Six Movie Milestones that Helped Shape Blockbuster Box-Office Release Schedules
300 (March) -- Once a month where mostly forgettable romcoms and horror flicks were released, the $70 million opening of 300 in 2006 demonstrated that audiences would show up in huge numbers in March. It's suddenly become a very popular month for studios to get a jump on the summer blockbuster season with Alice in Wonderland ($334 million), Hunger Games ($405 million), and Watchmen ($107 million) (They also tried to launch the John Carter franchise in March this year, but failed miserably, though its failure had nothing to do with the release date). Next March looks almost as crowded as a summer month with Matt Damon's Elysium, Oz: The Great and Powerful, and G.I. Joe Retaliation.
Twister (Early May) -- It used to be that summer blockbuster season didn't officially kick off until Memorial Day weekend. In 1996, Twister opened on May 10th and racked up $242 million. After that, The Mummy (1999) and Gladiator pushed that date back even earlier, and then in 2002, the monster opening weekend of Spider-Man officially moved the summer movie blockbuster season back to the first weekend in May.
Fast Five (April) -- Before 2011, the week before the summer blockbuster season was typically a quiet one where studios got rid of their waste before the summer season kicked off, and there certainly weren't blockbuster caliber movies released then (two of the more recent number one films that weekend were Obsessed and the Nightmare on Elm Street remake). Fast Five changed that, moving the summer blockbuster season back yet another week by putting up over $200 million. Now the last week of April sees similarly huge budget films being released in April in 2013 (Tom Cruise's Oblivion) and 2014 (Spielberg's Robopocalypse).
Godfather III (Christmas Day) -- Believe it or not, Christmas wasn't always a major release date for big budget films. In fact, it's a relatively recent phenomenon, and the first major movie to attempt to capitalize on a Christmas Day release in a major way was 1990's Godfather III (I vaguely remember being dumbstruck that a movie that big would be released on Christmas Day). It wasn't a hugely winning strategy for Copolla's film, and it wasn't until 1998's Patch Adams before a movie would fare particularly well at the box office on Christmas Day. But since 1998, it's become one of the biggest moviegoing days of the year, a day that studios often roll out their high profile Oscar pics (Ali, As Good As It Gets), their films targeted at families (Patch Adams, The Majestic, Sherlock Holmes) and even their Christmas counter-programming films (Girl with a Dragon Tattoo).