The summer was never actually as profitable as it seemed. The official season, which lasts about a third of the year (at least the way Hollywood divides the calendar), generates around 40 percent of annual ticket sales. Furthermore, box-office revenue may be higher in the summer precisely because that’s when studios have chosen to release their most popular movies. The expected box-office appeal of the film may be driving the release date, in other words, rather than the release date enhancing the box-office performance.
The collapse of movie audiences, which far pre-dates Jaws and summer blockbusters, requires studios to heavily market their films since Americans’ default position on movies these days is not to see them. Studios have cannily created a summer of tent-pole features to focus audience attention on a handful of months when we’re taught to expect to go to the movies. Iron Man III would probably make a billion dollars if it were released on a Tuesday morning in March. But lesser films might benefit from debuting in a season when audiences are predisposed to going to the movies.