The world’s biggest pop star, Taylor Swift, is about to become the world’s biggest movie star, at least for a weekend. The only question is whether turnout for her concert film will be enormous or truly colossal.
Box office analysts keep raising opening-weekend estimates for “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” which will arrive in cinemas on Friday evening amid a lightning storm of free publicity. (As you may have heard, Ms. Swift has lately been spending considerable time with Travis Kelce, the Kansas City Chiefs tight end.) The nearly three-hour film was initially expected to sell about $75 million in tickets this weekend in the United States and Canada, with analysts reaching that estimate by studying presales and moviegoer surveys. As of Tuesday, the domestic number was looking more like $125 million.
Could it reach $150 million? “Yes, it could,” said David A. Gross, a film consultant who publishes a newsletter on box office numbers. “The fever and scale is unprecedented.”
“The Eras Tour,” which cost Ms. Swift roughly $15 million to make, is expected to collect an additional $60 million overseas — at a minimum — over the weekend.
“We are wonder-struck,” said Wanda Gierhart Fearing, chief marketing and content officer for the Cinemark theater chain, which has a large presence in the southern United States and Latin America. In addition to standard screenings, Cinemark and other multiplex operators have been offering private viewing parties. (That’s $800 for 40 people. Dancing encouraged, but not on seats.)
The domestic box office record for a concert film debut is held by “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” which Paramount Pictures released in 2011. It collected $41 million over its first three days in North American theaters, adjusted for inflation, and ultimately $101 million in the United States and Canada and $138 million worldwide.
“Michael Jackson’s This Is It,” released by Sony Pictures in 2009, holds the record for total ticket sales. It generated $105 million over its entire North American run, and $380 million worldwide, adjusted for inflation.
Box office analysts aren’t quite sure what to expect from “The Eras Tour,” in part because it comes only nine weeks after Ms. Swift concluded the six-month, 53-show initial leg of her sold-out North American tour. The trade publication Pollstar estimated that she had sold about $14 million in tickets each night.
Has the thirst for Ms. Swift among casual fans been satisfied for the time being? To what degree did the cultural frenzy surrounding her Eras concerts pique the curiosity of a broader audience — people who would never pay hundreds of dollars to see her perform in a stadium but might shell out for movie tickets? (Most seats for the film cost $19.89, a nod to the name of Ms. Swift’s fifth album and her birth year.)
Complicating predictions, Ms. Swift broke Hollywood norms in getting her film to theaters.
Under the customary model, studios book movies into theaters and spend anywhere from $20 million to $100 million on marketing to turn out an audience. Theaters play movies and sell concessions. In return, studios collect as much as 70 percent of opening-weekend tickets sales, with theaters keeping the balance.
Since she produced and financed “The Eras Tour” herself, Ms. Swift cut out the middle company (a studio) and made a distribution deal directly with AMC Entertainment, the world’s largest theater operator. One reason involved marketing: Ms. Swift, with 369 million social media followers at her beck and call, barely needs to spend anything to advertise the film.
Ms. Swift will keep about 57 percent of ticket revenue, with theater chains pocketing the rest, as first reported by a Puck newsletter. AMC will also receive a modest distribution fee.
Box office forecasting, however, is based on moviegoer surveys that are designed to track the effectiveness of studio marketing campaigns — older women are not being persuaded by your ads, for example, but teenage boys are in the bag. “The Eras Tour” has had some paid advertising, including a commercial during a Chiefs prime-time game this month. But most movies arrive amid an advertising bombardment.
“One of the questions involves staying power,” said Bruce Nash, founder of the Numbers, a box office tracking and analytics site. “Is ‘The Eras Tour’ going to do most of its business on opening weekend and then fall off a cliff? Or will people come back six times over the course of weeks? We have no idea.”
Ms. Swift’s distribution choice made Hollywood gnash its teeth. Studio executives had to explain to their bosses why they missed a prime moneymaking opportunity and a chance to form a relationship with Ms. Swift, who has feature film directing ambitions. (She has also tinkered with acting, including in “Cats.”) Universal Pictures, fearing competition from “The Eras Tour,” scrambled to move “The Exorcist: Believer” to an earlier date; ticket sales were soft.
Studios have also had to contend with an existential question: Does distribution for “The Eras Tour” mark the start of a paradigm shift? Are more movies going to bypass studios? Already, Beyoncé has followed Ms. Swift in making a deal with AMC to distribute her concert documentary, “Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé,” which will arrive in theaters on Dec. 1.
Anything is possible. Mr. Nash noted that Fathom Events, an independent distributor that specializes in short-run screenings and simulcast opera performances, has found increasing success in taking faith-based projects (“The Chosen”) directly to theaters. Trafalgar Releasing found a studio-skipping hit in February with a concert film focused on BTS, the South Korean boy band.
But most studio executives and entertainment industry analysts dismiss “The Eras Tour” as a one-off. When it comes to mobilizing a fan base, Ms. Swift, they say, is in a class by herself. Even Beyoncé has not shown the same selling power. First-day presales for “The Eras Tour” totaled an estimated $37 million, while “Renaissance” generated about $7 million.
At the moment, theater chains aren’t thinking much beyond the weekend. The last two months have been quiet for theaters, with hits like “The Nun II” (Warner Bros.) offset by a string of duds, including “Dumb Money,” “Blue Beetle,” “The Creator” and “Expend4bles.”
Two major movies originally expected this fall, “Kraven the Hunter” and “Dune: Part Two,” were pushed into next year because of the actors’ strike. (Until the strike is resolved, SAG-AFTRA, as the actors’ union in known, has barred its members from engaging in any publicity efforts for films and TV shows that have already been completed.)
Theater companies, of course, make most of their money at the concession counter, and AMC, for one, is counting on Ms. Swift’s fans to come hungry. Among other items, the chain plans to sell popcorn in collectible tubs for $20.
Marketing line: “Swifties always snack in style.”