I’m kind of relieved this week is finally coming to an end because as much as I may appreciate a good Taylor Swift song, and as grateful as I am that she is releasing her concert film theatrically to bolster an anemic release schedule, the pervasive promotion this movie has gotten has been overwhelming for those of us who aren’t card carrying Swifties. The New York Times hailed Swift’s marketing blitz as “a lightning storm of free publicity” in one article, ultimately giving “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour” even more… well, free publicity.
The popular American sketch-comedy show “Saturday Night Live” provided the most humorous take on the singer living rent-free in everyone’s heads for the past week during a skit featuring football analysts squaring off on who was the bigger Swift fan, rather than discussing an upcoming game. Spoiler alert: professional football player Travis Kelce, who may or may not be dating Swift, makes an appearance. Double spoiler alert: Swift herself showed up on SNL to introduce the show’s musical guest. Of course she did.
Now that “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour” is finally in cinemas we get to play Monday morning quarterback (see what I did there?) over the concert film’s opening weekend box office. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go down the box office rabbit hole. Forecasts had the film debuting domestically at USD $125+ million. Or was that an international figure? The film’s box office was being compared to so many previous concert movies I’ve lost track.
In fact, last week David Hancock, Chief Analyst of Media and Entertainment at Omdia, rightly corrected me when I compared the USD $73 million North American gross of “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” from 2011 to AMC touting presales of Swift’s movie surpassing USD $100 million globally. As Hancock pointed out, the highest grossing concert film of all time is “Michael Jackson’s This Is It” which made USD $250 million worldwide in 2009.
Swift managed to get halfway to topping the King of Pop with the estimated opening weekend gross of “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour” coming it at around USD $126 million globally, USD $96 million of which came from North America. This may sound disappointing given all those sky-high early estimates, but let’s put this in perspective; Swift surpassed the USD $31.1 million 2008 domestic opening of “Hannah Montana & Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert” by a factor of three to become the biggest opening weekend ever for a concert film. “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour” made more in North America this past weekend than Bieber’s film did in its entire run. And this is coming from someone who is loathe to make such comparisons.
At this point, everyone reading this is probably thinking, “Yeah, but can Swift’s film hold?” Historically concert movies make between two and three times their opening weekend gross. “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour” bowed at 4,527 cinemas in 94 international territories with a release in Brazil, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan on 3 November. My gut tells me that grosses would likely drop by 50% in the second weekend. My gut also tells me I’d be a fool to bet against Swift. Perhaps, like the pop star herself, “Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour” could turn into phenomenon that generates repeat viewing.
Michael O’Leary, President and CEO of NATO, underscored the potential of eventizing the movie in his post-opening weekend quote, “The ‘Eras Tour’ debut proves, yet again, that fans are eager to share other experiences in a communal way, with theater owners working creatively to build memorable moments in their cinemas.” Indeed, hoping to turn the film into even more of an event, some cinema operators encouraged swapping friendship bracelets, dancing in the aisles and even the use of cell phones in auditoriums. I’m just going to assume Alamo Drafthouse abstained from that last one, given their stance on cell phones in movie theatres.
One thing is certain, all of the inevitable talk about other artists making concert films and bypassing traditional distributors to release them straight to cinemas is seriously premature. While The Cinema Foundation may have poled 6,000 moviegoers over the weekend to find out 72% of them want to see more concert movies, as I’ve previously stated, Beyoncé may be the only artist who can currently pull off anything close to the success Swift is having. Her own “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé” concert movie hits theatres 1 December. Just to show that there was no competition or bad blood between them Beyoncé showed up to the premiere of Swift’s film in Los Angeles on Wednesday so the two could be photographed together.
The premiere was such a big event it closed down the entirety of The Grove where it took place, including the Apple Store, Nordstroms and nearby Farmers Market. (By the way, AMC, I’m going to assume my invite got lost in the mail.) There was so much coverage of the premiere that news of a blackmail scheme involving explicit photos and AMC’s own CEO Adam Aron, who attended the premiere, hardly registered at all. (Side note: Kudos to Aron for informing the AMC board and taking the David Letterman route of turning the matter over to law enforcement.)
Also barely overshadowed by Swift coverage last Wednesday was news that the actors’ strike is far from being over. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers called off any further negotiations with SAG-AFTRA saying both sides were too far apart. Technically, that’s the more important story from the past week that we should be discussing here. Let’s hope it doesn’t take the AMPTP a month to sit back down with the actors the way it did when they pulled a similar stunt with the writers guild.
For those of you who can’t get enough of Taylor Swift, be sure to check out the last CJ Cinema Summit in which exhibitors, analysts and Dolby talked about preparing for her concert film. This upcoming week the summit will be focused on independent distribution and art house films with a great panel of industry experts. Hope to see you there.
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