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April 7th, 2011

2011 has been a slow year at the box office so far, with revenue down around 20% from last year. While quite a few films have performed OK, what the year has lacked is an out-and-out hit. In fact, only two movies have topped $100 million so far this year, Rango and Just Go With It. While that seems like a low number, we thought it would be interesting to look back and see how the first few months of 2011 compare to performances from recent years.

Our first chart looks at movies released since the beginning of 2005 that have made over $100 million at the box office. Specifically, we've charted the month that each movie was released.

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Notice how the big earners are clumped in the Summer months (May to August) and around the Winter Holidays (November and December). Interestingly, March is the only month outside of those time periods that consistently produces hit movies while April is the worst month of all to launch a movie if you want it to hit $100 million.

Looking specifically at movies released from January to April gives some clues to where the hits come from...

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What's notable about this chart is how much the hits clump together. Notice how there were five $100 million in 2005, four in 2007, six in 2009 and five in 2010. In 2006 and 2008, though, only a single movie released from January to April managed to break the $100 million barrier. This suggests that some years we might get into a virtuous circle, where a hit in January encourages people to go see films in February, which increases that chances that they will go see films in March and April. But if the cycle is broken, it's hard to get started again. The fact that the $200 million hits all came in years with four or more movies crossing the $100 million backs up this theory.

In the movie industry, success really does breed success. Which means the industry really needs to see a blockbuster opening from Rio next weekend to set us up for the Summer to come.

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