Vaila’s View: Early year film releases begin the winter slump

Illustration by Gabbie Benda

Vaila DeYoung, Contributing Writer

The beginning of each new year feels like the worst time for movies. Oscar nominations have just been announced and plenty of decent films from the end of 2019 are still playing in theaters. But somehow, January and February feel like the most boring period of the year with new releases.

There are a few chunks of the year generally designated for film studio dumps. These months, (typically January and going into February) are referred to in the film community as “dump months.” 

Quite literally, dump months are the time of year when movie studios dump the movies that were originally supposed to come out in the fall but didn’t due to poor reception.

Because studios would rather put out more profitable films, dump month films get pushed back to January or February.

However, studios can sometimes misjudge how well a film might perform at the box office. 

The financial goal of a theatrical release is to at least earn back the initial budget of the film, and hopefully more.

In January, more often than not, films tend to underperform at the box office. According to imdb.com, “Underwater” was budgeted at around $80 million, but only has made $27.4 million worldwide since its release date, Jan. 10.

Many films are technically released earlier in the year at film festivals, such as Sundance at the end of January, and Cannes Film Festival in the middle of May. Critics and people involved in the industry get to see these films much earlier than the general public, but this gives the films a chance for a rolling release. 

“January and the following winter months can also be a very stressful time of year, so I’ll find myself putting on a classic, or trying a movie on a streaming service that I may have missed during its initial release.” — Vaila DeYoung

If films are well received at festivals, they will continue to have screenings in bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles. From here, they typically have a national release, and the public is finally able to see the film. 

The fall and early winter months are considered the best time of the year for film, because this is when most of the critically acclaimed festival films have their wide releases, right before award season. 

By the time of the film’s wide release, it is usually during the time of year where people have more disposable income, and they have anticipated these movies will come to a theater near them. 

The average spending on entertainment is considerably low in January because many people are still recovering financially from the holidays. 

As mentioned on mtv.com, film studios are fully aware that the average moviegoer has less spending money in January. Because of this, studios would rather save the movies that they think will perform better at the box office for later in the year, and instead dump the less favorable, or more niche films in January. 

Other forms of entertainment, such as winter sports, play a role in traffic to the movie theaters. In snowy climates, people would rather not go out to the movies, but instead stay home and watch TV and American football games during this time of year. 

Some examples of dump month films from 2019 were “Escape Room” and “A Dog’s Way Home.” 

“Escape Room” performed well at the box office as a low-budget horror film, but was not received well critically and declared “rotten,” receiving a score of 50% on Rotten Tomatoes. 

“A Dog’s Way Home” was budgeted at $18 million and earned back $76.1 million. However, this film wasn’t well received either, garnering a 60% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 

I’m not saying these films are in any way bad or that I personally dislike them, but I’d be lying if I said I was anticipating a January 2020 film release. 

During this time of the year, I like to catch up on those Oscar nominated films to prepare and have my opinions ready by the time of the awards. 

January and the following winter months can also be a very stressful time of year, so I’ll find myself putting on a classic, or trying a movie on a streaming service that I may have missed during its initial release. 

Streaming services are great for this time of year too, because I don’t have to leave the house. I’m saving money by not going to the movie theaters, and spending my monthly streaming subscription money more wisely by getting more use out of them than I usually would. 

So, this isn’t the best time of year to head to the theater. Instead, do as I do, and stay in and stream. 

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