It was a woman's world at the box-office this weekend as female moviegoers drove both "Man on Fire" and "13 Going On 30," the major new movies released, to the top spots. In the end, revenge edged out romance by a slim margin.
"Man on Fire," a revenge-themed picture in a marketplace already crowded with explosive action fare, took the No. 1 spot with $23 million, according to studio estimates released Sunday. "13 Going On 30," a light romantic comedy starring Jennifer Garner and the only film in the top 10 specifically marketed to females, came in second with an estimated $22 million. In third place, "Kill Bill Vol. 2" took in $10.4 million.
What's surprising about "Man on Fire's" success is how much of it was fueled by women, not the usual demographic for such a grim and brutally violent film. According to Fox, 55% of "Man's" audience was female. Conventional thinking would find the breakdown reversed or skewed even more to males.
"My reaction was, 'Really? Now where do we go?' " said Bruce Snyder, president of distribution for Fox. Many credit the appeal of star Denzel Washington for attracting female and older moviegoers to sample the movie.
By comparison, "13 Going On 30's" audience was 65% female, a much closer to normal turnout for that film's targeted demographic.
"I do think [the female turnout] definitely points out something cool about both these movies," said Rory Bruer, president of distribution for Columbia Pictures, which released "13 Going On 30." "I don't think there's been two movies that opened opposite each other in April that have done $20 million apiece before."
The strong performance of both films is another indication of how well Hollywood is doing this April, traditionally a slower period before the frenzy of summer. According to Brandon Gray of the tracking firm Boxoffice mojo.com, films released this month are on pace to be the highest-grossing group of April releases ever. So far, they have taken in $372 million domestically and will probably surpass last year's record of $461 million.
The revenge pictures released this month are among the strongest performers. Including "Hellboy," five of the top 10 movies were revenge films, and their weekend total make up nearly 57% of their total box office. Three of the last four weekends were led by one of these movies.
What may have helped nudge "Man on Fire" to the top -- just $1 million ahead of "13" -- was Fox's last-minute decision on Monday to open the film on Wednesday in two theaters in New York and Los Angeles, allowing for earlier reviews to build word of mouth.
"We wanted to let people know it was a serious movie," said Snyder. "We thought we were competing for whatever males weren't already seeing 'Kill Bill Vol. 2' and 'The Punisher.' "
In its second weekend, "Kill Bill Vol. 2" dropped 58.5%, for a domestic take so far of $42.9 million. That is virtually the same amount "Vol. 1" had made by its second weekend last year, although the dropoff for "Vol. 1" was only 44%.
Instead of just competing for males, "Vol. 2" could be competing for females as well. The audience makeup over the weekend was 60/40, male to female. According to Miramax Chief Operating Officer, Rick Sands, the expected audience for a movie like "Kill Bill" is 70/30, male to female.
So far, the strategy of dividing "Kill Bill" into two films has paid off for Miramax. Together they could take in as much as $130 million domestically, says Gray, of which Miramax will eventually receive about half in film rentals from theaters. Meanwhile, "Vol. 1," released on home video the week "Vol. 2" hit theaters, should soon pass $100 million in DVD/VHS sales and rentals.