When you study movies all the time, you start to notice interesting patterns. This week I took a long hard look at movie release schedules over the past few years, and I noticed that certain types of films seem to dominate specific months year after year.
It makes sense. I mean, movie studios like to stake out certain release dates for their blockbusters years in advance and sometimes others latch on to that same idea and put out their own similar films around the same time to try to capitalize on the trailblazers’ efforts.
Some of the movies that dominate a specific month are in the same series while others are in the same genre or from the same studio, but aren’t necessarily in a shared universe. So let’s find out what movies currently dominate the box office during each month of the year.
January – Middle East War Movies
While Lone Survivor and American Sniper had limited releases in the month of December, they got their wide releases in January. And they did killer business that month in 2014 and 2015, respectively. And now Michael Bay, of all people, is trying his hand at the modern war genre to see if he can keep this string of hits going with the upcoming film 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
On a side note, Kevin Hart is making a run at the title of King of January with hits like 2014’s Ride Along, 2015’s The Wedding Ringer, and next year’s Ride Along 2. It’ll be an interesting battle early next year.
February – Fifty Shades of Grey
After the film version of the first installment in E.L. James’s sordid tale of sex became a big hit earlier this year, its two sequels were soon scheduled for release in February 2017 and 2018. While it’s debatable if Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed have a shot at matching Fifty Shades of Grey’s $166 million at the domestic box office, it’s clear they’ll be in the black for the next few years.
March – Fantasy and Sci-Fi Movies
2009’s Monsters vs. Aliens was an apt title for the era it kicked off because ever since that year either a fantasy or sci-fi title has been the box-office leader in the month of March. Alice in Wonderland, The Hunger Games, Oz The Great and Powerful, Divergent, and Cinderella all fit the bill of sci-fi or fantasy films. The only exception is when Rango beat out Battle: Los Angeles in 2011.
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will most likely rule the March box office in 2016. Next summer is going to be extraordinarily full of event movies, so this movie got banished here after playing chicken with Captain America: Civil War for a May release date. Better to rule in hell than serve in heaven. Or so I’ve heard.
April – Fast & Furious
The fourth, fifth, and seventh Fast & Furious films haven been extremely successful by launching just before the summer season in the month of April. The first three films were all released in June and the sixth film was released in May. Given the fact that Furious 7 is the fifth all-time highest grossing film worldwide, it’s a pretty safe bet that The Fast 8 will easily rule the box office when it comes out in April 2017.
May – Marvel Movies
Even if we only include the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it’s clear that Marvel movies dominate the month of May. Iron Man 1, 2, and 3, Thor, The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron were all massive hits from 2008 to the present. Throw in the various Spider-Man and X-Men movies, and there’s absolutely no doubt. And it doesn’t look like this is going to change anytime soon, with the next Captain America film coming next year, followed by Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and the third and fourth Avengers sequels soon after.
I don’t think DC will be able to muscle into Marvel’s territory, even with the Man of Steel on their side. But when Star Wars comes back to May in a few years, it’ll be a battle between titans for who comes out on top.
June – Pixar Movies
While Pixar originally carved out a nice niche for itself in the month of November with hits like Toy Story 1 and 2, A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc. and The Incredibles, they switched to the summer season first with the May 30, 2003 launch of Finding Nemo and then the June 9, 2006 premiere of Cars. Since Cars, just about every film Pixar has released has been in the month of June, with the exception of Up, which came out on May 29, 2009. And all of those films have been either the top 1 or 2 films released that month.
True, The Good Dinosaur will be released in November, but Finding Dory and Toy Story 4 will ensure Pixar top spot in the month of June in the years to come.
July – Despicable Me
What is it that people absolutely love about the Minions? I have no idea, but I do know that, despite their diminutive stature, they are giants at the July box office. The first Despicable Me out-grossed Megamind, Tangled, How to Train Your Dragon, and Shrek Forever After to become one of the biggest blockbusters of the year. Despicable Me 2 was the highest-grossing film of July 2013, and the prequel Minions was the top film of July 2015.
Despicable Me 3 is set to debut on June 30, 2017, so it’ll do most of its business in July. After that, who knows? But I doubt a lucrative property like this will stay dormant for long.
August – Black History Movies
Since 2011, every other year a movie comes out in August that explores a small slice of African American history. First there was 2011’s The Help, then 2013’s Lee Daniels’ The Butler, and now 2015’s Straight Outta Compton. The first two films were close runners-up to the No. 1 August release of their respective years, but Straight Outta Compton is the clear winner this year, almost tripling the gross of its closest competitor, the reboot of Fantastic Four.
Selma didn’t come out in August, but that also wasn’t nearly as successful as these three films. Time will tell if this pattern continues to hold true.
September – Sony Pictures Animation Movies
Sony Pictures Animation’s Open Season, The Smurfs, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 1 and 2, and Hotel Transylvania have all been big hits in the usually slow month of September. And with Hotel Transylvania 2 coming out later this month and two more September releases planned in 2016 and 2017, SPA is showing no signs of relinquishing its September crown. Although the upcoming Maze Runner sequel might give it a run for its money this year.
October – Realistic Sci-Fi Movies
Okay, maybe it’s too early to call this a pattern, but I believe 2013’s Gravity signaled the start of a new trend in the October box office. Rather than being all about horror movies, it could turn into a renaissance of realistic sci-fi films if this year’s The Martian proves successful. Gravity took everyone by surprise. It seemed like a high-concept film that would never find mass appeal. But somehow it struck a nerve with viewers and it wound up out-earning the second, third, and fourth highest-grossing October 2013 releases – combined.
Let’s hope director Ridley Scott and his talented group of actors and special effects teams can pull off a similar miracle with The Martian. By the way, last year’s Interstellar only missed the month of October by five days.
November – The Hunger Games
I know I mentioned the first Hunger Games in the March section, but since that film became a monster hit, its sequels have cornered the market on massive November blockbusters in the past two years. Catching Fire managed to beat the unstoppable Frozen in the U.S., at least, and Mockingjay – Part 1 beat Big Hero 6 last year. We’ll see how Mockingjay – Part 2 fares this year, but I’m guessing it’ll outdo even Spectre and The Good Dinosaur.
December – Star Wars
Star Wars has always been a force to be reckoned with, but this year it is going to be insane. Theaters will probably be sold out for the first few weeks after Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens debuts a week before Christmas 2015 as viewers flock to see the triumphant return of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. And then we’ll get even more Star Wars action with the spinoff film Rogue One in December 2016.
After that, it looks like future sequels will return to the traditional month of May for their releases. But for the next two years, Star Wars will be nearly impossible to beat at the Holiday box office.
The future isn’t set. I’m sure this list will change dramatically in the coming years. It’s just fun to take a snapshot right now and compare it to whatever comes our way as the film industry continues to change.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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I think you are on to something! I’ve always thought of July as Tom Cruise action=packed month. And November and December as award season hopefuls. The worst movies are in February and March and April.
True, the end of the year is definitely where Hollywood tries to squeeze in all the Oscar bait to take advantage of awards season at the box office. Interesting thought about Tom Cruise. He’s really prolific, but his movies get released all over the place in various months during summer and winter. He’s tough to pin down.
Yeah, the end of summer through most of October, it’s hard to find any film that motivates me to actually see it in theaters. January through March is usually the same.
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