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Hollywood knows what it wants

Hollywood. April 4: What a Girl Wants, in the truest sense, may remain one of life’s mysteries. But Warner Bros. knows exactly what it wants from its coming-of-age comedy, starring 17-year-old Amanda Bynes, when the film opens today against a pair of thrillers starring Vin Diesel and Colin Farrell. Another girl-powered hit.

In recent months, a series of relatively inexpensive pictures aimed at girls and younger women has produced a consistent string of box-office successes. And that track record is leading some in Hollywood to speculate that young females — once viewed as extra ticket sales for pictures largely chosen by male companions — are on their way to becoming one of the film industry’s most reliable audience blocs.

“These movies used to be the odd occurrence. But they’ve become a genre unto themselves,” said Denise Di Novi, who produced What a Girl Wants and other female-driven films, beginning with Heathers in 1989.

Sweet Home Alabama with Reese Witherspoon, Maid in Manhattan with Jennifer Lopez, and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days with Kate Hudson all have neared or topped $100 million in US ticket sales since last fall. Just Married, a low-budget romantic comedy with less star power, shook up box-office expectations in January by elbowing aside a pack of Oscar contenders to open with a strong $17.5 million first weekend.

The sudden run of female-empowerment hits may stem, in part, from Hollywood’s tendency to double down on its winners. Two years ago, a pair of surprise successes — Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.’s Legally Blonde, which starred Witherspoon, and Paramount Pictures’ Save the Last Dance with Julia Stiles — touched off a scramble for projects keyed to the hopes, dreams and fears of young women.

The resulting wave of pictures is now beginning to reach the screen with enough sizzle to challenge some of filmdom’s most deeply held assumptions about box-office choices.

“We’ve had great success with girl power,” said MGM vice chairman Chris McGurk.

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