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OPINION | NEW MOVIES: ‘Dump month’ brings a bunch of unknowns

by Philip Martin | August 26, 2022 at 1:31 a.m.
Artists profiled in “Delta Voices”: (from left) Vaughn Davis Jr., Renata Cassiano Alvarez and John Isiah Walton.

The last big movie of the summer, George Miller's "Three Thousand Years of Longing," opens this week. As I write this, I haven't seen the film, so I don't know what to think of it. If Miller can pull off "Mad Max" and "Babe, Pig in the City," I like his odds with this genie in a bottle story, based on a A.S. Byatt short story, particularly given that he's directing Tilda Swinton and Idris Elba, actors who are fascinating even in dubious films.

Still, the timing of the release gives me pause, as we are in the throes of February Jr., that late summer stretch when the studios -- having fired off their best chances for tentpole glory in May, June and July -- release movies with lowered commercial and critical expectations.

August is a "dump month," in part because domestic audiences are smaller (thanks in part to the resumption of school and the considerable effect of the start of college football season). There's also a sense that audiences are financially exhausted, having spent their popcorn and Jujubes budget on "Top Gun: Maverick" and "Nope."

There is certainly an economic component; some seasonal jobs end at the end of summer. And people under the age of 24 -- who make up 41% of the overall movie market and even more of the summer movie market -- are disproportionately affected. Returning to school requires tuition payments, supplies and activity fees.

From 2007 to 2019, Ohio-based Huntington Bank offered an annual "Backpack Index" that tracked school expenses beyond assessed taxes. Its final (pre-covid) figures showed that the cost of sending elementary school students back to class was around $1,000 a kid. It was nearly $1,700 per high school student.

So, maybe you can see why certain types of movies don't do very well after school starts.

It's a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy; if the studios released better movies during dump months more people would go to see them. But that doesn't mean people don't go to the movies in August. And it's a fact that August releases don't have the time to build through word-of-mouth like early summer releases; lots of films come into the pipeline after the Toronto International Film Festival closes in mid-September. They simply don't have as long a runway.

Still, since the decline of the studio system, a few movies released in August (or January or February) haven't made much of an impact. There are exceptions -- Jordan Peele's "Get Out" was released in August 2017. "Guardians of the Galaxy" was released that same month. "The Sixth Sense," "The Fugitive," "Crazy Rich Asians" and "Dirty Dancing" were all released in August. All of those films overachieved. They exceeded expectations.

Miller's "Three Thousand Years of Longing" might do that -- he has proved he knows how to make a movie. But, were I a betting man, I'd look at what the sharps in Las Vegas are saying. And the Hollywood equivalent of the sharps are the studios that scheduled the genie movie for Aug. 26.


Speaking of Toronto, if nothing blows up in the next week or so, I'll be going to the film festival there for the first time since 2008. (Y'all remember what was happening in 2008, right? We were all losing our jobs and our houses -- it seemed like a much more innocent time.)

Since then, we've covered Toronto with Piers Marchant, who's based in Philadelphia. This year, I'll see what I can in the couple of days I'm there, and maybe I'll have a chance to have lunch or dinner with Piers. Maybe I'll shoot some video. I'm excited, but also a little nervous about returning -- all the venues have changed since I've last been there, and I'm not sure our subway tokens will still work.


Next week, the Arkansas Cinema Society and the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts (which I still think of as the Arkansas Arts Center) are collaborating to present three video segments of a project called "Delta Voices: Artists of the Mid-South." These videos will highlight the work of Renata Cassiano Alvarez, Vaughn Davis Jr., and John Isiah Walton, and will go online at the AMFA's Youtube channel -- -- on the same day. Subsequent episodes will premiere Wednesday and Sept. 7, and all of them will remain online indefinitely.

These videos represent the 2022 edition of the "Delta Exhibition," which the AMFA has curated since 1958. Apparently the Delta is evolving from an annual juried exhibition into this collaborative virtual series the AMFA is doing in partnership with the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans. It will become a triennial exhibition once the museum reopens, scheduled to happen in spring 2023.

I'll find out more next week when the ACS hosts a screening of the films and panel discussion with the artists on Wednesday at Ron Robinson Theater, 100 River Market Ave., Little Rock. Doors open at 6 p.m. for a pre-screening reception. Admission is free; reservations are encouraged.

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