NEW YORK — Greg Marcus has been in the movie business for years, but he never expected to be encouraging moviegoers to pull out their phones during the movie, let alone making friendship bracelets in preparation for opening weekend.
But the chief executive and president of the Marcus Corporation is strung the beads together while humming “Shake It Off” on a promotion for the theater chain headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Movie theaters are bracing for an onslaught like they’ve never seen before with the release of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” starting Friday. The concert film, compiled from various Swift shows at Southern California’s SoFi Stadium, is expected to debut with revenues of $100 million or possibly more. Worldwide advance ticket sales have already surpassed $100 million.
Swifties will descend. Dancing will be encouraged.
“This is different,” Marcus says. “Take out your phone. Take selfies. Dance, sing, get up, have a good time. We want to create an atmosphere.”
Concert movies are nothing new, of course. Just last month, the Talking Heads classic “Stop Making Sense” returned to theaters for a re-release after decades. But the “Eras Tour” heralds something new and potentially game-changing in the film industry.
Two of the biggest stars on the planet are heading to theaters — Swift and Beyoncé in a very similar arrangement in December — in first-of-its-kind deals that bypass Hollywood studios and, for now, go directly with AMC Theaters. Leave the pennants waiting on the sidelines.
So how did the once-declared-dead multiplex become the first choice for a pair of stars previously at home on Netflix this fall?
As studios began directing some productions to streaming platforms, movie theaters began to think more about how they could fill their screens. This problem was exacerbated by an actors’ strike this fall, which led to the postponement of major productions such as “Dune: Part Two.”
Movie theaters are increasingly becoming not only a place for movie screenings, but also a big-screen stage for a variety of visual media. BTS released a concert film earlier this year with higher ticket prices and limited screening times. The Metropolitan Opera has been producing popular live broadcasts in theaters for years.
Few actors can do what Swift and Beyoncé can do. The expected success is unlikely to be repeated. But the “Eras Tour” may be the beginning of an expansion of what exactly a movie theater can be. Consider Sphere, only much cheaper and in most towns.
“You might say we’re in the movie business, but we’re actually in the business of connecting with other people,” Marcus says. “The more we do this, the more customers will think and the more talent will go: This is something I can do.”
Swift’s camp was motivated to release the film even as her stadium tour continued internationally. The tour, which Pollstar expected to gross around $1.4 billion, crashed Ticketmaster’s site, saw sky-high resale profits, and left many fans price-gouged.
Directed by Sam Wrench, the film will be a way for millions more to experience the Eras Tour. Adult tickets are available for $19.89,” a reference to his birth year and his 2014 album, whose re-recording will be released on October 27. That’s more than the average movie ticket, but a few thousand less than most tickets needed to see Swift live. .
It’s coming unusually quickly, just over two months after the SoFi demos. Speed was one of the reasons why Swift’s father, Scott Swift, signed a direct deal with AMC. Swift produced the film herself, and since she has 274 million followers on Instagram, she didn’t need a studio to promote it.
The pop star’s apparent relationship with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce further fueled interest in the film. According to ad tracking firm iSpot, TV spots for the film have aired only a few dozen times as of October 6; this includes several commercials during NFL broadcasts. (By comparison, a Marvel movie might run several thousand TV spots.)
43 percent of ticket sales will be distributed to movie theaters, 57 percent to Swift and AMC, with the lion’s share going to Swift. The film will be released exclusively in theaters for at least 13 weeks; That’s longer than most of Hollywood’s currently released movies. AMC CEO Adam Aron called the deal “a coup for AMC” on social media.
Both AMC and Swift’s representatives declined to talk about the film’s release.
After the premiere in Los Angeles on Wednesday, there will be no previews until the film opens at 6pm local time on Friday. Most wide release movies open with Thursday showings and Friday daytime showings. It’s another wrinkle in an unconventional release that defies Hollywood norms.
“Innovation in this business emerges from challenging times. “We’re seeing a lot of changes, some subtle, some not so subtle,” says Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at data firm Comscore. “It seems like there are no rules when it comes to being successful right now.”
Dergarabedian believes the two concert films will help push the North American box office to over $9 billion in 2023; This figure is approaching $11.4 billion in 2019, up from $7.4 billion last year.
“This really opens up the idea that other types of content can play really well in a movie theater,” he says.
Some of these changes were facilitated by the removal of long-held antitrust restrictions on film distribution. Paramount consent decrees that had governed distinctions between exhibition and distribution for more than 70 years were rescinded in 2020 at the urging of the Justice Department, with a two-year sunset period that lasted until last year.
“Innovation has effectively been stymied,” says Makan Delrahim, the former Justice Department antitrust chief who recommended ending consent decrees.
Delrahim believes “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” a movie distributed by a theater chain with nontraditional ticket prices, “could spark new business models to save attendees.”
“There will be more willingness to try different models for theatrical distribution,” Delrahim says. “The industry needs it, and frankly, consumers need it too.”
Meanwhile, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” is poised to become the biggest concert movie ever, about two days after opening in theaters. 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 up with “Woodstock,” which grossed $50 million in 1970 and translates to about $400 million today.
Marcus’ theaters, like many other chains, will also have friendship bracelet stations. The sound systems have been changed to give more of a concert feel. Marcus admits it would be weird to see the AMC logo before a movie plays in his theaters, but he doesn’t mind.
“I’m happy it’s there,” he says.