August the Worst Movie Month? Not Anymore!

Joal Ryan
Movie Talk

"The Bourne Ultimatum." "Inglourious Basterds." "District 9." Besides their respective ability to generate box-office millions and Oscar statuettes, these three films have nothing in common except this: Each was released in the "crummiest," most "awful," "worst" month of the year, which, oh, by the way, will deliver Oprah Winfrey and "The Butler" to the awards-season race this weekend.

August: It's not just for "The Ooogieloves" anymore, and it hasn't been for quite a while.

True, for years, the month was the leading cause of the phrase "dumping ground." No discussion of the movie calendar was complete without it. Even August releases judged positively were seen as exceptions to the late-summer you-know-what.

There was good reason for the bad reputation: Bad movies. And not just any bad movies, but would-be crowd-pleasers that pleased few. Like "The Avengers." And, no, not the crackerjack Robert Downey Jr. superhero adventure. That "Avengers" was released at the start of May, when the movie summer was fresh and young and everybody was paying attention. We refer instead to the Ralph Feinnes-Uma Thurman "Avengers," which was released in mid-August when the summer was old and hot and nobody was paying attention. (Bad news for the 1998 "Avengers": Critical bodies were paying attention; the spy-comedy-something-or-other routinely turns up on worst-of lists.)

"Superbabies: Baby Geniuses 2," Eddie Murphy's "The Adventures of Pluto Nash," Tom Arnold's "The Stupids," Jake Gyllenhaal's "Bubble Boy," a Brooke Shields-less sequel to "The Blue Lagoon" ("Return to the Blue Lagoon"), and, of course, "The Oogieloves"--if you didn't know they were released in August, you could guess they were released in August (and you'd be right).

But a turning point for the much-maligned month occurred at the outset of the aughts: A year after "The Sixth Sense" made the late-summer safe for blockbusters, Kevin Bacon's "The Hallow Man" surprised at the box office, while Jerry Bruckheimer did anything but dump "Coyote Ugly," the producer's attempt to do for bars and songwriting what "Flashdance" did for welding and ballet. Critics hated it, but it made money. 2001 brought even more hits (all of them generally more liked than not): "Rush Hour 2," "American Pie 2," "The Princess Diaries" and "The Others."

Flash-forward a decade, and January, not August, is the caboose on the box-office train (and September and October are most directly linked to that last car).

Quality-wise, August is as good (or as bad) as April and December, and not responsible for as many all-time stinkers as January and September, both of which placed nine films (compared to August's seven) among Metacritic's 80 lowest-rated films. And while the month last produced a Best Picture winner in 1992 (Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven"), it's recently produced a good number of Best Picture nominees, including "The Help," "Inglorious Basterds" and "District 9," plus some that generated buzz, including "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."

So, remember: If Ashton Kutcher's Steve Jobs biopic, "Jobs," which opened Friday, does as poorly at the weekend box office as it's doing with critics, "The Butler" did it-- not August.