From “Tentpoles” to “Oscar Hopefuls”: The annoyingly seasonal nature of movies

Posted on 18 August 2009 by Quaid

It’s no secret that movies are, in general, a seasonal industry.  Whenever the kiddies are out of school, they like to go to the movie-shows, buy tickets for their PG-13 sci-fi action romps and make out in the back row.

MovieTheaterSo it’s no surprise that more and bigger films get released during the summer months as well as the Christmas holiday season.

And I’ve got no problem with that.  What bugs me, though, is how Hollywood has taken this simple idea to its logical and ridiculous conclusion, creating “movie seasons” that have become ingrained in the moviegoing public.  And the problem is getting worse.

Let’ take a quick look at our movie calendar, shall we?  Unlike most calendars, this one starts in early May: the unofficial kickoff of the summer movie season.  From then until the end of July you get almost nothing except blockbuster tentpoles and high-profile romantic comedy “counter-programming.” 

August sees the release of the wannabe summer flicks–movies that have some of the elements of a big blockbuster but don’t quite have the level of marketability to make studios get behind them in an all-out way (think District 9 or Rob Zombie’s Halloween).  

sawIVAfter that, the movie world gets a bit quiet.  In October we see the obligatory scary movie or two (Saw has this release date scored up for at least three more years), and then we’re into awards season.  In November and December, studios release all the movies they think have a shot in hell at the little golden naked man.

But wait!  December isn’t just for awards fare.  Instead, we also get a shorter second wave of blockbuster films, many of them family or holiday oriented.  Something like a Harry Potter film or Robert Zemeckis’s A Christmas Carol.

Then we get to the wasteland of movie-dom…the leftovers.  January, February and March are usually pretty dismal moviegoing times, filled with the films that studios have no box-office or awards faith in.  This lack of exciting movies serves one function: to get everyone talking about the big blockbusters coming out in May!

As I said, I understand putting out your biggest baddest movies during vacation seasons, but what is the logic behind the rest of it all?

First of all, I hate hate hate the first quarter of the year, and there is no good reason at all that good movies are not released at this time.  Sure, every once in a while a small indie company will take a chance on a theatrical release and you’ll find a gem, but that’s rare.  Why waste an entier 1/4 of the year on sub-par movies?

SUMMER_MOVIESEspecially considering how overloaded the summer is.  Sometimes there are three or four big tentpoles coming out in May, but in January?  Squat.

Also, the blockbuster season is getting out of hand.  In an effort to keep their big movies in theaters longer and beat the summer-movie fatigue that nearly always sets in toward the middle of July, studios are pushing their movies earlier and earlier.  The result?  You’ll have almost all your major films hitting in the month of May, and those that get pushed will almost always fight over the July 4 weekend.

So, the point is to get out in front of the pack, but this trend has created a serious logic flaw.

Huge movies now get released in the first and second week of May, presumably to beat the rest to the punch as well as capitalize on the extra theatrical foot traffic.  The only problem is that schools aren’t usually even out yet at this time, so the whole reason for even having a summer movie season breaks down.  In other words, these seasons, once based on logic, have spiraled to the point of becoming self-sustaining; the summer movie season is a monster that no longer has much basis in logic.

OSCARThe awards season is the same way, but in reverse.  Instead of trying to be the first out of the gate, studios try and push back the release of their films as long as possible in order to be fresh in Academy voters’ minds. This results in an insane number of amazing films competing with each other in the last two weeks of December.  

Both of these trends results in more movies coming out in a smaller span of time–and fewer movies being left over for the inevitable lull between seasons.

This phenomenon has gotten so bad that a person can be excited about a movie–until they see its January release date.

“If it were any good,” they say to themselves “it would have been released in May or December.”  And so they don’t go to see the movie, or forget about it as a non-event film.  The cycle continues, a series of self-sustaining prophecies about the quality of a film based solely on release dates.

If you walk up to anyone who knows anything about movies and give him a release date, he or she can probably give you the genre, budget, and calibre of actors in the film. 

Now’s the part where I call for moviegoers to picket or boycott or something, but that won’t happen.  The madness will never stop, and I will continue to have nothing worth seeing in February while I pick between three awesome movies on May 31.  

There is no stopping this.  Movies released in January won’t make as much money as movies released in June simply because audiences are too accustomed to the better movie getting the “better” release date.  Until we can dispense with our prejudices, this cycle can never end.

I say that, but what am I doing in January?  Watching Star Trek on DVD at home, of course.  There’s nothing worth seeing at the theaters…right?                           

Categorized | Commentary, Featured

8 Comments For This Post

  1. James WOods Says:

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  2. clare Says:

    Awesome! Thanks!!

  3. Jerry Says:

    Enjoyed it!
    Also:
    entire – “Why waste an entier 1/4 of the year on sub-par movies?”

  4. ParryOtter Says:

    Aw, c’mon, September always has gems. (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 9, the Informant!, Surrogates, Extract, Coco Before Chanel, Splice…and if you lack taste or like boobs, Sorority Row and Jennifer’s Body.)

    January has Daybreakers (!!!) and Edge of Darkness, and let’s not forget Hot Tub Time Machine in February. *stifles giggle*

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