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Taylor Swift concert movie breaks Cineplex record for event pre-sales

TORONTO — Taylor Swift's concert movie is proving to be a fairy tale for Canada's largest cinema chain. The film "Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour," which hit theatres Thursday, generated $6.2 million in pre-sales for Cineplex Inc.
Taylor Swift arrives at the world premiere of the concert film "Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" on Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at AMC The Grove 14 in Los Angeles. Swift's concert movie is proving to be a fairy tale for cinemas grappling with the rise of streamers and ongoing Hollywood strikes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Chris Pizzello

TORONTO — Taylor Swift's concert movie is proving to be a fairy tale for Canada's largest cinema chain.

The film "Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour," which hit theatres Thursday, generated $6.2 million in pre-sales for Cineplex Inc., making it the Toronto-based company's most successful event for pre-sales.

Sara Moore, Cineplex's executive-vice president and chief marketing officer, said she and the company were "giddy" about the film's première. It was originally set to open on Oct. 13 before Swift moved up the release by a day, citing "unprecedented demand." 

The star announced the earlier release date on X, formerly known as Twitter, Wednesday evening, catching even Cineplex by surprise.

"We found out about the same time as everybody else did when Taylor posted it last night, so obviously we were thrilled and jumped on it right away because the interest has been so strong," said Moore.

The chain managed to find space for the film to screen at 120 theatres Thursday, but its four-week run will see the movie make it to 150 cinemas throughout the country. 

The early success of the film has come as little surprise for those who have tracked the popstar's meteoric rise and the frenzy that has surrounded her most recent tour, which the movie chronicles.

When Swift’s six nights in Toronto next November went on sale, they quickly sold out with demand far exceeding supply. Resale websites show tickets for the concerts are being hawked for thousands of dollars beyond their face value.

Swift's concert movie will give fans who couldn't snatch tickets along with those wanting to relive the experience a chance to see her perform for the price of a movie ticket.

Moore is already hearing that fans plan to dress in elaborate outfits, sing their hearts out and exchange friendship bracelets like they do at the star's shows, which still have dozens of dates across the globe on the calendar.

"This is entirely within the realm of affordability, and it has that urgency tied to it because if you get to see it on the opening weekend, it's almost like seeing the concert," said Charlie Keil, a professor at the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto.

But fans aren't the only winners. Theatres showing the flick are poised to rake in big bucks — at a key time and in an unique way.

Rather than use a distributor to get her film out there, Swift is breaking the traditional model and negotiated directed with U.S. cinema goliath AMC Entertainment and sub-distribution partners Cineplex, Trafalgar Releasing in London, Variance Films in the U.S. and Cinepolis in Mexico and Central America.

Normally, a distributor acts as an intermediary between the studio and the theatre, which then takes a cut of the ticket price.

"This is entirely new terrain because (theatres) are not even having to worry about splitting their take a conventional way, so they're going to get a lot better bang out of their buck," said Keil.

It's a welcome difference because many have long been battling with the major streaming companies, which have cut theatrical releases for some of their films.

At the same time, the pipeline of new releases is poised to slow, since talent represented by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists union remains on strike even after the previously striking writers' union ratified an agreement recently. 

Cineplex chief executive Ellis Jacob has said that if the job action continues beyond the end of the year, it would be problematic for the cinema industry. Some films, including the Zendaya tennis movie "Challengers" and the hotly anticipated "Dune 2," have pushed their premières to next year already.

"It may be one-offs that are not cut from the conventional film distribution cloth that are going to be things that theatres are going to need in order to tough it out over what's going to be a dry season come probably spring and summer of 2024," Keil said.

The shine Swift's film has put on the fall movie slate also helps theatres, still recovering from COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns, build on a particularly successful summer.

"Barbie" broke box office records, especially when paired with Christopher Nolan's atomic bomb epic "Oppenheimer." In their debut weekend alone, Cineplex set its highest summer box office weekend record of all time, bringing in over $19 million in box office revenue and welcoming 1.4 million guests.

Replicating the success this fall was bound to be more difficult until Swift surprised the world with the film and then Beyoncé announced her own concert movie would head to theatres Dec. 1.

Tickets to "Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé" became available last week, so Moore said it's too early to have numbers on how it's selling, but judging by how fast the artist's shows sold out, she figures it will do well.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2023.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CGX)

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press