Sometimes it feels like the vast majority of contemporary American cinema is so awful that it's almost impossible to avoid getting suckered into seeing a clunker. Fortunately, there are several proven ways to know a movie will be bad before you get anywhere near the ticket booth. January movies are usually terrible, and there are several other notoriously bad months for seeing films.
For the discerning viewer, it's important to know how to tell if a movie will suck in advance of a screening. Once you've familiarized yourself with these tell-tale signal flags, you'll never have to waste another night watching expensive, mindless garbage.
A "dump month" is Hollywood vernacular for the times of the year when studios release all the films they are least confident in. While January is the most universally recognized dump month, early February, August, and early September have historically been viewed in the same light.
During these months, studios release films relatively quietly, in hopes that no one with good taste will notice. Notable examples include Alpha Dog and Code Name: The Cleaner, both of which came out in January of 2007. That same month saw the release of Primeval, the giant crocodile movie you almost certainly don't remember that boasts a 19% Rotten Tomatoes score.
These days, the trend is shifting, if only a little. With increasingly more superhero movies coming out, sometimes blockbuster films are pushed into historically "dumpy" territories. Marvel's Black Panther is a mid-February film, but not because the studio doesn't have faith in the movie. Large franchises need their releases to be evenly dispersed throughout the year, and of course Avengers: Infinity War gets the coveted May release.
Try to think of a good movie sequel that doesn't involve the cast of the original film. Give up yet? Uproxx lists five solid examples: The Purge: Anarchy, 300: Rise of an Empire, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, Predator 2, and The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.
The highest rated film on that list is The Purge: Anarchy, which achieved a dazzling 56% Rotten Tomatoes score. Aside from these select films, most other spin-off sequels are neither required nor desired.
If a movie poster is highlighting reviews from social media users, it most likely means that professional critics tore the film apart. While critics can be pretentious, they still prove useful to those who want a general overview of a film's quality. If a critic has anything good to say about a movie, you can rest assured that a quote will find its way into the film's marketing materials.
If no such quotes are on display, it means that none exist, and that you probably shouldn't see that particular movie.
When a film is hard to watch, the marketing team in charge of promotion will try to boost interest by referencing a respected film or studio. Take the 2005 remake of Bad News Bears, which holds a 48% Rotten Tomatoes score, but is brought to you by the studio behind Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
If a studio has to convince the viewer to give a movie a chance by saying, "look, we made this other good movie," they're usually trying to pull the wool over the public's eyes. Just because DreamWorks also was responsible for Shrek doesn't mean that anyone should consider watching Shark Tale.