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The cinematic version of the Friday Night Death Slot, the Dump Months are certain months of the year that are viewed as, effectively, cinematic landfills where little of value can be found at the box office. Disastrous productions that the studio wants to get behind them as quickly as possible with minimal fallout, low-budget genre fare that can't hang with the big boys of summer, star vehicles for fading stars, B-grade thrillers and comedies that aren't quite bad enough to be shuffled into the Direct to Video netherrealm, films that got Screwed by the Studio and are only getting released theatrically a) out of contractual obligation or b) because somebody involved with the film has dirt on a studio executive — all of this goes to the dump months to be forgotten about by the time they come out on DVD and start airing late at night on cable three months later.

In North America, at least, it is the months of January, February, August (particularly late August) and September that are most often seen as dump months.

  • August and September are obvious — it's the end of the Summer Blockbuster season and the kiddies are heading back into school, but the holiday season (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas in America and Oscars) where family films and arthouse fare thrive is still months away, while the studios are saving their biggest Horror pictures for October. Plus, many families use Labor Day in The United States weekend (the big holiday during this time) for vacations, barbecues and watching the start of the football season, keeping them away from the theaters.

    On the other hand, September is also host to several film festivals, and marks the unofficial start to the race for the big awards. The Venice, Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals, where many studios first debut their prestige pictures, are all held in September. However, most of these films don't see wide release (i.e. outside New York City and Los Angeles) until later months, meaning that, for the average, non-cinephile moviegoer living in the suburbs of Everytown, America, the only new movies worth watching in September are whatever they didn't catch from the summer, or whatever is available on demand.

    Nowadays, August is generally considered one of the "lesser" dump months, especially the first half of it. Films released at this time are usually put here not out of a lack of quality, but because the "main" blockbuster season has gotten so crowded that smaller films are pushed here out of necessity. The unofficial end of the summer season falls sometime in mid-August, give or take a week depending on the year, with one or two final big releases before the drought. However, before the Blockbuster Age of Hollywood it was considered a dump month like any other — for example, when Warner Bros felt that Bonnie and Clyde was going to bomb, they dumped it in August.
  • January and February, meanwhile, are past the cutoff date for Academy Award nominations (most organizations require a release in an LA or New York theater before midnight on December 31st) but before the actual ceremony, meaning that all the big "prestige" pictures have been released and are expanding into wider markets as part of the Oscar campaign. Studios don't want to cannibalize their own films, especially their best films (or at least, their most Oscar-oriented films), so they stock the new release schedule mostly with cheaply produced films for two months.

    On top of this, winter in the US is a time when several large cities at once, especially in the densely-populated Northeast and Midwest (not to mention the entire Canadian market outside maybe Vancouver), can easily be shut down by a large snowstorm, preventing people in those cities from getting out of their house to go to the movies. In addition, the two main holiday weekends during this time, Martin Luther King Day and Presidents' Day, are not universally celebrated as days off (the post office closes, but many school districts are still open), so a big budget release would be wasted in these months without three days of dependable box office returns.

Many of these films are often Not Screened for Critics.

Once in a while, a film released in a dump month will break out and become a hit. Defiance of the "dump month curse" is a bit more common than defiance of the Friday Night Death Slot. Movies marketed towards teens are often exceptions to the rule (hey, it's not like they have much better to do in the dead of winter), as are low-budget films. Plus, given the reputation for crappy product that the dump months hold, a merely good film that would've been outshined by great ones at any other time of year has a chance of breaking out and becoming a Sleeper Hit.

Compare Friday Night Death Slot. Contrast Oscar Bait, Summer Blockbuster.

No Real Life Examples, Please Fictional examples, discussions of, and references to the trope in other media are okay, but a list of films cited as examples of what gets released during "dump months" will just turn into Complaining About Movies You Don't Like.


Fictional examples and discussions:

  • This article by The Atlantic explains the logic of why January and February are like this.
  • As does this Metacritic article.
  • Parodied by College Humor in this video, which argues that March is an extension of the "winter dump season".
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