The summer season is a very important time for films. It’s a special few months that allow for spectacle and explosive awe that leaves the rest of the year in the dust. But summer is growing. What used to be two to three months of movie madness is now four to five. And it’s only growing. The summer movie season is expanding greatly and shows no sign of slowing down. What does this mean for the future and what does it mean for movies that don’t star Iron Man, Batman or the other cinematic juggernauts?
Many consider Jaws to be the birth of the summer movie. Released on June 20, 1975, Spielberg’s classic changed the game in many ways, especially the way it dominated the box office. Since then, the few months that brought us so many blockbusters have bloated into nearly half the year. It got even more extreme in 2016: Batman v Superman debuted on March 25. That’s nearly three months before the actual start of summer. While B v S took a critical beating and didn’t quite meet expectations financially, it still brought in quite a haul of cash. This means summer films will only open earlier and earlier.
Batman v Superman was originally going to open in May. May, by the way, is also a good deal earlier than the usual start of the summer film barrage. When Marvel refused to move Captain America: Civil War, Warner Bros. decided to push Batman v Superman back…by more than a month. This set the mark for the earliest start to summer. It allowed for other tentpole movies to open earlier too. Just this week, The Jungle Book is hitting theaters. Typically that’s a film that would debut smack dab in the middle of July. But if Batman and Superman are doing battle way earlier than usual, why can’t everyone else join in too?
To be fair, many other films have been expanding the calendar before Batman v Superman. The Fast and Furious films, for example, have been creeping into April, allowing them more time to sit atop the box office throne. Studios have taken note that despite the shift to earlier release dates, audiences are turning out to watch. This works wonders for all the studios because films don’t have to compete with each other as much. Before it would be week after week of record-breaking hits. Now each film is able to breathe, have its space and the money keeps rolling in.
Audiences and studios aren’t feeling exhausted yet but the summer movie creep is having an effect, specifically on smaller films that don’t involve capes, talking cars or Vin Diesel. Previously, there would be months on end when these “non-event” movies could simmer in cinemas and attract audiences without fear of being overshadowed by the latest blockbuster. Now time has grown scarce for these productions. Many get lost in the hubbub and underperform or find more success on VOD. As summer grows, it pushes these other movies to the side.
This comes at a time when studios have already lost interest in smaller films. It’s rare that a major studio will greenlight a film with a budget in the $20-$30 million range. The movies have to be either very, very big or very, very small. Now that studios are learning they can release behemoth films at any time in the year, you can expect these prestige, smaller-budgeted films to keep struggling. They will fight for their stake in the box office – and some will succeed – but it’s hard to win a battle when you are so, so, so outmatched.
Smaller films are migrating to what was once a no man’s land: the period right after Christmas and the new year. The Coen Brothers’ latest, Hail, Caesar!, debuted at the beginning of February. February! Years ago, that would have shown that studios thought it was a disaster. Typically the weeks after a major holiday season are when bad movies are tossed. Everyone is burnt out from going to the theater so studios just offload their trash in hopes of turning at least a buck or two. But now this brief period of time is necessary for certain films. The same will be true for September and October, which also used to be dumping grounds for bad films. If the summer cinematic season is expanding, it’s likely the winter movie season will too. Before we know it, we’ll be watching Christmas movies in early October.
Perhaps a balance will be found. We have to hope so because no one wants to see filmmakers like the Coens lost in the waves of summer movie madness. The movie release schedule should be full of ebbs and flows, valleys and peaks. If it’s all big movies all the time then that spells doom for many lovely, important films.
The Avengers. Batman. Rey, Finn and the Star Wars heroes. Vin Diesel and his car-racing crew. The dinosaurs of Jurassic World. All of these characters are fighting for a piece of the box office pie. Now they all have much, much more time to battle for it. These types of massive films are no longer sequestered to a strict June-early August release schedule. They are stretching their legs and planting their flags weeks and months earlier. It’s exciting and a bit worrisome. Exciting because these films have never been better, we truly live in an age of fantastic blockbusters. Worrisome because it’s harder to make a splash when so many other monstrous movies are making cannonballs. Yet it shows no sign of slowing. Summer is getting longer and longer and that means some movies may be left out in the cold.