Traditional wisdom has it that January is a dumping ground for bad movies.
“Everyone is broke after shelling out for Christmas presents,” the studios say. “The weather is crappy and anyone leaving the house is going to the gym instead of the movies,” complain the suits.
That’s why clunkers like One for the Money, a Katherine Heigl crime drama with a two per cent Rotten Tomatoes rating and Season of the Witch — which saw Nicolas Cage go all medieval on the forces of evil and strain his credibility as an actor — made the lives of critics and audiences miserable on long, cold winter nights in bygone Januarys. Why waste good movies when no one was likely to go?
Years ago studios threw the odd quality film into the January mix — Traffic, Good Will Hunting, Before Sunrise, Dr. Strangelove and Silence of the Lambs—but every good movie like Matinee (92 per cent on RT) was balanced out with a stinker like Body of Evidence and its paltry six per cent rating.
There is still that yin and yang as last week’s releases of The Boy Next Door and Mortdecai (two movies that will decorate Worst Of the Year lists) proves, but the tide seems to be changing. Perhaps that’s why Project Almanac, a time-travel drama from producer Michael Bay, moved from a prime July release date to the barren January slate. Surely Bay, as savvy a player as Hollywood has, wouldn’t allow his movie to be tossed out with the trash.
The reason given for the schedule move was that Bay himself wanted to sprinkle some of his Transformers’ fairy dust to pump up the film’s appeal to young audiences. But it’s also apparent that a micro-budget movie like Project Almanac, even with Bay’s name attached, could get lost in a summer filled with large-scale offerings like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, so why not release in a less crowded, but increasingly profitable field?
What used to be a time to fill screens with borderline cheesefests has become a viable month to release a movie.
Last year big crowds braved the polar vortex to help the Kevin Hart comedy Ride Along set a January opening record. This year the Oscar-nominated Selma and Still Alice have opened wide in a month usually reserved for Golden Raspberry winners. Perhaps the biggest story of 2015 so far is the success of Clint Eastwood’s Chris Kyle biopic, American Sniper, which has raked in upwards of $170 million in just two weeks. The success of that film is as strong an indicator as Hollywood needs that January is no longer a no-go zone.