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Top 12 Film Industry Stories of 2009:
#5: January Films Think They're Summer Films

By David Mumpower

January 1, 2010

Here comes my sequel - the Mall Coppening!

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A frequent statement made by NFL head coaches is, "We are what our record says we are." The meaning of this is simple. A team may be comprised of players who are convinced they are the best in the league and that eventual Super Bowl victory is the only possible outcome for their group. If their record says they are mediocre, however, they are. Pretension and delusion are oftentimes one and the same. Such as the case with January box office. No matter how much producers of movies released during this month may argue to the contrary, their titles are there for a reason. The perceived quality of such titles is...unkind.

Distributors slot titles in this area for a very specific reason. They are contractually obligated to exhibit the films but they want to do so during a time frame wherein none of their higher quality releases will be negatively impacted. Whether that impact stems from demographic competition, inferred stink of failure rollover from the studio's lesser title or simple paranoia from distributors, the result is still the same. An argument has persisted over the years that self-fulfilling prophecy may rule the day in terms of January box office. Even if a person feels this way, however, the reality is that if a studio has a potential hit on its hands, December is the time to release the feature in order to maximize its box office revenue. At least, that had been the assumption in the past. In 2009, something very, very odd occurred.




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If you want some data to support the notion that January has been a historical box office graveyard for new releases, here they are. In 2000, the average January wide release opened to $9.3 million with a final domestic take of $27.0 million. The "largest" opener was Next Friday, which debuted to $16.9 million. It was also the most successful in terms of final box office take with $57.2 million. 2001 saw gradual improvement to an average debut of $12.9 million with a final domestic take of $42.9 million. Of course, over 70% of the box office for the new January openers that month came from two titles, The Wedding Planner and Save the Last Dance. The latter film was the most successful January release of the 2000s up until, well, 2009.

In 2002, the average January opening was $11.1 million with a final domestic take of $39.3 million. 2003 had slightly better openers at a rate of $13.7 million per debut, but the final domestic box office was only marginally better at $41.1 million. Only one January film made at least $60 million in each of these years. In 2002, it was Snow Dogs, an allegedly uplifting Disney release that starred the box office corpse of Cuba Gooding Jr. , who used to be famous, as hard as that is to believe now. The big release of January of 2003 was Kangaroo Jack, a CGI movie about a rappin' kangaroo that was endless mocked on this site for the body of five years. If you missed it, you're one of the lucky ones.


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