For several years now, Hollywood has been slowly and steadily expanding the summer movie season beyond the months most humans who live in the Northern Hemisphere generally define as "summer." This weekend, however, two major studios have discovered that "the second weekend in February" may not qualify.
Visual-effects-driven spectaculars Jupiter Ascending (from Warner Bros. Pictures) and Seventh Son (from Legendary Pictures and Universal Pictures) opened to painfully low box office this weekend, grossing an estimated $19 million and $7.1 million, respectively. Along with sharing a parade of expensive CG characters and battles (as well as Oscar front-runners camping up as the lead villains), both of these films were not supposed to debut this weekend. Jupiter Ascending was initially slated for July 2014, a prime month for a sweeping sci-fi saga with a reported $175 million budget. When the film was rescheduled to February 2015, the stated reason was that the elaborate visual effects needed more time to be completed. But in an interview with BuzzFeed News, Lana Wachowski, who directed the film with her brother Andy Wachowski, seemed to indicate that the move had at least as much to do with the fact that the film was an original story in a summer saturated with known properties.
Seventh Son's path to theaters has been even more tortured. The fantasy adventure was initially slated to open two years ago, on Feb. 22, 2013. Then the film was pushed to Oct. 18, 2013, also to finish the visual effects. Then it was pushed to Jan. 17, 2014. Then, after Legendary moved its distribution deal from Warner Bros. to Universal, the film was pushed to a Feb. 6, 2015, release.
This kind of release-date hopscotch is always deadly to a movie's box office chances, but it is also noteworthy that at no time did Legendary, Warner Bros., or Universal even consider releasing this costly, visually driven popcorn movie in the months most audiences expect to see costly, visually driven popcorn movies — namely, May through August. And that's because for the past eight years or so, Hollywood has seen enormous success opening movies that would seem to be prime targets for the summer in the months outside of the season.
The first whispers of this trend date back to the popular "Special Edition" re-releases of the first Star Wars trilogy in the first three months of 1997. But the summer movie season creep started in earnest in 2007 with the blockbuster success of 300 in March. Then followed Fast and Furious in April 2009, Alice in Wonderland in March 2010, Clash of the Titans in April 2010, Fast Five in April 2011, The Hunger Games in March 2012, Oz the Great and Powerful in March 2013, Divergent in March 2014, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier in April 2014.
None of those top-grossing films, however, opened in February. That month, it seems, is the Rubicon that American audiences will not cross when it comes to live-action, visual-effects-driven "summer" movies. Jupiter Ascending and Seventh Son, in fact, are far from the month's only casualties. For over 10 years, Hollywood has tried to open "summer" movies in February, usually on Valentine's Day weekend, and the results have been middling to disastrous.
A Good Day to Die Hard: Opens Feb. 14, 2013, with $24.8 million, grossing $67.3 million in total.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance: Opens Feb. 17, 2012, with $22.1 million, grossing $51.8 million total.
This Means War: Opens Feb. 17, 2012, with $17.4 million, grossing $54.8 million in total.
I Am Number Four: Opens Feb. 18, 2011, with $19.4 million, grossing $55.1 million total.
Jumper: Opens Feb. 14, 2008, with $27.4 million, grossing $80.2 million total.
The Spiderwick Chronicles: Opens Feb. 14, 2008, with $19 million, and $71.2 million total.
Constantine: Opens Feb. 18, 2005, with $29.8 million, and $76 million total.
There have been a few minor February successes: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island in 2012, Shutter Island in 2010, Ghost Rider in 2007, and Daredevil in 2002 managed to eke out grosses after a February opening that, while not at the level of a true summer hit, weren't entirely embarrassing either.
Far less pricey romances and romantic comedies — i.e., movies people actually might want to see around Valentine's Day — have proven to be more lucrative February releases, including 2012's The Vow, 2010's Valentine's Day, 2004's 50 First Dates, and especially 2005's Hitch.
But if you're looking for a true blockbuster that opened in February (that isn't the once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon The Passion of the Christ), then The LEGO Movie is kind of your only option. The film was a true sensation last year, pulling in $257.8 million domestically — the second highest domestic gross ever for the month. And it may soon have company. This weekend, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water opened with an estimated $56 million, far exceeding studio expectations. So if Hollywood starts churning out irreverent animated comedies mixed with live-action sequences for February, you'll know who to blame.
Here are the estimated top 10 box office figures for Friday to Sunday, courtesy of Box Office Mojo:
1. The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water* — $56 million
2. American Sniper — $24.2 million
3. Jupiter Ascending* — $19 million
4. Seventh Son* — $7.1 million
5. Paddington — $5.4 million
6. Project Almanac — $5.3 million
7. The Imitation Game — $4.9 million
8. The Wedding Ringer — $4.8 million
9. Black or White— $4.5 million
10. The Boy Next Door — $4.1 million