January: It’s the first month of a new year, full of promise and resolutions to keep. It can be an exciting time, with our favorite TV series starting back up, playoffs to watch, and wintry activities to enjoy. It’s also arguably the absolute worst month of the year to go to the movies.
It’s not that there aren’t new releases hitting theaters every weekend. It’s not that there aren’t occasionally some great movies that hit during January. But traditionally, Hollywood doesn’t tend to release particularly awesome flicks during the dead of winter. In fact, there’s a term for this time of year in the film industry — it’s a dump month. Though crude, it’s a pretty accurate way to describe how Hollywood views the first month of the year. Dump months are time periods where film studios release their worst movies. And they’re almost always January. From a marketing and finance perspective, it makes perfect sense. Here are a few reasons why.
As we head out of the holiday season, it’s no secret that most people are pretty burnt out. And not just from shopping, eating, and an endless schedule of events to attend. Throughout the last couple months of the year, Hollywood typically releases some of its most exciting films. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, it’s common to see major releases from popular franchises, all of whom hope to capitalize on cross-marketing for holiday gifts. So by the time the ball drops, there’s a good chance that the average moviegoer has hit up a theater on consecutive weekends — and doled out quite a bit of cash in the process.
By dumping movies that are unlikely to draw audiences anyway early in the year, movie studios are able to hedge their bets. And they save their marketing dollars for the projects that are likely to turn a profit when fans have recovered from their Force Awakens-sized fervor and are ready to get excited again.
Fans stay home
Film studio executives aren’t stupid — they understand that there are plenty of reasons to enjoy a weekend at home by the time January rolls around. Weather can be unpredictable — even the most ardent fans will likely skip an opening weekend if a Snowpocalypse-style storm is bearing down on them. And since studios can’t change the forecast, many decide it’s best to not chance a big opening during the heaviest winter months.
And then there are sporting events to contend with. Between college bowl games, NFL playoffs, and special events in hockey, sports fans’ schedules are full throughout the month of January. Studios make smart choices when they opt out of competing with TV during these sports-filled weekends.
Award season dead zone
The Oscars are just as much about campaigning as they are about rewarding high-quality movies. So timing is everything when it comes to releasing movies that studios hope will get award season buzz. A lot of times, we’ll see limited releases of these high-profile movies in December, followed by a slower wide release throughout January. That happened this year with The Revenant, Joy, and The Hateful Eight.
But if a studio waits to release a potential Oscar contender until January, it will be out of the running until the following year. And that means it will often be forgotten as a new crop of hopefuls hit theaters over the next 12 months. In fact, releasing a movie in the first two months of the year is basically asking fans and Hollywood insiders alike to ignore it. That’s why we’re much more likely to see Mortdecai than Birdman on the marquee this time of year. And it’s why unless you’re looking to catch Star Wars again or prime yourself for an Oscar pool, there aren’t many reasons to visit a movie theater for the next few weeks.