'Sex' Breaks from the TV-to-Movie Pack

The opening-week box-office receipts for New Line Cinema's Sex and the City have just been tabulated as you read this, so you'll soon know, if you don't already, whether Carrie and company have joined the super-successful company of Iron Man and the new Indiana Jones sequel, or fallen far short of expectations.

As I write this, I don't know. But I can guess—and my guess is that, although loyal female Sex enthusiasts are bound to drag their dates to the movies in enough mass numbers to make opening week a respectable success, final figures will not be phenomenal.

With TV shows, especially cult TV shows, they seldom are.

Over the six-year 1998-2004 run of HBO's Sex and the City, audiences were estimated at an average of just over 6.1 million. If every one of those TV fans buys a $10 movie ticket on opening weekend, that's a $60 million take. Series DVD sales and high promotion may inflate that total but the four-year gap between TV series and movie sequel is just as likely to deflate it a bit.

My guess: an opening weekend of $55 million. And for a movie spawned from a TV show, that's an excellent opening weekend. If Sex and the City can double that over the summer run, it'll cross that beloved Hollywood threshold of U.S. box-office mega-success, the $100 million mark.

Two other movies spun off from TV shows will compete for audiences this summer. On June 20, Warners is set to release Get Smart, starring Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart, June 20, and on July 25, Fox is scheduled to reunite David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in the second X-Files movie, X-Files: I Want to Believe.

I want to believe these films will do well, and am eager to see them both—but I'm not the teenage boy targeted by most moviemakers these days.

The original 1965-70 Get Smart series won't mean anything to most of them—but, with its goofy humor and Carell as the star, may not have to. The Mel Brooks-Buck Henry series was created then to spoof the James Bond movie franchise—and that franchise, more than 45 years on, is still going strong.

The X-Files sequel is a bit more problematic. The last two years of the 1993-2002 series limped along with replacement leads, and the previous big-screen X-Files adventure was 10 years ago. A boy of 16 would have been six years old then, so the whole X-Files mystique may have no resonance at all.

The familiar name, of course, is why all these projects are being resurrected. They're not made-for-TV movies—they're made-from-TV movies—and the name, from TV, is what's being marketed. But if all three of these summer “TV movies” fall short of the coveted $100 million U.S. box-office mark, I won't be surprised.

Very few TV-inspired movies have done that well, and most of those are projects that originated in other media before making their mark on television.

The most popular movie with a TV-tie in, the only one to rank in the all-time Top 20, is last year's Transformers, ranked 19th (with a current take of $318 million), but those shape-shifting characters actually began as Japanese toys before inspiring a cartoon TV series.

The live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas, from 2000, ranks 38th all-time, and 1989's Batman ranks 43rd. Yet even though TV versions predated those movie efforts, both characters originated in print form: the Grinch as the star of Dr. Seuss' 1957 children's book, and Batman as the featured character in a 1939 comic book.

Even last year's Alvin and the Chipmunks (ranked 68th all-time, earning $217 million), a live-action/CGI hybrid of the TV cartoon, first saw life as a series of hit records. And if Sex and the City somehow joins this rarefied atmosphere of TV-to-movie hits, it, too, will carry an asterisk, since the HBO series was based on the writings of sex columnist Candace Bushnell.

So what movie, you may ask, is the most popular film based solely on a TV show? The exclusive list of such films, earning more than $100 million domestically, includes movie versions of Borat, Charlie's Angels, The Wild Wild West and Maverick, as well as such animation-or-comic-inspired remakes as The Simpsons Movie, Scooby-Doo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Addams Family, George of the Jungle and The Rugrats Movie.

Yet only two purely made-from-TV movies stand in the Top 100 list of all-time box-office champs. Squeaking by in 99th place is 1993's The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford (which premiered 26 years after the series ended). Holding the record, in 70th place at $215 million, is the 2000 release of the second movie in Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible franchise (that TV series finished in 1973).

Cracking that top 100—even for Carrie Bradshaw, Maxwell Smart or Fox Mulder—is a Mission: Highly Improbable.