Written by Sarah

January and February are traditionally where movies are sent to die. Reading the studios’ slates for January and February is like reading the obit section.

“Atlas Entertainment is sad to announce that ‘Season of the Witch’ has died. A memorial will be held among the remains of Nicolas Cage’s career with burial to follow in January.”

The exceptions to the “mercy-kill rule” are 1) December limited releases—award bait—that expand through January and 2) February when you get a non-romantic horror movie as counter-programming for Valentine’s Day (this year’s obligatory horror flick is The Roommate). The February horror movie is usually crap, too, but it’s crap that’s specifically made for February, not just dumped there to die.

Some of January/February 2011’s mercy-kills include The Green Hornet (though I think box office will be better than Sony expected), The Eagle, and the aforementioned Season of the Witch. The rest of the January/February slate is typically made up of “soft” properties—the esoteric, hard-to-market or just plain weird—that stand a better chance in the traditionally less competitive box office of winter; features like the Farrelly Brothers’ comeback attempt Hall Pass, which despite starring Owen Wilson is considered soft because the Farrellies have been a box office risk for the last several years, or Gnomeo and Juliet, an animated tale about star-crossed garden gnome lovers. Can you imagine marketing that?

The last couple of years however have seen an effort on the studios’ part to provide stronger content in the typically DOA months of January and February. The surprise success of Paul Blart: Mall Cop in 2009 led to more (arguably crap) comedies in the winter months. This January includes Natalie Portman’s foray into romantic comedies with No Strings Attached and Vince Vaughn’s Ron Howard-directed The Dilemma, while February has Adam Sandler’s Just Go With It.

Thrillers are also making headway, too. Liam Neeson made a huge splash in January 2009 with Taken, raking in over $145 million, and he returns this winter with Unknown. My theory is that it’s cold and miserable outside and people just want a warm, dry place in which to be entertained during the bitterest of the winter months. Once studios stopped treating January and February like a mass grave, audiences started coming out to support their efforts at actually entertaining us.

Still, distributors are always going to need a place to bury their bodies so we will always have cinema’s graveyard shift. And Cage and Season of the Witch are the first official body-dump of winter 2011. Remember when Nicolas Cage was a good actor? And people admired his work? Now he’s left for dead in January. He’s wrecked his career by agreeing to be in any stupid sh*t you hand him, then he buys too much high-end real estate he can’t unload and indulges in one too many expensive hobbies. Bad taste + brokeassness = Nicolas Cage’s career choices. If January and February are cinema’s graveyard, Cage is its crypt keeper.