Tentpole movies get kind of a rough ride in terms of public perception. In the realm of cinematic releases, the term has become synonymous with the Big Bad Movie Studios sucking all the air out of the box office, and suffocating smaller, independent fare. They are associated with a bland, focus-group tested, homogenized type of filmmaking that blindly draws in the masses and force-feeds them pointless narrative junk food. Everything that’s wrong with the modern film industry can be blamed on the over-inflated budgets of the tentpole movie – isn’t that right?
Well, not really. First of all, tentpole movies serve a purpose. In theory, it is the job of a tentpole movie to hold up, balance out and support the financial performance of a studio in any given year. The tentpole movie is supposed to give the smaller productions breathing space by giving the studio the financial confidence to invest in them in the first place. Supposedly, making something that is guaranteed to do big box office means the accountants are more inclined to gamble on projects that aren’t. Does it always work that way? Of course not. In uncertain economic times, studios find themselves chasing the tentpole rather than the balance – but this is a matter of emphasis on their part.
Secondly, for all our complaining about the evils of the tentpole, they still perform exceedingly well when it comes to ticket sales. We still all flock to see them. Sure, it’s partly due to the sterling efforts of studio marketing departments, but it’s also because enormous, fun, somewhat bloated movies absolutely have their place in the cinematic firmament. If tentpole movies are perceived as junk-food, and smaller projects are more nourishing, it’s up to the audience member to manage their diet. We all love a burger and fries once in a while, after all – why else would there be fast-food joints on every street corner?
But to refer to tentpole movies in such derogatory terms is to do a great injustice to the better ones. Not all of these giant movies are bad – in fact, some are really very good. For every half dozen crushing failures, like 2012’s John Carter, there is a creative and commercial success, like 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Though our cinema screens may be populated with Jason Statham movies, there is – occasionally – a Gravity.
So, now that we’ve established the importance of tent-ole movies, let’s take a closer look at the other accusation regularly levelled at that film-type: tentpole movies have become increasingly dark and depressing in recent years. This argument really gathered momentum with the arrival of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy, from 2005 onwards. These films – Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises – were box office behemoths, but were steeped in gritty broodiness. While they stand as incredible achievements in cinema – delivering complex, operatic narratives and fantastic filmmaking – they are dark, dark films. In fact, the whole argument is easy to make, as these days, tentpole movies generally feature warfare, pain, suffering and revenge. You could say that this is the case because cinema reflects the times we live in – and you would be right – but not all tentpoles are so soul destroying. Some are positively uplifting.
As warfare, pain, suffering and revenge stalk their way around the globe in a very real way, it has never been more important to celebrate the uplifting tentpole movies that can provide a brief respite from the terrifying nature of humanity’s current reality. Here are seven of them, that might just help you through the day.