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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - When "Sex and the City" debuted at No. 1 at box offices earlier this year, headlines trumpeted the unusual success of a film about women aimed at women, and industry watchers forecast more of the same ahead.
But female writers, directors and producers say the blockbuster is an exception to the general Hollywood rule that films about women get second-class treatment compared with big-budget action flicks like the Batman movie "The Dark Knight," which is aimed at young men.
These women see business-as-usual for Hollywood, and that means fewer movies focused on women's lives.
Underlying the dilemma for women is that box office prospects for their movies are, generally speaking, seen as less lucrative than for adventures such as "Dark Knight." As a result, the major studios make fewer of them and they get less money for production and marketing.
"Women often are interested in story, true emotions and rounded characters," said Diane English, director of "The Women," set for a September debut. "And often we find action flicks less interesting because they lack those elements."
This week, "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2" opened in U.S. theaters as the latest example of a girl-oriented film that hopes to become a breakout hit at box offices. It tells of the friendship of four college-age women.
But unlike "Sex," which opened in late May and grossed nearly $375 million worldwide, "Traveling Pants" does not benefit from a built-in audience of a major television hit like HBO comedy "Sex and the City," and Hollywood's studios like to base movies on products with proven audiences.
"Traveling Pants 2" stems from a popular book series. Its 2005 predecessor, "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," took in only $42 million at global box offices.
Even the recent "Mamma Mia!" which was widely promoted to women, has earned just $87 million, and is considered a hit for a musical. The box office for "Dark Night," which opened the same weekend as "Mamma Mia!," is past $400 million.
Many women filmmakers said that to change Hollywood, more female executives must be promoted through the studio executive ranks and fill jobs that dictate which films get made.
Over the past decade, women have seen a steady decline in high-powered jobs behind the scenes. While 11 percent of the top 250 grossing movies in 2000 in the United States and Canada were directed by women, the number dropped to 6 percent in 2007, according to a study titled "The Celluloid Ceiling" by San Diego State University professor Martha Lauzen.
By contrast, employment of women in other sectors of the U.S. labor force has not seen a gender-specific decline since 2000, and women now comprise 46 percent of the labor force, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor.
"In the U.S., box-office driven industry, if you want to do a smaller personal film, you have to find your own financing," said Kari Skogland, director of "The Stone Angel."
Some companies do try to nurture new female talent. Cable TV's Lifetime Network, which is dedicated to women, introduced an annual "Every Woman's Film Competition" starting this year.
"Women ... represent a huge consumer group -- they buy most everything, and we have been trying to send the message for years that women can and do, indeed, drive business," said Louise Henry Bryson, EVP and GM of Lifetime Movie Network.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte