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Winter Is Not The Time To Draw Grand Conclusions About The Movie Industry

The New York Times published a story last week looking at how women have been driving box office revenues so far this year. It’s a hopeful article — some sources in the piece said this success is getting female moviegoers on the industry’s radar again — but the piece goes a little too far in describing three movies in three months as a trend. Particularly these three months.

The Times looked at the three largest openings so far this year: “Insurgent,” “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Cinderella,” all of which drew a lot of women to theaters. And that’s good news — women coming out to theaters means audiences and films are more diversified, and I’ve observed a distinct relationship between movies that feature women in meaningful roles and a better return on investment.

But here’s the part where the analysis lost me:

It would be easier to dismiss those percentages as a fluke — three big female-oriented movies just happened to arrive in proximity — if a parade of movies aimed at young men had not bombed over the same period. Among the carnage: “Jupiter Ascending,” “Seventh Son,” “Hot Tub Time Machine 2,” “Chappie” and, over the weekend, Sean Penn’s “The Gunman.”

Not to be the bearer of bad news here, but it’s still easy to dismiss those percentages as flukes. Not because “Insurgent,” “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “Cinderella” weren’t good, but because they were going up against terrible competition; movies released in January, February and March usually suck. Here’s what I wrote after “Mortdecai” bombed back in January:

Generally speaking, during January and February, studios release films they have little confidence in. Winter-weather risks, low turnout and interference with the awards season are often cited as causes, but the bottom line: Mediocre and bad movies come out in winter because winter has a reputation for mediocre and bad movies.

Here’s the visual demonstration of what’s going on here:


This isn’t to say that there isn’t a shift happening. There seems to be a growing perception that big movies don’t all have to be aimed at teenage boys, which is great. But The Times article, headlined “At the Box Office, It’s No Longer a Man’s World,” jumped the gun on declaring victory.

Walt Hickey was FiveThirtyEight’s chief culture writer.