Girl Power At the Movies

It all started with "Clueless." Teenage girls have always loved movies, but their passion for pictures intensified with Amy Heckerling's 1995 comedy about spoiled Beverly Hills girls. While they mimicked Alicia Silverstone's valley-speak and swooned over co-star Paul Rudd, profits soared to $57 million.

Hollywood took the clue that teenage consumers, especially girls, are not to be ignored. Studios shifted their focus from action flicks to love stories such as the MTV-inspired "William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet."

And now, of course, there's "Titanic." With its enthralling love story, high drama, and attractive young stars, the record-breaking epic is tailor-made for Hollywood's hottest audience.

Paramount Pictures reports that 20 percent of America's "Titanic" viewers are under 17, and girls outnumber boys 2 to 1.

The trend is unsinkable. With the teen population expected to reach 30 million by 2006 (highest in 30 years) and their disposable income at $84 billion, according to Fortune magazine, we'll be seeing much more of Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, and other young stars.

So there you have a snapshot of the trend. Now it's time to hear from the girls themselves. I polled a group of high school sophomores at Groton Academy in Groton, Mass., about their views. These girls are savvy consumers of pop culture and far from clueless when it comes to talking about Hollywood's art.

They rave about "Titanic," "The Wedding Singer," and especially "Good Will Hunting." They go to the movies to be social, to laugh, to "get away from my hectic everyday life," and to "dream about other ways of life."

But they don't always like what they see. "Our generation is very mature and not like the materialistic girls Hollywood loves to portray us as," says Carolyn Reeve. "They should give more emotional and challenging roles to teenage actresses."

Abigail Simmons agrees. "Filmmakers need to broaden the types of girls they portray," she says. "Not all girls are high school dropouts and pregnant - or complete ditses!"

Chloe Hartwell is equally outspoken: "Hollywood should have more films where able teenage girls are the main players and don't spend their time worrying about their hair or their boyfriend, but rather something a little deeper."

And if they were calling the shots? These girls would make romantic comedies, some humorous action flicks, and "scary movies with a comic aspect like 'Scream.' " Rebecca Lynch is more specific: "I'd make movies like 'Titanic' - with lots of love, action, and crying," she says. "The kind of films that leave you breathless and make you talk about them for weeks after. That's just the way movies should be."

* E-mail your comments on the Arts & Leisure section to wolcott@csmonitor.com

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