Perhaps January isn’t the sexiest month of the year, at least in terms of the box office. There are few filmmakers who beg studio distribution executives to release their film in January. But, perhaps, the first month of the year is worth a second look.
Just ask Kevin Hart. A string of four January hits over six years propelled him from supporting player to major movie star. RIDE ALONG put him on the map with a record-breaking $42M opening. The sequel did nearly as well at $35M. THE WEDDING RINGER and THE UPSIDE both opened above $20M.
Will Smith and Martin Lawrence did even better when BAD BOYS FOR LIFE debuted to $63M weeks before lockdown in 2020.
Before the pandemic, the first month of the year was on the upswing. No longer did we view January as the wasteland of a decade ago.
That’s why it’s so surprising to see that the studios have largely abandoned January over the past three years.
There’s a lot to like about the month of January. It serves as a kind of palate cleanser after months of highbrow picks jockeying for Oscar consideration. That’s why the new year usually starts with a crowd-pleasing horror film. Earlier this year, Universal opened M3GAN to $30M on the first weekend of January. Universal is looking to replicate that success with NIGHT SWIM on January 5th.
There are other reasons to like January. There is the MLK holiday, which is a terrific opportunity for a long weekend. Four of the five largest openings in January were released on MLK weekend. This year there are three films are opening over MLK weekend: THE BOOK OF CLARENCE, THE BEEKEEPER and MEAN GIRLS.
After that, things get very slow. There are no wide releases slated for the third weekend of the month, while the only film scheduled for the last week of January is MGM’s UNDERDOGGS, which as of today has no poster or trailer, meaning it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see this one get bumped.
That’s it. Just five films scheduled for January. And three of them are on one weekend. That’s a far cry from previous years when audiences would typically get twice as many releases.
It’s not entirely clear why the studios have turned their back on January. It seems that their indifference also extends to December releases that expand in January. Consider the case of A MAN CALLED OTTO, which opened in four theaters on December 30,2022 before expanding wide on January 13. The film was a box office hit grossing over $64M total.
Each year, we get one or two films that open in limited release in December before going wide in January. In most cases, it’s a successful strategy. Films like 1917, THE POST, HIDDEN FIGURES, THE REVENANT and AMERICAN SNIPER all adopted this rollout, and all five were nominated for Best Picture. Combined, they earned 33 Oscar nominations. And yet, there are no films currently scheduled to open in late December and expand in January. It’s as if Hollywood has given up on the month entirely.
It’s not too late for that change. There are at least three films that make compelling candidates for this kind of rollout: THE BOYS IN THE BOAT, FERRARI and THE IRON CLAW. These three are all scheduled to go wide in late December, but in the face of WONKA, AQUAMAN AND THE LOST KINGDOM, MIGRATION and THE COLOR PURPLE, they may be better served with a limited run followed by a wide expansion in January.
At the very least someone should be looking at the week of January 19th where there are no wide releases. If someone’s gonna jump, this is the time to do it.