Taylor Swift Will Give Theaters a Strike-Era Box Office Boost

Theater owners, already concerned that ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes will lead to another COVID-like shakeup of the release schedule, got an unexpected gift in the form of a Taylor Swift concert movie.

The 165-minute filmed version of her $1 billion-earning “Eras” tour will arrive in North American theaters on Oct. 13 (with previews on Oct. 12). Showtimes for the film, produced with an interim agreement from SAG-AFTRA, are already selling out in AMC’s Imax and Dolby auditoriums nationwide. Presales shattered the AMC Theaters record with $26 million in the first 24 hours, leading to more showtimes added. Universal’s “The Exorcist: Believer” fled to Oct. 6 to avoid an “ExorSwift” showdown.

“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” whose $20 (for adults) or $13 (for kids and seniors) ticket price for non-premium screens is a lot cheaper than concert tickets, is positioning itself as the event film of the fall season. The concert film gives the theatrical sector a vital lifeline while the studios and artists attempt to reach a brokered peace.

“‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ will continue to show the true potential of what a concert film can do in theaters,” National Association of Theatre Owners CEO Michael O’Leary told TheWrap. “This is a great opportunity for fans to experience a huge cultural phenomenon in a very accessible way.”

It’s also an opportunity for theaters to fill seats as the industry nervously watches for signs of an end to the strikes. The unexpected strength of “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” helped push the summer movie season near $4 billion, nearly on par with pre-COVID domestic box office totals. But the labor stoppage has left theaters concerned about dwindling returns for a theater landscape already struggling to keep up.

“Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” will open one week after Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon.” That likely Oscar contender has one of the last pure movie stars, Leonardo DiCaprio, in the top-billed role but is also a 3.5-hour historical crime drama. After that, with “Dune Part Two” having moved to March 2024, there are no tentpoles for nearly a month.

Moving in concert

Swift’s concert film is a throwback to the late 2000s and early 2010s when a slew of musical documentaries and concert films had brisk, if brief, box office glory. This release may break that mold.

“While the recent specialty concerts like ‘BTS Permission to Dance‘ played for a day or a week, this film will run for as long as it’s popular,” Boxoffice President Stan Ruszkowski told TheWrap.

To the extent to which the Swift flick and “Killers of the Flower Moon” play beyond their respective opening weekends, they’ll be the last biggies until “The Marvels” on Nov. 10, both “The Hunger Games: Ballad of Snakes and Songbirds” and “Trolls Band Together” on Nov. 17 and Disney’s animated “Wish” on Thanksgiving weekend.

“The release of the “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” will deliver a massive, unexpected boost to the box office,” noted Comscore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “When Swifties, and of course curious newly minted fans, descend on the multiplex, we could see the next big box office phenomenon in the wake of ‘Barbie.'”

Drawing the demographic

The release also reminds Hollywood that the female demographic is noticeably undervalued and comparatively underrepresented. Films for and about women (like “The Marvels” and “The Hunger Games: Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes”) will prop up the entire theatrical industry for October and November.

Demographically specific event films, movies like grindhouse slasher sequel “Terrifier 2” and anime “Demon Slayer” that can count on a dedicated fanbase to show up, can boost theaters in times of feast and famine. The Swift concert film is another example of such a film, along with Bollywood action spectacular “Pathaan” and faith-based crowdpleaser “Jesus Revolution.

For anime, “we know there’s this massive community ready,” Crunchyroll executive Mitchel Berger said in a previous conversation with TheWrap. “It’s not us having to go try to find them and look under a rock and discover somebody.”

It’s likewise not hard to find Swifties ready to book tickets: AMC’s app struggled under the weight of ticket sales this week.

2008 - Kevin (L), Joe and Nick (R), pose with actress/singer Miley Cyrus at 'Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert' Premiere afterparty
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Playing a song for the fans

The best precedent for the Swift concert film was Disney’s move to release “Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert” in theaters in February 2008.

Even at comparatively inflated ticket prices, since it was mostly shown in 3-D, it was cheaper and more convenient than buying actual concert tickets. It scored a $31.1 million opening weekend, which is still a record for a film opening around a Super Bowl weekend.

The film earned $65 million domestically and proved quite profitable on a $7 million budget. It preceded a handful of high-profile pop star documentary/concert hybrids, such as “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” in October 2009, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” in February 2011 and “Katy Perry’s Part of Me” in July 2012.

Michael Jackson This Is It Tour
Getty Images

“This Is It” was rushed into theaters after Jackson’s shocking death that June. The rehearsal footage showed the King of Pop not playing to the crowd or the cameras, as he planned a comeback tour that would never come to pass. The Perry flick offered a surprisingly intimate scene during which the singer was served with divorce papers from then-husband Russell Brand just moments before she went on stage.

This run of pop-star flicks, helmed by well-regarded directors like Kenny Ortega, Jon M. Chu and Morgan Spurlock, were pretty successful. Sony’s “This is It” topped $100 million in its opening weekend, earning $261 million globally. Paramount’s Bieber movie earned $99 million worldwide on a $13 million budget. Paramount’s Perry doc earned $32 million on a $12 million budget, while Sony’s “One Direction: This is Us” earned $68 million in late 2013.

However, the run came to an end. Beyonce’s “Lemonade” visual album went to HBO in 2016. And with the rise of streaming, specialty fare became more readily available at home.

The hero we need…

Will audiences show up for Taylor Swift as they showed up for Miley Cyrus and Michael Jackson a generation ago? Early signs point to yes, and if so it’ll be another example of a film that plays to a specific, dedicated fanbase who can be counted upon to vote with their wallet and show up in theaters.

If history repeats itself, Hollywood won’t need Spider-Man or Tom Cruise to save them this time out.

Swift’s choice to go with a wide theatrical release, as opposed to putting her filmed concert on streaming, affirms that “the theater is still the place for wide-reaching, mainstream pop-culture events,” said Ruszkowski.

He believes that Swift wanted folks to see the concert in an audience with fellow fans and music lovers: “When you’re alone in your living room, it’s just not the same as being in a packed theater.”

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