The Nightmare After Christmas: Are January Movies Really That Bad?

  • Comments: ↓ 5 user comments
  • Publish Date: January 5, 2010

The best of the season

Which winter movies have scored with critics and audiences? Here are the best early-year wide release films of the past ten years, as well as two additional films that were successful for different reasons.

Best-Reviewed Major January Releases, 2000-09
    Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
1 Teacher's Pet 2004 73 8.0
Disney's hand-drawn animated musical about a talking dog, based on Gary Baseman's Emmy-winning cartoon series, features the vocal talents of Nathan Lane.
2 The Pledge 2001 71 5.7
A drama about an aging detective directed by Sean Penn and featuring an all-star cast led by Jack Nicholson? That sounds like the recipe for a December release, not a January movie, but audiences stayed away, and the movie was a commercial flop.
3 Cloverfield 2008 64 5.8
This JJ Abrams-produced monster movie had the benefit of positive advance buzz, generated by one of the more memorable -- and cryptic -- trailers in years. Despite a no-name cast, it was a box office hit, posting the best opening weekend ever for a January release on its way to an eventual $80 million domestic gross.
4 Freedom Writers 2007 64 8.3
Hilary Swank as an inspirational schoolteacher? It worked for many critics, despite its formulaic nature. While not a hit, the drama brought in a modestly successful $43 million worldwide.
5 How She Move 2008 63 4.1
It's another January movie centering on education, but How She Move provides an extra jolt of energy with its numerous dance sequences. Still, a less-than-stellar script means that when she's not moving, neither is the film.
Other Key January Releases, 2000-09
  Title Netflix Year Metascore Users
Taken 2009 50 7.8
As the score indicates, critics were all over the map about last year's surprise January hit, a revenge thriller starring Liam Neeson. Audiences, however, were quite taken with Taken, propelling it to $145 million in the U.S. alone, making it one of the most successful January films of all time. However, it was surpassed by ...
Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2009 39 5.0
A family-friendly comedy starring The King of Queens' Kevin James, Blart was painfully unfunny for many critics, but left studio Sony laughing all the way to the bank. It grossed over $146 million domestically, making it the highest-grossing January opener ever.

Coming soon to a theater near you

Thanks to the two hits listed above, plus the holdover December drama Gran Torino, 2009 saw the most successful January in Hollywood history, with combined total revenues for the month exceeding $1 billion for the first time. And the studios, never shy about repeating themselves, are aiming to duplicate that feat in 2010, with a January schedule that is atypically loaded with big-name talent.

The January release calendar includes:

The Book of Eli (Jan. 15th), a post-apocalyptic thriller starring Denzel Washington that marks the first film for the Hughes Brothers (Menace II Society) in nine years.

Edge of Darkness (Jan. 29th), perhaps this year's Taken, starring Mel Gibson as a cop whose search for answers about his daughter's murder draws him into a government conspiracy.

Extraordinary Measures (Jan. 22nd), a biopic starring Harrison Ford as a man determined to find a cure for the rare disease that threatens the lives of his two children.

Legion (Jan. 22nd), a horror-thriller in which a group of humans must defend the world against angry angels at an out-of-the-way diner.

The Spy Next Door (Jan. 15th), perhaps this year's Paul Blart, a gentle action-comedy starring Jackie Chan as a superspy who must babysit three young kids while fending off a Russian terrorist.

Youth in Revolt (Jan. 8th), an R-rated teen comedy starring (who else) Michael Cera as a sex-obsessed 16-year-old with a wild alter-ego. Read the mixed early reviews.

OK, so some of the month's biggest films (we're looking at you, The Spy Next Door) may prove to be just as terrible as their predecessors. But the rest of the winter schedule also shows some promise, at least on paper. February will see the release of two highly-touted films: werewolf drama The Wolfman (Feb. 12th) starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, and the delayed Martin Scorsese thriller Shutter Island (Feb. 19th), with Leonardo DiCaprio. And March will see the arrival of Tim Burton's promising 3D live-action adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (Mar. 5th), starring Johnny Depp. Of course, for every potential hit like fantasy remake Clash of the Titans (March 26th), there's a potential critical and commercial disaster like ... fantasy remake Clash of the Titans.

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Comments (5)

  • Man About It  

    I can understand the slow winter numbers due to the through the week crowd being busy at work & school + staying home for good TV, but Friday night will always be date night, and with movies basically being the no-brainer thing to do even above restaurants, you'd think the studios would schedule decent fare to lead the pack every month

  • Kefka  

    That's funny, I almost never go to the movies in late November-December. As a former HS student and current college student, that's exam season. I normally go in January-February, since classes have just started up, then again in May-June.

  • aaa  

    why would January movies be any good? Any good movie would squeeze itself in 1 month earlier and open during the holidays, during which there are far more people going to theatres. The terrible movies that would only sell tickets when there's nothing better on, get released after the holidays.

  • Marc Doyle  

    Whenever a high profile movie gets pushed out of Nov/Dec into Jan/Feb, I get worried. One recent film I had high hopes for was Shelter Island, but as a Feb 19 release? It tempered my enthusiasm.

  • Marko  

    I'm kind of curious as to how these winter ratings compare witht he average scores for major releases in August/September, which I've often found can also be dumping ground for releases of lesser quality.

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