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Why Is February Such a Weak Month for Movies?

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This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Mark Rogowsky, Entrepreneur, raconteur, bon vivant.

The movie industry is the classic popular definition of insanity in action: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Some of it more or less "works" and proves to the industry it knows what it's doing. For example:
  • A lot of us decry the endless parade of sequels and remakes. And some of them really do suck (Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, the new Ghost Rider, insert-your-favorite-many-examples-here). But they are more reliable money makers than things no one has heard of. It's just true; but it feeds the notion that creative risk is bad and safety is good.
  • Kids are out of school in summer. So fare that appeals to younger people will sell more tickets in the summer. And this isn't just true for really young kid-oriented stuff, but also for things that teens can take themselves to, which includes a fair of amount of summer blockbuster/tentpole films.
  • You can automatically get in the "Oscar conversation" by releasing your film near Christmas if it's arty or highbrow. You can't automatically get nominated, but you can get talked about, which is why you see films released around then that are Oscar bait.
So these kinds of things are true and they remain true over time and the movie industry pretends it exists in some world where not much changes around it most of the time... It thinks it can sell more DVDs by denying DVD rental companies like Netflix, Redbox and Blockbuster new releases for 28 and 56-day periods in spite of minimal evidence that this does anything and significant evidence that the longer the window the more the rental companies will simply go buy the discs at retail and circumvent the rules.

Sometimes it does adapt. Worldwide movie releases are helping deal with the fact that piracy of U.S. releases was probably affecting foreign box office on movies that waited months before going global. Much more extensive pay-per-view options mean that fairly current releases are not only on cable, but iTunes, Vudu, et al.

Oh, yes, February. The movie industry is sure that you can't have a hit movie in February because people won't go see it. So they release few quality films in February and few people go see them. And this "proves" that releasing movies in February is a bad idea. It's certainly a self-fulfilling prophecy, isn't it?

Once upon a time, television network sweeps in February were a big deal and so perhaps more people were likely to be home and watching them and this might have made sense, but that's obviously no longer the case. Friday and Saturday nights are not TV nights any longer, except to the extent TV means Netflix, PPV, stuff already on your DVR, etc.

Step into my way-back machine with me to 1994, and I'll show you just how crazy it is that in the nearly two decades since, the movie release philosophy hasn't been more radically altered. On March 9 of that year (OK, not February, but really close, right?), a film with a budget of $4.4 million opened starring a fairly unknown British fellow named Hugh Grant (and an appealing model-turned-actress with no proven box-office mojo named Andie MacDowell). That film, Four Weddings and a Funeral, went on to gross $245 million and even earn an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. While it technically predates the compilation review sites, a quick check of Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes shows it was, indeed, critically acclaimed.

Here's a list of the 200 biggest weekend opening's for Februarys: http://boxofficemojo.com/alltime...

There are a couple of notable things about the list:
  1. The grosses are terrible overall.
  2. Most of the movies are eminently forgettable, but...
  3. ... there are really good movies on the list, including Schindler's List, The Crying Game, L.A. Story, Groundhog Day.... and some funny/decent/surprising films like Miracle, Wonder Boys, Eight Below, Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates (Adam Sandler is sooo money in February).
  4. The best opening grosses in February are not meaningfully different from those in April. By May, the audience is clearly larger. By April, it isn't.
  5. The Vow and Safe House both cracked the all-time top 11 for February grosses this year. Neither relied on 3-D tickets to do it either. Chronicle (which was marketed heavily) and the Ghost Rider and Mysterious Island sequels also cracked the all time top 33 February openings (along with the 3-D version of Phantom Menace) and The Woman in Black is #40. So perhaps things are changing a bit given that's 7 major releases. It's worth adding that Safe House (53), Phantom Menace (57), The Woman in Black (63) and Chronicle (78) all scored over 50% on Rotten Tomatoes as did The Grey (78), released just before February, and also a box-office success in the "dead months".
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