BetteBack September 26, 1996: ‘First Wive’s Club’ Breaks Two Records

Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
September 26, 1996


Women over 25 apparently are finding themselves reflected in Paramount’s revenge comedy “The First Wives Club,” last weekend’s surprise hit.

The tale of divorce and getting even made $18.9 million in its opening weekend, which breaks two box-office records: the biggest opener for a film with a female cast and the best September opening ever for a movie, according to John Krier of Exhibitor Relations.

“It did much better than a lot of people expected,” said Krier, whose company tracks box-office numbers.

“People said it wouldn’t appeal to a big audience and were worried because it doesn’t have the dating-crowd appeal.”

Its success is prompting Paramount to release the film in an additional 400 theaters across the country this weekend, said Barry London, vice chairman of the studio’s motion picture group. Based on a popular Olivia Goldsmith novel, the film is about three well-heeled women, former college classmates, who are reunited after the suicide of a friend whose husband has just remarried, to a trophy wife. Their no-good husbands have left them for younger women, too. They not only get mad; they get even.

Audience statistics from Paramount show that 59 percent of those who saw the Bette Midler-Goldie Hawn-Diane Keaton romp last weekend were women between 25 and 49. The numbers point up two significant trends, according to London: The movie audience is getting older and baby boomers are continuing to see films.

The World War II generation tended to see movies with far less frequency as they aged, London said. “The exciting thing from a distribution standpoint is that the movie going population, as they get older, are still going to the movies,” London said. The stats were backed up by a trip to a local theater on Tuesday, where most patrons exiting a matinee were female.

Women interviewed said they ignored mixed reviews from critics when deciding whether to see the movie. Some had read the Goldsmith novel and others were swayed to see the film by advertising. “It was a really cute movie,” said Carol Quinn of Chatsworth, a Keaton look-alike who is on vacation this week. “I love the people in it and the acting and the expressions.” Linda Polan of Tarzana and Nikki Shocket of Beverly Hills – both divorced and fans of the Goldsmith novel – went to see the film because they were curious about whether it lived up to the book. They were not disappointed.

“It was better than the book,” said Polan, who described the tale as “the story of my life. I’m between Bette and Goldie.” Shocket, who recently remarried, said she thought the movie was “great.” Polan, when asked if she, too, had remarried, said: “No, thank God. I like the state I’m in.”

Before “The First Wives Club,” the record for the best opening weekend of a movie with a women’s cast was “Waiting to Exhale,” a similarly themed film also based on a best-selling novel. It made $14.1 million during its debut weekend in December and went on to become a solid hit, earning $67 million. The success of “Exhale” also was exalted by studios as proving that there is a market for good movies about grown-up themes.

“Birdcage” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus” also have been cited as successful movies that found previously untapped middle-age theater audiences. On Tuesday, Variety reported that New Line Cinema was closing a million-dollar deal for the screen rights to Goldsmith’s yet-to-be-released second novel, “Switcheroo,” the tale of a cheating husband.

Nancy Slater of Calabasas, who saw “The First Wives Club” Tuesday with girlfriend Betty Josephson of Woodland Hills, said she guessed that teens wouldn’t catch on to the jokes the way more mature people do. “I would imagine that this appeals more to women over 30 and men with good senses of humor,” she said.

Hawn told The New York Times that although the movie is lighthearted, it hits on a serious topic. “Women grow older, men want someone younger; it’s an age-old issue,” she said. “We tried to be funny – revenge is fun in a comedy – but I think we hit a nerve, too.”

London said he’s betting the movie will stay at the top of the charts when the Sunday box-office receipts are tallied, partly because women typically wait a week or so to see a new release and partly because it will have no competition in its niche. The two new films opening Friday – Hugh Grant’s “Extreme Measures” and the “Pulp Fiction”-esque “2 Days in the Valley” – are both aimed at a younger, more male audience. “We believe from a competitive standpoint the film is positioned to do well this weekend.” he said.

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