New Line Cinema's R-rated “Sex and the City” movie opened last Friday and was a smash among women, claiming the top spot at the box office in its first weekend. But the season's biggest female event is also generating buzz in a group that isn't supposed to see it: girls under age 17.
The situation reflects the fact that a lot has changed for Carrie Bradshaw and her friends since the original HBO series had its finale in 2004. On HBO, the series was known for using bawdy sexuality and frank language to chronicle the night-crawling lifestyle of four Manhattan women.
But for the past few years, a sanitized version of the show has been in heavy rotation on Time Warner's TBS network, and it has drawn the under-18 crowd, who now make up 10 percent of the audience. A survey by the marketing consultant Intelligence Group indicated that “Sex and the City” was one of the most anticipated summer movies for teen girls, right up there with “Indiana Jones.” Miley Cyrus, the 15-year-old star of the Disney Channel series “Hannah Montana,” has called the show “her favorite” and compared the sexy series to her own show.
Teen girls are drawn to the show's nonstop fashion parade, led by its star, who last year launched Bitten Sarah Jessica Parker, a budget clothing line that routinely sells dresses for less than $10 and appeals to teenagers. “I love Carrie's style: the way she is confident and wears things that are crazy and doesn't care,” says Rachel Nyberg, a 16-year-old from Minneapolis who planned to see “Sex and the City” as soon as it opened.
Numerous ads for the movie have run during CW's “Gossip Girl,” which had an under-18 audience of about 23 percent this spring, and MTV's “My Super Sweet 16,” with about 40 percent. According to TNS Media Intelligence, numerous “Sex and the City” commercials have run during MTV's series “A Shot at Love With Tila Tequila” – where about 40 percent of the audience is under 18 – in recent weeks. Studios often argue that buying time on such programs is necessary in order to reach the 18-24 demographic.
The teen interest in “Sex and the City” is somewhat surprising because the $60 million film focuses on the “Sex” foursome's move into their 40s – and in one case 50s – facing problems with marriage, infidelity and starting a family. According to a former HBO executive, in its early stages of development, the film was jokingly referred to as “Menopause in the City.”
But the studio always recognized the potential of drawing a younger audience. Executives at New Line originally flirted with the idea of making a PG-13 film to reach a wider audience. They decided against it, according to director Michael Patrick King, worried that a tamer film would alienate loyal fans and come off as a “knockoff version of the show.” The movie got its R rating because it includes nudity, profanity and a number of scenes that feature the stars in explicitly sexual situations.
Still, King says he deliberately crafted a story that would have multigenerational appeal. He added a 20-something character who plays Carrie Bradshaw's assistant to appeal to younger viewers, he says. The film also features a brief performance by a preteen playing the assistant's younger sister.
King – who invited his 16-year-old niece to the film's New York premiere this week – notes that much of the marketing is built around adult brands like Mercedes-Benz and Skyy Vodka. “The reality is that most of the marketing is very grown-up, but that's OK – it's supposed to be aspirational,” he says. “I'm not expecting that 16-year-olds would have a Louis Vuitton bag. It's all supposed to be a little out of everyone's reach.”