Hollywood now makes so many blockbusters movies it’s running out of space for them on the release calendar. As such, for the past couple of years a handful of movies which would have historically come out in the May-July release window have instead tested the waters as early as February (Deadpool) and as late as Christmas (Force Awakens, Rogue One). It’s gone so well that Hollywood is starting to push its luck, see what it can get away with, find out what the market will bear. The summer movie season used to begin in June. Then it got pushed up to May (thanks Marvel movies!). Then to April (thanks Fast & Furious). Now, in 2017 it’ll more or less start in March, but the results could be disastrous.
Well, not so much for Beauty and the Beast (due 3/17). Emma Watson’s going to make so much money off of that movie she’ll probably be able to buy all of those subway stations she’s so fond of leaving random books in (that’s how the world works, right? celebrities can just buy subway stations if they want to. yeah, that logic holds up).
Everything else, though? Good luck. The month is an endless parade of blockbusters:
3/3 – Logan (Budget: $127m)
3/10 – Kong: Skull Island (Budget: $190m)
3/17 – Beauty and the Beast (Budget: Unclear, but I’m going to guess a lot)
3/24 – Power Rangers (Budget: $120m)
3/31 – Ghost in the Shell (Budget: Unclear)
That’s five different movies which are either known to or thought to have cost over $100m to make. March getting one or two of these kinds of movies used to be a big deal. There was Alice in Wonderland in 2010, Oz the Great and Powerful in 2013, Cinderalla in 2015 and, of course, Zootopia and Batman v Superman last year, which each cost north of $150m but grossed at least $330m.
Now, seemingly everyone in town wants in on the action. Of the major studios, only Universal and A24 are sitting the month out. That’s because in addition to the blockbusters we’re also getting a couple of dramas (Before I Fall due 3/3, The Shack due 3/3, Zookeeper’s Wife due 3/31), comedies (Chips due 3/24, Step Sisters due 3/31), a horror-thriller (The Belko Experiment due 3/17) and one animated movie for the kids (Boss Baby due 3/31). Plus, there’s Sony’s ambitious Ryan Reynolds/Jake Gyllenhaal outerspace thriller Life (due 3/24), which couldn’t have been cheap.
Once these release dates became clear why did no one blink? It’s not like there aren’t other options. You would assume that the rest of the year is already stocked to the brim with blockbusters, which it kind of is, but take a look at August:
With all due respect to those movies, in terms of blockbusters that’s a real shit show of titles. Except for maybe The Emoji Movie, not a single one of them is likely to have cost or even come close to costing $100m to make. Why then are Lionsgate and Paramount so adamant about putting Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell in March? Just three years ago, similar titles like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Lucy cleaned up in August (the latter technically came out the last week of July, but made over half of its money in August). Last year, Suicide Squad also made a killing in August.
Yet screw August. Lionsgate is happy to sandwich its younger-leaning (but PG-13 rated) sci-fi action movie in-between the black hole that will be Beauty and the Beast and Scarlett Johansson’s first headlining movie since Lucy. For their part, Paramount seem content with giving Ghost in the Shell a two-week window in early April before The Fate of the Furious comes out.
The thinking seems to be that it’s better to be first than last (the ole “better to be Winter Solider in April than Amazing Spider-Man 2 in May” argument), better to get your blockbuster out there before box office fatigue kicks in. That might be why August 2017 is such a wasteland right now because the studios all assume we’ll be sick to death of big movies by then, or just busy finally getting around to Dunkirk (7/21) or The Dark Tower (7/28). Plus, in four out of the last five years March has easily been a more lucrative month for movies than August (the one exception being 2014 when August was super-fueled by Guardians of the Galaxy, TMNT and Lucy and March’s biggest movie was Divergent).
How exactly does Hollywood see this playing out, though? Is there a scenario in which all five of these March blockbusters actually make enough money AND all of the smaller movies at least manage to make ends meet? Of course not. Every month has its winners and losers, and March 2017 will be no different. The smart money is on Logan and Beauty and the Beast flourishing while Skull Island, Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell flounder.
However, even Logan is suspect. Except for Deadpool, all X-Men movies, regardless of how well-reviewed or well liked they are, suffer big second-weekend drops, and Logan has to face the suddenly trending Skull Island in its second weekend. But if Logan performs more like Deadpool than an average X-Men movie, which it very well might considering its R-rating, then it could be Skull Island which suffers Wolverine’s wrath.
As Forbes put it:
The fear heading into the month is that none of these films will get the legs they otherwise might have counted on in an offseason release because March is now no longer the offseason. So Logan will drop against Skull Island which will drop against Beauty and the Beast which will… okay, I’m not worried about that one. But Power Rangers and Ghost in the Shell are arguably leaving money on the domestic table by opening back-to-back (especially since Power Rangers didn’t go for a PG rating).
The counterargument is that these films, which run the gamut from R-Rated comic book to PG-13 action/sci-fi to PG family friendly entertainment, aren’t all targeting the same exact audiences. Plus, Beauty and the Beast is the type of movie which will draw in audiences who don’t even normally go to the movies. They were never going to see Power Rangers or Ghost in the Shell anyway, but maybe some of them will after seeing a poster in a lobby. As such, fears of audience cannibalization are overblown.
Yeah, but look at how that worked out last July and August:
We saw this last July and August as Ghostbusters got whacked by Star Trek Beyond, whi.ch got whacked by Jason Bourne, which got whacked by Suicide Squad. If this is going to become the new normal, even outside of the summer (or the comparatively more merciful end-of-year slots), then we’ll have to see if the marketplace can shoulder movies of this size opening against each other over the school year
Here’s how things have been going for these movies on social media over the past two weeks: