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'Sex and the City' hoping to whip Indiana Jones

This weekend's box-office battle between the year's top two films is firmly divided along gender lines. But can Carrie and co win the day?

They're not getting any younger and their love lives remain, at best, messy. But the girls of Sex and the City haven't lost their grip on the hearts, minds and handbags of America's women.

In a box-office battle that divides the nation neatly along gender lines, the eagerly awaited film is attempting to steal the crown – or rather battered fedora – from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the best-selling new release of the year so far, on its opening weekend.

The latest chapter in the lives of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha premiered in New York on Tuesday and opened across the country on Friday. Many of the 3,285 cinemas in which it is now being shown stayed open past midnight on Thursday in order to cater for fanatical fans wishing to witness the first public screening.

With most prime-time weekend screenings completely sold out in advance, industry experts estimated that the film will take between $25m (£12.6m) and $40m by the close of play tonight. "Advance sales have been nothing short of extraordinary for a female-driven comedy-drama," said Rick Butler of the online ticket retailer Fandango. "At the fast pace we've been going, we expect to sell out more than 1,000 show times before the weekend has even started."

Making up the lion's share of crowds are women who followed the TV series and have been starved of Sex and the City since 2004. Audiences at cinemas in Los Angeles last night were between 90 and 95 per cent female, with daytime crowds boosted by mothers taking their teenage daughters.

Many critics have given Sex and the City lukewarm reviews, with some complaining that, at two and a half hours, it is 30 minutes too long. Others have beefed that Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, spends too long in conversation with a new character – her assistant Louise – and not long enough in girly chats with her friends. Others have wondered whether it will compete with the latest Indiana Jones outing, which is expected to take up to $50m this weekend.

In some quarters, Sex and the City's failure to attract anyone but women and gay males to cinemas represents a social malaise. "For reasons that seem symptomatic of a much deeper problem, Sex and the City seems to have become the movie that no man wants to see or at least admit to wanting to see," said Carina Chocano, film critic of the LA Times.

Industry experts also wonder if the film will have the power to sustain its early viewing figures. "The show has been exposed on TV and built a following. So I would be surprised if they didn't have a good opening," said Jon Weisman of Variety, the Hollywood newspaper. "The question in the long term is: can it sustain it?"

But for now, at least, the sell-out crowds are lapping it up, applauding their favourite lines and crediting the nondescript character Charlotte with inventing a new catchphrase that embodies the spirit of girl power: "I curse the day you were born."