Box Office Dominance. Taylor’s Version.

People went back to movie theatres this week in droves, and most of them weren’t even going to a movie.  Per FORBES’ Hugh McIntyre:

Taylor Swift has conquered almost every chart there is, and that statement now includes the ranking of the biggest movies in America.

The singer’s new concert film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour launches at No. 1 on the list of the top-grossing movies this past weekend in America. Not only was the superstar’s first major motion picture of this kind a success, it blew every other title out of the water.

Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour opened with somewhere between $95 million and $97 million at the North American box office, according to the Associated Press. Internationally, the film’s success was equally impressive, estimated to have earned a substantial $31 to $33 million. These international earnings contribute to a global total in the range of $126 million to $130 million.

As Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour celebrated a resounding victory at the box office in North America, it beat even the most exciting new releases by a massive margin. In fact, Swift’s film was reportedly responsible for 70% of box office grosses this past weekend.

And as CNN’s Brian Lowry added, the Swift phenomeon was precedent-shattering in numerous other ways:

Advance sales for “The Eras Tour” left little doubt that the event would be a major success, leaving only the precise numbers in doubt. Collecting somewhere around $96 million in domestic release, per theater chain AMC’s estimates, its first three days in theaters shattered the overall record for any concert film.  Among other things, as Deadline reported, thanks to “The Eras Tour” the aggregate weekend tally for theaters in North America rose to its highest level since early August.

While those numbers were, per CNBC’s Sarah Whitten, slightly below the levels posted by JOKER, and some analysts’ insistence that anything south of $100 million would be considered a disappointment, it actually got to those lofty figures despite some handicaps:

(T)he film also had some headwinds to contend with. Thursday previews weren’t announced until less than a day before tickets would be made available, and Friday showings didn’t start until 6 p.m. local time. This meant that many audience members had likely already secured tickets to see the film later in the weekend, and the film missed out on the business that early showings Friday could have generated.  So, the Eras Tour film snared just $2.8 million in last-minute Thursday night previews for a total of $37.5 million on its opening day. Meanwhile, the highest October opening, Warner Bros.’ “Joker” from 2019, secured $13.3 million from Thursday previews, feeding a $39.3 million opening day.

Sorry. in a world where practically everything not connected to a franchise, or contributing to the mashup BARBENHEIMER, has tanked, I call that a win.

Lowry’s effusiveness is a bit muted, as he was quick to point out the unicorn-like qualities in play here:

Credit theaters with creativity, as the Swift invasion and Beyoncé’s upcoming version of the Renaissance Tour amount to taking matters into their own hands at a time when studios have struggled – even with big-name franchises – to consistently deliver attractions that will overcome the headwinds associated with streaming and the pandemic.

Those titles, however, have the feeling of a sugar rush, with short-lived benefits, which doesn’t address the underlying problem or the general malaise assailing the theatrical business…While theater owners have every right to be thrilled seeing people fill seats (or even dancing in front of them, per “Eras” etiquette), the highs associated with those standouts don’t provide enough of a boost to replace what they really need – namely, a steady drip of hits. 

What this does point to is that it is possible for movie theatres to put butts in the seats relying upon something else besides actual movies.  And this is not that unprecedented.  For years theatres hosted closed circult telecasts of major boxing championships.  Decades earlier theatres built Saturday matinees around a vaudeville-like program that included live performances, newsreels and cartoons.    The concept of communal viewing isn’t completely lost on a generation of isolationists, particularly the demographics that theatre owners target.   There are plenty of other concert tours that are likely to follow this lead, especially with live event prices skyrocketing.  No, not every performer has the ability to promote themselves as ubiquitously and unashamedly as Swift, whose budding romance with star NFL tight end Travis Kelce has in effect given her television’s most popular content–pro football–as an outlet for free publicity.  The league, and the networks and platforms carrying Kelce’s Chiefs games lately, aren’t protesting, either–they’re seeing measureable bumps in young female audience that likely has little to do with Kansas City’s strong 5-1 start.

And it reinforces the other reality that scripted content perhaps isn’t the be-all and end-all for entertainment options.  On the television side, audience levels for unscripted series are as robust as any that were being achieved by scripted series last year.  THE GOLDEN BACHELOR and SURVIVOR are seeing delayed-viewing deltas in triple digits, levels historically seen only by arced dramas.  And as currencies capable of more completely measuring cross-platform viewing, and as technology allows subscribers to start an episode on a big screen and finish it on a device, with their aggregate viewing counted, those running these kinds of shows are benefitting enough so that while the desire to get a more diverse lineup may be there, the necessity is not.

As actors doubled down on their rhetoric yesterday in the wake of last week’s hissyfit from the AMPTP, assertions like this offered up by THE WRAP’s Umberto Gonzalez ring somewhat hollow in the light of the kind of success alternatives to content including actors are having:

SAG-AFTRA picketers on the strike lines at Amazon Studios in Culver City weren’t having the argument that studios could not pay a per-subscriber fee to their guild on Monday, as one put it: “They can afford 57 cents per subscriber.”

TheWrap reported Monday morning that the sticking point that led the studios to walk away from the negoitating table was a SAG-AFTRA demand for a viewership bonus of a $1 per subscriber, per year — a proposal that, according to the union’s chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, actually amounted to 57 cents per subscriber after removing non-SAG shows. The studios had already turned down the idea of sharing revenue.

In theory, the justification is there.  No one is saying actors don’t deserve something better than what they have.  But timing may not be ideal to raise the bar quite as high as the demand for a fixed fee for even the least-viewed work.  Exhibitors clearly have options.  You don’t.

So here’s hoping as the clock ticks even louder toward potentially blowing up the entire 2023-24 production slate irrevocably,  cooler heads on both sides somehow prevail.

We wouldn’t want anyone else besides the millions in the theatres to be singing “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. would we?

Until next time…


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