Remember Memorial Day? That’s right, the holiday that marks the unofficial beginning of summer. It also used to mark the unofficial beginning of summer at the movies. Not anymore. Now summer begins . . . this Friday.
Or, actually, Thursday: That’s when “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” has late-night screenings, getting a head start on its official opening. A big-budget movie featuring a Marvel Comics superhero with tons of special effects is a pretty good working definition of “summer blockbuster.” Yet this one’s opening just two weeks after the first day of spring. What gives?
Welcome to summer-blockbuster creep.
Hollywood first recognized the intersection of youth, summer, and box office in 1975, with “Jaws.” Talk about a summer movie! Within weeks it became the highest-grossing film of all time. Yet even “Jaws” didn’t open until nearly the end of June. Two years later, the summer movie season moved to Memorial Day weekend. That’s when “Star Wars” opened. “Star Wars” overtook “Jaws” as all-time top grosser, and there’s been no turning back since.
Turning back, no — but creeping back, yes. Although the number of aspiring summer blockbusters kept growing, the number of weeks in late spring did not. Rather than turn Memorial Day weekend into a box-office bottleneck, studios started releasing summer blockbusters earlier and earlier. So Captain America is throwing his mighty shield two weeks before Easter.
There’s a price to be paid, though. Summer blockbusters are summer blockbusters for a reason. College students are out of school. High school students are about to be. Audiences have come to associate certain types of movies with certain times of year. Last year “Oblivion” opened on April 19. It nicely fit the summer-blockbuster profile: Tom Cruise! sci-fi! boom, boom, boom! So? So it was the 41st-highest-grossing film of 2013. Financially, that definitely does not fit the summer-blockbuster profile.
So summer-blockbuster creep would appear to have a limit. Or does it? Captain America will either come back with his shield — or on it.
“Jaws,” June 20, 1975
“Star Wars,” May 25, 1977
“Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” May 19, 1999
“Star Trek,” May 8, 2009
“Fast Five,” April 29, 2011
“Oblivion,” April 19, 2013
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” April 4, 2014