Why is it that brilliant art house films tank while tent-poles with bad stories become blockbusters?
There are many reasons why films fail at the box office. Maybe it has something to do with the economy, not enough publicity, or just the fact that it's a terrible film, but one thing is for certain: indie/art house films seem to "fail" financially more often than their tent-pole counterparts. Regardless of how well-made it is, indies, even ones with brilliant stories, don't bring in the bucks the way, say, a recycled Hollywood superhero flick does. Daniel Netzel of Film Radar explores the reasons why that is in this thought-provoking video essay.
I have nothing against tent-poles, superhero movies, or even Hollywood in general. These big budget, lowest-common-denominator films certainly have their place, because, for one, they do their job: they entertain. However, it is disconcerting when truly great low-budget indie films don't find success in a landscape that is riddled with boilerplate action/comedy/romance movies that reuse the same stories over and over again, many of which weren't that good to begin with.
But Netzel quells a little bit of that frustration by taking a long, hard look at the data. Tent-poles have enormous budgets, indies have small budgets, and both desire to recoup their costs. It stands to reason that Hollywood studios would invest more in their big budget flicks—spending millions on publicity, putting it in thousands of theaters, casting the largest net in hopes of catching the most fish. With low budget indies, particularly ones that don't have one-size-fits-all stories, the risk can grow the more you spend in these areas. They are already at a financial disadvantage, because they aren't built for mass appeal.
The industry is not likely to change any time soon, because damn, Hollywood makes a ton of money with tent-poles. However, there is something to be said about the artistic contribution of indie films. As Netzel notes: many Hollywood films that get mass distributed are forgettable, but good indies that only show at your local art house theater are not.