Underneath what The Lorax did over the weekend — a huge, mostly unexpected $70.2 million opening — is that it could be kicking off one of the biggest box office months of March ever. Further below that is the trend no one seems to be noticing -- that March has somehow transformed itself into the biggest non-summer, non-holiday month of the box office year.
That doesn’t necessarily mean too much. It only means March ranks seventh on the “months you want to release your movie” behind July, May, December, June, November and August (in that order). But seeing as a decade ago it was a certified dumping ground for some of the worst movies you’ve ever watched, March has come quite a long way.
Just look at the change in the movies being released in March from a decade ago:
2000: The Next Best Thing, Drowning Mona, Three Strikes, What Planet Are You From, Mission to Mars, The Ninth Gate, Erin Brokovich (the exception), Final Destination, Romeo, Here on Earth, Whatever It Takes, The Road to El Dorado, The Skulls, High Fidelity, Price of Glory
2001: The Mexican, See Spot Run, 15 Minutes, Get Over It, Exit Wounds, Enemy at the Gates, Heartbreakers, The Brothers, Say It Isn’t So, Spy Kids, Someone Like You, Tomcats, Tailor of Panama
And 2003 is just a terrible list: Bringing Down the House (my vote for worst trailer of all time, well, of course except for this one), Tears of the Sun (known only because it’s the movie that got Bruce Willis back to the Die Hard franchise), Agent Cody Banks, The Hunted, Willard, Dreamcatcher, Piglet’s Big Movie, View from the Top, Boat Trip, Head of State, The Core and Basic. I did not make that list up.
Passion of the Christ wasn’t a March release in 2004, but it made most of its money in March. That’s when the light bulb went off — it is possible to make money in March against the NCAA Tournament, the start of spring and halfway decent weather. Things are starting to change, but not too soon since the four movies that led the respective weekends in March 2005 were The Pacifier, Robots, The Ring Two and Guess Who. You don’t want me to list the other releases. Here’s a taste — Be Cool, the awful Get Shorty sequel and Miss Congeniality 2, an even worser sequel. Don’t worry, I won’t go any further.
Things start to get interesting in 2006. Good movies like Inside Man, V for Vendetta and the second Ice Age make money and get good reviews, even though they still have to share March time with MTNSHBM (Movies That Never Should Have Been Made) Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, The Shaggy Dog remake, Aquamarine, and The Hills Have Eyes.
Then in 2007 comes 300 — the $65 million movie that made more than $450 million. The next year comes another big-budget action movie (10,000 B.C.) and another big family movie from Dr. Seuss (Horton Hears a Who). Same for 2009. Watchmen was the biggest budgeted movie ever released in March ($130 million) showing that studios were starting to invest in March.
All box office hell broke loose in 2010 when Alice in Wonderland — with a big-name director, big-name actor and big budget at $200 million — earned more than $1 billion around the world in its March release and became the ninth-largest grossing movie ever. It’s the only movie in the top 35 of that list that wasn’t released in the summer or the holiday season of November and December. How to Train Your Dragon then made almost $500 million worldwide starting later that March.
Which brings us to this year, when every weekend could produce a $50-million-plus opener, even though they’ve all got their warts:
March 2: We know what The Lorax did. Project X had a decent open too.
March 9: John Carter is now going to be the biggest-budgeted movie to open in March. It may have cost $250, it may have cost $300 million, it depends on who you ask. It was expensive, we know that for sure. The buzz on it is just plain awful, though. It’s getting pretty good reviews though, so maybe it does have a shelf life. It was pulled out of its original summer release, never a good sign, no matter how good March is becoming. But for once, I’ll say there is actually a good reason for it: Tim Riggins Overload. Most people have no idea who Taylor Kitsch is. That means you didn’t watch Friday Night Lights, which means you should have. But he’s finally broken out with two blockbusters scheduled for this year, John Carter (March 9) and Battleship (May 18). If John Carter would have stayed at June 8, then Kitsch would have been battling himself, leading to a pretty confusion situation — one studios do their best to avoid. the biggest reason John Carter won’t open at $50 million is because it’s one of the few March releases with major competition. The horror film Silent House and the Eddie Murphy comedy A Thousand Words both release this weekend. Words had been scheduled for an April release, but someone obviously smelled John Carter’s blood in the water and moved it up here. Although it should be noted Murphy is doing exactly zero publicity for the movie. Never a good sign.
March 16: Originally no one wanted to screw with John Carter enough that it had been leaving this weekend open. Sony gleefully decided to release its comedy version of 21 Jump Street here, and it’s paying off as the two movies are on opposite trending ends. 21 Jump Street is getting fantastic reviews and great buzz, while John Carter is getting good reviews but can’t seem to shake the perception that it is destined to be a bust.
March 23: The people who finished Harry Potter in their early teens and Twilight just before they finished high school said, “What now, Shakespeare? Nuts to that!” And so comes forth Hunger Games, arguably the buzziest, if not the biggest, March release ever. Studio Lionsgate is obviously taking a conservative approach with the March release — or is it trying to capitalize on not having any major franchise-type competition until Avengers on May 4?
March 30: Wrath of the Titans (the Clash of the Titans sequel) and Mirror Mirror (the first of two competing Snow White projects in the next three months) square off in the only really fair box office fight of the month. Mirror Mirror isn’t just fighting against Titans — it’s also fighting against the “other” Snow White movie, Snow White and the Huntsman, which comes out June 1. Originally Mirror Mirror was a summer release and Snow White was a Christmas bow, but when Snow White changed to June 1, Mirror Mirror backed off and moved to March. Not sure if it wanted its fantasy/action movie to go up against another action movie — but here we are. Actually, I’m not sure why they put it here at all. Check out the August release schedule. Doesn’t it look better there somewhere? You always want to be the first of a competing brand, so Mirror Mirror gets squeezed into March a week before the profitable Easter weekend.