Why bad movies are released at the beginning of the year

February 9, 2023

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Looking to catch a movie this month? Chances are that the movie might disappoint you. In fact, apparently most movies which are considered bad tend to be released in January and February.

To find out when bad movies come out, it is important to look when movies that are considered good come out. Most of these movies are either released in the summer and the holiday season.  For the origin of these ‘summer blockbusters’, we have to go back to the summer of 1975 with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Released on June 20th, Jaws became the highest grossing movie of all time. Two years later, Jaws was surpassed by another classic: Star Wars released on May 25th of 1977 and overtook Jaws as the highest grossing movie ever. As a result, studios began releasing their big blockbuster movies in the early summer, taking advantage of people having generally more free time due to vacation. Other big ‘summer blockbusters’ are Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, Back to the Future and more recently, Inception and Avengers: Infinity War.

However, the holiday season is arguably a better time to release a movie. Just like in the summer, people have extra free time off from either school or work. Families are also often searching for something to do when they are all gathered together during the holidays. Furthermore, movies that could be in contention for winning awards are often released just before the end of the year, since it is closer to the voting season for Academy Awards. Voters are more likely to be influenced by recency bias if they are released later in the year. By doing this, they are hoping that they are more likely to score a nomination.

Now let us look at when bad movies tend to be released. In the film community, these periods of the year are known as dump months. January and February are most often referred to as dump months. For instance, between 2002 and 2012, the average gross of films released in January was 387 million dollars, compared to 1.2 billion dollars in December. There are a lot of factors leading to this steep decline. Firstly, most theaters are still playing all the big holiday releases, making it hard for movies released in January to compete with them at the box office. Secondly, people tend to have less income to spend after the expensive holidays and have just returned to their work schedule, leaving less time to go watch a movie. Furthermore, events like the Superbowl in February and the Oscars take away a lot of attention to movies released in these months.

Due to test screenings, movie studios often know before release if a movie is perceived to be good or not by the public. However, they are still obligated to release these movies in theaters. As a result, most bad movies are ‘dumped’ in January and February, while most good movies are saved for the busier summer and holiday season.

Not all movies released in January and February are necessarily bad though. Movie genres that are targeted to a specific audience tend to have more movies released in these two months. Horror movies for example tend to do very well since they attract a more niche audience. As a result, two of the more famous Oscar winners that were released in these dump months were both horror movies: Silence of the Lambs which released in January 1991 and Get Out which released in January 2017.

Recently though there seems to be a turnaround with regards to the concept of dump months.  Most notably Marvel has begun releasing films in these dump months, with Black Panther being released in February, grossing 1.349 billion dollars worldwide and becoming the second highest grossing film of 2018. In addition to that, Marvel also released Shang-Chi on Labor Day weekend, a weekend also notably known for its bad box office records. Despite the timing of the release, the film did very well, grossing 432.2 million dollars worldwide, the most ever for a movie released on Labor Day weekend. So perhaps there is a simple solution to the dump month problem: simply release movies that people actually want to see.

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