For a movie fan, the holiday season means two things: trying to catch up on interesting movies from the current year and looking forward to the major releases of the coming year.
However, looking ahead at each year's release schedule, you begin to notice some bizarrely specific parallels. Every single year of movie releases cycles through a few very predictable stages.
The Dump Months
Each year starts off a little rough, with few if any interesting new releases for the first few months. This is actually part of Hollywood's business strategy. When studios aren't confident that certain movies can compete in a crowded marketplace, they choose to release them during January and February. Sometimes these movies are initially planned as big releases, but the studio loses confidence after seeing the finished product or getting negative feedback from test audiences. It may seem arbitrary, but there are some good reasons behind this tradition.
Throughout most of the United States, the weather is terrible during this time of year. People are less inclined to go to the movies when it means braving an endless frozen hellscape just to get to a theater. Many of the previous year's limited releases get a wide release in January, and new releases might struggle to compete. With the beginning of the new year, people are returning to work and school, and have a lot less free time. They've also just spent a frankly unwise amount of money, and are naturally reluctant to spend any more.
The weak competition can work to some movies' favor, however, especially for horror and comedy. Silence of the Lambs was moved to February for a Valentine's Day release, but went on to box office success and swept the Academy Awards. This February saw the release of Deadpool, which became one of the top ten grossing movies of the year. It looks like next year's The LEGO Batman Movie is hoping to repeat that success.
Since the huge summer successes of Jaws and Star Wars in the 1970s, blockbusters have become a part of the season in the minds of filmmakers and moviegoers alike. Teenagers have long been an important market for Hollywood, so it makes sense to save the year's biggest releases for when they're out of school.
However, the last few years seem to suggest that blockbusters are changing. Traditionally, May has been the beginning of blockbuster season. However, this year's Batman v. Superman was released in March. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the first huge hit of 2014, was released in April. In the past, August was long seen as a dump month, but that may be changing with the record-shattering August openings of Guardians of the Galaxy and Suicide Squad.
Judging by the films involved, it seems that the expansion of the blockbuster season is largely due to the development of cinematic universes. Studios have had to branch out into traditionally less lucrative months simply because they are trying to release as many installments as possible each year. September still remains a bit of a dump month, but that may change in coming years.
Thanks to Halloween, October is unsurprisingly a good time of year for horror movies at the box office. While none of these movies can match the box office of a summer superhero movie, they are made on much smaller budgets and thus expectations are lower.
Audiences can expect plenty of blockbusters throughout November and December, however. Most installments of the Hunger Games, Harry Potter, James Bond, and Twilight series have been released in November. December is holding its own as well, with the openings of Avatar, the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, and the last two Star Wars movies. With people having more free time over Thanksgiving and Christmas, these months can rival the summer months at the box office.
This time of year also belongs to the awards season. Studios choose to release their awards-worthy films as close to the major awards ceremonies as possible. As a result, many of the year's most interesting and artistic movies come out in these later months. Perhaps it helps a film's chances if it's still fresh in the judges' memories when they vote. It's also desirable to stay in theaters after the awards are given, as a nomination or win may give a movie a boost at the box office.
If you can boil this down into simple advice, avoid most January, February, and September movies like the plague. Spring and summer are for massive movie franchises, and the end of the year is for dragging your family and friends to weird movies about the human condition.