Jay Bauman: (Fuck You It's) January is the most magical time of the year!
Mike Stoklasa: It means it's time for Hollywood to take out their garbage!
Jay: That's right, Mike! They use our own neighborhood movie theaters to dump their waste!
The big-screen version of the Friday Night Death Slot
, the Dump Months are certain months of the year that are viewed as, effectively, cinematic landfills where little of value can be found at the box office. Disastrous productions
that the studio wants to get behind them as quickly as possible with minimal fallout, low-budget genre fare that can't hang with the big boys of summer
, star vehicles for fading stars
thrillers and comedies that aren't quite
bad enough to be shuffled into the Direct-to-Video
netherrealm, films that got Screwed by the Studio
and are only getting released theatrically out of contractual obligation (or because somebody involved with the film has dirt on a studio executive) — all of this goes to the dump months to be forgotten about by the time they come out on DVD and start airing late at night on cable three months later.
In North America, at least, there are two dump "seasons" — late summer (August and September), and winter (January, February, and sometimes early March).
- August and September are obvious — it's the end of the Summer Blockbuster season and the kiddies are heading back into school, but the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Oscars) where family films and arthouse fare thrive is still months away, while the studios are saving their biggest horror pictures for October. Plus, many families use Labor Day weekend (the big holiday during this time) for vacations, barbecues, and watching the start of the football season, keeping them away from the theaters and making it one of the smallest weekends for the box office all year.
On the other hand, September is also host to several film festivals, and marks the unofficial start to the race for the big awards. The Venice, Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals, where many studios first debut their prestige pictures, are all held in September. However, most of these films don't see wide release (i.e. outside New York and Los Angeles) until later months, meaning that, for the average, non-cinephile moviegoer living in the suburbs of Everytown, America, the only new movies worth watching in September are whatever they didn't catch from the summer, or whatever is available on demand.
Nowadays, the second half of August is generally considered a comparatively minor dump month, and the first half isn't at all. Films released at this time are usually put here not out of a lack of quality, but because the "main" blockbuster season has gotten so crowded that smaller films are pushed here out of necessity. August 2014, for instance, saw the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, which was the biggest hit of the year, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which was also a modest success. In addition, August has become a popular release frame for horror films that can't make the October date, since it offers ample time to get the DVD in stores in time for Halloween without having to compete with the big summer blockbusters,note and it's also recognized as a great time to release more mature fare aimed at older audiences and women who are burned out from the heat of all the big action movies in the past three months. The unofficial end of the summer season falls sometime in mid-August, give or take a week depending on the year, with one or two final big releases before the drought. However, before the Blockbuster Age it was considered a dump month like any other — for example, when Warner Bros. suspected that Bonnie and Clyde would fail, they dumped it in August.
- January and February, meanwhile, are past the cutoff date for Academy Award nominations but before the actual ceremony,note meaning that all the big 'prestige' pictures have been released and are expanding into wider markets as part of the Oscar campaign. Studios don't want to cannibalize their own films, especially their best films (or at least, their most Oscar-oriented films), so they stock the new release schedule for the next two months mostly with films that were dirt-cheap to produce and get little advertising.
On top of this, winter in the U.S. is a time when several large cities at once can easily be shut down by a large snowstorm, greatly lowering movie theater revenue. This is especially known to happen in the densely-populated Northeast and Midwest, and in most of Canada outside maybe Vancouver. Furthermore, the two main U.S. holiday weekends during this time, Martin Luther King Day and Presidents' Day, aren't universally celebrated as days off, so a big-budget release would be wasted in these months without three days of dependable box office returns. Lastly, the Super Bowl effectively turns the first weekend of February into a dead zone, as the game draws most of the nation's attention towards their televisions and away from theaters. There are some silver linings, however. Valentine's Day weekend is typically a great time to release romantic comedies and female-oriented films, for obvious reasons. Likewise, teen-oriented films are liable to succeed during this time, largely as counter-programming to the Oscar Bait and televised sporting events that teens usually aren't as interested in as the adults; notable recent examples of this include Chronicle, Warm Bodies, and The Lego Movie.
The 'winter dump season' typically ends sometime in March. March and April serve as a buffer of sorts between the winter wasteland and the Summer Blockbuster season, offering up lighter fare than the summer yet better quality than the winter as spring break and Easter provide open weeks for families, teenagers, and college kids to go to the movies. Movies that did well at that year's Oscars will often linger for a couple of weeks to do a victory lap as people decide to check out why they won, but as the 'losers' from the Oscars fade out of sight, studios start bringing out their first really big movies of the year. The move of the Oscar ceremony to late February starting in 2004, together with the success of 300 in 2007, arguably established the precedent of releasing big movies in March, and since then at least one or two second-tier blockbusters sees release during this month, one of the most notable recent films being The Hunger Games (which was number one at the box office for four weeks and one of the biggest hits of 2012).
Many of these films are often Not Screened for Critics
Once in a while, a film released in a dump month will break out and become a hit. Defiance of the 'dump month curse' is a bit more common than defiance of the Friday Night Death Slot
. In particular, given the reputation for crappy product that the dump months hold, a merely good
film that would've been outshined by great
ones at any other time of year has a chance of breaking out and becoming a Sleeper Hit
Theaters tend to hate this practice, as while it means that their revenue may vary greatly from month to month, their expenses usually don't. Furthermore, their major fluctuation in expenses is seasonal hiring, which is caused by this phenomenon; they'd rather have a full-time staff, since training is its own expense and an experienced staff can provide better service. As a result, in April of 2013 the National Association of Theater Owners sharply criticized the studios for this practice, stating that they believe a good movie can do well in any month. (They also called for fewer R-rated films, and more movies featuring people of color.)
A similar practice exists in book publishing. For example, industry wisdom says not to release your novel in August, or for that matter, anything but textbooks (as that's what people will need in September).
Compare Friday Night Death Slot
. Contrast Oscar Bait
, Summer Blockbuster
No Real Life Examples, Please!
Fictional examples, discussions of, and references to the trope in other media are acceptable, but a list of films cited as examples of what gets released during 'dump months' is simply too likely to turn into Complaining About Movies You Don't Like
Fictional examples and discussions: