After an exciting December full of various high-profile films such as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Little Women, the expected releases of January appear much duller in comparison. With a seemingly cheap comedy Like a Boss and the sappy romance I Still Believe being the only big films coming out soon, it looks like this month will be a dreary one for moviegoers. However, there is an explicit reason for this: January is a “dump month”.
A dump month is the period of the year where the commercial and critical expectations for films are exceedingly low. Audiences tend to be at their busiest during these periods, keeping them away from the theaters. As a result, studios will spend this time “dumping” the movies that have been deemed lesser. This could be because they were received poorly by test audiences, or because the studio felt that they have a whole host of movies which should be released during more financially lucrative months, such as June and December. This results in there being an excess of very mediocre films during the January period.
Other dump months besides January include February, and sometimes August and September. The cause behind these monthly periods having such poor returns financially are the result of various things, such as holidays, weather, and award shows. One of the main reasons behind January and February’s poor profitability is that they come right after December — which is considered an extremely profitable period due to the Christmas vacation giving viewers more free time. The beginning of January marks the return to school or jobs, pulling audiences away from watching movies. Also, audience members tend to become more frugal so that they earn back all the money they frittered away on holiday shopping.
Secondly, January and February happen right before the Academy Awards. Despite occurring before the official ceremony (which typically happens in early March), any films released during these two months are ineligible to be nominated for last year’s Oscars, as the voting period is already over. Instead, they will have to wait over a full year to be nominated and, by that time, many will have forgotten about their presence. This is why many Oscar bait movies are shown during December, which is when Academy Award nominations are being decided. Finally, January and February are cursed by a higher possibility of winter storms, which December surprisingly has less of in comparison. This means that audiences are now prevented from going to the theater by an uncontrollable, natural burden. All in all, these various factors make February and particularly January the definitive “dump months” of the year.
After the lucrative fall season passes and summer going through it’s run of box-office successes, we reach August and September. These two months are blighted by the start of school, which distracts younger viewers from theaters while emptying the pockets of poor parents buying back-to-school supplies. Though school typically begins late August, the weeks before this are usually filled with sleepaway camp or family vacations that serve as a final hurrah for the summer break. This further distracts viewers from diligently spending their money at theaters. What’s also noticeable about all the dump months mentioned is the lack of any distinct theme. December has various holiday festivities, which attracts Christmas-inspired movies. October’s association with Halloween brings on the dark, gritty thrillers and horror films. But January, August, and September all lack any distinct holiday that’s connected to a theme. February manages to escape this due to its connection to Valentine’s Day, but rom-coms are still a rather niche category that aren’t as accessible as other genres.
These months often release particular type of movies, such as “mediocre” comedies/action films, or teen-oriented movies. The former includes examples like Tooth Fairy, Bride Wars Underworld: Evolution, The Book of Eli, all of which were critically unsuccessful. The latter involves movies like the teen romances She’s All That and A Walk to Remember, as well as gross-out comedies like Vampires Suck or Meet the Spartans.
However, there have been some films that came out during the dump months, but ended up being critically and financially successful. The biggest example is Silence of the Lambs, which was released February 14, 1991, but still managed to become a part of cinematic history. Considering that Silence came out during one of the worst months for films hoping to be Oscar winners, it makes the film’s whopping five Academy Awards all the more impressive. Others include Groundhogs Day, Office Space, Short Term 12, Paddington 2 and Before Sunrise. While dump months are a period typically wrought with mediocre or forgettable films, this doesn’t mean that you should completely abstain from seeing movies at all during these time periods. You never know when test audiences or studio executives misjudged a film that would end up becoming a masterpiece.