January might be known for having NFL playoffs and the Sundance Film Festival, but it’s also when movie theaters become flooded with titles the studios have little hope of success for — in the movie business, it’s known as the “dump month.”
This January is no different. Paramount’s $125 million kids action movie “Monster Trucks” was made in 2014 and after changing the release date three times, the studio finally settled on the dump month to release it. And to no one’s surprise, the movie opened this past holiday weekend with only $14.6 million on over 3,000 screens.
And misery loves company. Coming out later this month is “Resident Evil: The Final Chapter,” which also had numerous false starts before finally getting a January 27 release date.
January isn’t just home for big-budget duds. Movies that didn’t cut it during award season are also thrown into the mix. Ben Affleck’s disappointing gangster movie “Live by Night” also opened over the weekend to just a paltry $5.7 million on 2,822 screens. And Matthew McConaughey’s lackluster “Gold” opens wide January 27.
In the past, February has also been considered a dump month, but things have improved of late. “Deadpool” opened over President’s Day weekend last year and broke box-office records (it’s more astounding that it’s an R-rated movie). This year also looks promising for February as titles like “John Wick: Chapter Two,” “The Lego Batman Movie,” “A Cure for Wellness,” and Jordan Peele’s directorial debut “Get Out” are all highly anticipated.
But why has January still been a dumping ground for Hollywood? Rotten Tomatoes editor-in-chief Matt Atchity points out that it’s a combination of things. Bad weather and folks tightening the belt financially after spending a lot during the holidays are a couple reasons audiences steer clear of the multiplex. However, Atchity points out that the studios also have other priorities this time of year.
“The awards contenders hit wide release this month,” he told Business Insider, “so I think the studios release their weaker films to stay out of the way of their awards contenders hitting national platforms.”
Oscar contenders like “La La Land” and “Hidden Figures” have both had strong national rollouts since the calendar turned to 2017.
Sometimes studios find diamonds during dump month: Back in 2009, “Taken” opened in the last weekend of January with few figuring it would make any noise. However, the Liam Neeson revenge movie won its opening weekend and went on to earn over $225 million worldwide (it had a $25 million budget) and spawned two sequels. In 2014, the Ice Cube/Kevin Hart comedy “Ride Along” turned out to be a big winner. Also budgeted at $25 million, it took in over $150 million worldwide. It also spawned a successful sequel.
Studios aren’t willing to plant one of their huge tentpole movies in January, but Atchity believes mid-level movies like “Taken” and “Ride Along,” titles that can be appealing worldwide, are the best movies to release this time of year.
“I think there’s fertile ground there for the right film,” Atchity said. “But it’s still pretty risky.”