14 May 2011

War of the Months: May

Well amigos, it's the Second Saturday in May, which means another installment of the War of the Months, our Year-Long look at the critical and commercial trends of films released each month of the year. While we've gone through a lot of shit the first third of the year with May we begin the Summer Blockbuster Season, which highly jacks up the Box Office Returns while also typically increasing the quality of films as well. That is to say even the most mindless Summer Flicks tend to outrank the torrid January and February Films. When the stakes increase the quality tends to as well (you'll of course find some Summers like 2010 that just couldn't get anything right). It's not like May is turning out a lot of Oscar winners but usually it involves some of the most entertaining movies of the year.

May: Epic Month

Another classic Wolverine vs. Hulk match
For many years now May has been the Franchise Month. Every Star Wars film has been released in May (There might be some fuzziness with Star Wars (1977) and The Empire Strikes Back (1980) which both had only limited releases in May, however both were #1 at the Box Office that weekend, including Star Wars which opened in 43 theaters). It also will feature the classic Kick-Off movie to get summer jump-started. Lately this has all been franchises, almost always Comic Franchises. This year's THOR (2011) is a great example and I already talked a bit about this phenomenon here. Flicks like Iron Man (2008), Spider-Man 3 (2007) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) have followed this pattern.

So, why May anyway? What makes May so special, special enough to be the Franchise Anchor for the entire Summer Season? Generally it's about extending Summer as far as it can go. College kids are out and for those with jobs, they don't get a break anyway, so at the first crack of warm weather, it's go time. It's also a period when TV is ending, leaving an entertainment gap that movies need to jump on. June tends to be a very busy month with graduations and weddings and crap, so it's not really suited for the biggest, loudest movie openings. Whereas July still reigns as the most ridiculous Box Office Month ever, August tends to be a sliding hangover. That leaves May as the final depository for Huge Movies. May is an exciting month - school is almost out, the flowers are in bloom again, everyone is taking trips and blowing off their winter savings, it's perfect for the Franchises. Then there's Memorial Day, a quirky little government holiday without much more tradition other than getting drunk at a picnic and...going to the movies.* Yeah, it's a Memorial Day tradition to see a big dumb American Movie. May is awesome.


Dolla Dolla Bill ya'll - May is where it's at. Some of the biggest movies of all time have been May openings, including the ridiculous $151,116,516 take of Spider-Man 3. Check the rest out here. It's not unusual for a May Opening to grab over $100 million, tho you'll actually notice no one's cracked the mark since Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Rape (2008) did it barely in 2008. Despite this, 2009 was the hugest May ever and the only May to bust over a Billion Clams at the Box Office. Yet no May 2009 Opening was that stunning.

Ah, shit.
Basically that month was significantly aided by five weekends, not four and releases that were big but didn't break records such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine at $85,058,003, Star Trek (2009) at $79,204,289, Angels & Demons (2009) at $46,204,168 (barely beating Star Trek that weekend by a few million, they combined for $89 million), and the one-two punch of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009) at $54,173,286 and Terminator: Salvation (2009) at $42,558,390 (combining for $96 million). We conclude with Up (2009)'s $68,108,790. It's still incredible to me that this May beat 2007 which featured Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third (2007) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007). This holy trilogy comprise three of the Top Five May Weekends ever, but there wasn't a whole lot else around them. May 2009 had a ton of high-profile releases, multiples each weekend for five weekends. That's unstoppable.

Of the Crop:

Now, let's talk quality. Finding a quality May movie out of this lot is a bit rough. Out of all the films I mentioned in the previous section I'd give Star Trek and Up a boost but nothing else. Still, a month with every Star Wars release is no slouch. Alright, just for the first two. Anyway, here are the Greatest May Films Ever:

#10: Braveheart - 05/24/1995
#9: Star Trek - 05/08/2009
#8: Up - 05/29/2009
#7: Gladiator - 05/01/2000
#6: Back to the Future Part III - 05/25/1990
#5: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - 05/22/1998, I'm not sure how this one snuck in here.
#4: Star Wars - 05/25/1977
#3: The Shining - 05/23/1980
#2: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - 05/24/1989, or this one.
#1: The Empire Strikes Back - 05/21/1980

You know who'd be a great replacement? That kid from Even Stevens.

You can see how most of the best May films are the rare better sequel (including X2: X-Men United [2003] and The Road Warrior [1982]), or the ever rarer better Threequel (Last Crusade and BttF Part III). There are also the Best Picture Winning Historical Epics (Braveheart and Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven [2005] also was a May release but did not far as well) and in terms of quality you can see that outside of Pixar and J.J. Abrams we haven't seen much of any in decades.

The Honourable Mentions are tough but I might give points to An Inconvenient Truth (2006), Kicking and Screaming (2005), The Fifth Element (1995), Top Gun (1986) and Spider-Man (2002). Jeez those are all over the place.

Well that about does it for this Month's installment - as you can see, May is nothing to shake a stick at. Only July can really kick its ass at the bank, but I actually think it's fun to recount a time when sequels were actually decent films and May was a time to showcase them. Let the Summer Begin!

*Also ahem, honouring our deceased combatants in war. It's true, we lost over 300 Americans in battle in the Spanish-American War alone.

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