January’s Cinematic Vortex


Madison Donahue-Wolfe
Staff Writer

If box office sales indicate a movie’s merit, year after year those released in January would fail to impress. Indeed, January’s monthly box office sales don’t hold a candle to the sales of the summer and year-end months.

With an opening weekend of $43.7 million, “Cloverfield” (2008), the highest grossing movie released in January, made a fraction of May’s highest grossing film, “The Avengers” (2012) with $207.4 million, July’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” (2012) with $169.2 million, and November’s “Catching Fire” (2013) with $158 million in their opening weekends.

But do box office sales predict the success a movie will have? In the past five years, the movies that won the Academy Awards for Best Picture prove this is not the case. Last year’s Best Picture winner, “Argo,” took home a mere $19.5 million in its opening weekend, which is a minuscule amount when compared with blockbusters such as “The Avengers” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2.” None of the other four winners in the past five years, “Slumdog Millionaire” (2008), “The Hurt Locker” (2009), “The King’s Speech” (2010), and “The Artist” (2011), broke $400,000 in their opening weekends. So if a movie’s sales have little to no relation to its quality, at least in terms of the Academy Awards, why are low-grossing January movies still forgotten?

One explanation is the number of movies actually released in January is very small when compared with other months. Many blockbusters released in year-end months roll over into January, which perhaps discourages studios from having their movies compete with these already proven successes. A recent example is “Frozen” (2013), which experienced an opening weekend success of $63.4 million in November and continues to climb in sales through January.

This isn’t to say that January never experiences good movies. “Taken” (2009), “Haywire”(2012), and “The Impossible” (2013) were all released in January and experienced box office success as well as favorable reviews. The problem is that movies released later in the year usually overshadow those released in January. At the end of 2013, who was talking about “The Impossible”–a movie about a family that falls victim to the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, in case you forgot–when movies released later in the year, such as “Catching Fire” and “The Hobbit Part 2” were fresh in movie-goers’ minds?

This raises the question of what causes a movie to gain popularity and success in the first place. Most “blockbusters” are sequels that many will go to see even if the reviews aren’t good. Indeed, the highest grossing films for 2013, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” and “Catching Fire,” were highly-anticipated sequels with high-caliber actors based on beloved book series with massive fan followings. It was inevitable these movies would be successful, regardless of whether they were good or not.

From time to time, good movies are released in January, such as those mentioned above, but when looking at January’s other highest grossing movies, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” (2009), “Big Mama’s House 2” (2006), and “Are We There Yet?” (2005) to name a few, one wonders whether the first month of the year will ever experience a string of acceptable films. Since most blockbusters are saved for the summer or late in the year, January is eternally doomed to present its movie-goers with subpar movies that, since they have no chance against the summer and year-end blockbusters, try to glean as much money as they can in a month they know will suck otherwise.