It’s been long-standing pop culture knowledge that studios use January as a “dump month.” The first 31 days of the year is a flood of all the movies studios greenlit and then thought “Eh, why’d we do that?” So, they roll these movies out quietly in January and hope that they make a little money back, before vanishing quietly into the cinematic night. But every once in a while, something magical happens, and a hit is born.
Great Movies Released In January
Scanners • 1981
The horror classic from legendary director David Cronenberg was a January dump by a studio scared of the unknown. The film is mind-bending horror at its finest. Cronenberg’s style and the story of mental powers beyond imagination blend into a cult classic with one of the best head explosions ever.
Tremors • 1990
A personal favorite of mine, Tremors was tossed away into the January void and turned into a franchise. While not a box office monster, the film’s Graboids took hold of audiences who demanded more of the creature and the quirky townsfolk it terrorizes. Today, Tremors is made up of five films and a short-lived television show.
Leprechaun • 1993
A box-office bomb upon release, Leprechaun is b-movie horror at its finest. It features a handful of scares, a little gore, and an early appearance of Jennifer Aniston. By the summer of 1993, kids were out of school and Leprechaun was hitting video store shelves. The rest is cheesy horror franchise history!
Alive • 1993
Although it’s not mentioned a lot nowadays, Alive was a big deal back in 1993. The story of an Uruguayan rugby team having to eat each other to survive was effective. Director Frank Marshall made people squirm, and the lasting effect of the film would be the “What would we do?” conversations that followed amongst viewers.
Matinee • 1993
Director Joe Dante took an unabashed love for 50/60s schlock, sci-fi, b-movies and sprinkled it with Cold War-era politics into the quirky comedy Matinee. John Goodman stars as a filmmaker trying to use the looming fear of nuclear meltdown to promote his new radiation-themed horror film — MANT! Matinee is a virtuoso of homages, winks, and nods to films of the atomic era.
Before Sunrise • 1995
Likely the greatest romantic trilogy ever made, the “Before” Series from Director Richard Linklater started in January. To be fair, the release day is January 30th as studios were targeting Valentine’s Day, but they weren’t expecting much from the art house rom-com. It didn’t make much either, but it’s remained a cinema darling for two decades.
From Dusk Till Dawn • 1996
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez were like a pair of directing rock stars back in 1996. Tarantino was re-envisioning 70s cinema while Rodriguez was doing a lot with a little and making it look good. The pair came together for this oddball vampire movie starring George Clooney and Juliette Lewis. The movie was a mild box office hit but has since spawned a popular TV series on El Ray Network.
Hostel • 2006
Eli Roth is a modern horror master who loves to torture people. He puts characters through hell on film and oddly enough, audiences love him for it. Hostel is slow-burn torture porn at its finest. It’s hard to not cringe at the eyeball sequence. Hostel works as social commentary too, as it plays like the nightmarish result of a society that’s obsessed with selfish desires.
Smokin’ Aces • 2007
January is certainly the time to unleash experiments. Studios took a chance on this bizarro action movie. A January release was perfect for Smokin’ which is too strange for the summer, but was a refreshing, albeit psychotic, action flick. It’s star-studded cast including Ben Affleck, Ryan Reynolds, and Alicia Keyes helped the film to a modest success and a much less star-studded sequel.
Cloverfield • 2008
If you know me, you know I don’t like Cloverfield. But, I’m also realistic, and Cloverfield is likely the best-received movie ever released in the “dump month.” The “found footage” style Godzilla movie where you almost never see Godzilla spawned a (much better) sequel and more according to J.J. Abrams.
Honorable Mention: Woody Allen
The prolific director released two great films in January!
Broadway Danny Rose • 1984
Woody Allen is Danny Rose, a hapless talent manager takes on a client and ends up in a love triangle that involves Mia Farrow and the mob. Broadway received two Oscar nominations, and while it’s not in the top ten Woody Allen movies, it’s a fun one if you like the director’s work.
Radio Days • 1987
Several stories commingle in another Woody Allen treasure about the golden age of radio. Like Broadway Danny Rose, the film starred Mia Farrow and earned two Oscar nominations. Radio Days is another brilliant piece of comedy and dramatic storytelling from one of the best to ever do it.