May 23, 2024

Taylor Swift always knew her record-breaking Eras Tour wouldn’t be confined to the mega-sized stadiums she was selling out. And she was right: Her accompanying concert film — which brings the epic, three-hour show to its widest audience yet — enters theaters on Oct. 13 as the highest-grossing in history. It has already earned $100 million in advance global ticket sales, surpassing the entire run of the genre’s former record holder, 2011’s “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” ($99 million).

But the film’s journey to cinemas was as layered and complex as a Swift lyric, involving unorthodox strategies, bruised egos and one monster payday for the pop star at the center of it all. That’s to say nothing of the likely windfall that blockbuster-starved exhibitors are expecting to reap when “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” opens.

Before the tour of the summer made its way to the big screen in the fall, representatives from the pop star’s camp began holding meetings with major studios. They were hoping to find a distribution partner for an Eras Tour concert film, a cinematic rendering of her SoFi Stadium show in Los Angeles. Swift, who had previously met with studios in 2021 about a theatrical run for her short film “All Too Well,” was presented with full-blown plans that included marketing ideas and a strategy for later rolling out the film on streaming and home entertainment platforms.

But sources say Swift’s camp seemed less interested in where the film would ultimately play after moviegoers had a chance to see it in cinemas. They primarily cared about giving fans who hadn’t been able to spring for concert tickets — or were foiled by the TicketMaster meltdown — the opportunity to experience Eras in all its glory, friendship bracelets and glittery outfits encouraged. To that end, some of the major streamers didn’t engage much with the star, believing she wouldn’t be interested in what they had to offer.

Then, silence. A studio executive who pitched Team Swift said talks stopped mid-summer and noted that they couldn’t get any insight into what was happening. But a few months later they got that clarity, as Swift announced on social media that her concert tour would be coming to movie theaters in October. She bypassed the traditional Hollywood studios and partnered with AMC Theatres, the world’s biggest cinema chain. The film isn’t exclusive to AMC; it will also play in the U.S. at Cinemark and Regal theaters and in approximately 8,500 cinemas across 100 countries.

Executives who tried to land a distribution deal felt burned by her unconventional route. And some studios are annoyed with AMC Theatres, believing the exhibitor has encroached on their territory. “All I know is she got a lot of free advice,” says one executive, who believes Swift was never really interested in finding a studio to distribute the picture.

A source close to the negotiations pushed back on the characterization. “This sounds like sour grapes,” the source said. “Everyone had the opportunity to bid on this, but ultimately Taylor decided to bet on herself.”

Others believe her approach has the potential to be game-changing for film distribution. Already, Beyoncé has announced that a concert film of her Renaissance World Tour is headed to cinemas in December, using a similar deal to the one forged by AMC and Swift. However, insiders point out that few other artists command that kind of zeitgeist-setting power.

Cutting out the middleman could be lucrative for the musician. Swift’s camp will receive roughly 57% of ticket sales, with theaters keeping the remaining revenues and AMC taking a small distribution fee (much less than what studios would have charged). As for exhibitors, many feel it’s a generous deal, noting that Marvel movies receive roughly 65% of box office profits.

Based on the “Eras Tour” movie’s massive pre-sales, Swift’s camp will receive at least $60 million, a sum that should climb even higher beyond opening weekend. That’s to say nothing of home entertainment. After its theatrical run, Swift can carve out a separate deal there — and may even choose to self-distribute again, where she could partner with a company like Apple to release the movie on iTunes.

Bypassing studios also allowed Swift to release the film in a timelier fashion, without needing to wait for distributors to find a convenient spot for her on the release calendar. Instead, it’s Swift setting the schedule for not just her film, but those around it. Four movies — “The Exorcist: Believer,” “Dumb Money,” Hilary Swank’s “Ordinary Angels” and Meg Ryan’s rom-com “What Happens Next” — have moved their debuts to avoid “Eras Tour,” which premieres on Oct. 13, Swift’s lucky number.

For movie theaters, however, it’s an unexpected boon in what would have been an otherwise desolate fall — especially after the vacancy left by “Dune: Part Two,” which moved from November to March 2024. Swift’s film is projected to open to at least $100 million (with estimates as high as $125 million or more) in North America alone. It would be the only film in October, the first since July, and the sixth of the year, to hit triple digits in its debut. Box office experts believe ticket sales may not hold as steady in the subsequent weekends and expect overall revenues to top out between $200 million and $250 million.

Even if that’s the case, it’ll be among the top 10 films of the year, with the potential to outperform $300 million-budgeted blockbusters like Tom Cruise’s “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” ($174 million), “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” ($174 million) and “Fast X” ($145 million).

Swift’s film will achieve similar box office heights with far fewer showtimes. Another rarity: “Eras Tour” is only screening on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays to make it feel less like a movie and more like an event. This way, the team behind the film hopes, there’s a better chance that audiences will be able to watch the concert extravaganza with a packed crowd and not in half-empty theaters during a Monday matinee.

And, of course, Swift is a global draw. Initially “Eras Tour” was only going to play on the big screen in North America, where the pop star has already wrapped up the first leg of her domestic tour. (She’s returning to the U.S. and Canada next October.) Then tickets started selling less like a concert film and more like an all-audience tentpole. It set a single-day domestic record for AMC after selling $26 million in less than 24 hours, besting the all-time benchmark previously held by “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($16.9 million). With such strong momentum, Swift and AMC decided to release the film simultaneously in 100 countries around the world.

They’ve been able to amend plans so quickly because anything pertaining to Swift requires much fewer marketing dollars, at least compared to other films of this scale. Most of the promotion for “Eras Tour” has been limited to only a handful of social media posts by Swift, who has more than 350 million Instagram and Twitter followers. As they say, one post in the hands of the biggest pop star in the world is worth a million TV spots and billboards.

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