LOS ANGELES – Taylor Swift changed the music industry. The cinema industry is currently in flux. Audience tastes have shifted and dual Hollywood strikes have only acerbated pandemic-related production delays that left the movie calendar sparse.
With would-be blockbusters fleeing the fall and winter slate, a direct result of strike rules that prevent top talent from promoting upcoming films, movie theater chains like
, Regal and
Cinemark are desperately seeking unique offerings. Even IMAX, which started as place to screen documentaries and educational programming, stands to benefit from alternative theatrical content.“The need has been there for many years, becoming more apparent during the early pandemic recovery era when audiences began coming back but there wasn’t enough big screen content ready for release on a weekly basis,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com.Enter Swift.Despite placing her previous documentaries and concert films on streaming services in the past, the iconic pop star opted to deliver her Eras Tour film directly to cinemagoers this October. The filmed concert is already breaking records for movie theaters and is expected to top $100 million during its opening weekend.
Swift is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, but she was granted a waiver by the unions because the Eras Tour filmed concert is unscripted and does has no actors or writers associated with it.
The Taylor Swift effect
The theater industry is no stranger to alternative content. Cinemas show live sporting events, such as the National Football League, and taped concerts. Then there are showings of classic films, anime screenings and live-broadcast Dungeons and Dragons games.
But none of these have ever come close to generating the fervor circling Swift’s upcoming release.
The excitement, which has led movie theaters to design specialty popcorn buckets, create boutique cocktails and even set up friendship bracelet-making tables
illustrates there’s a hunger for making something bigger and more memorable out of a trip to the movies.
Just recently, audiences were drawn en masse to see big-budgeted superhero flicks on opening weekend. The urgency was driven by a need to see what happens next in the giant tapestry of storytelling and a worry that not seeing it as soon as possible would risk spoiler reveals.Sony and
“Spider-Man: No Way Home,” released in late 2021, is one such film. The following superhero films did not generate the same excitement, probably because of the glut of content that was considered to be lackluster. Disney and Marvel’s “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania,” and DC’s “The Flash” and “Blue Beetle” all underwhelmed at the box office this year.Then came Barbenheimer.Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” and
“Oppenheimer,” two films on the opposite spectrum of cinematic experiences, opened on the same weekend in July. This combination thrilled audiences and brought millions to the cinemas for double features. The audience, dressed in pink and fedoras set records for attendance. The films are still raking in big bucks. “Barbie” has cleared $600 million at the domestic box office, while historical drama “Oppenheimer” has garnered more than $300 million.Following the early days of the pandemic, consumers have gravitated more toward experiences out of the house. There are so many streaming services that audiences have to find a reason other than content to leave the couch. Because of this, communal experiences that can only be experienced outside the home are more important than ever to the theatrical industry.It’s why when Swift first unveiled that her concert film was coming to the three major theaters — AMC, Regal and Cinemark — on Oct. 13, dozens of smaller theater chains sought to also showcase the film. Universal also decided to move “Exorcist : Believer” to October 6, killing any hope of a Barbenheimer style Exorswift event. Even if Taylor Swift sets a high bar, there are many other ideas that could be successful. Swift chose to distribute her film via AMC instead of a studio partner, a move that is rare. The 43% of the ticket proceeds are expected to remain in theaters, while 57% will be shared between Swift and AMC. Industry insiders believe Swift will keep a significant portion of this share. Ofcourse, the theater will make much more in concession sales than that, which is perhaps the biggest upside of Swift’s movie release. AMC is in need of this revenue as it continues to spend far more on licensing and theater rentals. In fact, the company only recently posted a profit during its second quarter this year, having generated net income of just $8.6 million.
Ultimately, box office analysts foresee the film snatching around $400 million during its run. The theater industry is hoping Swift will revive the concert film genre that was popularized in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s by films such as “Monterey Pop,””Woodstock,” and “The Last Waltz.” And while movies can’t fully replicate the experience of attending a concert, cinema tickets are a lot cheaper.
Tickets for Swift’s Eras Tour were priced at $49 to $450, with VIP packages starting at $199 and reaching $899. On the secondary market, many tickets were sold for thousands. Tickets for premium format screens like IMAX and Dolby are more expensive. Tickets for premium format screens like IMAX and Dolby come at a higher cost.
For comparison, average adult ticket prices for regular film releases in 2023 have ranged from $11 to $14 a piece for standard formats.
“Concert films have seen outstanding results over the years, and now based on massive pre-sales across the country, it’s clear that The Eras Tour will break new ground for the genre,” said Michael O’Leary, CEO of the National Association of Theatre Owners. We hope that this will result in more concert films being shown in cinemas in the future. “
Filmed concerts are usually only shown in limited theaters, typically for one night or one weekend. Comscore data shows that most films were shown in less than 1,000 theaters. A wide release, by comparison, is more than 2,000 theaters during the opening weekend. The majority of blockbuster films are released at more than 4,000 locations. Taylor Swift’s cultural influence and her ability to shape new business models may be a factor in the revival of old-school concert films. Swift’s concert movie is destined to surpass the record for a theatrical concert video. Comscore data shows that it ultimately raked in $70 million globally during a 15-week run. Getty Images Entertainment Box office analysts believe it will have a wider release, and may include as many theaters as a blockbuster film. Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never” tour film was released in 3,000 theaters at the beginning of 2011 and ran for thirteen weeks. The film grossed $99 million worldwide. Michael Kustermann is the CEO of Alamo Drafthouse. He said: “We screened Metallica, and it sold out very quickly.” “We’ve done a lot of K-Pop events in the past, and they sold out very quickly. “I think that what Taylor Swift will do is open up the discussion of, well, could these be more than just one night in one weekend?” Dergarabedian said. “
Of course, most concede that Swift is an outlier in the industry and her success at the box office may not be easily replicated.
“Lest anyone think this is an easily replicable feat, you must first understand that Swift is operating a unique universe of her own and that this makes future successes for other artists in this realm a more elusive goal than one may think,” Dergarabedian said.
Still, interest in unique cinematic experiences and communal events is growing and Swift’s concert film could be just the beginning.
“I’ve always said, and I’ve been in this business for over 40 years, that Hollywood is a copycat industry,” said Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events.
Fathom has long brought entertainment events like shows from the Metropolitan Opera, comedy shows and sports to cinemas. It also schedules screenings of films around release anniversaries as well as genre-based showings for faith-based audiences, anime fans and horror junkies.
The company is set to bring a filmed version of Sara Bareilles’ Broadway hit “Waitress” to cinemas in December.
“People are looking for different things to go to theaters for,” Nutt said.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed “Oppenheimer. “