A short list of the things Taylor Swift has radically altered over the course of her relatively young career: the concert industry, Nashville, Apple Music, the National Football League, memes, the vocal cords of girls aged 8 through 12, Ticketmaster, the SEO profiles of Jake Gyllenhaal and Joe Alwyn and John Mayer and Harry Styles and Matt Healy, the very concept of social-media marketing, U.S. presidential elections.
And now the world’s most famous pop star is set to save, or at the very least seismically transform, the movie theatre business.
This Friday, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is opening in theatres in more than 100 countries, including Canada, with the film guaranteed a minimum four-weekend run (far longer than the typical one- or two-night engagement a concert documentary might receive). Directed by Sam Wrench and running a Scorsese-sized 169 minutes, the movie follows Swift’s sixth headlining concert tour, which has taken the United States by storm, sending fans into a frenzy in order to secure tickets.
The film is not being screened for Canadian media ahead of its release – and why should it? This is the most critic-proof movie to come along in ages, having already earned US$100-million in pre-sales. There is every good chance the doc could make more money than this season’s biggest hopeful blockbuster, Disney’s The Marvels. And Hollywood could not be more upset.
That’s because Swift and her team completely bypassed the traditional film-industry system to get The Eras Tour into theatres. Instead of working with a major studio such as Paramount or Disney or Universal – outfits with their own infrastructures, relationships with exhibitors and massive marketing departments – Swift and Co. went directly to U.S. theatre giant AMC to distribute the film, with subdistributor Variance Films booking it into other theatres.
For exhibitors, the unprecedented move is a much-needed boon, as theatre owners face an otherwise dire fall and winter thanks to major Hollywood studios having pushed a number of potential hits to 2024 due to the continuing SAG-AFTRA strike. If movie theatres can’t have Dune: Part Two (punted from Oct. 20 to March 15) or Challengers (Sept. 15 to April 26), then a Swift-sized jolt of energy is hugely welcome. Especially if the exhibitors themselves (in this case, AMC) reportedly don’t have to kick as much of the box-office take to the Swift team as they would have if, say, Disney had distributed the film.
Already, Swift’s move has sparked a minitrend, with Beyoncé taking a similar direct-to-consumer approach for her forthcoming concert doc, Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé, which opens Dec. 1.
And Hollywood is not taking the Swift threat idly, either. Universal expedited the release date for The Exorcist: Believer so it wouldn’t compete with The Eras Tour, with Exorcist producer Jason Blum conceding the fight with a post on X that included the hashtag “#TaylorWins.”
Truly, the clear winner is Swift, once again. The musician not only has the pure artistic talent to capture the zeitgeist, but also the killer-instinct business savvy to keep on making myriad industries bend to her will.
Still, you cannot help but wonder if Swift’s move is also her way of punishing an industry that has so far been unable to figure out how to properly use her talents: her acting roles so far have been confined to movies in which she is quickly killed onscreen (David O. Russell’s messy Amsterdam) or in which an early death would have been a blessing (Tom Hooper’s atrocious Cats). Look what you made her do, Hollywood.