Hollywood: Now It's A Girl Thing

Why Tinseltown is flipping over female teens

Hollywood is smitten with teen girls -- and not just as perky daughters or cute girlfriends on the big screen. From near-obscurity a decade ago, they have become the audience of choice for many filmmakers.

Witness the explosion of girl-power movies, from sappy romantic fantasies to snappy comedies. Among the top 10 box office draws over the May 8 weekend: Mean Girls, starring 17-year-old Lindsay Lohan as a home-schooled innocent who becomes queen bee of a high school clique; New York Minute, with teen stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as bickering twins on a madcap Manhattan adventure; and 13 Going on 30, with Jennifer Garner as a girl thrust into the body and life of her older, successful self.

The sight of 10- to 18-year-old females queueing up at the ticket window is certainly good news for studios, which have watched other parts of their audience fragment or drift away to the Web. The success of 2001's The Princess Diaries and 2003's Freaky Friday, which grossed more than $100 million apiece in the U.S., took many by surprise. But it shouldn't have -- this is a generation raised on seeing girl stars in music and TV, such as Mandy Moore and Hillary Duff, migrate to the big screen. It's a group that enters puberty younger than previous generations, gets independence early because of dual-career households, and is gaining in equality with boys in sports. The result: confident consumers who want to see images of themselves and their aspirations in movies, says Barb Martino, who runs G Whiz, a youth marketing agency. "They're enjoying teenhood," says Martino. "The girl teen and tween marketplace is probably more powerful than boys."

That said, it's also a group that can be tough to please. New York Minute has so far wooed mostly girls under 11, grossing a disappointing $6.2 million in its opening weekend. The Olsens' cutesy image may not play well with an older crowd. And The Princess Diaries' success has yet to be replicated in modern-day fairy tales, from Ella Enchanted to The Prince & Me. Maybe the formula just gets tired. Jarrod Moses, CEO of Alliance, an entertainment development company, figures that teen girls are "smart and cynical viewers [who] want aspirational, empowering, and funny stories." Mean Girls and 13 Going on 30 fit the bill. Ensemble casts, edgy scripts, and heartthrobs like Ashton Kutcher don't hurt, either.

BOYZ 2 MEN

Teen boys certainly have their particular tastes as well, but they tend to blend in with older male audiences. Action movies and video games attract a male fan base that ranges far beyond the teen years. Gross-out humor or featherbrained scripts -- what Julie Friedlander of Zenith Media refers to as the "Dumb and Dumber franchise" -- also have appeal for men beyond the teen years.

Cynics predict that Hollywood's fixation on teen girls could fade faster than a high school crush. Still, at a time when other groups seem tough to catch, aiming for a large, well-defined target audience has appeal. "Girls are at the forefront of everyone's mind these days," says Rachel Geller, chief strategic officer of youth marketer Geppetto Group. Even the odd frosty reception won't deter moviemakers from wooing this fickle audience.

By Diane Brady in New York

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