Thursday, November 11, 2010

It's November 10th. Do you know where your Christmas movies are?

Whenever my wife and I were batting around screenplay ideas that we thought had a decent chance of selling, we would always come back to Christmas movies. It's a specific niche, and studios always need Christmas movies, right? Plus, they usually make money.

Then we talked to someone in the know, who informed us that the studios had such a surplus of holiday-themed scripts that they probably had their next ten years' worth lined up already. That's the flip side of this niche -- only two or three get released each season, at most, from all the studios combined.

Which makes it all the more strange that it's November 10th, and we have yet to even hear about which movies are filling those slots for 2010.

Do you ever remember going this late into the fall without even seeing an advertisement for a Christmas movie? In most years, the movie has already been out for a week by this point. Maybe that's why I don't already feel like Christmas is upon us this year -- in fact, for once, I've been allowed to let Halloween settle before being inundated with Christmas-related advertising.

There is at least one new Christmas movie this season, and it's a fairly lavish-looking one -- a 3D update of The Nutcracker, scheduled for release two weeks from today, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. That's certainly an appropriate time to release a Christmas movie, if you ask me. But this one, for all its apparent trimmings, is totally under the radar. Maybe it's because I haven't been going to the movies as much this fall, but I haven't seen it advertised once in the form of a trailer or a TV commercial. Even more surprisingly, I haven't seen any outdoor advertising for it, and that's the kind of advertising you can't escape, regardless of any changes in your schedule. In fact, the only reason I even knew this movie existed was because I saw it on a schedule of upcoming releases on the "2010 in film" entry on wikipedia. But even then, when I tried to link over to read more about it, wikipedia told me that a page did not yet exist for this film, and would I like to create one?

Oh, and the distributor? Some company called Freestyle Releasing, which has been responsible for such classics as An American Haunting, Civic Duty, Dragon Wars, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell and The Collector. We'll see if it's actually 3D or more like 2 1/2 D.

Just to show you how strange the dearth of 2010 Christmas movies seems, I thought I'd go back to the exact moment when I truly recognized how early in the season Christmas movies were being released. It was 2002, and the second Santa Clause movie was upon us. (Which actually turned out to be a pretty good movie, but I digress.) Not content to go with the somewhat modest November 8th release date, Disney threw Santa Clause 2: The Escape Clause out there the day after Halloween. That's right, November 1st. And since that was a Friday, it seems possible some people were actually still having Halloween parties that night. "I can't make it to your Halloween party -- I'm going to see a Christmas movie." Maybe the person in question could have dressed up as Santa Claus for the Halloween party, then caught the midnight screening of The Santa Clause afterward.

In 2003, the first Christmas movie again arrived on the first Friday in November, but this year that Friday had the decency to land on November 7th. It was Elf, and it instantly became one of the great Christmas movies of all time.

Things got really ridiculous in 2004, and there was a price to pay. Surviving Christmas hit theaters not on the last Friday of October, but on the second-to-last Friday of October, I guess to avoid direct competition with the slate of horrors being released for Halloween. (That was the same year the original Saw came out -- seems like ancient history now.) Because this movie was absolutely terrible, and because it had been released on October 22nd, an unprecedented chain of events occurred: The film was actually released on DVD in time for the very same Christmas, just two months later. The whole thing became a mockery of the early release dates of Christmas movies.

It's probably no coincidence that there was some kind of market correction in 2005. Two movies that were not really Christmas movies ended up becoming that season's first Christmas movies -- The Ice Harvest and Just Friends, which were both released on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, November 23rd. The best and most legitimate Christmas movie of that season was The Family Stone, which was not released until the second week of December.

In 2006 and the 2007, it was either the first or second Friday of November again -- The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause (November 3rd) in 2006, Fred Claus (November 9th) in 2007. I guess there was another market correction in 2008, because Vince Vaughn's second straight Christmas movie, Four Christmases, didn't hit theaters until the day before Thanksgiving, November 26th. But last year, it was back to that first November Friday again, November 6th, with Disney's A Christmas Carol. And because of how much money went into that movie, it was already being advertised pretty heavily by late September.

So what has happened in 2010 that studios have "forgotten" about Christmas this year? Oh, there will be plenty of "Christmas movies" in the sense of movies released to capitalize on the Christmas holiday, among them, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Little Fockers and Tron: Legacy. But the theme of Christmas itself will barely be seen at the multiplexes in 2010, with the exception of that one Nutcracker, and nobody has put enough money into it for you to even know about it.

I'm not saying this is a bad thing. Christmas movies are almost always disappointing. As a genre, they tend to be naked money grabbers, seeking only to capitalize on the American national fervor for the holiday that arrives on the 25th of December.

I do think it's a strange thing, and that's what I like to point out on my blog: strange, counterintuitive trends. Like the fact that the studios probably have hundreds of ideas for original Christmas movies pitched to them each year -- and those are just the ones that get past the nutcracker soldiers guarding the gate -- yet they saw so little potential in those ideas to even release one Christmas movie from a major studio this year.

Maybe quality does actually count for something.

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