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Filmmakers Keep Women In Mind More Than Ever

Bernard Weinraub New York Times

After years of making action and adventure films for boys of all ages, studio executives are concluding that a new audience that is changing all the rules has emerged.

Women.

“Women are now driving the marketplace,” said Mark Gill, president of marketing at Miramax. “You ignore this audience at your own peril.”

William Mechanic, chairman of Fox Filmed Entertainment, said that in an attempt to attract more women to theaters, female stars are now playing significant, if not dominant, roles in that studio’s coming big-budget action films. Among them are “Speed 2: Cruise Control,” with Sandra Bullock (and Jason Patric) saving hundreds of passengers on a Caribbean cruise ship threatened by terrorists, and “Alien Resurrection,” starring Sigourney Weaver and Winona Ryder, the fourth entry in the “Alien” series.

“The aim is to do action films that are more women friendly, that is, having strong women in top roles and taking out a lot of the violence,” Mechanic said. “Women are not only driving the box office but also videocassette rentals and sales and TV watching. Not respecting their taste level is silly.”

While women have always been important at the box office, studio executives, most of them male, took notice in the past few months when women more or less decided which movies succeeded or failed.

“The First Wives Club,” the comedy about three women wreaking revenge on husbands who have left them for younger women, was the first and most obvious one. It has grossed $105 million. But women have been central to the success of several disparate films.

These include “Jerry Maguire,” with Tom Cruise as a sports agent; “Michael,” in which John Travolta plays an angel who likes women; “Evita”; “The English Patient”; and “Mother,” the Albert Brooks comedy starring Brooks and Debbie Reynolds.

It was also women who determined a different fate for several movies aimed directly at them. By largely ignoring “The Evening Star,” a sequel to “Terms of Endearment”; “One Fine Day,” a comedy about single parents with Michelle Pfeiffer and George Clooney; and “The Preacher’s Wife,” a fable with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston - movies that arrived for the Christmas holidays with high expectations - women turned them into major disappointments for their studios.

“Women over 25 are very discriminating, very review-sensitive and the toughest to get into the theaters, in contrast to young men,” said Sherry Lansing, chairwoman of the the Paramount Motion Picture Group. “But when they do come to the theaters, there’s a huge audience.”

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