Saturday, February 14, 2009
Gimmicky release dates
If you're a fan of schlock cinema -- or at least maintain an awareness of it -- you probably know that the Friday the 13th reboot coming out today is actually the 11th movie to use the Friday the 13th brand, or perhaps the 12th, if you count 2003's Freddy vs. Jason. Which I guess you probably should. So when they release the inevitable sequel to this reboot -- and I say it's "inevitable" with confidence, because they've already started working on it -- it'll be number 13 in the series. Whoa, watch out then.
But it may surprise you to know this: Only four of the previous 11 movies were actually released on a Friday the 13th. And since Friday is the day 95% of movies get released, you'd think there would have been a lot more.
I used the adjectival form of the word "gimmick" in my post title, so you may think I'm against this kind of thing. But really, I'm for it. Call me simple, but I think if you are going to make a Friday the 13th movie, it's incumbent upon you to release it on a Friday the 13th. You usually get about two of these a year. Can't you pick one of them and go with that?
Yet those who have shepherded this franchise through 12 release dates have chosen a Friday the 13th for only five of them, including today. (And since this 13th falls during a non-leap year February, whose length of exactly four weeks means the dates fall on the same days next month, they had the option to release it March 13th of this year as well).
Let's take a look back. And forgive me if the following paragraph reminds you of a scene from Noah Baumbach's Kicking and Screaming, where the characters quiz each other on the titles of all nine movies that existed to that point. (And by the way, if you thought Saw movies came out with impossible regularity, just look at the first eight movies in this series, released within the space of just over nine years).
Okay, deep breath ...
Friday the 13th was released on May 9, 1980. Probably expecting it to be just some one-off horror movie, the studio didn't think too much about the release strategy. They hadn't yet gotten their act together for Friday the 13th Part 2, which came out less than a year later on April 30, 1981. But the ducks were finally in a row for Friday the 13th Part III (and forgive the inconsistency -- the source I'm looking at has regular numbers for Part 2, and roman numerals for Part III), using the opportunity of the series' first 3D movie to also get the first Friday the 13th release date: August 13, 1982. They kept that going for the next film in the series, which they foolishly titled as though it would be the last: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, which came out on April 13, 1984. But then they inexplicably abandoned the strategy again for Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, which hit theaters March 22, 1985 -- perhaps because they would have had to wait six more months to get a Friday the 13th. (And in case you're scoring at home, it took them less than a year to both reverse themselves on the decision to wrap up the series with that fourth installment, and to actually release the movie that "revived" the series.) Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives hit theaters on August 1, 1986. Granted, they were dealing with a pretty manic production schedule to churn these out so regularly, but if they'd been six weeks faster, they could have gotten a Friday the 13th that June. The planets aligned again for the release of Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, though granted, they allowed themselves almost two years this time: May 13, 1988. They couldn't work it out for the following year, releasing the movie that acknowledged the series had totally devolved into self-parody, Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, on July 28, 1989. The workaholic series finally took a hiatus of sorts before Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, again failing to accurately project the longevity of the series, but getting a Friday the 13th release date by benefit of waiting more than four years: August 13, 1993. That logic didn't hold when it took another nine years for the next movie, Jason X, to be released on April 26, 2002. It being the first Friday the 13th without the word "Friday" in the title might have had something to do with it. By the 11th movie, Freddie Krueger had hijacked part of the spotlight from Jason, and Freddy vs. Jason was released on August 15, 2003 -- though again there was an available Friday the 13th two months earlier.
Whew! Can you imagine how much trouble this kind of research would have been before the internet?
So I've got my Friday the 13ths down cold. What disappointed me as I prepared to write this was how few of the other prominent gimmicky release dates I could remember. Probably almost every Friday the 13th has seen the release of one horror movie -- sometimes more than one, though it would seem like box office suicide for two horrors to take each other on in the same weekend. (Last year's Friday the 13th, which hit in June, saw the release of M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, which features a monster far more ferocious than Jason: a light breeze.)
But Friday the 13th isn't the only gimmicky release date you can have. Over the years, various movies have prominently featured either dates or numbers in their titles or themes, and been released accordingly with a calendar date. I just seem to be drawing a blank on them here. (If you would be so kind, you can help me out in my comments section.) I thought of Independence Day, but that was released a day early to better capitalize on the holiday box office. Here's a good one: The post-apocalyptic animated film from Shane Acker and Timur Bekmambetov, 9, whose trailers look pretty awesome, will be released on 09-09-09. Fortunately for them, that date happened to land on a Wednesday, the next most popular release day after Friday. If it had been a Sunday, they would have been shit out of luck.
I can think of one good missed opportunity that came just last year. Columbia Pictures had it lined up perfectly to release the blackjack movie 21 on Friday, March 21st. Except they inexplicably waited a week and released it on March 28th instead.
They must have really feared the stiff competition from Drillbit Taylor and Meet the Browns on March 21st.