'The Expendables' tops 'Eat Pray Love': death of the chick flick?

'The Expendables' won the weekend box office over Julia Roberts' 'Eat Pray Love' – partly because of women.

Joel Ryan/AP
'The Expendables' stars Sylvester Stallone (l.) and Jason Statham arrive for the UK premiere of the film on August 9 in London.

The Expendables” may be about a bunch of men, but the message for Hollywood from this R-rated testosterone extravaganza is all about women.

Female ticketbuyers made up nearly 40 percent of the film’s $35 million weekend take at the box office. Almost as many women (1.8 million, according to Hollywood.com) went to see Sylvester Stallone and pals reprise their action hero film roles as cozied up to Julia Roberts in the consummate chick flick “Eat Pray Love.”

What does this sisterhood of summer moviegoing say about the skirt-wearing sex?

“Women don’t want to be pigeonholed,” says Movies.com content editor Stacie Hougland. She cut her popcorn-flick teeth on the original “Rambo,” “Terminator,” and “Die Hard” franchises, and doesn’t want to be “relegated to wimpy love stories or pie-in-the-sky fantasies.” Whether like Ms. Hougland or sociologist BJ Gallagher, who says “women are more androgenous than ever, but they also like to watch alpha males take care of business,” today’s women do not fit into neat categories.

Studios clearly thought they had a good package of counter-programming this weekend, says Hollywood.com box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian: a romance for women and a big noisy shoot-‘em up for the guys. “But this crossover is a big surprise,” he says.

The box office success of “The Expendables” among women underlines ongoing cultural shifts, says Jim Joseph, President of Lippe Taylor public relations, and author of "The Experience Effect."

“The lines between the sexes are blurring, at least when it comes to entertainment,” he says via email. Movies, books, and TV shows are no longer just for “chicks” or just for “for boys” he points out. “Witness the incredible success of the 'Real Housewives' franchise among men as another proof point.”

Beyond that, he suggests that with movies, women just as much as men like to see a little action and adventure. “Just ask my 75-year-old mother who saw the film this weekend. Not just for the boys anymore,” he adds.

On the other hand, fantasy always plays well with all audiences in tough times, says Ms. Gallagher, who cautions against reading too much into a single weekend’s box office performance.

Also not to be overlooked, says PR strategist Adam Kluger, is the simple effect of date-night negotiations. “Finally, wives and girlfriends have the perfect movie with which to say to their main man, 'thank you so much for enduring an endless string of sentimental chick flicks with me honey.... See? I'm willing to go to a movie I know you'll like!' " he says via email. With such a large and eclectic cast, he adds, the film has something for nearly everyone.

"The Expendables" boasts star power and plenty of action. It also brings plenty of testosterone, muscles and three old friends we all know on a first name basis in Sly, Arnold, and Bruce. Throw in some martial arts with Jet Li and Jason Statham, a real cage fighter in Randy Couture, and then top it off with the always quirky and interesting Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke and you have a movie that appeals to the macho man in all of us. Most guys seeing that cast list are saying to themselves "even if it's really bad...this is gonna be good."

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.