Sometimes, movie fans have to remember that the regular folk don’t understand our jargon. For those that don’t know, the dump month is considered the time when studios release movies that they know to be losers. While hacking and sneezing through a recent screening, there were two older newspaper types arguing about what constitutes the dump month. To the best of their abilities, they seemed to believe in constituted the non Christmas time portions of the winter. Given the recent success of Deadpool, most armchair box office analysts would have a hard time buying that. But, how many January and February releases ever break records? Before Deadpool‘s opening weekend, you’d have to go back to The Passion of the Christ to find another film that made gobs of cash in February.
January is considered the definition of the dump month. Prior to the recent December carryover effect, the biggest opening weekend of January belonged to Cloverfield. Before that it was the Star Wars: Special Edition re-release. When something succeeded in January, it was always treated as the film that overperformed. Whether that be Hostel or the Underworld movies. Since 2014, the box office has showcased a rather lucrative trend for movies that might not completely survive at Christmas. Imagine that a studio has a popular film, but with an unclear audience…two plans of attack have been found. A studio can do limited release at Christmas and national rollout in January. But, they can also roll the dice and drop what could’ve been in a spring comedy against movies that are biding their time until Redbox.
While that might seem unfair, the movie-going audience has to realize that set patterns of release don’t matter anymore. Sure, the winter sees entire stretches of the country get pounded with blizzards and extreme weather, but what about the areas that don’t get it? The bizarre shotgunning has seemingly created a situation where the dump month shouldn’t exist. But, it carries on. Looking at this lovely mini-poster of Gods of Egypt, one has to wonder what a studio is doing when studios are changing their game plan. That is when I look at what is sitting next to that poster. A copy of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”.
The dump month still exists, so that it can help inflate off-season bigger pictures. Studios are now playing chicken with each other, between the delayed releases and off-season blockbusters. Stop for a second and wonder why Kung Fu Panda 3 was released in the middle of January. If a studio knows that they were competing against formerly shelved horror movies and poorly animated kid flicks, why not hold back a movie from the Christmas onslaught? Kids get MLK weekend off and adults still see movies in January. It’s just picking what is the best out of the B and C list. Sometimes, gold is struck and other times Kevin Hart gets to limp through another movie.
Looking at the calendar, moviegoers are coming up on the last major weekend of the Dump Month season. Soon, we’ll be into the Spring and the ever earlier start for Popcorn Cinema. As older cineastes whine about time marching on and schedules no longer existing, it’s time to realize that the concept of the dump month was nothing but a marketing ploy in and of itself. No studio exists to lose money. They do however do insane amounts of marketing research and they study everything audiences go to watch. Why does SONY and Lionsgate keep finding shelved horror films to release? Well, it’s because Mister and Miss Disposable Income went out and saw the previous dry dump. Trends only stop when they are not profitable or audiences become discerning.
Can success be found in the dump months? Well, success was never out of the question. If a bar is set so low, then any money made over X amount is considered a win. If that wasn’t enough, then there’s the home video scheduling. For what dumps in January is available on Home Video in the Spring. Even when you consider that bit of uncanny planning, one has to start questioning the continuation of the Dump Month term. Has the entire concept just been part of a larger marketing lie? The truth is out there.