Why Late August/September Movies Suck So Hard, And 9 That Might Not
This past weekend, three new movies came out in wide release: Sinister 2, American Ultra and Hitman: Agent 47. All of them, on balance, got poor reviews. All of them made less money than expected, which wasn’t even all that much money in the first place.
Readers: WELCOME TO HELL.
Around this time of year is when major studio releases begin to—to use proper entertainment journo parlance—suck balls. It happened gradually this year, with Fantastic Four, the most meh of the summer’s superhero movies, farting its way into theaters two weeks ago, followed a week later by Straight Outta Compton, which actually made more money than expected. A lot more. Think Hollywood will wise up and start putting out movies with more diverse casts, if only from a Machiavellian sense of practicality? Nah. Me neither.
Anyway. The reason late August-through-September sucks is that summer’s over and the kids are back in school, but studios’ major awards season boners don’t start really popping until October, which is when the more “prestige”-y movies start to come out. Between October and December, if you listen very, very carefully, you can the riotous clanking sound of Harvey Weinstein humping the mailbox of every Academy member in the greater LA area.
Hollywood’s love of hardware is why January sucks, too—the previous year’s period of Oscar eligibility is up, but no one will remember January movies when it comes time to nominate for this year, and in general audiences are still catching up on Christmas releases anyway.
September and January—and, to a lesser extent, February and March—are notorious for being dumping grounds, months where studios release shit that they know won’t do well, but the movie’s in the can and they have to put it out sometime, so whatever. (See: Dragon Blade, September 4th). That “rule” has started to change, as studios have gradually begun to spread out their more promising releases beyond the summer and award season blocks.
For example: January, as mentioned, tends to be one of the worst months for new movies, but The Weinstein Company put out Paddington then, and it did well financially ($259.5 million worldwide against an estimated budget of $55 million) and surprised critics by being a legit good movie instead of the direct-to-VOD, Uncanny Valley horror show many were expecting. Paramount’s The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water and Disney’s Cinderella both raked it in despite being released in February and March, respectively. In any other year, those might have been summer movies, but their studios took a chance and moved them into weekends with less competition, and it worked out. And The Grand Budapest Hotel picked up a ton of Oscar nominations despite being released in March, which is highly unusual, because Academy voters tend to have the attention span of lemmings.
Still, for all that studios’ movie release calendars are starting to look more even across the board… this time of year still blows. Upcoming major studio releases include Zac Efron, DJ; Pierce Brosnan: Still in Things!; Generic Rebootquel #387; That One That Isn’t The Hunger Games; Oh, Robert De Niro, No; and Adam Sandler Still Makes More Money from One Movie Than You Do in Your Entire Life.
There is, however, a solution: Indies. The good movies will be fewer and farther between over the next six weeks or so, but they’ll still be out there. For those lucky enough to be near an indie movie theatre, we recommend:
Z for Zachariah (August 28)
Chiwetel Ejiofor + Margot Robbie + Chris Pine = The most attractive character-driven post-apocalypse movie ever.
Coming Home (September 9)
Everyone who was emotionally wrecked by Alzheimer’s drama Still Alice might want to stay away from Coming Home, about a man released from a Chinese prison camp only to find that his wife doesn’t recognize him. However, if you’re willing to send Kleenex’s stock up a bit, September sees the release of this latest film from legendary director Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern, House of Flying Daggers, Hero, the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony), who re-teams with his frequent collaborator Gong Li. (Side note: The film he’s working on now is an historical epic about the building of the Great Wall, only the premise is that the wall was built to keep out giant monsters. Pedro Pascal is in it. And Andy Lau. I am losing my shit.)
Goodnight Mommy (September 11)
Aka WHAT. THE. F*CK. IS. THIS. I saw a screening of this one, so I am in a position to warn you: Bring your brown pants.
99 Homes (September 25)
It’s so refreshing to see Andrew Garfield be in a good movie again. So, so refreshing. I’ve seen this one, so I can vouch: Garfield’s so good he’ll make you hate the Amazing Spider-Man movies even more for keeping him out of movies that deserve him for the past few years, and Michael Shannon plays an e-cig huffing evil real estate shark, which is to say he’s fucking amazing.
Pawn Sacrifice (September 16)
Buzz on this Cold War-era chess drama has been positive. I heard the scene where Bobby Fischer goes ham on Boris Spassky for not agreeing to call him Tugboat Maguire is nuts.
Black Mass (September 18)
I’m a bit iffy on this one, because Mortdecai, Mortdecai, Mortdecai. Expecting good things out of Johnny Depp has done no one any good recently. And I’m not exactly a Cumberfan. But the trailer looks promising, and it has a ton of really talented actors (Corey Stoll, Dakota Johnson, Joel Edgerton, Juno Temple, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Peter Sarsgaard), so I’m very, very, very cautiously quasi-sort-of-maybe-semi-optimistic.
Everest (September 25)
It’s a studio movie, but advance word on Everest has been pretty good, and the trailer has me intrigued. As far as Jason Clarke movies go, it can’t be worse than Terminator: Genisys.
The Keeping Room (September 25)
For the love of everything that is good and holy, let this feminist siege western not be bad. It looks like everything I’ve always wanted in a movie. And frankly, I�m starting to feel a little sorry for Sam Worthington and his career choices at this point.
The Walk (September 30)
…And with Sony’s release of Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk, we finally leave Hell Month behind us. The timing of this release—last day of September limited, wide release on October 9th—was set very much with awards season contention in mind. It’s a September movie in fact, if not in spirit.
Rebecca (@RebeccaPahle) is a little freaked out by how much Charlotte Le Bon—to the right of JGL in that The Walk YouTube thumbnail—looks like a young Winona Ryder.