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Movies Are About To Get Good Again

The end of September is approaching, which is fantastic news for moviegoers: It’s the season of good, Oscar-worthy films.

The Hollywood calendar isn’t really rocket science. Summer is the time to put out blockbusters (or blockbuster wannabes). Studios release movies that could potentially score awards — “Oscar bait” — toward the end of the year, so the films are fresh in awards voters’ minds. And typically, the holiday season is also ripe for a few big movies — recently the preferred release time for big-budget fantasy films, such as “The Hobbit” and other “Lord of the Rings” movies, or sci-fi films such as “Avatar” and the forthcoming “Star Wars” reboot.

Unfortunately, that means studios fill in the rest of the year with the movies that aren’t such certain bets — aka mostly schlock. The first four months of the year, January through April, see undependable weather conditions in major population centers that could force people indoors and away from theaters. September is the worst financial month of the year for studios, on average. That probably has something to do with school starting up again; the Motion Picture Association of America reported that, in 2014, 42 percent of tickets were sold to people 24 and younger.

This can be observed by simply plotting out box office receipts per month as a percentage of the yearly total, like so:


But it’s about to be October! That means not only that studios will make a little more money, but also that the really good movies — the kind that win Oscars — are about to come out.

I looked at every film since 2001 that was nominated for the Academy Award for best picture, as well as every film that had a contributor receive a best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actress or best supporting actor nomination. That’s 215 unique films, with 95 nominees for best picture among them. Here’s the share of those released in each month:


Things will really pick up in November and December, but October’s haul is nothing to sniff at. Recent best picture winners “The Departed,” “Birdman” and “12 Years A Slave” all came out in October, and 19 of the 95 films nominated for the top honor since 2001 came out in October.

Still, there may be some best picture nominees among us already, if the historical precedent holds. By the end of September, we’d typically expect about 23 percent of the year’s best picture nominees (about two films) to have been released, as well as 28 percent of films that garner any nominations.

It’s a fool’s game to try to predict which movie is going to get an Oscar nomination based on its release month, but it’s good to know that, once again, we’re going to have good movies in theaters. September’s best-performing movie has been an M. Night Shyamalan film, for crying out loud. We deserve better, and we’re about to get it.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.