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The Slate

The January-February Slump

The January-February Slump

“Moviemaking is a business of connections.”

“You gotta make a lotta crap before you’re in anything good.”

“You should have seen the script before the director got his hands on it.”
The quotes above are common excuses I’ve heard for bad movies. They’re almost as common as, “my dog ate my homework.” The difference here is that missed homework will cost you GPA points, but a bad movie costs filmmakers money and audiences precious time.

Box Office Mojo, a site dedicated to recording and comparing box office results, divided the movie year into five different seasons (Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, Holiday), and have recorded box office results in these time frames since 1982. Each year, they have found that the Winter season, defined as New Year’s to the first week of March, has garnered the lowest box office grosses.

Movies are released year-round, each with high budget advertising and weeks of nationwide theater renting. To produce and distribute a film is a risky, expensive endeavor. It can waste thousands, even millions of dollars if the film bombs. So, why do we see a massive influx of movies that are bound to tank in the months of January and February? Take some time to look up movies that were released in these months. Most likely, you won’t remember what they were about and/or never bothered to see them. The reason actually has to do with economics.

Everyone is familiar with the term “Summer Blockbuster”. When school lets out, students are free to go to movies as much as they like. Since there are more opportunities to spend money, Summer, and more recently, Holiday, have become the seasons for the biggest name movies, or Oscar-bait, to be released. Once Summer ends, students and families go back to school or work but are still open to going to the movies because that’s the only changing factor: returning to school or work. After the Holiday season, however, moviegoers are returning to school after binging on films in a much shorter and expensive vacation time. Money has just been spent left and right to pay for the various Winter Holidays making people less willing to spend (not to mention the seasonal blizzards which snow hundreds of people in).

On top of all that, Winter is the annual Oscar season when the Best Picture Nominees are re-released in theaters for general moviegoers to catch up on. Who wants to see The Lego Movie when they have a second chance to see 12 Years A Slave?

Compare and Contrast

The Lego Movie Trailer 

12 Years A Slave Trailer

In a two month period where customers are less likely to purchase a ticket, producers have nicknamed this time as dump months for “Favor Films”. Favor Films are movies that are put into production as a favor for making another film. The favor could be owed to a big name actor, a director, or the production company itself. These films are not usually predicted to garner good box office results which is why they can only get the star or the funding through a favor. 

Sometimes, it’s the opposite, meaning a particularly good movie can only come out if someone makes a bad one. For example, Somewhere in Time (1980), a critically respected film, was made because Universal Pictures owed a favor to director Jeannot Szwarc for directing Jaws 2 (1978), which was not nearly as good.

However, like just (practically) everything else in the movie industry, there are exceptions. The target demographic for the winter season, is males, 35 and older: a demographic of individuals with stable savings accounts who can spare a few $10 bills after trashing the Christmas tree. That is why Taken, which came out January 30, 2009, was such big a hit. Granted, it’s a great action-thriller to begin with, but it also played to the audience that most wanted to see it and were most open to see it at the time.

One could argue, why not take advantage of the slump, release a good movie and get all the attention? They would be forgetting, that they would be competing with re-released Best Picture Oscar nominees. On top of that there’s the weather, which can cause power outages. This leads to less screentime. From a financial point of view, it is the riskiest release time. Therefore, if you’re getting a January-February release date, the recommended course of action is to budget low and hope for a sleeper hit. 

The industry of light and magic is, as the above quote claims, a business of connections. Many times, to get a film made, it’s the people you know, not what you can do. 

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