By Sarah Sluis
Conventional wisdom says that the more you move around and/or delay a movie's release date, the worse it is. It's mostly, but not always, true.
The New York Times published an article this week
about the many movies releasing in January and February that were put in
production over a year ago. In fact, 16 of the 28 movies went into
production in 2008 or earlier, well above the typical timeline for
movies, which usually release a year after production.
Lines of reasoning differ. Youth in Revolt (coming out 1/8/10), for example, was hampered
by the financial difficulties of its distributor, Weinstein Co. The
Green Zone, about the war in Iraq, may have been moved for topical
reasons, but with all the trouble Iraq-themed movies have had at the
box office, it also may be just plain out of touch. The last-minute move of Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island to February 19th from this holiday season is a little trickier to decipher. I think the upcoming thriller is either A) bad B) weird in a good way or C) good, but the studio lost confidence in it.
I have a particular interest in movie musical chairs because part of my job here at Film Journal involves keeping track of movie release dates. Every week I update our database of release dates, viewable online here in case you want to look up something. I've learned that not only does it matter if you change a movie's release date, it matters where you move it to, and how many times you change your mind.
Some movies vacillate between a few dates, and it's not unusual for them to return to a spot they held earlier. This often means little, just indecision on the part of the studios. Others seem to stalk towards their eventual (later) release date, getting moved farther and farther away until no one (they hope) realizes the movie was supposed to be out a year ago. Studios are either delaying the inevitable for another quarter or using the movie as filler, a placeholder to shove into a quiet weekend.
If two blockbusters are scheduled for the same release date, they sometimes play a game of chicken until the other one moves, but they're still contending for the prime summer and end-of-year spots. When I see a movie or would-be blockbuster move from a summer or winter holiday release to January, February, or September, I'm instantly suspicious. Case in point: The Wolfman, which will come out on February 12th after a year of delays. While studios are starting to put watchable movies into these dead time zones as all forms of media move away from the rerun and second-run model, the best strategy for the early winter will be to catch up on another stale, but delicious treat: the holiday releases.