LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Not even a little "Sex" could heat up North American movie box offices, as widely hyped "Sex and the City 2" failed to claim the No. 1 spot during a U.S. holiday weekend that saw ticket sales plunge 15 percent from last year.
Families turned out to help animated comedy "Shrek Forever After" retain the top spot for the second straight week with $55.7 million in ticket sales during the four-day Memorial Day holiday ending on Monday, according to studio estimates.
For the three days ended on Sunday, "Shrek," the fourth movie in the series about the lovable green ogre's adventures in his fairy tale land, took in $43.4 million and its cumulative North American total now stands at $145.5 million.
Action adventure "Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time," based on a video game of the same name and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, also received the aid of family audiences clicking through turnstiles and landed in the No. 2 spot with a four-day estimate of $37.7 million.
"It's a family thing," said industry tracker Paul Dergarabedian of Hollywood.com Box Office. "If you look at how "Prince of Persia" moved up (throughout the holiday) it showed how families were using Memorial Day weekend and going out."
Indeed, "Sex and the City 2," about the lives and loves of four Manhattan women and aimed mostly at older audiences, started strong on Thursday when its core female audience turned out in solid numbers but faded throughout the weekend.
Monday's estimates showed the film generating $37.1 million over the four-day holiday to land in the No. 3 position. It has taken in a total $51.4 million since opening last Thursday, which is shy of industry predictions of a $60 million debut.
Still, Dan Fellman, who heads domestic distribution for the film's studio, Warner Bros., said the four-day figure was a record for a comedy with an "R" rating in the United States, which restricts young audiences from attending.
Fellman also said that because many women moviegoers turn up in theaters during the weekdays, "Sex" may have some staying power in theaters.
"We will do better mid-week. It's just that this was a little more difficult weekend," Fellman said.
The holiday weekend was a tough one for many movies in North America. This Memorial Day, which is annually among the biggest moviegoing weekends of the year, saw ticket sales drop to $182.2 million from $213.8 million one year ago.
Since Hollywood's summer season started with the May 7 release of "Iron Man 2," box offices are off 0.5 percent at $811.5 million versus $815.2 million last year, reported Hollywood.com Box Office. That's a problem because the summer can account for as much as 40 percent of overall annual ticket sales.
Dergarabedian reckons three factors are at work: higher average ticket prices may be driving people away, the rapid use of social networking sites like Twitter allows a faster way for friends to tell friends a film might not be very good, and simply that movies are not generating excitement among fans.
One bright spot of the weekend was international sales. "Sex" collected $28 million from 17 markets and will hit more territories this week. "Prince of Persia" pulled in $67 million, pushing its cumulative, global total to $133 million.
"Shrek Forever After" was produced by DreamWorks Animation and released by Paramount Pictures, part of Viacom Inc. "Sex and the City 2" was distributed by Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc and "Prince of Persia" was released by the movie studio division of The Walt Disney Co.
Editing by Bill Trott