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Word of Mouth: Hollywood chases female audience for Thanksgiving weekend

Wednesday premieres of 'Burlesque,' 'Love & Other Drugs' and 'Tangled' point to a women-centric aim. Even Dwayne Johnson's 'Faster' is hoping to get in on the action, with 'Harry Potter' the film to beat.

November 18, 2010|By John Horn, Los Angeles Times

The best Thanksgiving clash won't be over who has to sit at the kids' table. The more interesting battle is Hollywood's holiday weekend campaign to seize family and female moviegoers — without being undone by the leftovers of the penultimate " Harry Potter" film.

Four movies will premiere in wide release on Wednesday, double the total from last Thanksgiving: Screen Gems' musical romance "Burlesque," 20th Century Fox's romantic dramedy "Love & Other Drugs," Disney's animated fairy tale "Tangled" and CBS Films' revenge thriller "Faster."

Even though the studios are widely (and perhaps rightly) criticized for making few movies aimed at women, their Y- chromosome partiality is not obvious over next week's holiday break. "Burlesque," "Love & Other Drugs" and "Tangled" are all chasing women as their primary audience. Disney is betting that a lot of moms — and maybe a few dads — will bring their children to its animated retelling of the Rapunzel story. The only new entry aimed squarely at men and older boys is "Faster," an R-rated action film starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

"There was nothing going after this audience," Robert Teitel, a producer of "Faster," says of the decision to schedule the film as counterprogramming. CBS Films hopes that Johnson, a former professional wrestler who has recently been making kiddie fare such as "Tooth Fairy," "Race to Witch Mountain" and "The Game Plan," can recapture the patrons who attended his earlier, more violent works, including "The Rundown," "Walking Tall" and "The Scorpion King."

"Dwayne has never looked better, and if he is going to come back in the format, you had to bring him back bad — he's on a total revenge path and nothing gets in the way to stop him," Teitel says. "You get behind his character right away." CBS Films, which has been advertising "Faster" on its sister broadcast network, hopes that women who took their children to Johnson's PG-rated family films and came to like the actor might turn out for this movie as well.

Early audience tracking surveys show that none of the Thanksgiving films is likely to top the performance of Warner Bros.' " Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 1," even though "Potter" will be in its second weekend by turkey day. The first part of the last boy wizard movie opens Thursday at midnight (and the second and final installment arrives in July).

Last summer, "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" grossed $158 million in its first five days, and $77.8 million in its first three-day weekend. More worrisome to the four new films is that "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" grossed $29.5 million in its second weekend. If the new "Harry Potter" does similar or better second-weekend business, it could very likely claim first place. A year ago, the new wide releases "Old Dogs" and "Ninja Assassin" didn't come close to challenging holdovers "The Twilight Saga: New Moon" and "The Blind Side" for the top spot.

The film most likely to give "Harry Potter" a run for the money is "Tangled," Disney's long-in-the-works animated musical. The movie has gone through a number of iterations, and when the studio's "The Princess and the Frog" failed to attract many boys to the box office a year ago, "Tangled" received a new title (it was formerly called "Rapunzel") and more of a rogue-rescues-the-damsel-in-distress storyline.

"I totally recognize the challenge" in attracting boys and men to "Tangled," says Rich Ross, Disney's studio chief. "It may not be their first choice, but we want them to go along for the ride. The look of the film is as groundbreaking as animation can be today."

The studio has been marketing the film aggressively and broadly, buying television spots in sports broadcasts and holding about twice as many early word-of-mouth screenings as Disney typically does for animated movies.

In one creative sales pitch, Disney is sending actors dressed as the film's two lead characters, Flynn Rider and Rapunzel, to NBA, NHL, NFL and college football games around the country, with two seats set aside for the two actors and four or five extra seats reserved for Rapunzel's long hair. You think cameras from ESPN (owned by Disney) might randomly happen to spot them?

The "Tangled" pitch so far appears to be working. According to audience tracking surveys, both older and younger males are more interested in seeing "Tangled" than "Burlesque" and "Love & Other Drugs," although they are still more inclined to see "Faster."

The other movie besides "Harry Potter" that could prove an obstacle to "Tangled" is DreamWorks Animation's "Megamind," which was the nation's most popular release its first two weeks in theaters.

The Thanksgiving wild card is "Burlesque," starring Christina Aguilera and Cher. The movie is generating strong early interest from women, with younger women preferring it over "Love & Other Drugs" and "Tangled."

"We have some really strong competition," says Steve Antin, the film's director and writer. "There's an audience out there that wants to see this movie and it's tracking really, really, really well with women of all ages. I think for people looking for a fun night out, it's unarguably a fun night out. I never set out to make 'Chinatown.' I set out to make a big, fun movie. And I did it."

john.horn@latimes.com

Times staff writer Amy Kaufman contributed to this report.

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