People rush out to see tentpoles for one reason: spectacle.
Tentpoles are great. They hold up the tent. But that's their job. To make space underneath so that everyone else can roam around. And for me, I don't see enough movies roaming around underneath. I just see more tentpoles, which defeats the whole purpose.
People want to see the fancy special effects and the huge epic battles. They want to be wowed. And they deserve to be. Considering that the cost of going to the movies has steadily risen in the past decade, people don't want to spend $20 each on some little character drama that will have zero car chases, zero explosions, and zero chances of lasers, spaceships, or superheroes. I could at this point talk about how movies are still the least expensive form of entertainment outside the home, but that's a discussion for a different day.
Nope, at this point, what I want to know is this: why do all movies cost the same?
Is there any other commodity that is priced the same across the board? I couldn't think of a single one. Cars: nope. Hotels: nope. Apartments: nope. Bread: nope. So why do we value all movies equally? The fact is that everything has its own value, and its own price. Including art. If you go to a concert, it costs a lot more to see Prince than it does to see your friend's garage band (unless of course your friend is Prince, in which case you better invite me). If you want to buy a painting, you better be prepared to fork over some shekels for a Warhol, but your neighbor's watercolor of a flower? Not so much. What if Broadway's version of Wizard of Oz cost the same as little Johnny's middle school version? Something tells me Johnny would be lamenting his lack of brains to an empty auditorium.
In the world of movies (and here I'm talking about seeing movies theatrically, not at home on your silly little television), the value only seems to stem from the 'extras'. Things like IMAX and 3D. Those definitely cost more. But what about the movie itself? It seems like a big movie like Star Wars (whichever Episode is your fave), which is in higher demand, has a higher cost to produce, has more bells and whistles, might cost more than, say, the latest little indie flick with actors you've never heard of in a town you don't care about.
I know what you are about to say. "But Lisa, I hate Star Wars. I like those little indie flicks so much better. Hollywood is out of ideas and I hate that crap." Well, good for you. You are in the 1% of movie-goers, and you still have to pay the same price. But here's the simple truth: Star Wars brings in more people. Disney can afford to spend obscene amounts of money making sure that you will feel like a pariah if you don't see their movie. But that little indie film can't. They just put it out there with some modest marketing and then pray to their little Box Office Shrine (yes, that's a thing) that you will show up, then you will tell your friends and drag them to see it, and then they will, and so on and so forth.
But what if that little indie flick had a ticket price that was half of what Star Wars' ticket price is? In this budget-conscious world, it stands to reason that more people might opt to give it a shot. And after they see a moving story without (gasp) ANY explosions, they might not lament the $20 they just blew when they could have seen Batman and his gadgets. They might think, "Hey, I'm glad I spent $10 on a great story. I might just try some of these other in-dee-pen-dent (yes, imagine they've never said the word before) movies."
What would happen then? Would there be a market for more of these stories with small budgets? Would studios want to take a chance? Would audiences?
But most of all: would the small and middle-tier movie make a comeback?