as the guy equivalent of a "chick flick date movie". I doubt the same could be said for romcoms and guys, however.

    So films like Watchmen have audiences with closer to gender parity, while SITC... not so much.

  2. I think SATC was a niche film, not because of the target demographic, but because it was a television-series-moved-to-film, which is a notoriously difficult transition.

  3. There are more guys out there who will voluntarily go to see a romcom than you might think, too. (I'm one of them). I didn't see SATC, but that's because it looked bad, not because of its genre.

  4. As an aside, I will say this: I thought that SEX AND THE CITY was the female equivalent to the superhero film. The characters had super-powers-- the ability to afford anything. They had villains and diabolical plans-- men and their expectations of women/weakness in the face of women's expectations. They had special outfits-- lots of them.

    The movie plays to female power fantasies the same way that superhero films play to to the male corollary. And much the same as a lot of superhero movies, the fact that it wasn't a particularly *good* movie didn't change the fact that it made money-- because there's a hunger for films targeted to the same audience.

  5. I'm intrigued by the SATC as superhero movie hypothesis, mostly because the idea horrifies me. The notion that a film that champions consumerism and aesthetics as uniquely female "powers" may be quite an astute observation (considering we are talking about how Hollywood conceptualizes femininity), yet I then wonder if men resent the essentialized gender representations presented by superhero films geared towards them. Are there men as annoyed by the depiction of them as brooding (Superman), whiny (Spiderman), cold and detached (Wolverine) and ultra-violent (Watchmen) as I am of films like SATC?

  6. No, because I think that men accept superhero films as fantasy and enjoy them on those terms. Now if you were to ask me if men resent gender representations as depicted by something like SEX AND THE CITY... that may be a different story.

    And I don't think SATC represents "consumerism and aesthetics" and "uniquely female 'powers'." I think it represents *wish fulfillment*, as do superhero films. And while I realize that I'm generalizing, this is a broad discussion. We can only discuss this in those terms. You may be personally horrified, but there is no denying different *general* tendencies in both gender's tastes.