Tom Jolliffe looks back through the years at the month of September in Hollywood’s release calendar…
Pretty much since Star Wars changed the face of film and ushered in the notion of the blockbuster, the cinema calendar has increasingly been segmented into pockets. Studios bet big and look to secure the summer releases. They tended to be May through to August. The end of August over the years has tended to feel a little quiet. By this point the summer is finishing and kids are being readied for school, and we’re battening down the hatches for autumn chills in readiness for winter. Then there are smaller pockets the studios eye. You’ve got traditional windows like Halloween (largely, of course, focused on horror releases) and then Thanksgiving (for the US) and then Christmas. There are certain times of year that became essentially dumping grounds. Mid-budget films particularly, with less outlay, wanting some level of exclusivity upon their release (and not up against an Avengers-esque all consuming box office monster) looked at these windows. January has historically been one. The post Christmas come down. Pockets are emptier and society starts the year afresh with their minds set on matters beyond cinema. September became something of a dumping ground too, but perhaps that will change.
So what has tended to come in September, and what has done well? As mentioned, it’s rare a studio will push out a $100 million plus budget film in September. Too much is at stake, the audience isn’t generally quite as readily available, short of a must see pop cultural explosion (more on that later). Large scale summer theatrics are stripped back. It also tends to generally be a wasteland as far as Oscar contenders. There’s usually not much attention given around that time (that said a few did well, such as Moneyball). The big Oscar push films that happen earlier have done their thing. The late hitters opt for winter releases to have a last minute run to statuette glory. Interestingly, Horror becomes a popular choice in September. It’s slowly proved to be a good time to release horror themed movies, giving you an advance on a more packet October schedule for the genre, but likewise, audiences seem to have responded more over the past decade plus, to early horror releases. Additionally high-concept does well, and sci-fi (or certainly those elements blending with horror particularly).
What’s the highest weekend gross for a September release ever, I hear you ask? It, the big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic novel obliterated the September US domestic record for an opening with a gargantuan $123 million (plus change). What’s the second highest? It Chapter 2. What’s the third highest weekend gross? The second weekend of It. As a studio you want a good weekend, but even the most optimistic big wig would be hesitant to ever expect the kind of gross that is usually obtained by Marvel or Disney in the summer. Other notables for highest weekend grosses through September (not accounting for inflation mind you) with a horror twist The Nun, Adam Sandler’s horror themed family animations Hotel Transylvania 1 and 2, Insidious Chapter 2, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Sixth Sense, The Predator, The Visit, Resident Evil: Afterlife/Apocalypse/Extinction.
Bruce Willis in fact, has seen two of his most inspired films of the last 20 (And a bit) years make waves in September releases. Firstly there is The Sixth Sense. Additionally, his last inspired performance, which seems an aeon ago, in Rian Johnson’s Looper. Again, like horror, sci-fi films that don’t come with a pre-existing comic book entity, have often sought solace in quieter spots in the year, September being no different. When Vin Diesel looked to bring Richard B. Riddick back to screen, following the disastrous mega budget flop Chronicles of Riddick, he popped (the simply titled, and sensibly budgeted) Riddick into a September slot and it did well.
Interestingly, looking through the top 100 weekend grosses for September over the years, there have been a number of films within those most ‘successful’ grosses, that still ended up flopping. Ad Astra, despite critical praise and an optimistically beefy budget, failed to entice enough audience and the films message was a little lost on people it seems. Sylvester Stallone had something of a bittersweet encounter with the September release for Rambo:Last Blood. The previous instalment had been unleashed during the January window, performing strongly across the world (and ultimately leading us to Last Blood). Last Blood opened reasonably with $18 million (the 72nd highest grossing September weekend of all time, inflation not withstanding). A savage critical response and lukewarm response from fans tempered the follow up weekends and the film drifted away, not managed to cross 100 million worldwide (which the previous film had done comfortably).
Whether post pandemic will see audience tastes change, or if we’ll see more films like It smashing open the box office potential of the month, will be interesting to see. Let us know your thoughts on September releases, and which of the releases this month are you most looking forward to? Hit us up on our social channels @FlickeringMyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), War of The Worlds: The Attack and the star studded action films, Renegades (Lee Majors, Billy Murray) and Crackdown. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see…https://www.instagram.com/jolliffeproductions/