The Pandemic Underscores Why Hollywood Should Not Abandon Mid-Budget Crowd-Pleasers

The cost of tentpole blockbusters has been spiraling upwards, making it harder and harder to [...]

The cost of tentpole blockbusters has been spiraling upwards, making it harder and harder to actually turn a profit on them without making truly massive amounts of money at the box office. Meanwhile, Hollywood's model has come to rely on those movies more and more, with mid-budget movies seemingly vanishing as the movie industry embraces super-cheap movies that are easy to break even on, or huge, VFX-driven tentpoles that are a big gamble with high risk and high reward. In the wake of the pandemic what this means is that many of the movies originally scheduled for release this summer are difficult, bordering on impossible, for studios to justify releasing digitally.

The pandemic, and the likelihood that there will be a second wave that means the film industry will be living with these new realities for months to come, puts a fine point on how much fans and studios are missing out on now that the mid-budget crowd-pleaser has been all but eliminated. They certainly still exist -- and movies like John Wick prove that they can be big hits given the right script and actor -- but we can use more of them.

Bill & Ted Face the Music is one of the summer movies that has been moved around the schedule a few times as the ever-shifting realities of the summer 2020 theatrical season have impacted Orion's release strategies. The long-awaited sequel to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey supposedly cost around $25 million, and reunites the original writers and much of the original cast from the slacker comedy franchise.

That budget puts it right in line with the original John Wick, also starring Bill & Ted's Keanu Reeves, which went on to become a sleeper hit and spawn three sequels and counting. And at one point not too long ago, movies on that scale were much more common.

Now, it seems like the expectation is that outside of horror, any big popcorn movie has to make The Hangover money to be considered a hit. Painting themselves into that corner -- where big studios rely disproportionately on incredibly expensive tentpole films -- has been one more thing that has hurt the industry this year.

The erosion of the home video market has contributed to this problem; movies that don't turn a huge profit no longer have the promise of going into 5,000 Blockbuster Video stores to inflate their bottom line, and films that open on the wrong weekend might get steamrolled completely at the box office, and never discovered by an audience like Kevin Smith's Mallrats was on VHS.

But with the impact of the pandemic dragging on for months and many consumers far less likely to head back out to cinemas right away than they might otherwise have been, now seems like an ideal time to take chances on films that, in a worst-case scenario, might prove to be the next Trolls World Tour when audiences are hungry for new content and not interested in (or able to) seeing something in a crowded theater -- or even, ignoring the streaming component for a minute -- a movie with a broad enough appeal to convince people to go out to drive-ins, but a budget small enough that they can still turn a profit releasing entirely or almost entirely at those (relatively scarce) theaters.