Happy Easter, everybody — or, given the likelihood that many of you are viewing this post after the day in question (seriously, go spend time with your families), I hope you had a happy Easter. Those of you who don’t celebrate, well, I hope it’s a good day anyway.
Easter is kind of a strange holiday when it comes to Hollywood movies. It’s a major holiday in the U.S. — though not an official “U.S. holiday”, it’s celebrated by a large portion of the population. But unlike other major holidays, Hollywood tends to ignore it. It’s a trait that it shares with Thanksgiving, but not with Christmas, Independence Day, or Valentine’s Day. Consider this year’s Good Friday releases: G.I. Joe: Retaliation, The Host and Tyler Perry’s Temptation of a Marriage Counselor. Do any of those sound like “Easter films” to you?
It may sound strange to think it’s strange for Hollywood to overlook a holiday, but Hollywood has a history of piggybacking on holidays to give their movies a boost.
Sometimes it’s obvious when Hollywood is doing this; every year, there are two or three family-friendly Christmas movies released in late November and early December. And usually at least one non-family Christmas comedy. But it’s not always quite as obvious as that. Fantasy films have a tendency to be released late in the year, even if there’s no explicit holiday connection. The “magic” of the Christmas season puts western audiences in the frame of mind to have a greater appreciation for the magic of a fantasy film. The Middle Earth films aren’t all December releases simply for the sake of making it easy to remember when they’ll be out; it’s because Hollywood knows that they can make more money off of the The Lord of the Rings at that time than, say, September.
Hollywood defines adulthood as the time when people stop believing in Santa and start believing in Gandalf.
Thanksgiving is a major holiday in the U.S., but not abroad, which is why it probably doesn’t get much in the way of films focusing on it. The main example I can think of is Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. The thing is, all the emotions and themes that go along with Thanksgiving — home and family and thankfulness for what you have — are themes that can just as easily go with Christmas. So Hollywood tends to divert films with those themes to the bigger, more international holiday. I’ve even heard that in some countries, “PTA”‘s date is moved to Christmas to make it more relatable to the local audience.
Halloween’s a big one as well. Why are so many horror movies released in October? Because people already associate that time of year with the spooky, the scary, and the supernatural. The film might have an explicit connection to Halloween, or it might not, but if it’s at all spooky, you can bet that it’ll be released in time to get that boost from people wanting a seasonal fright. Unless, of course, the studio has no faith in it; then they’ll just dump it in January. And of course there are often a few kid-friendly monster movies thrown in as well; last year, both Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania were released close to the start of October. ParaNorman bucked the trend slightly by having a mid-August release, but it would be hard to picture any of them being put out in May.
Would ParaNorman have been helped by the Halloween boost or hurt by the direct competition?
And then of course there’s Valentine’s Day. Like Christmas, it sometimes attracts the errant horror movie, from studios hoping to grab a share of the market through counter-programming. But by and large, if you’re going to the movies around February 14, what you’re going to see filling up the marquee are romantic comedies. No matter how cynical you are about the manufactured nature of Valentine’s Day, the fact is that it has a very strong association with romance. There’s an expectation that a movie night will be a movie date, and that a movie date will be to a romantic movie. Dozens of movies that wouldn’t crack the top ten at the box office in April are released in early February with the hopes that the holiday will provide a big boost.
Not that romantic comedies are limited to just Valentine’s Day. Far from it. Rom-coms will tie into any holiday imaginable (except apparently Easter). Christmas? That same old magic comes into play, only now it’s romantic magic. New Year’s Eve? Big transformative date combined with a tradition of a midnight kiss, come on, Hollywood loves that one. They’ll even go for ridiculously minor holidays. Just three years ago, there was a romantic comedy built around Leap Year — even though 2010 was not, in fact, a leap year. You name a holiday, no matter how minor, and chances are there’s some Hollywood hack out there trying to tie a mediocre romantic comedy script to it; especially if there’s even the slightest romantic spin on the holiday to begin with.
Mr. Marshall: Don’t.
Now, you might be saying “What about Independence Day? That’s a major U.S. holiday that doesn’t get too many films.” But while there aren’t that many direct tie-ins, the fourth of July acts a lot like Halloween in that attracts a certain type of movie release. The week of the fourth, you’re going to see a lot of big blockbuster action films — generally higher profile ones than even the rest of summer. Something about setting off fireworks and reveling in patriotism puts Americans in the mood for watching heroes blow stuff up. You can bet on an action film coming out either that weekend or the Wednesday or weekend before — and it’ll usually be one that the studio has been pushing heavily.
That leaves only Easter as a major holiday. And somehow it just isn’t catered to strongly by Hollywood. Perhaps it’s because of the dual nature of the holiday. Easter is religious holiday, like Christmas, but a bit more sombre in its theme (well, sort of; the day itself is pretty joyous, but the lead-in is fairly dark). And like Christmas, there’s a strong secular tradition of fun children’s activities. But Hollywood doesn’t go big for religious movies as a rule — major ones are perhaps one to a decade, and it must be noted they seldom have Easter releases. Not a lot of redemption and resurrection stories going on either — the only example I could think of was one scene in Excalibur which is explicitly tied to Easter. And I could only think of that because I just watched it. Meanwhile, in terms of making movies for children, the magic of Easter just doesn’t seem to capture as much appeal as the magic of Christmas.
The only Easter kid’s movie I could find.
Why is the Easter holiday comparatively neglected by Hollywood? Perhaps it’s the wayward schedule of the holiday, making it that much more difficult to plan around. Or perhaps it’s because — wayward schedule notwithstanding — it’s always in early spring, a sort of themeless period for the Hollywood year. Maybe its themes don’t speak strongly to Hollywood. Or perhaps Hollywood just realizes that people who celebrate Easter just want to spend it with their families. If that’s the case, I can’t fault them in the slightest — though it would show a surprising degree of tact on their part.