Summer is arriving early at the cinemas this year

John Cairns

We are fast approaching what is regarded as “summer blockbuster season.”

That’s the time of year when the big “popcorn” movies and populist entertainment shows up at the cinemas: superheroes, special effects and comedies.

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I did some preliminary research on what releases can expect to do well at the summer box office and looked up the release date for what I thought would be one of the top contenders — Avengers: Infinity War.

It opens in wide release on Friday, April 27.

Aaargh!!! This screws up my summer box office predictions for Summer Blockbuster Season.

Typically, folks in the business have regarded the first weekend of May as the official kickoff to the summer season, even though it’s really the middle of spring. The season started in early May, and lasted until Labour Day when the kids start to go back to school and movie attendance goes straight into the tank.

In recent years, that first weekend in May has belonged to the Marvel franchises like Iron Man, and the Avengers. It is a lucrative weekend as well, with these Marvel movies routinely opening to massive domestic grosses of more than $100 million.

In fact, the plan had been for Disney and Marvel to roll out Avengers: Infinity War on May 4, following the same playbook as previous years. But in March, the decision was made to move up the domestic release by a week, to April 27.

My first thought was the Disney folks were figuring they can get an early jump on “summer blockbuster season,” but now I understand the real reason is to time the domestic release to be at roughly the same time as it is in the rest of the world.

The problem is I have no idea whether to include Avengers: Infinity War in my “summer” predictions or not. This isn’t a “summer” release now. Instead, it’s a “late spring” release. Does this mean we box-office pundits should now consider the final week of April to be part of summer blockbuster season?

Doing some further research on this topic, I came across articles claiming March, yes March, is the new “start” of summer blockbuster season.

These started showing up in 2017 when Logan was released. Logan eventually made a domestic $226 million gross, but the big winner in March releases turned out to be Beauty and the Beast, which topped $504 million. These are numbers usually associated with summer releases.

To be honest, I’m surprised that I am not seeing more articles claiming February is now the new start of summer blockbuster season. This February, Black Panther opened in theatres and turned into one of the most successful movies of all time. Its domestic haul is $675 million so far and it is still going.

I’ve even seen articles claiming “summer blockbuster season” began when Rampage came to theatres on April 13. That flick, which opened to a domestic haul of $35 million, stars action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson who is notorious for being associated with summer popcorn flicks (he’ll later be in Skyscraper, which opens July 13).

But I really have issues with declaring April to be part of “summer blockbuster season” when parts of North America still have snow on the ground. Heck, it is already a stretch to include May as part of “summer,” because it isn’t.

What it comes down to is that “summer blockbuster season” is really no longer a “summer” phenomenon. The potential for blockbusters is year-round, and the move to schedule the latest Avengers movie in late April is proof of that.

From my vantage point, it seems obvious why Hollywood wants to schedule big-budget popcorn movies outside the usual summer months — to get away from the other blockbuster competition.

It seems like the May-through-August period is always a bloodbath, crowded with one wannabe “blockbuster” after another trying to strike it rich. So many of these movies look like they are going after the same audience with the “Marvel,” “DC,” “Jurassic,” “Planet of the Apes” and “Transformers” franchises.  

The rest of the year is not like this. September and October are notorious down months at the box office. The studios know this, and make sure to steer clear of scheduling their blockbusters for this period of time.

This opens up the potential for more adult-oriented fare to do well against this lack of competition. That’s what happened when It opened last Sept. 8 and grossed a staggering $327 million.

Things usually pick up again in November and December, with people taking advantage of Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays in the United States. But then comes January, everyone is back to school or back at work again, and the pattern repeats itself. Once again, you don’t see potential blockbusters scheduled for January.

What you often see happen is popular late-December releases using the month of January as their big month to absolutely clean up against a lack of real blockbuster competition. That’s how Titanic, Avatar and Star Wars: The Force Awakens set their all-time box office records.

What Hollywood is surely noticing now is the potential for February, March and April to produce blockbuster movies. Some potential blockbusters have been scheduled for these months in recent years and have surprised observers by doing quite well.

Here are recent examples: February has produced 2014’s The LEGO Movie ($257.8 million), 2015’s Fifty Shades of Grey ($166.2 million) and 2016’s Deadpool ($363.1 million).

March has produced hits like this year’s Ready Player One ($117 million), 2016’s Zootopia ($341 million) and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice ($330 million).

April has also seen big blockbusters with hits such as 2014’s Captain America 2 ($259.8 million), 2015’s Furious 7 ($353 million), 2016’s Jungle Book ($364 million) and 2017’s Fate of the Furious ($226 million).

Already, the predictions are for Avengers: Infinity War to make a killing when it opens. We are looking at somewhere around $200 million for its opening weekend domestic gross, according to the tracking we are seeing.

No doubt, Avengers: Infinity War is shaping up to smash every April record there is at the box office.

This reminds me of yet another good reason to schedule hits outside of the usual summer season: to set box office records for whichever date your movie happens to open on. “It’s a record opening for the month of April!” 

My guess is once the other studios see how big a killing Disney makes on this latest Avengers movie, they’ll schedule even more blockbuster-popcorn movies for these early months instead of focusing their energies solely on the summertime.

Expect February, March and especially April to look far more like “summer” at the cinemas in future years, with more populist “popcorn” movies to choose from.  

I find it ironic that I am writing on the topic of “summer blockbuster season” when we have just endured a winter that took forever to end. Spring may have arrived late, but it’s shaping up to be an early summer at the movies this year.

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