Make Two Blockbusters for Every Arthouse Film


Consider a successful Hollywood actor. This actor likes to make independent, arthouse films. These films have special meaning to the actor, and he or she believes in them enough to give up a big paycheck to do them.

But this Hollywood actor also makes commercial, popular work. The actor has the prized opportunity to perform a major role in summer blockbusters, the kind of films that rarely win at the Oscars but regularly boost the actor’s stature, not to mention their bank account.

The clash of preferences and opportunities raises numerous questions—most of which miss the point.

Asking, “Should the actor make the blockbusters?” is the wrong question. There’s nothing fundamentally flawed about blockbuster movies. It doesn’t matter if they aren’t as deeply meaningful as the arthouse films. Besides, big summer movies can be fun!

I think the right question is, “How much time should the actor spend making blockbusters versus the independent, arthouse films?”

And that’s where it gets tricky. For a long time I’ve thought the answer was: the actor should make only enough blockbusters to support the independent films. For every blockbuster, make several arthouse projects.

And now my sense is that I’ve been thinking about it in the wrong way. If you only make “popular” or “commercial” projects to support something else, you’re not serving your audience well. Why not give the people what they want?

So now I’m thinking the answer is to make more blockbusters than independent films. Remember, everyone loves a big summer movie. Maybe the answer is 2:1. For every arthouse film, make two blockbusters.

Or maybe it’s not an exact ratio, but the principle is: give the people what they want. Respect the masses. And then do the other things you find meaningful, those arthouse films that are special but don’t necessarily reach a big audience.

Sure, a few critics may say that you’re selling out. But look at all those people standing in line for your movie!

So that’s what I’m planning to do next year. Buy your tickets.


Merry Christmas (and Happy Boxing Day, and Happy Everything) to all. I’m still on my Annual Review and will have more posts next week.

Hat tip: Shannon O’Donnell

Subscribe now and you’ll get the best posts of all time.