It’s a Friday the 13th weekend in October, and Halloween is just two weeks around the corner, yet the biggest chills occurring in Hollywood tonight is the prospect of trying to do business opposite Taylor Swift’s crowning moment of cinematic glory. That’s right. It’s The Eras Tour movie weekend, and the impact could be bigger than just those initial rounds of box office receipts.
Not that the impending box office gross of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour isn’t also dazzlingly important to the exhibition industry. As of press time on Thursday afternoon, industry prognosticators at Hollywood studios are pegging the film to open north of $100 million in the U.S. while a $150 million global cume is also expected based on pre-release ticket sales; Las Vegas bookies are taking over and under bets on whether the film crosses $115 million in North America during its first three days; and box office analytics firm EnTelligence is reporting that the film will sell out more theaters than either Barbie or Spider-Man: No Way Home, which opened to $162 million and $260 million, respectively.
All of which is to say it’s a Tay Tay world, and we’re just living in it.
Wherever the opening ultimately lands, it’s safe to say The Eras Tour is going to signal the first cultural event at the multiplex since the Barbie and Oppenheimer double-header made all the action franchises of the summer look like old-timer antiques. That’s obviously a feather in Swift’s cap, one to match the plumage of her turning apparently millions of Swifties into overnight Kansas City Chiefs fans. However, if you dig a little deeper, Eras isn’t just a cinematic event; it’s a potential game-changer in how big movies are released.
Unlike any other wide theatrical release to hit cinemas, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour has neither a Hollywood or major indie distributor putting it into theaters. Instead, Swift cut a deal directly with AMC Entertainment, owner of the largest cinema chain in North America, AMC Theatres.
Under the plan cut between the Swift family and AMC CEO Adam Aron, Eras will play in most of the major theater chains in North America, including of course AMC, where the local exhibitors will reportedly take a little less than half of the ticket sales from excited fans; the remaining lion’s share will be split between AMC, which is acting as the distributor, and Taylor Swift herself. And according to Puck News, this arrangement between the pop star and exhibition chain left Hollywood studios thunderstruck and scrambling ahead of Labor Day weekend.
As per Matt Bellioni’s newsletter, AMC cut the deal with Swift after an acquaintance put Aron in touch with Taylor’s father, Scott Swift, and AMC felt liberated to not tip off their movie studio partners about what amounts to a theatrical coup. This is because before Swift personally announced via social media the Eras film to stunned fans at the end of August, she had been in negotiations with several major film studios about releasing the concert movie through traditional channels.
Concert films of course are not new. Swift has in fact starred in several of them which have found their way to various streamers. However, as per usual, studios encouraged Swift to put an Eras film out in 2024 or even 2025—long after the neon-hot buzz and excitement around the Eras tour was over. They were also looking at more limited engagements, similar to many other concert films’ releases, be it through studios or a company like Fathom Events.
However, Swift wanted the movie out while the Eras tour was still selling out stadiums and leaving plenty of fans with lesser means without a ticket. She also likely realized a revolutionary idea: She doesn’t really need a major film studio to dictate release strategies and take a large (if not the largest) share of revenue; not when she can promote the film well enough to sell out its first week with little more than a couple of IG posts and tweets.
Traditionally, major Hollywood studios have been indispensable when pursuing a wide release in North America, particularly for a full theatrical run (so more than a couple of days). The reasons are twofold: First, you need a studio’s distribution connections with exhibitors (movie theaters) as well as their seasoned marketing and publicity arms to drum up awareness and interest in a film. As many an indie filmmaker can attest, the hardest thing about releasing a film is getting audiences aware that it exists.
The other key element is that for the better part of the last century, distributors have been legally forbidden from exhibiting their own movies. This is due to the landmark Paramount Decrees which came about after the Supreme Court decision in the United States vs. Paramount Pictures (1948).
In that historic ruling, the SCOTUS dismantled vertical integration in Hollywood, meaning movie studios could no longer also own the movie houses and cinemas where their movies were shown. Prior to this ruling, most of the movie theaters in the U.S. were owned by a handful of studios who controlled which films those exhibitors could screen and at what prices. It was bordering on a handful of monopolies.
Of course modern American courts have far fewer hang ups about monopolies, and the decision did seem somewhat antiquated in a 21st century when streaming services also control their own means of production, distribution, and exhibition, all under one roof. Hence the Federal District Court of Southern New York overturning the Paramount Decrees in August 2020. (One might suggest the better alternative would be to legally prohibit, say, Netflix or Disney from creating the original content they premiere on their streaming services, but that’s obviously a nonstarter in this anti-regulatory climate.)
As a consequence, movie studios can now technically own their own theaters, a turn of legal fate the studios have been slow to take advantage of. However, it also means major exhibitors, such as AMC Entertainment, can also act as their own distributors, as well as distributors for other movie theater chains and independent cinemas. In other words, the theaters can cut the studios out.
AMC reportedly felt little need to give studios a warning about the deal with Swift given how liberated studios felt about moving agreed-upon theatrical releases to streaming in 2020, or deciding to release entire 2021 film slates, and a healthy chunk of 2022’s, on their streaming services the same day and date they opened in theaters. The studios insisted it was only about COVID safety concerns, but it’s telling that after Disney realized they were losing money by putting Black Widow onto Disney+ (even with a paywall) the same day it opened in theaters, the entire exercise vanished with the company’s AAA Marvel products.
More recently, as members of the collective bargaining alliance that is the AMPTP, studios refused to engage with the writers’ and actors’ guilds during this summer’s strike for months, leading major fall 2023 films to abandon the entire fiscal quarter. It felt like 2020 all over again. Warner Bros. Pictures’ Dune: Part Two, for instance, had an entire lane cleared for it in November where it would hold all the IMAX screens for three weeks, undisturbed by even Marvel. And yet, WB opted to delay the film to March 2024 after letting the AMPTP drag its feet on the strikes all summer.
So yeah, AMC didn’t give them a courtesy call when they landed the Swift deal, and in turn it is the studios who are cringing, with Universal Pictures biting the bullet and likely spending millions of dollars to move The Exorcist: Believer from its choice Friday the 13th opening day kickoff to Oct. 6. The power of Swift compelled them.
This is a win for movie theaters, and if Eras truly over-performs, it will definitely not be the last. Already Beyoncé has announced her own concert film event, partnering again with AMC Theatres without the Hollywood studios, to release a Renaissance concert film about her own summer arena tour. It will be in theaters this December.
It should be noted some anonymous studios are telling trades they anticipate Eras to be extremely front-loaded and to have major drop offs in attendance after the first weekend or two. We shall see. Even if it “only” grosses $250 million in the U.S. alone, it is likely Swift and at least AMC will see a bigger slice of the pie than they would have if the film was released in 2025 by, say, Disney. In which case, they have created a new release strategy in the 21st century. If you’re big enough, and your social media clout is worth a $50 million advertisement campaign, when the studios try to negotiate terms, you can just shake it off.
Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is in theaters now.