April 5, 2009
I've mentioned before my desire for an official Movie Offseason: a five or six week period between Oscar night and a predetermined spring date in which no new movies would be released. While I have several arguably sound reasons to support this idea, there's zero chance it will ever happen since the reasons are clearly in the interest of us, the moviegoing audience, and not them, the studio executives.
But now, before I could even prepare the submission of my proposal, Hollywood's movie calendar has been turned on its ear, and we're going in the opposite direction. On a completely unremarkable April weekend, millions of people around the world paid to watch the same movie they lined up to see less than eight years ago.
Fast & Furious (ugh...that title) violently shattered all box office expectations over the last three days, in the process potentially changing movie releases forever. As far as blockbuster openings go, Easter weekend has become the new Memorial Day weekend. From this point onward, each year's Big Summer Movies aren't going to open on Fourth of July weekend (though that hasn't been the case for some time). The first Big Ones won't open in the middle of June, the end of May, or even the beginning of May. Spring has turned to summer as far as Hollywood is concerned, and April is now the new hot month.
The success of Fast & Furious, however, wasn't really expected this April. It was originally scheduled for June (when all three of its prequels opened), but last December Universal Pictures moved its release to April. The weekend report on Box Office Mojo explains: "We're very aggressive with our release dates," said Nikki Rocco, Universal's president of distribution. "Our group spends a lot of time looking at the competitive environment. We originally had The Wolfman on April 3, and when that wasn't ready, we convinced all involved to move Fast and Furious there. [This weekend]'s precedent-setting, it opens horizons and shows that if you build it, audiences will come."
Evidently so, but four months ago Fast & Furious was still probably just considered the movie that would knock Watchmen out of the top spot. That bust disappeared from the top ten less than a month after opening, however, and which movies are going to have legs has been anyone's guess lately. Box office business has been so strong in 2009 (attendance is up 12% and revenues are up a jaw-dropping 68% from the same time last year) that nearly every movie in every month is primed to become a potential smash hit. Indeed, at this pace 2009 will be the most profitable year in Hollywood history.
Ignoring the fact that Netflix is also signing up thousands of people a day, conventional wisdom says the unstoppable flow of money is, ironically, on account of the recession. People are looking to escape and movies are relatively affordable family entertainment and we're suckers for shrewd marketing and blah blah blah.
I have another theory. Studio executives simply looked at a calendar and hatched a brilliant plan: move a couple of their summer movies from July and August into the typically quiet months of March and April. While it's true Warner Bros. attempted this with Watchmen, that was primarily because Zack Snyder's 300 set the March record three years ago, not because they were looking to take over the month. But last year, after Iron Man opened to a huge box office in May (and shockingly positive reviews, if I may say so), Paramount announced Iron Man 2 would open in - you guessed it - April of next year. That has since changed to May 7, but considering the accidental success of Fast & Furious, I'd bet money that date is returned to mid or even early April 2010.
And with that, the move will be official. Summer will creep into April and March and eventually February, but by then of course we won't be talking about seasons at all. The whole year will be a free-for-all and my official Movie Offseason will be an embarrassingly quaint idea. Studios will fight to secure the weekend immediately following the Oscars (which incidentally are being held in March next year), and the ceremony will turn from less of a celebration of the past year into a preview of the upcoming one.
And so it goes in Hollywood, always looking for the easiest buck. It's just a surprise it took them this long to discover where it was hiding - and even then by accident.