Windsor Star

Female audiences sought

- JOHN HORN

LOS ANGELES The best U.S. 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 Ychromosom­e 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, a 14A-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 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 opened Thursday at midnight (and the second and final instalment 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-inthe-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 United States, 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 most popular release its first two weeks in theatres.

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.”

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