Summer Time Movies Makes Dollars, Not Sense

Summer Box OfficeI was really f’ing good at basketball when I was a teenager. Not just in the “hey, I was nice” kinda way, but in the “damn, I used to dominate cats” way. It was not because I was faster or taller than anybody. And while my size at the time (225 pounds) certainly helped, it was the mind game that I used to win game after game on the ever-so infamous basketball streets of Austin, Texas.

As a smart basketball player (i.e., old man game), one thing I could never understand were the idiots who took jumper after jumper, because they thought they were open, when in fact, I left them open, because I did not want them to drive to rim, where they were probably much more efficient scorers. But time after time, I would defend a player with more athleticism than me, and if I gave him the extra space to take the shot, he would feel insulted and obliged to shoot the “open” jumper. You would think that same guy would stop doing that once he got older, but as a 29-year old, I see that guy every time I go to the gym. And the world’s most famous “I’m open” shot-taker, Josh Smith, plays for the NBA’s Detroit Pistons.

Well, the movie studios are a lot like Josh Smith. They like to take the “open” 3-pointer, even if it’s not so open. In their case, the end result isn’t just a missed shot, but instead it’s a flopped movie. For whatever reason, the studios think it’s smart to invests their most costly movies (and thus the ones they think have the most revenue generating potential) during the summer, when everybody else is releasing their best movies too. Take for example the tremendous failures of “Lone Ranger,” “Pacific Rim” and “White House Down.” All of those were released this past summer, and all of them failed amongst a crowded market of other summer releases.

So if the studios know that the summer is going to be crowded with movies, why do they continue to release their most promising movies during the summer? Well, it was put best in the NYTimes, where the “chicken or the egg” theory was mentioned. To put it simply, the studios thought the success of the the “Jaws” release in 1975 was because it came out during the summer. As a result, studios released more movies in the summer, which meant more people came to the movies, which gave the studios the “evidence” they needed to release more movies during the summer the next time around.

The problem is that their “evidence” has no statistical foundation. As that same NYTimes article pointed out, a regression of the box office revenues shows that the summer months only produce a slightly larger audience, and even the person that came to this conclusion believes he just can’t statistically separate “film quality” out of the regression to eliminate any credence in the summer release myth. And of course, when you have hit movies like “Iron Man 3,” “Man of Steel” and “Despicable Me” do as well as they did this past summer, the studios ignore a real analysis of the the performance go with what has always worked for them.

So as it stands, the studios have been on a summer release rampage. This past summer, Hollywood released 31 movies. In the previous 10 summers, the average was 23.3.

But this is stupid, right? I mean any person with common sense knows this, don’t they? Sure, the 3-point shot from the angle goes in 30+% of the time, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best shot out there. So just because the studios hit it big with some blockbuster movie in June, that does not mean November or December will not bode similar or better results.

Well, as you know, I am a man that is all about answers. So what am I suggesting studios do?

Experiment!

I mean, why not? People talk about it all the time in advertising. If you don’t experiment, you won’t know what else out there works for you. What we do know, after looking at the facts, is that being released in the summer does not inarguably lead to more ticket sales than in other months. Here are some facts to chew on:

  1. Comedies Have Done Well Outside of the Summer – Most of the movies studios bet on during the summer are the superhero/tentpole action movies that everyone wants to see. However, there is a long line of comedies that have performed well when you go outside the summer months. For example, “Paul Blart: Mall Cop” did very well despite being released in January of 2009, grossing $146 million domestically when it was all said and done.
  2. History Suggests Otherwise – Before 1975, when every studio head took the bait on the “Jaws” phenomenon, only 20% of box office sales came during the summer months. Clearly, Americans have not always been predisposed to spending money on movies during the summer, despite our summer inclinations not having changed much.
  3. December is a Good Starting Point – Outside of the summer months, the holidays are the studios next favorite targets. Both numbers and common sense back their targeting of Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter. However, releasing early on in December, between holiday weekends, has proven to fair well. In recent years, five movies have thrived in December. “Avatar”, “Titanic”, “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King”, “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”, and “The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” all grossed over $310 million after being released in December. Now, those could be anomalies, but it’s hard to say December’s not a month worth experimenting with.
  4. Everybody Else is Doing Something and Nobody’s Doing the Other – As I mentioned earlier, studios are releasing more movies during the summer than they ever were before. This means to two things. One, there’s more competition for the same number of dollars during the summer. And two, there’s less competition in the other months. Think it might be smart to go where they ain’t?

Despite facts and common sense, it’s going to be hard for any studio head to justify to his or her boss, or shareholders for that matter, that it’s okay to take a risk on $100+ million budget movie by releasing the movie in December when there is no 40-year track record to support releasing it then. But there’s no evidence because studios won’t allow there to be any.

I love this industry, and because of that love, I’ll fight for change within it forever, even if there’s no real chance at convincing the old guard to change its ways. But there’s still no convincing that outside jump shot taker at the park to drive the ball to the hole either…at least I don’t love him though.

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