Because of the winter, and everyone wanting to stay inside. That’s why, let’s not bury the lead here. I’m not entirely about clickbait.
But seriously, in the past two weeks I’ve watched two of my favorite movies of the year – Moonlight and Arrival – and two incredibly average blockbusters – Fantastic Beasts and Dr. Strange. Allow me to do a quick review for each of these films:
Moonlight: A fantastic film which is much more complicated than first glance would apply. About the life of a black boy who grows up with a crack-addicted mother and a crack-dealer adoptive father-figure, Moonlight goes places I haven’t seen before. Well executed and well written, the film arcs the life of the boy as he discovers that he is gay at 6 years old, is bullied for it as a teenager, and becomes that father-figure as a 20-something.
Arrival: An incredibly tear-jerking film, Arrival is incredibly emotionally devestating. It’s also quite simply the greatest film I’ve seen so far this year. Only Moonlight comes close (bear in mind there’s many films I’ve yet to see). About a peaceful arrival of alien spaceships, it documents a rational look at how humans would actually react. Especially if we don’t have a way to communicate with the aliens right away. Especially if those aliens aren’t humanoid. Especially if there are 12 of those ships in moderately important areas (the North American one is in Montana, there is one in the Bering Sea).
Fantastic Beasts: Utterly predictable, Fantastic Beasts is a try-hard of a film. An introduction to the life of wizards in 1920’s New York, it tries to much to be like the Harry Potter franchise. From the opening salvo, you think you’re getting right into Harry Potter 9, and Fantastic Beasts would be so much better without that in mind. From director David Yates who made 7 & 8 of the previous franchise, and written by JK Rowling herself, it’s an exploration of the life of Newt Scamander. His actual book is something JK published in the early 00’s and is a great addition to the Harry Potter franchise. There are numerous fascinating things introduced in the film, but in the end it would be the worst of the Harry Potter films.
Dr. Strange: An utterly average selection of the Marvel franchise, Dr. Strange is another magic introduction. I think it’s vastly superior to Fantastic Beasts but one’s Warner Bros and the other is Marvel. So. Strange has the potential to be a good film but falls into all of the origin story tropes. Rachel McAdams feels very… meh. Marvel is underrated for their portrayals of the love interests but this one isn’t on par. I can see why Marvel used Tilda Swinton but in the role of the ancient one I can just as easily picture George Takei. The film also introduces two potential villains for the latter franchise, but there’s too much to introduce in the coming years for Dr. Strange 2 to be a possibility. I do look forward to Benedict Cumberbatch interacting with Mark Ruffalo, plus the visuals are cool, though.
Back to what this story is about. Why is this time of year the time when Fantastic Beasts and Dr. Strange interact and co-mingle with arthouse works like Arrival and Moonlight? When works like Loving are on screens next door to popcorn flicks like Trolls? Well, Oscars season is a long documented month of the year. When all these great pieces are released within days of each other. It happened last year and the year before and for countless years since the invention of the Oscars. Studios want their films to be the last one that voters view. To leave the taste on the tongue. They know an Oscar-winning feature will bring in money and prestige, something the tentpole franchise film doesn’t do.
But why are those tentpole franchise films moving away from the summer? Competing with prestige films for an audience that goes to a movie once a month, if that? Nobody has the time or the money to go see all the Oscar films in November and December. Why add in movies that need to earn that money like Dr. Strange and Fantastic Beasts? Studios can’t possibly believe these films can win Oscars can they?
No. They don’t. They believe that these movies can win money. Money that is more available in this time of year than in any other besides the Summer. And with Warner Bros scheduling what was supposed to make money (Batman vs. Superman) and Marvel scheduling what did make money (Civil War), it’s counter-productive to counter-schedule against themselves. Civil War was in theatres from May to July. Batman vs. Superman was supposed to be.
But these studios want to make the most money possible. So why not schedule two big money makers for the same year? Marvel figures that if the average American goes to see Civil War in May or June, they will be ready for another Marvel picture in November, especially if those two films are as different as Cap 3 and Strange. Especially if the year is as long as 2016 has felt.
So that’s why studios are scheduling everything for November and December. They know there’s money to be made. People are cold. Movie theatres are also cold but are warmer than the weather outside. People need distractions and that’s what movie theatres can provide. Oscar pictures don’t make the money that franchise films do. But that’s not to say that the money isn’t there.