How Are Movie Release Dates Chosen?

Timing and Ticket Sales

People in line for movie tickets
About 60 percent of all tickets sold during the year are sold in the summertime. No wonder studios fight for those special time slots.
Tim Boyle/Getty Images

For many years, studios primarily set release dates based on when the audience for a given film was most likely to attend a movie. Want to sell tickets for a romantic comedy? Schedule it for Valentine's Day weekend, when couples gunning for date night ideas are likely to head to the theater to see a love story play out on screen. Trying to maximize ticket sales on a family film? Pick a release date in the summer or around the holidays, when the kids are out of school.

Some weekends are simply good for movie releases regardless of genre. Roughly 60 percent of all movie tickets sold throughout the year are sold during the summer, when people have plenty of free time and are looking for a place to escape the summer heat [source: PBS Frontline]. Of course, not every summer weekend is a sure thing for theaters. The Fourth of July is traditionally a busy time for movies, but if the holiday itself falls on a Friday, potential ticket buyers may be too busy watching fireworks to fill theaters. While May, June and July are ideal for big blockbusters because they tend to bring box office records, August is slower, as kids and parents sneak in a last-minute vacation or prepare to head back to school [source: Hicks].

Holiday weekends are also the perfect time to release a film. People are off of work and school and looking for ways to entertain kids or out-of-town guests. After the presents have been unwrapped or the last bit of turkey is gone, a trip to the movies is the perfect way to wind down.

While studios have always angled for release on a dozen or so key weekends throughout the year, the choice of movie release date has grown even more critical in recent years, as the studios produce greater numbers of films, all competing for your eyes -- and dollars. Next, learn how the crowded market has transformed the choice of movie release dates into a cutthroat battle between the studios.