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How Horror Thrives During ‘Dump Month’

The film community’s most dreaded month is here as scares hit the screens.

Promotional still from the film Night Swim
Night Swim. (Credit: Universal Studios)

With the holidays behind us, we are now in awards season. Studios have released their contenders for the Academy Awards, and now we are in January, or “dump month,” as dubbed by the film community.

This nickname originated over the past few decades as more and more critical failures seemed to flood cinemas during the start of each new year. The first weekend of 2024 kicked off with Blumhouse’s latest horror film, Night Swim, and was met with a negative response from critics.

While there have been some films in recent memory able to curb this trend, this year’s first major theatrical horror outing proves yet again that good releases in January are out of reach.

Why are so many bad releases slated for January?

Family together on a couch watching television.
Credit: BAZA Production/Shutterstock

Hollywood banks on the time when school is out, such as the summer vacation between May and August, plus the latter half of December. This is when they release their major blockbusters and Oscar contenders. 2023 blockbusters like Barbie and Oppenheimer had July release dates. Award contenders like The Color Purple and Poor Things had a December release date.

On the flip side, January sits right at the end of the holiday season, so many don’t have the discretionary funds to go to the theater. The winter weather encourages people to stay indoors rather than face the harsh conditions to get to the cinema. Sports are also keeping people glued to their TVs, as in January, the NFL is in its playoffs, and the NBA is already four months into its regular season.

Studio attention is also on their Oscar submissions and, knowing the low attendance of cinemagoers in January, they dump movies that didn’t perform well at test screenings or didn’t have any at all. It is also key in pushing the Oscar films, as even though some have December releases, they go wider in January, dominating over the weaker slate of films.

An influx of poorly received films at the start of the new year has definitely labeled January as a cinematic wasteland. Although these films may fail critically, many of their box office numbers do not reflect the quality of the films, especially when it comes to horror.

How horror thrives during dump month

Promotional still for Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. It features a man where half of his face is a skull.
Promotional still for Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. Credit: Paramount Pictures

Horror is a genre that is generally lucrative year-round. It’s the cheapest to invest in. This makes the financial risk very small for studios. Coupled with facing a weaker slate of films, a number of January horror flicks over the past few years have greatly profited, even if they weren’t favored by critics. Movies such as The Devil Inside, Insidious: The Last Key, and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones all made around $100 million after a January release.

On a smaller scale, the recently released Night Swim debuted second at the box office and made $17.7 million globally against a $15 million budget before marketing. Much of this success is thanks to Gen Z. According to a Statista study conducted in 2022, they are the leading demographic when it comes to consuming horror movies in theaters. The study showed that 32% of Gen Z saw a horror film in theaters in the past month prior to participating in the survey.

Not all are dead on arrival

Promotional still for Cloverfield. It features the statue of liberty missing its head and a post-apocalyptic New York City
Promotional still for Cloverfield. Credit: Paramount Pictures

Sifting through each bad release, every once in a while a hidden gem has reached the big screen. One of the most prominent films to disprove the “dump month” stereotype was Cloverfield in 2008. At the time, it held the record for January’s biggest opening with over $40 million.

In recent memory, over the past two years, we have seen two Scream films reach critical and commercial success. Even Blumhouse’s own M3GAN garnered a great deal of buzz last year thanks to a viral marketing campaign.

What does the future hold for dump month?

Promotional still from Mean Girls. It features three girls walking together dressed in pink outfits.
Promotional still from Mean Girls. Credit: Paramount Pictures

While the past few horror outings did have a solid run in the last few years, it seems that the trend isn’t going anywhere. Even outside the horror genre, January remains to have an empty slate of great movies.

The one film that seems to be avoiding the “dump month” stereotype is the highly anticipated Mean Girls, which garnered solid reviews from critics and audiences. It debuted at the top of the box office, dethroning Wonka’s number-one streak from last year.

But one warmly received flick isn’t enough evidence to say that January is now home to notable releases as it shares cinemas with The Beekeeper, The Book of Clarence, and the aforementioned Night Swim. So, reviving January’s reputation as “dump month” will not happen this year, at least.

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Written By

My name is Brandon Budhram and I am currently studying journalism at Seneca Polytechnic. I have loved writing ever since middle school and am now pursuing my passion.

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