Female auds hold key to weekend perf

HOLLYWOOD — The Super Bowl may be a bonanza for television, but the hype typically puts a damper on moviegoing.

This weekend figures to be no exception. The only openers are Sony/Screen Gems’ “Slackers” and Miramax’s “Birthday Girl,” two R-rated titles with moderate screen counts.

Neither pic is exactly fresh out of the oven. “Slackers” has been repeatedly retitled and reskedded en route to the screen, switching distribs last summer when Screen Gems picked it up from the now-defunct Destination Films. “Birthday Girl” has been sitting on Miramax’s shelf for two years, during which time topliner Nicole Kidman’s star has risen enough to give the pic some sort of identity.

Total B.O. last year set a Super Bowl record at $97 million thanks to a strong showing by “The Wedding Planner.” Like that pic, Warner Bros.’ holdover “A Walk to Remember” skews female (an overwhelming 84% in its first weekend), and could benefit from counterprogramming appeal during the male-dominated pigskin rite.

Femmes key

In fact, a look at history’s top Super Bowl openers shows that female auds hold the key. The best bow and highest cume belong to Miramax’s 1999 Freddie Prinze Jr. vehicle “She’s All That,” which opened at $16 million and went on to gross $64 million.

Other notables on the rather modest list include “Spice World” at $29 million overall, and “Bed of Roses,” which garnered $19 million.

This data does not suggest that strong ongoing pics cannot compete with the big game. “Titanic,” for example, logged a healthy $25 million during the 1998 frame.

This year’s holdover crop isn’t likely to come close to that level. Sony/Revolution’s “Black Hawk Down” held strong at No. 1 last weekend but will face a direct challenge on Sunday as a male-driven pic. Its estimates from last Sunday, along with those for several other pics, were unusually high and did not correctly gauge the audience drain from the NFC and AFC championship games.

Super Bowl XXXVI was originally skedded for Jan. 27 but got pushed back a week due to the Sept. 11 attacks. Its TV ratings are not expected to be affected by the shift, even though for the first time the game will be played during February sweeps.

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