At the beginning of the summer, it seemed that July 14 would be the start of a fairly sleepy weekend: The number of films set to open that day was about 10. But as the weeks passed, the figure ticked up to nearly two dozen. What gives?

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Each week brings with it dozens of new cinematic offerings, and this past one proved no different.

Among the movies that opened Friday, Aug. 14, across the country: “Mistress America,” starring Greta Gerwig as a daffy dilettante; “Meru,” a true tale of mountaineering derring-do, now playing in Seattle; “Ten Thousand Saints,” a coming-of-age yarn set in 1980s New York; and “One & Two,” with Kiernan Shipka as a teleporting teenager.

Taken with the bigger studio releases (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “Straight Outta Compton,” both on screens in Seattle, too) and the teeny indies (“Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango,” opening on one screen each in New York and Chicago), the collective lineup seems like a mindless hodgepodge.

But behind every release date is a carefully calibrated, often agonized selection process that one distributor — Dylan Marchetti of Amplify Releasing, which is behind “Tom at the Farm” (playing at the Grand Illusion in Seattle) — described as “a lot of logical thought and pure unicorn dust.”

Ed Arentz of Music Box Films, the distributor for “Meru,” said: “It’s kind of like landing an airplane. There’s only so many runways. If you try to land too many planes at the same time, some are going to crash.”

At the beginning of the summer, it seemed that July 14 would be the start of a fairly sleepy weekend: A few months back, one count put the number of films set to open that day at about 10. But as the weeks passed, the figure steadily ticked up to nearly two dozen. Which led to the question: How exactly do distributors determine when a movie should be released?

The answer is that it depends — on competition, real and perceived; theater availability; awards viability; when the stars are free to swan in for premieres; and that old chestnut, whether Meryl is opening a film at the same time.

“It’s a chessboard game,” said Jonathan Sehring, president of IFC Films, distributor of “One & Two.” “Nothing was there when we programmed. We thought it was a good, quiet period. There is not a quiet weekend now at all.”

Distributors of smaller or smallish films said they often seized on mid-to-late summer to put smarter programming in front of blockbuster-weary audiences. Some of those films are picked up at the Sundance Film Festival early in the year, and indie distributors need about three to six months to firm up publicity strategies, make trailers and set a release date. Early summer tends to be dominated by franchises, and late summer can be a dead zone, with crowds distracted by last-chance summer vacations and all things back to school.

Meanwhile, the avalanche of fall releases after the Telluride and Toronto film festivals is often aimed squarely at courting awards.

Michael Tuckman, who developed the release strategy for another Friday opener, “Rosenwald,” said that the calendar was “very unkind” this year because Labor Day falls late, on Sept. 7, making the weekends of Aug. 28 and Sept. 4 undesirable. While he often finds the weekend after Labor Day great for releases, this year that includes Sept. 11, “another date some folks arbitrarily avoid,” he said by email.

So, for a number of films, that left early-to-mid-August. Then it was a matter of fine-tuning.

“Meru,” an award winner at Sundance, landed on Aug. 14 because its distributors did not want it to bump against a star-studded feature on a similar subject, “Everest,” which opens mid-September. They also wanted to set their release apart from other awards-minded films, and to open as a counterpoint to a broiling summer.

“Much of the film is about guys freezing on the face of a Himalayan cliff,” Arentz said, “so it’s climatically counterprogramming.”

“Ten Thousand Saints,” set against the backdrop of a vibrant punk scene and the 1988 Tompkins Square Park riots, was loosely planned to open near Aug. 6, the anniversary of the unrest. Then the distributors saw what else was opening around that day, and beheld Meryl Streep’s film about an aging rocker, “Ricki and the Flash.”

“We had a conversation with the whole team, the producers, the filmmakers,” said Tom Yagielski, vice president for domestic distribution at Screen Media Films. “We were hoping to attract an audience that’s interested in music and grew up in the ’80s.” So the film’s opening was bumped.

Two Aug. 14 movies, “Prince” and “Peoples Places Things” (playing at SIFF Film Center in Seattle) are being released on demand as well as theatrically. “We’re not competing with ‘Straight Outta Compton,’ which opens theatrically, but with whatever is coming out on cable and iTunes that weekend,” said Andy Bohn of the distributor Film Arcade.

Another determinant: homesickness. Rohit Sharma, who oversees international distribution for Fox Star Studios, said that his company had no choice but to release the Indian martial-arts film “Brothers: Blood Against Blood” on Friday (it’s showing at Lincoln Square in Bellevue). That is when the film is opening on 3,500 screens in India — to capitalize on Indian Independence Day on Aug. 15 — and he said that if the film did not open in other countries at the same time, especially in the United States, soaring online piracy would erode its worldwide earnings.

Indian audiences, he added, have come to expect Indian films to arrive at the same time everywhere. “Friends, family, they know a big film is coming,” Sharma said. “It’s a way of connecting back to India.”

As for studio movies — the big ones expected to rake in the bucks — openings are often set years in advance, especially if the film is headed for Imax. The release dates for “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” from Warner Bros., and the N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” from Universal Pictures, were set last year.

Why did the studios select those dates?

After much to-ing, fro-ing and dithering about whether to comment on the record, neither studio would say.