UPDATED, September 1, 2023 regarding SAG-AFTRA strike rules and adding an additional date change.
When Taylor Swift announced early Thursday morning on Instagram that “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” will be theatrically presented in nearly all domestic and many international theaters for four weekends beginning October 13, all hell broke loose.
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The concert film (Is it a recording of a full concert, or something with more cinematic shaping? Unclear, but assume Swifties would not mind a straightforward presentation) is certain to be one of the year’s biggest grossing theatrical events. Already it’s selling out many theaters and creating delays at some exhibitor presale websites. The distributor of record is AMC’s own distribution arm and it’s by far the most significant release in its history; previously, it handled the minor releases of small films at its own theaters. AMC also published a press release.
And until that early-morning press release, the studios didn’t have a clue.
Multiple sources told IndieWire that distribution execs — who might be very, very interested to know about the wide release of a concert film that captures the billion-dollar, sold-out global tour of a cult-like figure with armies of fans — learned about this from either the press release or an early-morning phone call from the exhibitor-distributor.
The only exhibitors who knew about the deal were the film’s partners, AMC and Cinemark; other theaters are now playing catchup. AMC, the nation’s largest circuit also chose not to tip off its studio partners and that’s causing major anger.
Then again, perhaps turnabout is fair play. There’s no indication that, say, Warner Bros. conferred with exhibitors before deciding to pull the Nov. 3 release of would-be blockbuster “Dune: Part Two” and moving it into spring. That weekend will now be the final for the “Eras Tour” release — unless, of course, it’s held over.
Swift and her representatives chose AMC Theaters Distribution as the distributor of record for the U.S.; Cinemark and other circuits will handle foreign territories. However, the concert is not exclusive to any exhibitor; in the U.S., New York-based Variance will book the film for other theaters. It’s expected to open on more than 4,000 screens, which could impact the October box office.
Universal, which previously had the only new film on October 13, has moved Jason Blum’s much-anticipated “The Exorcist: The Believer” to October 6. That’s neither cheap nor optimal: Advance marketing already has the original date, with advertising committed. Bleecker Street also changed its date for their Meg Ryan-directed “What Happens Later” to November 3.
The next weekend, Paramount plans the wide release of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” ahead of its Apple streaming. Days ago, Paramount announced that “Killers” would skip an October 6 limited release and move straight into wide. Now, Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro might face competition with Swift for IMAX and premium screens. That’s particularly troubling since the drama’s screenings are already limited by its 3.5-hour runtime. For now, all IMAX venues checked show no on-sales for either film on the weekend of October 20.
Most of all, this is an aggressive, gloves-off move among the gentlepersons’ agreements that generally guide theater bookings. Distributors don’t surprise each other with release dates. Studios expect to have the lead time to defend their films’ priority at theaters. With Swift, AMC has committed screens for multiple weekends and made their unavailability a fait accompli.
Sources suggest the terms of this release, including its announcement, are dictated by Swift’s team, not AMC. The concert’s ticket prices are preset at $19.89 for adults, $13.13 for children not including taxes and fees. That’s unusual, if not illegal; distributors are prohibited from dictating ticket prices and it’s unclear what loophole might have been used here. That also violates industry norms of variable pricing for matinees, senior discounts, and different regions. Manhattan and Los Angeles theaters cost more than a small Midwestern town, but not here. Also disregarded are theaters’ benefit programs like AMC Stubs.
Ultimately, it may not matter who’s to blame. Theaters’ ticket websites are now swamped, which could damage Sony with “The Equalizer 3” opening this Friday. AMC’s sites suggested — for today at least — that people buy tickets at theaters; meanwhile, studios often pay exhibitors for elevated site placements. Don’t expect them to be happy when people can’t purchase tickets.
UPDATED: All Swifties aside, this represents exhibitors sending a clear message to studios in the middle of the SAG and WGA strikes: Theaters can find programming without their help. On Thursday, Billboard confirmed that the project was granted an interim agreement before the concert film was shot, thus ensuring it’s not violating any strike rules.
Finally, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” may force clarity on a long-simmering box-office issue: What is a movie? This clearly will be a major contributor to theaters’ bottom lines, but should pre-recorded events like concerts, operas, and plays be included in box-office statistics?
She sells billions of dollars in concert tickets, music, and merchandise; inspires slavish loyalty from fans of all ages; and is a brilliant marketer. We can now add another to Swift’s very long list of achievements: She’s opened Pandora’s Box.
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