What is a tentpole flopbuster?

This week (5 July 2023) I was drawn to an online BBC film review on the latest Indiana Jones film. It was headlined—Does Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny mark the era of the flopbuster.

I love this word. Does it really need an explanation? It is of course a new word that combines the words “flop” and “blockbuster” (known as a portmanteau word).

The article reports that the new film, Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, has had a disappointing start at the box office. Despite earning AUD$190 million (£102 million) globally during its opening weekend, industry experts consider the result underwhelming considering the film’s massive budget of AUD$430 million (excluding marketing costs). Variety’s Rebecca Rubin described it as “one of the most expensive movies ever”. She expressed doubts about its ability to turn a profit in theatres. Online Hollywood news platform Deadline suggests “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny has been destined to live in a Temple of Box Office Doom“.

The BBC article also mentions other flopbusters that didn’t do well at the box office. The Flash, a superhero movie from DC, had an “embarrassing” showing. Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, a collaboration between DreamWorks and Universal, “cratered” in terms of its performance. Additionally, Elemental, an animated film had the lowest opening weekend box office numbers for a Pixar film since their debut with Toy Story.

The article also refers to tentpole movies. These are major motion pictures that are costly to produce and expected to generate substantial revenue for their studio and investors.

The term “tentpole” comes from the idea that a blockbuster movie serves as the central support holding up the entire structure of a film studio’s financial success. Tentpole movies often have high budgets, extensive marketing campaigns, and are released during prime moviegoing seasons. These films are expected to draw large audiences, drive box office success and be the driver of a studio’s overall revenue. But if the film is a flopbuster the studio is in trouble.

So what are the problems with these films? The article suggests “superhero fatigue” and competition from streaming services might be contributing. Another critic suggests it is “bigger, longer, more bloated movies” that are feeding the idea that “Hollywood’s best creative days are behind it”.

As a professional writer I do think the problem may be a bit more obvious than these theories. Hollywood seems willing to spend huge amounts of money on actors and special effects and yet screen writers are out on strike because they are not paid enough. My advice to Hollywood producers is to spend more money on the scripts and less on CGI, the actors (Harrison Ford’s pay is $30M) and the massive marketing, otherwise all their films will end up being flopbusters.