The August Movie: A Theory of Awfulness

Photo: Photo illustration: Everett Bogue and Alex Pandel

August is a barren studio dumping ground, the kind of month in which movies like The Brothers Grimm and Stardust are sent off to die. According to our scientific analysis, the studios have put out 169 lousy movies in the past fifteen Augusts, and merely 26 halfway-decent ones. That's 11.2 movies per August that make you want to claw your eyes out. We're not arguing that every other month features dozens of excellent movies, but August is unique in offering so many bad ones, and so many that are sooooo bad.

August is a barren studio dumping ground, the kind of month in which movies like The Brothers Grimm and Stardust are sent off to die. According to our scientific analysis, the studios have put out 169 lousy movies in the past fifteen Augusts, and merely 26 halfway-decent ones. That's 11.2 movies per August that make you want to claw your eyes out. We're not arguing that every other month features dozens of excellent movies, but August is unique in offering so many bad ones, and so many that are sooooo bad.

Defining the Classic August Movie™

• Some are star vehicles that just didn't work. (Examples: Denzel Washington in Virtuosity; Mel Gibson in The Man Without a Face; Al Pacino in Simone.)
• There are plenty of airheaded comedies (Airheads, say) and generically titled action movies (Hard Target).
• Unnecessary sequels abound. (The Crow: City of Angels, Universal Soldier: The Return, Jeepers Creepers 2 – sequel to August Movie Jeepers Creepers.)
• Our favorite kind of August Movie, though, is the movie that stars a person you can't believe ever got to star in a movie. It seems clear that these movies were green-lit while studio execs weren't paying attention, shot in two weeks, and released in August when, studios prayed, no one was paying attention. What other reason is there for Dana Carvey's The Master of Disguise? Or Andy Samberg's Hot Rod? Or Damon Wayans's Blankman? Or Pauly Shore's In the Army Now, which unbelievably was the only widely released movie on August 12, 1994?

Related: The August Movie: A History

The Fugitive and The Sixth Sense, popcorn movies that were also Oscar nominees, came out in August.
• Sometimes high-quality teen or children's fare can sneak in the door, like Babe, Bring It On, Freaky Friday, and The Secret Garden.
• Good indie (or indieish) movies also open in limited release in August, like this week's Sundance fave Frozen River, or previous years' The Usual Suspects or Searching for Bobby Fischer.
• Once in a while, lightning strikes: Bizarrely, August 6, 1999, saw four decent movies open: The Sixth Sense, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Iron Giant, and Dick. (It's worth noting, though, that two of those movies so baffled their studios that they were dumped in August with little promotion, and suffered as a result.)

The Untapped Potential of the August Movie™

Why do studios torture us so? The prevailing wisdom is that people don't go to the movies in August; families are on vacation, kids are at camp, blah blah blah. But starting a few years ago, studios started experimenting with releasing the occasional movie that they actually thought might do well. The results were stunning: Despite the entire population of Earth being at camp or on the beach, The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Red Eye, and Talladega Nights made money! Last year, two excellent movies, Superbad and The Bourne Ultimatum, were hugely popular — doing far better at the box office, in Superbad's case, than it would have done had it been released earlier in the summer. And this summer, Pineapple Express and especially Tropic Thunder seem poised to do plenty of good business in August.

So why don't the studios do this all the time? Why didn't Universal, for example, release The Incredible Hulk or Hellboy II in August? Those movies did pretty well, sure — but imagine how well they could've done if they weren't competing against Hancock, Indiana Jones, Iron Man, or opening weekend of The Dark Knight! And then maybe we wouldn't be faced with the option that haunts us this weekend: The Mummy or Swing Vote? Swing Vote or The Mummy? We guess we'll just go see The Dark Knight again.

Related: The August Movie: A History