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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Say it ain't so: Why is Ron Howard's new film coming out in ... January?

October 6, 2010 | 11:33 am

Ron_howard When a young film producer pal of mine went to "The Social Network" the other night, he was surprised to see a trailer for Ron Howard's upcoming film, "The Dilemma," a relationship comedy that stars Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly and Queen Latifah. But for my friend, who knows his way around the business, the real surprise was the news that the film is being released Jan. 14th. "Ron Howard is a star filmmaker," he said. "He makes movies that are big summer tentpoles and December Oscar movies. So why is his new picture coming out in January? Isn't that dump month? I mean, has a Ron Howard movie ever come out in January?"

The answer, at least when it comes to Ron Howard movies, is no. Howard has directed more than 20 films in his long and illustrious career and not one of them has ever opened in January. As for January, it's true that the month does have a long, not entirely illustrious reputation of being a dumping ground for a host of forgettable films by little-known filmmakers that weren't classy enough to cut it during Oscar season or commercial enough to deserve a summer release. Last year, for example, January brought us such losers as "The Spy Next Door," "Leap Year" and "Extraordinary Measures," which all took a drubbing from critics and at the box office as well, none of them making more than $25 million in their theatrical runs.

So why would Universal Pictures, Howard's longtime home studio, be releasing "The Dilemma" in January? According to Michael Moses, Universal's co-president of marketing, the times are changing. "We really believe that there are 52 good opportunities a year for the right movie," he told me. "It's gotten to the point where you can have success in virtually any month of the year, if you position the film correctly."

He points to the release in 2009 of "Fast & Furious," which the studio opened in early April, where it performed like a big summer film. The studio also did well with 2009's "Couple's Retreat," which, as Moses puts it, "looked like a conventional summer-style comedy but even though we put it on an unconventional date in October, it turned out great."

Even January isn't the kind of movie morgue it used to be. Warners released "The Book of Eli" on Jan. 15, reaping huge benefits as the movie ended up making $94.8 million in the U.S. In 2009, Sony had an even bigger success with "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," a Kevin James comedy that made $146.3 million. In 2008, "Cloverfield," which also had a mid-January release, was a box-office hit, making $80 million. 

"I think it's an outdated perception to look at January as a box-office wasteland," Moses said. "The release schedule is so crowded that you have to look beyond the typical dates to find the right opportunity for a lot of films. 'The Dilemma' is a big, mainstream comedy, and we think it will really benefit from being in January, especially since there's a lot of evidence that January is a great time to release a good movie."

I guess this means that another cherished Hollywood myth--January as dump month--might be biting the dust. But it does raise a new question: If January is the new July, then what are the studios going to do with the rest of their duds and clunkers? They can't release them all the weekend after Labor Day, which traditionally has been the other box-office low point of the year. So what will become the new dump month? With the Oscars moving up, could it be February? With global warming increasing each year, could it be August? If anyone wants to nominate a deserving new month, I'm all ears. 

Photo: Ron Howard at the Oscars at the Kodak Theatre in 2009. Credit: Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times

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