Columbia's savvy marketing focused on comedy, sex appeal, and the MTV audience

By Lori Reese
Updated November 13, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

”Charlie’s Angels” soared last week to a record breaking $40.1 million debut, with help from ticket buyers way too young to have known the feathered, hairsprayed ‘dos of the original TV series. Thus far, teens have comprised about 35 percent of ”Charlie’s Angels” audience, says a spokesperson for the film’s distributor, Columbia. But according to industry watchers, the kids will have to keep coming back if the $92 million budgeted film is going earn its keep.

Selling a movie based on a ’70s show appealing to the Clearasil set is no easy task, says Robert Bucksbaum of the box office tracking firm Reel Source. Take MGM- UA’s woeful 1999 feature adaptation of ”The Mod Squad.” Despite prerelease hype, it grossed only $13.3 million. ”It’s so hard, because a lot of people want to forget the ’70s. I mean, platform shoes and polyester, who wants to remember that?” says Bucksbaum. ”Kids don’t want to see because they have nothing to identify with.”

Moreover, the teen market has been especially fickle this year. ”Two years ago, anything you released to that crowd would be a hit,” says Bucksbaum. ”But now, it’s very hard to target and find out what they’re interested in seeing.” That may be why Columbia Pictures, in particular, has been hit hard this year. The studio’s would be summer smash, ”The Patriot” — featuring hunky newcomer Heath Ledger and hunk emeritus Mel Gibson — earned a respectable $113 million in the U.S. But ”The Patriot”’s reported budget was nearly that much — and the movie’s R rating (for its stirring but savage action sequences) may have kept away younger audiences. Meanwhile, the studio’s $20 million budgeted ”Loser” seemed to have everything in its favor: a PG-13 rating, a hip director (Amy Heckerling of ”Clueless”), and two hot young actors, ”American Pie”’s Jason Biggs and ”American Beauty”’s Mena Suvari. But it too fell short of expectations with a $15 million domestic gross.

This trail of bombs has helped put Sony (Columbia’s parent) in last place for market share among major Hollywood studios. But, says Bucksbaum, that could all change with a successful run for ”Angels.” Despite competition this weekend in the younger market from movies like Adam Sandler’s ”Little Nicky” and the sci fi action movie ”Red Planet,” Bucksbaum predicts that teens will continue going to see ”Angels.” ”It will definitely do $100 million plus,” he says. ”It’ll have enough legs — legs, that’s a good word for it — to sustain itself.”

So what makes ”Angels” so appealing to the ‘N Sync crowd? Here’s what Columbia Pictures has done right:

UPDATING Kids might have been turned off if they thought the new ”Angels” was a period film, says Bucksbaum. The hiring of an MTV trained director — McG — ensured that the babe flick would get a millennial look. The movie is not only fast paced, it’s buzzing with contemporary gadgetry — cell phones and inflight TV sets — that would have made the original Bosley’s head spin.

THE BIG TEASE TV commercials and theatrical trailers made it clear that the movie is geared toward younger crowds instead of their baby boomer parents. ”They had those built in teasers in the trailer, the ‘Matrix’ martial arts, Cameron Diaz dancing in her underwear,” says Bucksbaum. ”Almost every big teen movie of the last 20 years has featured a star dancing in their underwear. It’s always a good selling point.”

COMIC RELIEF The self parodying feature not only spoofs its inspiration but other spy/ action movies, including ”Mission: Impossible” and James Bond flicks.

THE MTV FACTOR Destiny’s Child, the red hot girl group that performs the lead song for the film’s soundtrack, did press for the movie alongside stars Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Drew Barrymore. Ads for the movie also highlighted blurbs from shows like ”Total Request Live” instead of the usual Roger Ebert quotes. Hey, who says Carson Daly can’t be an influential film critic?