The movie business has brought in at least $4 billion in domestic box office receipts every summer since 2006. Film companies consider the period between the first Friday in May and the Monday of Labor Day weekend as "summer." During that four-month period in 2017, estimates put the total U.S. box office tally at about $3.78 billion, according to Variety.
The final two weeks of the season will do little to help the lousy summer. The weekend prior to Labor Day weekend saw the top 12 films released bring in less than $50 million, "something that hasn't happened in an August weekend in over 20 years," according to Box Office Mojo. The Labor Day weekend is not likely to be any better because it contains no major, new wide releases, something that has not happened in 25 years.
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Why are film companies ending summer early?
Common wisdom in the industry says that potential moviegoers are too busy having a last hurrah at the beach or getting ready for school to go to the movies on Labor Day Weekend. That makes some sense, but with many upcoming weekends through the end of the year containing multiple wide releases, it does seem odd that no studio tried to jump into the void on Labor Day weekend.
Longtime Sony (NYSE: SNE) distribution chief Rory Bruer, who retired in April, told The Los Angeles Times in 2015 that he understood why studios avoided the weekend.
"I think there's a lot going on with folks over the holiday weekend," he said. "It makes it a little bit tougher [to release films]. That being said, if you have the right movie, there is no bad weekend. It doesn't mean that Labor Day weekend can't work."
Sony itself might have done better releasing its flop The Dark Tower over the holiday when it would have had very little competition. Instead, the film came out the first weekend in August, where it had to compete with Dunkirk's third weekend, and The Emoji Movie and Girl's Trip in their second weeks of release.
While Labor Day has its challenges, the numbers show that it's perhaps not so bleak that studios should avoid the weekend. Anthony D'Alessandro broke down the numbers in a piece in August for Deadline.com.
It's worth noting that neither film mentioned by D'Alessandro was a new release, but in 2007 the reboot of Halloween opened during Labor Day weekend at just over $30 million in domestic box office. That was considered a big hit at the time, and it's better than the $19.1 million The Dark Tower earned in its first weekend this year
What's next for the box office?
The weekend after Labor Day tends to be a dud. Digging through numbers on Box Office Mojo shows that for four of the past five years, the weekend following the holiday generated less dollars in ticket sales.
But that should change this year because the post-holiday weekend features the release of a remake of Stephen King's It. That film has been tracking to bring in between $50 million and $60 million during its opening weekend.
Of course, the lack of anything else people want to see being in theaters may help the horror film. Still, it does seem that in a climate where blockbuster films are released year-round that studios are missing an opportunity on Labor Day weekend.
It may not be an ideal time, but for the right film, it could be a chance to be the only new release in theaters. Throw in the possibility of rain cancelling outdoor activities, and even a stinker could attract more audience than it would otherwise.
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