Why Do Summer Blockbuster Movies Begin in May?

Tis’ the season, whether you're a hard core movie lover or a casual viewer, to hit up the summer blockbuster movies when they come to town.  Yes, Hollywood puts on quite a show to make sure they have everyone scrambling to be first in line for a string of blockbusters, which populate the show times for the next few months.  Is it some of their best work?  On the whole, no, most of the best stuff comes outside of the spotlight filled months between May 1st and August 31st except those looking for an Oscar or Golden Globe in special effects and technical wizardry.  What these movies all have in common though is massive budgets and gigantic promotions to make sure your almighty dollar...or $25…or who am I kidding, if you're bringing a date or members of the family you could be look at 50 bucks. Sigh, I remember "$2.50 Tuesdays".

Have I pitched a tent out in front of my local theatre?  No, but I can't say I haven't been tempted. And this summer's roster is certainly pushing me to live in a line up for the next few weeks.    With titles like Iron Man 3 (May 3rd), The Great Gatsby (May 10th), Star Trek: Into Darkness (May 17th), Epic (May 24th), Fast and Furious 6 (May 24th) and The Hangover Part III (May 24th).  Not to mention a few movies later on such as After Earth (May 31st) and who can forget Man of Steel (June 14th). Plus many more over the next few months! I won’t be talking about much else during this time.

But why are we even talking summer blockbuster movies in May? When I look at my calendar, you can see the summer solstice doesn't kick off until June 21st… right where it should.   And May Long weekend is still three weeks away at this point.   Let me be clear, I associate three things with May:  start of camping, university and college students getting let free for four months and now for the past few years, the kick off to the blockbuster season.  But why May?

Evolution of the Blockbuster

My first reaction as always was to consult to good ole trusty Wikipedia the definition of movie blockbuster. It notes the first film to be defined as a "blockbuster" was Jaws in 1975, which set countless record. When was it released?  June 20th

(I still don’t like going for a swim after seeing that movie. )

The records it set however did not last long, a certain man named George Lucas came out with a small film two years later which slightly topped Jaws records.

"There will be no escape for the princess this time…." – C-Threepio    Oops, sorry. Nostalgia moment.

When did Star Wars IV: A New Hope come out? May 25th, 1977.

With a little digging and some general perception, I started thinking the release of summer blockbusters prior to the May long weekend was recent phenomenon. I was wrong.

The Modern Blockbuster
Take for instance the Iron Man trilogy.   Iron Man came out on May 2nd 2008;  Iron Man 2 May 7th 2010,  with Iron Man 3 ready for release on May 3rd this year.  Five years ago, Marvel was at a point where it was really starting to pick up speed with its slate of comic book movies and it wanted to make sure it was first out of the gate and a weekend all to itself.

Then you have a film like The Matrix, it was released on March 31st, 1999. I found this blockbuster to be a bit of an anomaly in terms of a summer blockbuster. It was released outside of the summer blockbuster season, however the special effects were awesome and the plot and script were simply mind-blowing.   It had such a successful run, many will choose lump it in with the rest of the summer blockbusters of that year.

(I still pick up new things in that movie every time I watch it!)
Like a good blockbuster, I may have managed to divert your focus away from real life.  I’ve managed to talk a lot about blockbusters, but not give any real opinion to the question at hand: "Why Do Summer Blockbuster Movies Begin in May?"  Well I believe there is a lot of weight to the idea that studios and their release companies are always jockeying for position, they don’t want to open the same weekend as a film which will threaten to steal money from them.  Competitive studios will make it so no blockbuster will be released on the same weekend and, in some cases, the same month.   And since there are only so many weekends during the summer time, it's forced them, in the last two decades, to push their films out earlier to accommodate for "box office spacing" (I just made that up but it sounds good).   Case in point: The Avengers and the The Dark Knight Rises were not even close on the calendar. Why? Quite simple, the same audience would be going to those two films and there was no way comic companies Marvel (really Disney) and DC (really Warner Bros.) wanted to be going head to head with each other.

Maybe it is the warm weather (consumers seem more likely to get out to be entertained during the warmer temps) or the fact that university and college students are getting out for the summer (a key demographic of most movies being shown during the summer blockbuster months)?  No matter what the thought is there, Hollywood sure has us figured out.   What do you think?

QUICK FACT: The 2012 summer blockbuster season brought in $4,303,618,452.  Can 2013 top it?  It looks like it has a chance. Thank-you to Box Office MoJo.com for the ticket tally information.

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