Five years ago, Rob, Neil and I were dreading the time of year when moss grows on theater screens, and I suggested that January wasn’t all bad. That everyone had bought into the assumption that the month was a dumping ground even though there were good movies that came out after Christmas. That we’d all been hypnotized by a narrative that felt right unless you pushed on it. Neil told me to prove it, so Rob and I set out to.
We also told Neil he should try to eat 50 chicken nuggets while watching Super Size Me, and he did. These were different times.
However, the list that Rob and I made of 12 “great” movies released in January really only served to prove what we all know in our hearts: this month is awful. It wasn’t always awful, and it might not always be awful, but it’s been awful for a considerable amount of time – another victim of risk-averse studios happy to keep things exactly as they are.
When great movies do sneak through (and we admittedly had to mute the meaning of “great” for our list), it’s either a fluke or it happened so long ago that it doesn’t tell us anything culturally about how movie distribution treats the thin months after holiday gorging in the 21st century.
The thinking is not complicated. People don’t want to spend money in January because they spent so much of it in November and December, so they don’t go to the movies, so studios don’t release anything worth going to the movies for, so people don’t go to the movies. Also, it’s usually really cold.
Because of that (including the temperature), it seems clear that the internet is going to save January for cinephiles.
Why this hasn’t already happened is a mystery, but it seems inevitable at this point for two reasons:
- Streaming and a rise in binge-watching have paved a path for ‘round-the-clock entertainment consumption; and
- There’s a wide open opportunity waiting for the studios who are brave enough to see it.
Actually, why this hasn’t already happened isn’t a mystery. The cause, and the specter haunting this sea change, is that studios haven’t embraced simultaneous VOD and theatrical release dates yet. The prospect of having new, quality movies released in January online (since we hate driving in blizzards) would be another bullet on the list of things streaming can change for the better, but it would also be another bullet in the body of movie theaters who continue to be uninterested in entertaining their customers beyond stale popcorn and whatever the studios send them.
To be specific, what I’m noting is that we don’t stop consuming entertainment in January; we just stop going to theaters because they’re filled with shit.
On the positive side, you can already see the shift starting to happen. We’re getting close to 40 movies released in theaters this January, and some of them are prestige offerings from the 2014 festival circuit – like Duke of Burgundy and Mommy — or insane bits of fun that don’t fit into a box – like Everly.
The problem is that nearly everything is a drama. After months of Oscar bait season, January should at least give us a breather with fun that isn’t terrible (see: Taken 3) and horror that isn’t a half-baked cash grab (see: most of Januaryween). The other problem is that most theaters won’t see most of the titles that make the month bearable.
Obviously, that’s where streaming comes in, and it boils down to a simple question for most studios: would The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death be any worse off hitting iTunes a week after its theatrical release?
For movies like Taken 3, streaming might not (and probably should not) be part of the conversation, but it seems easy to imagine a world in which indie comedies, prestige dramas and some studio films that have been set up for failure would benefit from being available online. That, in turn, would open the door to studios of all sizes re-thinking the month and re-thinking the kinds of movies that they release in it.
The ultimate goal isn’t to have studios put their crappy January movies online. On that front, streaming possibilities won’t automatically make studios release better movies in January, but it could certainly change the conversation, and if studios can see the success to be found in January-on-Demand, it should lead toward a greater variety and greater range of quality for a month we all dread.