Are men or women more obsessive about movies?
There are plenty of theories about which gender is drawn more to the movies, and how they make their decisions about going to them. For a number of years it was all about the young males, then, after "Twilight" and "Sex and The City," all about groups of women, we were told.
According to the MPAA's research, when it comes to overall attendance, the genders are actually about even. In 2009, the organization found that the moviegoing audience in this country was 52% female and 48% male, pretty much reflective of the breakdown among the U.S. population as a whole, which is 51% female and 49% male. (Women did purchase tickets at a higher rate (55%-45%), but that's a purse-strings statistic more than a filmgoing one. )
But it may not be that simple. With nearly every other form of entertainment (sports, books, you name it) one gender takes the lead in determining which products are successes and which are consigned to failure. Movies should, all things being equal, follow the same pattern.
It's almost impossible to get a real-world snapshot of the battle of the sexes at the box office -- most movies appeal at least a little bit to both genders -- and there are usually other movies crowding theaters in a given weekend anyway.
But a rare experiment will take place next weekend when the testosterone-heavy exploits of Sylvester Stallone's "The Expendables" goes up against the journey of female discovery that is Julia Roberts' "Eat Pray Love." It's as close to a laboratory environment as you can get, since the two films' subject matter and intended audience couldn't sit on further ends of the gender spectrum. "The Expendables" contains few romantic interludes, while "Eat Pray Love" doesn't feature many mercenary gunfights. Julia Roberts is interested in discovering a foreign country. Sylvester Stallone wants to blow one up.
Other factors, meanwhile, are controlled for. Both are mid-budget studio films coming out in the dog days of August. Both were made with the goal of pleasing crowds more than critics. Both pictures are driven by one huge-name star accompanied by a host of smaller ones. And the two are going head-to-head with very little competition. ("Inception" should have finally lost some steam; the more modest "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" is the only other wide opener.) The film that wins the weekend should provide one gender with bragging rights and settle the box-office question (a point made amusingly in the below fan trailer for "The Expendables," which implores men to turn out for the film next weekend to take back the mantle for all of masculinity).
We won't know the results of the experiment for nine days, but the tracking already suggests some interesting lessons.
Although both films are tracking at roughly the same rates -- in electoral terms it's a dead heat -- there are more women out there who want to see "Eat Pray Love" than there are men who want to see "The Expendables." There are several potential factors behind this, but the most logical is that men just can't get worked up about a movie as women can, no matter how much a particular film is aimed squarely at them.
But that's not the only pro-female statement the tracking makes. While women are more enthusiastic about "Love" than men are about "Expendables," the two movies remain in a dead heat. So where does "The Expendables" make up ground? With women.
"The Expendables" is tracking better with females than "Eat Pray Love" is with males. That's an even more potent statement, Women, it turns out, aren't just more excited than men about movies that lie in their sweet spot, but they're more excited about movies that don't.
Yes, we know, these are just two movies in a sea of them. And all gender-related theories are inherently general; certainly there are plenty of men who remain enthusiastic and omnivorous filmgoers, willing to see a romantic comedy as much as they are a superhero picture.
But we've heard for so long that movies can succeed by aiming at one group or another, and certainly can succeed if they lock down one gender. But according to the pitched battle between "The Expendables" and "Eat Pray Love," that isn't entirely true. One gender does hold an edge when it comes to determining a film's fate. Women get more excited about movies, and they're more willing to see movies that don't specifically target them. Men, for their part, are more lukewarm and less flexible.
Even when a male-centric movie outduels a female-centric one, it turns out that it might well do so with the help of an unlikely group: women.--Steven Zeitchik
RECENT AND RELATED:Terry Crews took an unusual path to 'The Expendables'
Clicking on Green Links will take you to a third-party e-commerce site. These sites are not operated by the Los Angeles Times. The Times Editorial staff is not involved in any way with Green Links or with these third-party sites.