With Swifties singing and dancing in the aisles, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” made swift work of dominating the box office this weekend, signaling a potential new era for concert movies.
Filmed in August at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood during a stop on the pop superstar’s current tour, the film took in $96 million in its first four days at the domestic box office, easily crushing the competition on an otherwise sluggish weekend. Universal’s “The Exorcist: Believer” finished a distant second with $11 million for a domestic total of $44.9 million through its second weekend.
The blockbuster opening was the highest ever for a concert film, more than tripling the $31 million earned by Miley Cyrus’ “Best of Both Worlds” debut in 2008. More impressively, the film’s haul in its first weekend exceeded the total box office of any concert film in the last 50 years, handily beating the $73 million earned by “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” in 2011. (The granddaddy of concert films, 1970′s “Woodstock,” remains, for now, the most commercially successful of all time, with an inflation-adjusted box office gross of more than $270 million.)
What makes the film’s enormous haul even more remarkable is that six weeks ago it wasn’t even on anyone’s radar. Swift only announced the film’s existence on Aug. 31, forging a groundbreaking direct distribution deal with AMC Theaters under which she will reportedly earn 57% of the film’s revenues, with AMC taking the rest. (Typically, film release dates are set months, and sometimes years, in advance, with studios and theaters splitting grosses roughly evenly.)
The success of “The Eras Tour” comes on the heels of A24′s re-release of Talking Heads’ 1984 classic “Stop Making Sense,” which has grossed more than $4 million and could herald a paradigm shift for concert movies. In recent years, such live-music fare has often hit the big screen as limited, one-or-two-night events, as with the Coldplay and BTS concert films released earlier this year. In the wake of Swift’s deal with AMC, Beyoncé announced earlier this month that a film based on her “Renaissance” tour will hit theaters on Dec. 1 under a similar arrangement with the distributor.
For the theater chain, which has been struggling financially in recent years, cutting out the middle man to strike an agreement directly with a mega-star like Swift can provide a much-needed boost to its bottom line. But Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at ComScore, says other musicians shouldn’t necessarily start hounding their managers to try to score them the kind of deal that Swift and Beyoncé have.
“People keep saying, ‘Will this now open the floodgates?’ " Dergarabedian says. “Well, that would presume there’s a deep bench of musical artists who could create this kind of demand for a concert movie. It’s a great formula for success for this very unique style of release with very unique artists that operate in an orbit that very few stars do in any realm. Taylor Swift is in her own orbit and has this gravitational pull on everything else.”
Indeed, Swift is a veritable one-woman marketing machine. With just a handful of Instagram posts, she could drum up the kind of publicity it would take a studio tens of millions of dollars to generate. Merely by showing up Thursday night to cheer on her rumored boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, in the team’s NFL game against the Denver Broncos, Swift created several million more social-media impressions to fuel the movie’s box office.
Swift’s juggernaut tour is already on track to take in more than $2 billion. (By comparison, the total box office for the year is expected to land at around $9 billion.) In offering fans the chance to see her show for a fraction of the hundreds of dollars they might have to shell out to see it live, the pop superstar — who is also releasing a new album, “1989 (Taylor’s Version),” this month — is further expanding the already massive reach of the Taylor-verse. (Swift, who has acted in a handful of films, including the box office duds “Cats” and “Amsterdam,” is also set to direct her first feature film for Searchlight Pictures from her own original script.)
Heading into the weekend, theater owners braced themselves for Taylormania to bring out large and potentially raucous crowds. At the film’s premiere Wednesday night in Los Angeles, which shut down the usually bustling outdoor mall the Grove, Swift herself was seen dancing in her seat in time with the choreographed moves on screen.
“I’ve never had this much fun in my life as I have had on the ‘Eras Tour,’ " the singer told the crowd, which included Beyoncé along with other celebrity Swifties like Adam Sandler, Simu Liu, Jennifer Garner and Mariska Hargitay. “It is far and away just the most electric experience of my life.”
Reviews for “The Eras Tour,” which runs nearly three hours and is focused purely on Swift’s stage show, with no backstage scenes or other documentary elements, have been overwhelmingly positive. (Director Sam Wrench has helmed concert films for artists like Billie Eilish and Lizzo.) Breaking it down with Times music writer Mikael Wood, film critic Justin Chang wrote, “Again and again, in between private stretches of partial tune recognition, my jaw dropped at the sheer visual grandeur of the thing.”
According to Dergarabedian, the buzz of this summer’s”Barbenheimer” phenomenon— and in particular the flocks of young women who turned out in pink for “Barbie” — helped set the stage for the success of Swift’s film.
“I’m sure ‘Barbenheimer’ was on Swift and her team’s radar,” Dergarabedian says. “That showed the world how the movie theater as a hub of influence can provide an exponentially stronger footprint in terms of revenue, social media and brand identification. Artists like Swift and Beyoncé live and breathe the communal experience, and that’s what the movie theater is.”
With the theatrical business still struggling to return to its pre-pandemic health — a recovery process that has been hampered by this year’s strikes in Hollywood — the success of “The Eras Tour” provides a much-needed shot in the arm. And for the music industry, it is certain to drive interest in finding similarly innovative, DIY ways to leverage the thrill of seeing live music on a big screen.
“Believe me, every boardroom at every major label is looking at this because of the halo effect it can bring,” Dergarabedian says. “Music and movies coming together is like peanut butter and chocolate. We’re in uncharted territory. But it’s a good place to be.”