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‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ likely to be a game-changer for the movie business

Movie theaters are readying for an onslaught, beginning Friday, when ‘Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour’ debuts. Advance ticket sales worldwide have already surpassed $100 million

Taylor Swift is releasing her concert film this month
Taylor Swift is releasing her concert film this month (AP)

Greg Marcus has been in the movie business for years but he never expected to be urging moviegoers to take out their phones during a film — let alone to be crafting friendship bracelets in preparation for an opening weekend.

But the chief executive and chair of the Marcus Corporation is in a promotion for his theater chain headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, stringing beads together while humming Shake It Off.

Movie theaters are readying for an onslaught like they’ve never seen before, beginning Friday when Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour debuts. The concert film, compiled from several Swift shows at Southern California’s SoFi Stadium, is expected to launch with $100 million, or possibly more. Advance ticket sales worldwide have already surpassed $100 million.

Swifties will descend. Dancing will be encouraged.

“This is different,” says Marcus. “Take your phone out. Take selfies. Dance, sing, get up, have a good time. We want to create an atmosphere.”

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Concert films, of course, aren’t anything new. Just last month, the Talking Heads classic Stop Making Sense returned to theaters for a decades-later encore. But “The Eras Tour” heralds something new and potentially game-changing in the movie industry.

Two of the biggest stars on the planet — Swift and , in December under a very similar arrangement, Beyoncé — are heading into cinemas in first-of-their-kind deals made directly with AMC Theaters that circumvent Hollywood studios and which, for now, leave streamers waiting on the sidelines.

But how did the once declared-for-dead multiplex become the go-to place this fall a pair of stars previously at home on Netflix?

When studios began diverting some of their titles to streaming platforms, movie theaters began thinking harder about how they could fill their screens — a question exacerbated this autumn by an actors strike that’s led to the postponement of big releases like Dune: Part Two.

Movie theaters are increasingly not just a marquee of movie showtimes but a big-screen stage for a variety of visual media. BTS earlier this year released a concert film, with higher ticket prices and limited showtimes. The Metropolitan Opera has for years done popular live broadcasts in theaters.

Few acts can do what Swift and Beyoncé can. Their expected success is unlikely to be replicated. But The Eras Tour could be the start of an expansion of what, exactly, a movie theater can be. 

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“You could say we’re in the movie business, but really we’re in the getting-together-with-other-people business,” says Marcus. “The more we do of it, the more the customers will think about it and the more talent will go: This is something I could do.”

Swift’s camp was motivated to get the film out even as her stadium tour continues internationally. The tour, which is projected by Pollstar to gross some $1.4 billion, crashed Ticketmaster’s site, saw sky-high resale mark-ups and left many fans priced out.

The movie, directed by Sam Wrench, would be a way for millions more to experience the Eras Tour. Adult tickets are being sold for $19.89,” a reference to her birth year and 2014 album, a re-recording of which is due out 27 October. That's higher than the average movie ticket but several thousand less than many tickets to see Swift live.

It's arriving uncommonly fast, too, just a little over two months since the SoFi shows. Speed was one reason Swift’s father, Scott Swift, is said to have sought out a direct deal with AMC. Swift produced the film, herself, and, with 274 million followers on Instagram, didn’t need a studio to promote it.

Both AMC and representatives for Swift declined to discuss the film’s release.

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“Innovation had effectively been stunted,” says Makan Delrahim, the former antitrust chief at the Justice Department who proposed ending the consent decrees.

Delrahim believes Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour — as a movie distributed by a theater chain, with nontraditional ticket prices — could “fuel new business models to save the exhibitors.”

“There will be more appetite to experiment different models for theatrical distribution,” Delrahim says. “The industry needs it and, frankly, so do consumers.”

Meanwhile, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is poised to become the biggest concert film ever in about two days of release. Not accounting for inflation, 2011’s Justin Bieber: Never Say Never holds that mark with $73.1 million across its entire run. Accounting for inflation, it will be harder for The Eras Tour to catch Woodstock, which grossed $50 million in 1970, a total that translates to nearly $400 million today.

In Marcus’ theaters, like many other chains, there will be friendship bracelet stations. Sound systems have been modified for more of a concert feel. And while Marcus grants it will be strange to see an AMC logo before a film playing in his theaters, he doesn't particularly mind.

“I’m just happy it's there,” he says.


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