What's the matter with January? And what's a discerning moviegoer to do? In an email to The Atlantic, Box Office Mojo editor Ray Subers offers
an explanation for Hollywood's traditional, unimpressive January release schedule:
January typically sees genre films and films that have tested poorly getting their contractually-due theatrical release, while discerning adult
audiences are catching up on the various ten-best lists and the general moviegoers are seeing the event films of December.
There are plenty of acclaimed films in theaters that got short shrift during the mad rush of the holiday film season in December 2011, including The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, War Horse, and Tinker Tailor Solider Spy. Margaret Thatcher biopic The Iron Lady
is taking this week's lame-duck new releases as an excuse to expand into a wider release. And the latest entries in the Mission: Impossible
and Sherlock Holmes franchises continue to draw steady business in the wake of their original December releases.
So audiences have options. But what about Hollywood executives, who annually find themselves on the other end of January's bad-movie problem? January
may be a poor time for film fans, but looking at the successes and failures of the past decade, there are a few secrets to achieving box-office victory
in the weakest of cinematic months:
This is the time for your mediocre comedy…
Audiences tend to react to January comedies like they're the coconut-filled candies in a box of chocolates: not the first choice, but better than
nothing, right? As a result, poorly reviewed comedies like Tooth Fairy, Bride Wars, or Hotel For Dogs—which would be lost
in the shuffle of a stronger month for comedies or family films—have used the cinematic doldrums of January to find relative success with audiences
who'd see something better if they had the choice.
…Or your mediocre action movie…
The same scheme exists for mid-range action movies like The Book of Eli and Underworld: Evolution, which eked out modest box-office
profits in January instead of floundering among other, better action movies during the summer blockbuster season. And 2011's mediocre superhero flick The Green Hornet, which would almost certainly have floundered at its originally scheduled summer 2010 release date, found a respectable,
competition-free reception in January.
…Or your low-cost rerelease.
Disney used September—the other traditionally weak month in cinema—to test audiences' tolerance for 3D with
a 3D rerelease of its animated classic
The Lion King
. That movie went on to become
the highest-grossing film in September. Disney learned the lesson well; they're aiming to prop up a similarly lax box-office with The Beauty and The Beast 3D, which also opens this
Friday. And this isn't the first time that studios have used January low wattage as a springboard for rereleases. George Lucas conquered the box office
in 1997 with Star Wars: Special Edition, and this year's 3D reworking of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace is just missing the
cutoff with a mid-February release date.