Ahhh, January. The first month of the year, the official end of the holidays when winter settles in and movie theaters are filled with some of the most forgettable — and regrettable — movies. Most of this season’s exciting offerings, the Oscar bait, have already been released and might be going nationwide this month (like Selma, Inherent Vice, and American Sniper). But what’s on the slate for January 2015? The Woman in Black 2, Mortdecai, Blackhat … still with me? Hardly awards show contenders. So what’s the deal with January and other “dump months”?
As Dr. Evil put it so eloquently last month, “It’s easy to kill a movie. Just move it to January.” Here is a recent example: In late 2013, when Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was bumped from Christmas Day — a money release day, so money — to the following January 17th, everyone groaned. The trades outlined a few reasons why this was done, such as Paramount wanting to put the spotlight on Martin Scorcese’s Wolf of Wall Street rather than Jack Ryan. But by moving the latter movie to mid-January so it can compete with Ride Along instead of Wolf of Wall Street, it looks like Paramount was giving its Tom Clancy revival a chance to beat up some low-hanging fruit rather than face a devastating knockout at the box office.
Sure enough, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit flopped. While it was hardly a cinematic disaster on the level of Battleship, not even Chris Pine could get people interested in an ultimately unnecessary reboot. (Pine did get a Christmas day release with Into the Woods, which is more than making up for his setback.)
Back to School
Maybe if Harrison Ford had been playing Jack Ryan, a bigger crowd would have showed up. Another social theory behind January being such a desolate movie month is that because Hollywood’s favorite audience — young people — is going back to school and have a lot less free time, the older audience is heading into theaters now that all those whippersnappers are out of their hair. The other common time of year when the target audience is going back to school is late August and September, another “dump” period for movies — post-summer blockbuster, post-tentpole, post-vacations and late nights for many people.
Everyone Is Broke
Like a forgotten lump of coal in a Christmas stocking about to be put away for another year, a nasty bummer of a credit card bill awaits many people after the holidays have wrapped up and become another memory for the scrapbook. It might seem like a no-brainer to head to the movies once the festivities have died down and there are no more parties to attend on the weekends, but spending even more money is hard to stomach when that bill comes and everyone’s accounts have waned. If the decision came down to seeing a mediocre movie or food on the table… People just aren’t going to choose Mortdecai over not starving.
While people might not get too excited about movies currently in theaters in the early months of the year, they do get excited about awards shows that celebrate movies that have already come out. Hindsight is 20/20, right? At least this is what Hollywood would like to believe. Why else would the powers that be get people like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Neil Patrick Harris to host awards shows? It’s a manipulative ploy, getting the unwashed plebeian masses to fall for all the fancy dresses, self-congratulation, the jokes your mother finds really distasteful, the overall shallowness. But what does awards season really mean? The end of having to care about movies for a while. All the movies worth seeing will win or lose out on awards, and then that’ll be it. Nothing to worry about until the summer. Except…
The Super Bowl
With the end of awards season comes the end of football season, which for some of us feels like Second Christmas. People throw parties, tons of food is prepared… it’s a full-on holiday in many households. But since it only happens once a year and no one is going to record it and watch it later, the Super Bowl is one weekend when a lot of the moviegoing audience is not going anywhere. There are plenty of sports-haters to go to the movies, but a large portion of the citizenry is still going to be watching football that day, even if it’s just for the party.
But don’t think for a second that Hollywood isn’t getting in on Super Bowl Sunday — all those people at home will be anxiously awaiting teaser trailers and the first full trailers for a lot of summer releases. Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Jurassic World, and probably Star Wars, even though that’s not coming until next December.
Exception: Horror Movies
January and February have become prime release dates for low-budget horror movies. Even though they don’t exactly break the bank, the movies weren’t that expensive to begin with. Movies like Mama and The Woman in Black were made for $15 million, so it wasn’t hard for them to break even, even if they only had a $20 million opening weekend. Both movies ended up making over $100 million and had plenty of buzz for exactly the crowd it was hoping to attract. Let’s be honest: the kinds of people who go for super creepy, depressing, death-themed movies are probably huge fans of cold, dark, depressing times of the year that aren’t Halloween. That niche audience is just enough to keep the blood flowing into theaters and studios until the blockbuster panic attack a few months away.
But there are no guarantees for sequels, as The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death will testify.