SUNDAY AM: What started as an episode of the HBO series Sex And The City and then became a bestselling advice book by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (and then Behrendt’s blink and you missed it TV talk show), has now begat the major studio movie He’s Just Not That Into You. Going for it was an ensemble cast of famous and beautiful age 40-and-under actresses including Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, and Jennifer Connolly playing for laughs their desperation to understand men not worthy of them in order to fulfill ambitions for love and marriage and babies. It’s a definite step back for women’s pics among which the most memorable and successful often center on a message of female empowerment rather than submission to male whims. (As critic Manohla Dargis points out so drolly in her New York Times review of HJNTIY, “Where have you gone, Thelma & Louise?”) Then again, this pic is from New Line/Warner Bros, a lethal combination when it comes to the body count in male action movies, but also SATC.

Yet before I continue on my soapbox after having seen the film, I have to look at its financial reality: women turned out in droves for He’s Just Not That Into You — a staggering 80% of the audience was female — and made it the No. 1 movie by a wide margin in North America this weekend. to finish the weekend with a bigger-than-expected $27.4 million. Warner Bros noted it was the best 3-day February opening ever for a romantic comedy. So it’s hard to argue with success like that — though I agree with Hollywood snark saying, with a cast like that, IJNTIY should have opened at $40M. It wasn’t the runaway female box office phenom of Sex And The City, but many big city theaters reported IJNTIY sellouts by early afternoon for Friday night — an indicator of “girls night out — let’s go to see this movie” — because of the savvy marketing of Sue Kroll and her team. Unlike SATC, its grosses actually increased for Saturday, by 5%. “We are well positioned going into Presidents Weekend. And with Valentines Day falling on a Saturday, it will be a huge plus at the box office for this film,” a Warner Bros exec told me.

Twentieth Century Fox’s Taken scored No. 2 with a spectacular hold — down only 18% from its opening a week ago — and scooped up male audiences for a $20.3 million weekend and $53.3M new cume. “This Pierre Morel actioner is in it for the long haul,” one Fox exec gushed to me. Among the newcomers, Focus Features’ animated Coraline shows again the power of higher-priced 3-D tickets in the marketplace right now. Opening in 3rd place in 1,004 3-D runs and 1,294 conventional theaters for a total count of 2,298, it soared +65% from Friday to Saturday for a $16.3 weekend. That pic starred Dakota Fanning’s voice, but Summit Entertainment’s Push cast the grown-up child star as one of the leads. The disappointing action thriller in 2,313 venues had targeted younger men and teen boys but wound up skewing older — 59% were age 25 and older, 41% under age 25 — for only 6th place. It fell behind Columbia/Sony’s Top 10 phenom Paul Blart: Mall Cop which keeps showing tremendous holds for Week 4 and made another $11M this weekend from 3,169 dates for a new $97M cume. But by far the weekend’s biggest disappointment was MGM/Columbia/Sony’s Pink Panther 2, the sequel to the 2006 remake which opened to $20.2 million and went on to make $82.2 domestically. But this weekend’s follow-up to the Steve Martin comedy eked out only 59% of the original’s debut at the box office to debut with only $12 million. “While we would have loved to see the film take in more, we expect a  solid multiple in the weeks ahead,” Sony said Sunday. “Solid word of mouth coupled with its allure for families should bode well especially as an option during next weekend’s 4-day holiday weekend.” I say don’t bank on it because this tired franchise is played out.

WEEKEND TOP 10
1.  He’s Just Not That Into You (New Line/Warner Bros) OPENER
$10.4M Friday, $10.9M Saturday, $6M Sunday estimate [3,175 theaters] Weekend $27.4M
2.  Taken (Fox) $6.2M Fri, $9.1M Sat [3,184] Wkd $20.3M, Cume $53.3M
3. Coraline (Focus) OPENER $4.4M Fri, $7M Sat [2,298] Wkd $16.3M
4. Pink Panther (MGM/Sony) OPENER $4M Fri, $6M Sat [3,243] Wkd $12M
5.  Paul Blart: Mall Cop (Sony) $2.7M Fri, $5M Sat [3,169] Wkd $11M, Cume $97M
6.  Push (Summit) OPENER $3.5M Fri, $4.1M Sat [2,313] Wkd $10.2M
7. Slumdog Millionaire (Fox Searchlight) 13th Week [1,724] Wkd $7.4M, Cume $77.4M
8. Gran Torino (Warner Bros) Wkd $7.2M, 9th Week [2,705] Cume 120.2M
9. The Uninvited (Paramount) Wkd $6.4M, 2nd Week [2,344] Cume $18.3M
10. Hotel For Dogs (Paramount) Wkd $5.8M, 4th Week [2,734] Cume $55.2M