Do You Know The Difference Between A Blockbuster And A Tentpole Movie?

These are film industry terms used to designate a film’s box office actual and predicted success. Both terms refer to large-scale studio movies designed to generate maximum profit.

Low budget movies that return a profit are often referred to  “breakout hits”.


These refer to studio movies that are often large in scope, budget and theatrical distribution. Typically, studios want a movie to generate between two and three times its production budget to be hailed a success.

Despite the creative accounting studios often use, blockbuster movies generally return a profit to investors. The term derives its origins from World War II and relates to widespread bombing for maximum impact.

The box office success of blockbuster films may or may not be expected. It’s simply a function of the marketplace.


The tentpole movie is as close to a sure fire hit that can reasonably be predicted by various parameters such as similar films, talent, release date, theme and audience.

Tentpole is a studio term that relates to risk allocation. Studios try to spread their financial risk across their entire slate since roughly one in ten films actually returns a profit. The designated tentpole movie is designed to carry less financial risk than the rest of the film slate to return an overall profit to the studio.

Given that successful tentpole films must generate around $1 billion in global box office receipts off production and P&A budgets of $200 to $300 million, they must be exhibited in theaters all year long (wide theatrical window), they must appeal to a four quadrant audience (men, women, boys and girls) and contain universal and culturally relevant themes.

North America only represents around 20% of the global marketplace. Studios therefore rely on foreign box office to generate up to 80% of their revenues.  The international box office doesn’t refer to the established Western European and English speaking markets, but emerging markets as well.

The key emerging markets include China, Russia, India, Far East, Brazil and the Middle East.


High concept films are typically the biggest box office earners. They are also the easiest to distribute.

Action is the best genre that is the best predictor of box office success. Comedy can be topical and may may not travel well. despite its broadness. Most countries produce their own home grown dramas so aren’t looking to purchase too many from the USA.

Action is the only genre that drives the billion dollar box office. These movies are big in every respect. Big concepts, big visuals. big sets and big sound. They are also the most expensive pictures to produce.

Studios rely on pre-awareness to market these big action movies internationally. Pre-awareness is also a key factor in predicting box office performance. This drives the studios’ desire to produce sequels.

The stakes in action films have to be a matter of life or death for the main characters, or humanity itself. They represent escape and entertainment in their purest form. They must be familiar, confident and socially relevant.

Tentpole movies tend to be released in the summer in many key markets. This is generally from May through August/September. The better tentpoles are released earlier in the summer season to kick off the box office. Other than season, distributors aim to release films during major holidays in international markets, such as Christmas and New Years Day.

Tentpole films are increasingly relying on simultaneous worldwide release to combat piracy and bad word of mouth.

Casting is becoming an increasingly important consideration in tentpole movies. The stars must be able to open a film internationally.

Even with all the variables accounted for to minimize risk,, some tentpoles have failed to ignite the box office. Perhaps this is a function of the release schedule becoming too crowded, the content too familiar and the storytelling too bland to appeal to the widest audience.

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5 Comments Add yours

  1. Howdy! This post could not be written any better! Reading
    through this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this article to him.
    Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Anxo Abuín says:

    Reblogged this on Narrativas cruzadas.

  3. Dude says:

    So… what type of movie does that make Fury Road?

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