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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With Friday's opening of "Sex and the City" shaping up as a big girls-night-out event at U.S. movie theaters, industry analysts say the film seems poised to set a new box office standard for "chick flicks."
Estimates for the film's first weekend in North America range from $25 million to $40 million, and one leading tracking service, Los Angeles-based Media By Numbers, estimated a Friday-through-Sunday tally in the mid-$30 millions.
Online ticket retailer Fandango reported "Sex and the City" was accounting for 90 percent of its advance sales, with tickets being snapped up at the rate of seven per second.
"At this fast pace, we expect to sell out more than 1,000 'Sex and the City' showtimes by day's end," said Fandango CEO Rick Butler. "The advance ticket sales are nothing short of extraordinary for a female-driven comedy-drama."
"Sex" already has grossed nearly $12 million in overseas business since mid-week, including more than $7 million in Britain, nearly $3 million in Germany and $1.3 million in France, according to studio figures.
The film is based on the hit HBO television series of the same name starring Sarah Jessica Parker as a fashion-conscious, Manhattan magazine columnist, Carrie Bradshaw, writing about urban romance and the singles scene.
Carrie and her three best pals -- Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha -- are all picking up their lives where they left off when the TV show went off the air in 2004.
An online survey of more than 10,000 moviegoers buying tickets from Fandango found that 94 percent were women, and that 67 percent planned to attend the movie this weekend with a group of female friends.
That translates to a lot of women swarming theaters after downing Cosmopolitans -- a favored cocktail of the "Sex and the City" women -- notwithstanding early mixed reviews.
"It might be a really fun place to be for guys this weekend at the theater, because the ratio of women to men is going to be huge, said Paul Dergarabedian, head of Media By Numbers.
But Brandon Gray, president of the movie Web site Box Office Mojo, said the commercial potential may be limited by a promotional campaign aimed primarily at the devoted but finite female fan base of the TV show.
"Because the marketing is preaching to the converted, one wonders whether it will have legs beyond the opening," Gray told Reuters.
The film opens in nearly 3,300 North American theaters. Perhaps the closest comparison for a female-skewing, fashion-themed, big-screen "dramedy" set in New York is "The Devil Wears Prada," which opened in more than 2,800 theaters in 2006 with $27.5 million its first weekend.
That film went on to gross $124.8 million in its domestic run, Dergarabedian said.
But "Devil" was aimed at younger audiences, whereas "Sex and the City" is targeted at moviegoers aged 17 and older.
Moreover, "Sex and the City" is expected to play second fiddle this weekend to blockbuster holdover "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," which grossed over $100 million from its first Friday-through-Sunday frame, Dergarabedian said.
Even if "Indiana Jones" drops 50 percent in its second weekend -- a typical decline for many big Hollywood action movies -- the bullwhip-cracking archeologist is likely to easily eclipse the four Cosmo-swilling girls from the city.