Spring Blockbusters: Is March the New May When It Comes to Movies?

Nothing is more dependable than the movie-release calendar. It heralds the changing of the seasons more reliably than tides, bird migrations, or the blossoming of local flora.

Each year, the release calendar looks like this: After a packed schedule of awards-bait films that come out right before Oscar season, the beginning of the year the multiplex is in recovery/rebound mode with junky horror films and action flicks. This lasts until May, when studios start to trot out the heavy summer blockbusters. (Last year, Thor kicked things off the first weekend in May, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides was the big Memorial Day movie.) The special-effects-heavy, comic-book-themed, big-sequel films continue through the rest of the summer until they make way for the prestige, awards-bait movies in the fall, and the cycle begins anew.

So why, then, have the blockbusters been creeping up earlier and earlier in the calendar?

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Photo credit: ©2011 Disney. JOHN CARTER™ ERB, Inc.

John Carter

If you look at the movies this month and squint, you’ll almost believe that it’s summer. This weekend, Disney opens its John Carter. (The original title was John Carter of Mars, which I think is a much more expressive title. I guess they dropped the “of Mars” part because it seemed too sci-fi, but the advertisements compare it Star Wars and Avatar and feature aliens, so people were going to figure out the sci-fi part eventually.) In the film, John Carter is transplanted to Mars and runs afoul of different Martian races and creatures, including 12-foot-tall green buglike things. It’s basically as special-effects-heavy as it gets. The rest of the movie is a big action/adventure epic, in the vein of the Pirates of the Caribbean series, which has been a summertime staple series since 2003.

Photo credit: Murray Close

Hunger Games

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John Carter isn’t an anomaly, either. The weekend-after-next finds the release of another much-anticipated movie, The Hunger Games. Not only is it another big action/adventure epic, it’s the lead-off movie for a new franchise. Franchises and sequels are other hallmarks of the summer movie season. Even after The Hunger Games, blockbuster-style movies continue, with Wrath of the Titans and Mirror Mirror.

So, what gives? Why are movie studios trading March for May?

Like everything that’s been going on in popular culture, I think we can lay the blame squarely on Alice in Wonderland. When it came out in March 2010, it made roughly a bazillion dollars. (Fine, to be more precise, it grossed more than $330 million domestically.) Since then, the movie has spawned a million pop-cultural trends. Have you noticed that, since Alice, everything is now fairytale themed? (Think Grimm, Once Upon a Time, and the two Snow White movies that are coming out this year, Mirror, Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. And, believe me, there are more fairytale adaptations on the way.)

Alice in Wonderland was itself a mini-blockbuster, with crazy special effects and a big battle scene at the end. Since its release, studios have learned that you can make a ton of money off of a movie that comes out in March. Hence, we have a current mini-summer-movie season.

And, hey, if that makes it so that I don’t have to wait as long to see The Hunger Games, that’s okay by me.

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