November is well under way and as the leaves begin to fall and the brisk air chills through your early mornings, the days get shorter and the light fades. People are now free to spend more time inside without having to make some excuse for being sick or tired or having a pretend hobby people care about. While the activities shift indoors, so do audiences. November is a massive movie month. It rivals the summer and December with it’s box office numbers. Thanksgiving is one of the biggest movie days on the calendar. And yet, it doesn’t quite get the hype that one might expect out of such a cash cow holiday. For the most part, people are too preoccupied with planning their Black Friday routes and betting on the big Thanksgiving Day sports to really care. As we speak, the first weekend in November has raked in heavy at the box office with the number one movie racking up nine digits. And while that may seem like news to some, it’s par for the course for others. There’s a few factors that make this month so enticing for moviegoers, and as is long overdue, we’ll look into some of the bigger factors contributing to it’s success.
This penultimate calendar month is one of the busiest months for those clocking nine to five. It’s the end of the year and the final push in the last quarter to really maximize productivity. That means that people are drained of energy, stressed out, and would love to be anywhere but work. Those who aren’t glued to Stranger Things, are the likely demographic to flock to their local cinema. Normally, we defer to summer when it comes to audience turnout because frankly, people have more free time and disposable income. Kids are out of school, adults are taking advantage of their two weeks and, to escape the ever-escalating heat, they end up inside. Now, this swell tends to end in early September, when the last of the big-budget releases attempt to hold on to that last bit of summer. Following that, we have a bit of a movie draught. Things slow down and people’s appetites build up until it’s turkey time and suddenly, it’s not just people’s stomachs that are feeling empty. So if you’re one of those caught up in that end of the year performance stress, make like the millions of others and plan your not-frequent-enough movie visit.
November wasn’t always a big hit movie month. Thirty years ago, November was on par with other, more ordinary movie months likes September. Things were a lot more consistent back then and the disparity between box office returns wasn’t as dramatic month to month as it seems today. Fast forward to the year 2001: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone launches both a franchise and the November box office. In fact, that year was the first time the November box office topped one billion dollars and, more impressively, topped both June and July at the box office, losing out to December by the same margins. That was huge and a precedent has obviously been set. The success of films like Harry Potter have paved the way for the month to be a staple franchise placeholder. Warner Brothers found success for Harry Potter in November and they chose to pretty much consistently follow that pattern afterwards. Of films in the Harry Potter series, half of them were released in November, with the other half being released in differing summer months. And the films in that series that chose to release in November ended up consistently being the number one movie at the box office for the entire month. Whereas the summer releases were forced to compete with other studios which shall not be named.
And that lack of competition, at least traditionally, is a big draw. Sleepy fall becomes easy pray for the big-level studios. Now, you have multiple movies throwing their hats in the ring hoping to find that success and it’s becoming a lot like summer all over again. Still, big franchises that have found success around this time tend to return pretty consistently. Every James Bond film with Daniel Craig has had a November release, most Harry Potter films had November releases, The Hunger Games took advantage of the hungry fall crowds, and even Marvel has utilized the inherent inertia to release a few movies that would become successful powerhouse films. If there’s anything audiences love, it’s big-draw franchises. If there’s anything they love more than big-draw franchises, it’s big-draw franchises at a time you normally wouldn’t have access to such fresh eye-candy. It’s kind of like getting access to McDonald’s breakfast all day, or Pumpkin Spice Lattes in the middle of April – it’s just people excited about having access to things they normally wouldn’t be able to have. So knowing that your favorite franchise will be introducing a new chapter in the series? That’s a big bonus for a heck of a lot of people and helps drive those box office numbers up. I mean, look at what Marvel just did with Thor 3.
When studios are trying to look for an optimal release date, they try to figure out two main things: when audiences are most likely going to turn out to go to the movies, and when they won’t have to compete with other major blockbuster movies. When Marvel was still introducing the superheroes that we all know and love from it’s Phase One, they had a bit of a Thor in their side. While Iron Man, Captain America, and Hulk all had brand recognition and a history onscreen, Thor did not. The problem was that you can’t really blaze the big franchise trail without a good foundation for one of the key players. Thor was a pivotal member of the group and a person around which they could (and needed to) build a franchise. They didn’t want to squander the opportunity by making him compete unnecessarily against films they didn’t want it to compete with. But it was the first film in the series and worth a gamble. They chose a May release. They lost. The number one movie in May of that year? The Hangover Part II. Yikes. That kind of killer your inertia. A summer release is usually ideal since it guarantees a willing audience, but the problem is that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II had also been slated for a release that summer as well as a Transformers entry. Those are hard acts to be around. So, when they were trying to come up with a plan for Thor: The Dark World, they looked towards the end of the calendar year. 2013 was a jam-packed summer blockbuster year, featuring both Iron-Man 3 and Man of Steel. They didn’t want to have to compete against their own brand (nor a surprising DC hit), and the calendar just couldn’t find enough room for Chris Hemsworth’s gargantuan frame. So maybe December, you say? That holiday season, they had to contend with a number of heavy hitters who were aiming to exploit the Christmas crowd, most notably The Hobbit sequel. That was surely going to be a tight squeeze as well The solution? Make it a November release! It worked. Thor: The Dark World ended up number one at the box office it’s opening weekend, despite being a low in the Marvel world. It did not, however, take the month of November. That honor went to a franchise entry from The Hunger Games. Still, despite competition from Katniss and Frozen, Thor 2 carried itself through a strange plot and mishmash of characters long enough to make the point that Loki will sneak his way into every Marvel movie for as long as Tom Hiddleston remains relevant.
Now we’ve learned some big lessons from the Thor series and evidently they have too. Based on the earnings and projected earnings, Thor 3 will be one of the most financially (and critically) successful films for Marvel. They used all of the important metrics to concoct a big ol’ batch of success. And it’s films like these that help the turnout this month stay big. But it’s not just the major studio blockbusters that deserve praise here. After all, we’re right in the midst of some of the biggest weeks for all the smaller studios as well. For those who are unaware, the Oscar campaign trail is well under way at this point. Those films that have been working hard to collect their pull quotes from the critics who are thirsty enough to say whatever praise necessary so that they end up with a massive, text overlay that takes up eighty percent of the display in your local theater. November is the Iowa caucus for these Oscar movies. Their future success is tested in these leaf-dropping weeks. And the buzz usually pans out. Though they aren’t typically thought of as chart-topping cinema, these Oscar films sure do rake in some extra dough. Many people see the opportunity to see these films as a way of getting ahead of the curb or testing the waters for the upcoming season. When Irish-Canadian-Luxembourgish animated best feature nominee (sheesh) The Breadwinner dances across the lips of aspiring one-night-only film savants as they circle the film on their fantasy Oscar draft at their champagne-fueled February apartment gathering, they can espouse a brief tale of their intimate knowledge of the film, based on their viewing four months prior. Trust me, there’s always one. But those ones are big contributors to the turkey film economy. Thus another reason it makes such a big splash in the film world.
These critically oriented films aren’t necessarily released in November, because of their big draws. Instead, the end of the year provides an opportunity to remain fresh on the mind. Because the month people really start flocking, comes right afterwards. December, of course, is the biggest movie month of the calendar year. And truth be told, many of the success of December, lies in the seeds sewn in November. That’s the magic that studios have always counted on and it really does seem to work. By releasing one of their bigger hits in November, they have a good four to six weeks of it being the biggest thing on the public conscious before they end up getting scrapped for the Christmas dump. Some of the biggest December movies of the last few years have been November releases (I mean, look at The Hunger Games). For those that missed the massive franchise staples, or fun comedies or, as often happens, just wanted to wait until December to see the latest and greatest Christmas film, they have the whole final month of the year. Funny, isn’t it? I can’t think of a Christmas themed movie since The Holiday that actually was released in December. Fun fact: the biggest box office hit of November 2003? Elf. The film was released in the first week of November too. I mean, people aren’t even over Halloween by that point! Regardless, the decision by studios to drop these movies in November, despite the expectation that the bulk of their profits will come in December, just bolsters the month’s cinematic appeal even further.
So if you’re one who looks for deals, like Black Friday, and you don’t want to risk your life for some consumer goods, November might be the time for you to go to the cinema instead. Between the plethora of franchise favorites, indie darlings, holiday films, and December movies that are trying to be ahead of the curb, the options are truly endless. And with all that time off and all that lost energy you sacrificed so that you could enjoy a big old turkey, you might as well stay away from the increasingly politicized world of sports and head into the quiet, quaint, drama-free world of cinema. Because, like the many millions who can’t resist the allure of Black Friday, these movies will finally be in the same place at the same time! For those who can? They’ll all be here next month too. Yes. Almost all of them.