NEW YORK (AP) — Greg Marcus has been in the cinema business for years, but he never imagined he’d be encouraging moviegoers to take out their phones during a movie — to the point of creating friendship bracelets in preparation for the opening weekend. That’s a far cry.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
But there the chief executive and chairman of Marcus Corporation is, promoting his theater chain headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, stringing together beads while humming “Shake It Off.”
Movie theaters are preparing for an influx like they’ve never witnessed before, starting Friday when “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” begins. The concert film, compiled from multiple Swift performances at SoFi Stadium in Southern California, is predicted to debut with $100 million or even more. Advance ticket sales worldwide have already surpassed $100 million.
The Swifties will descend. Dancing will be encouraged.
“It’s different,” says Marcus. “Take out your phone. Take selfies. Dance, sing, get up, have a good time. We want to create an atmosphere.”
Of course, concert films are nothing new. Just last month, the Talking Heads classic “Stop Making Sense” returned to theaters after decades. But “The Era’s Tour” marks the start of something novel and potentially game-changing in the film industry.
Two of the largest stars on the planet — Swift and, following a very similar arrangement in December, Beyoncé — are heading straight to theaters in a first-of-its-kind deal made with AMC Theatres, bypassing Hollywood studios and leaving the streamers waiting on the sidelines, for now.
But how did the multiplex, once declared dead, become the favorite destination this fall for Swift and Beyoncé instead of Netflix?
As studios began shifting some of their titles to streaming platforms, movie theaters started contemplating how they could fill their screens — a question that was exacerbated by the actors’ strike this autumn, which forced major releases like “Dune: Part Two” to be postponed.
Movie theaters are no longer merely a stage for movie showtimes, but also a large-screen platform for a variety of visual media. BTS released a concert film earlier this year with high ticket prices and limited showtimes. The Metropolitan Opera has been broadcasting popular live performances in theaters for years.
Only a few can accomplish what Swift and Beyoncé can. Their projected success is unlikely to be replicated. However, “The Eras Tour” may very well be the start of a movie theater expansion, similar to the local area but much cheaper and available in most towns.
“You might say we’re in the movie business, but we’re really in the business of connecting with others,” says Marcus. “The more we do about it, the more customers will consider it and the more talent will come forward: This is something I can do.”
Swift’s team was inspired to release the film while her stadium tour is ongoing internationally. Pollstar estimated that the tour would gross approximately $1.4 billion. Ticketmaster’s site crashed, excessive resale mark-ups were observed, and many fans were priced out.
The film, directed by Sam Wrench, will provide millions of people with an experience of the Eras Tour. Adult tickets are being sold for $19.89, referencing her birth year and her 2014 album, the re-recording of which is scheduled for October 27. That’s more expensive than the average movie ticket, but many tickets to see Swift live cost several thousand dollars or even less.
It’s also coming in unusually fast, a little over two months after the SoFi show. Swift’s father, Scott Swift, reportedly sought a direct deal with AMC, citing speed as one of the reasons. Swift produced the film herself and, with 274 million followers on Instagram, she didn’t need a studio to promote it.
The pop star’s reported relationship with Kansas City Chiefs player Travis Kelce has placed an even brighter spotlight on the film. According to ad tracking firm iSpot, TV ads for the film aired only a few dozen times through October 6, including several spots during NFL broadcasts. (By comparison, a Marvel movie may have several thousand TV commercials.)
43% of ticket sales will be split with theaters, and 57% will be shared by Swift and AMC, with the larger share going to Swift. The film is expected to run for at least 13 weeks in theaters, longer than many Hollywood releases these days. AMC CEO Adam Aron referred to the deal as a “coup for AMC” on social media.
Representatives for AMC and Swift both declined to comment on the film’s release.
After the Los Angeles premiere on Wednesday, there will be no advance screenings until the film begins at 6 pm local time on Friday. Most wide-release films open with Thursday screenings and Friday opening day screenings. This is another aspect of a non-traditional release that challenges Hollywood norms.
“Innovation in this business arises from challenging times. We’re witnessing a lot of changes, some subtle, some not so subtle,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at data firm comScore. “Right now, it seems like there are no rules when it comes to attaining success.”
Dergarabedian believes that the two concert films will help boost the North American box office to over $9 billion in 2023, up from $7.4 billion last year and close to the $11.4 billion in 2019.
“It really brought to light the idea that other types of content can do very well in a movie theater,” he says.
Some of these changes have been facilitated by the elimination of long-standing antitrust restrictions governing film distribution. The Paramount consent decree, which regulated the split between exhibition and distribution for over 70 years, was terminated in 2020 at the Justice Department’s insistence, with a two-year sunset period that ended last year.
“Innovation was essentially blocked,” says Makan Delrahim, the former Justice Department antitrust chief who proposed eliminating the consent decrees.
Delrahim believes that “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” — as a film distributed by a theater chain, with non-traditional ticket prices — “could foster new business models to save exhibitors.”
“There will be a greater appetite for experimenting with different models of theatrical distribution,” says Delrahim. “The industry needs it, and, frankly, so do consumers.”
Meanwhile, ‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ is on pace to become the highest-grossing concert film of all time within about two days of its release. Not accounting for inflation, 2011’s “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” holds that record with $73.1 million throughout its run. Even accounting for inflation, it would be difficult for “The Eras Tour” to surpass “Woodstock,” which grossed $50 million in 1970, equivalent to about $400 million today.
Marcus theaters, like many other chains, will have Friendship Bracelet stations. The sound systems have been enhanced for an optimal concert experience. While Marcus admits that it would be strange to see the AMC logo before a movie plays in their theaters, he doesn’t particularly mind.
“I’m so glad it’s there,” he says.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP
Jake Coyle, The Associated Press