Why is January Hollywood's "Dump Month"?

Why Hollywood won't release better movies in January

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McKittrick, Christopher. "Why is January Hollywood's "Dump Month"?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 14, 2016, thoughtco.com/why-movies-are-released-in-january-2422209. McKittrick, Christopher. (2016, January 14). Why is January Hollywood's "Dump Month"? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-movies-are-released-in-january-2422209 McKittrick, Christopher. "Why is January Hollywood's "Dump Month"?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/why-movies-are-released-in-january-2422209 (accessed September 25, 2017).
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Moviegoers know that summer brings the biggest blockbusters to theaters (although Hollywood's "summer" has started as early as late March, as with 2016's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), October is saturated with horror movies, and that Thanksgiving through Christmas tends to be filled with films angling for awards recognition. While weekends from April through August and October through December are consider prime time for movie release dates, there are 52 weekends a year.

So what about the other months? The weekends considered the least valuable by Hollywood are the four weekends in January. In fact, ever since the 1970s studios have tended to "dump" movies that they think will perform poorly in January rather than give them a chance during a more desirable summer or fall weekend later in the year, like 2015's box office bomb Mortdecai.

Why January? There are a few reasons why Hollywood tends to only release genre and popcorn films instead of huge blockbusters or awards-caliber movies during the first month of the year:

Holiday Holdovers

Christmas has always been a prime launching ground for blockbusters and movies that studios think have awards potential. However, there are usually so many big-name movies coming out during the holiday season – and people are extremely busy in their social lives – that most moviegoers can't see them all in December. Because of that, many December movies still dominate the box office throughout January while audiences pass on whatever is new in theaters while playing catch-up.

Awards Distraction

January is when the voting for the Oscars and other major film awards is underway. At that time, studios are in full campaign mode for whatever movies from the previous year that they are trying to bring to the voters' attention. Many of those movies – especially the ones released in November and December – are still in theaters and receive "Now nominated for Best Picture!" advertising campaigns.

Because of that, most of the studios' promotional departments are devoted to winning awards, not selling movies that the studio already doesn't believe in.

Of course, the reverse is also true – because studios fear releasing a new movie with awards potential in January will mean it will end up overshadowed and forgotten by the time it is eligible for the following awards season, studios don't release what they would consider high-quality films during that month. Only one January movie in the past five decades has won the Academy Award for Best Picture: The Silence of the Lambs, which premiered January 30, 1991 (and it didn’t open in most markets until Valentine’s Day).

The Super Bowl Effect

Over 100 million Americans – about a third of the entire population – have plans every year for the first Sunday in February: watching the Super Bowl, which means movie theaters are empty. During the weekends leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, millions are watching the NFL playoffs. Why bother releasing movies when so many Americans already plan to be in front of their televisions instead?

Unpredictable Weather

January's weather can be vicious for much of the northern United States. Large snowfall can make people think twice about braving the elements to go to the movie theater.

Movies can't make money if people can't get to the theater.

Can January Movies Succeed?

Surprisingly, in recent years some movies – including comedies, action movies, and horror movies – have defied January expectations. January 2014's Ride Along grossed $134.9 million and January 2009's Paul Blart: Mall Cop grossed $146.3 million in U.S. theaters. The low budget horror movie Mama, which was released in January 2013, grossed $71.6 million in the U.S. January 2015's Taken 3 grossed $89.3 million, January 2011's The Green Hornet grossed $98.8 million, and 2010's The Book of Eli grossed $94.8 million. While most of those movies received bad reviews from critics, they benefited by dominating an otherwise weak release schedule.

That theory holds out in the case of Paul Blart's 2015 sequel. Instead of opening in January, it opened in April – the same month far more popular sequels Furious 7, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Pitch Perfect 2 opened.

Paul Blart 2 made less than half the original did at the U.S. box office. It's no surprise then that Universal followed the January success of Ride Along by releasing Ride Along 2 in January too.

So while there are some exceptions to January being Hollywood’s “dump month,” chances are you won’t see many classics or box office record-breakers released in January.