Is the recent surge in concert movies ushering in a new era at theaters?
Following the recent successes of the concert film Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour and the documentary Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé, which made $21 million at the box office in its opening weekend, it “absolutely” is the start of a new chapter, according to Travis Knox, associate professor at Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.
“Not much else is as relatively cheap to produce and market but comes with a guaranteed wealth of free publicity,” he told Yahoo Entertainment. “Shows like Swift and Beyoncé are no-brainers.”
Ray Nutt, CEO of Fathom Events, which puts on cinema events and limited engagements for concerts, theater and other content (its next event is a five-day theatrical run of Sara Bareilles's Waitress musical), said success often breeds more success — or at least attempts at it.
“Hollywood is a copycat industry. It always has been. When people see that there’s a good thing going, they’re going to try to replicate it,” Nutt explained.
Swift's The Eras Tour concert film, which Nutt called “a unicorn event,” showcased the 33-year-old singer’s 10 musical eras over the span of two hours and 49 minutes and smashed box office records when it landed in theaters on Oct. 13, earning a blockbuster $92.8 million in the U.S. during opening weekend. It was easily the best opening ever for a concert film.
Globally, Swift’s movie, which is distributed by AMC Theatres, has grossed more than $249 million at the box office so far, BoxOfficeMojo reported. It’s second only to Michael Jackson’s posthumous concert documentary, This Is It, which earned over $261 million globally in 2009. Come Dec. 13, Swift’s 34th birthday, an extended cut of The Eras Tour will be available for rent on platforms like Apple TV, Prime Video and YouTube.
Beyoncé followed Swift’s lead, releasing her own concert film on Dec. 1 that chronicled her record-setting six-month “Renaissance World Tour” and included unreleased behind-the-scenes footage. The nearly three-hour Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé, also distributed by AMC Theatres, grossed $21.8 million in North America in its first three days of release, according to the Hollywood Reporter, making it the highest showing for an early December opening in two decades.
“The 'Eras' and 'Renaissance' tours are the No. 1 and No. 2 highest gross per show of any tours ever,” Knox said. Swift tops the list with a staggering $12.86 million average per concert, while Beyoncé averaged $10.35 million. “With those rabid fan bases, the returns are bound to be huge.”
Concert movies aren’t a new phenomenon. In February, pop supergroup BTS released their final concert (until the group's planned 2025 reunion), Yet to Come – initially live-streamed for free last November – for a limited theatrical event in over 5,800 theaters across 128 countries through Trafalgar Releasing. It earned more than $53 million worldwide in box office receipts. (Their previous record was for 2022’s Permission to Dance on Stage – Seoul: Live Viewing concert, which was live-streamed into global theaters for one day only, making $32.6 million.)
The Korean group, along with other artists like Coldplay and Metallica, have embraced the cinema as another avenue in which their music and story can be experienced by those who may not otherwise have access, in part due to geographical limitations or premium concert ticket pricing.
Tickets to Swift’s “Eras Tour” concerts in the U.S. ranged from $49 to $449 at face value but on the resale market ballooned into the thousands. Her concert movie tickets were at more affordable price points: $19.89 for adults, $13.13 for kids and seniors. Beyoncé’s Renaissance U.S. tour tickets ranged from $62 to about $1,000 at face value, while her concert doc cost roughly $22 for a movie ticket.
“Sitting on your couch can never replicate the live music experience. However, when the movie is as well-made as Beyoncé's and can be experienced in a premium setting, the thrill of the event comes much closer to being there,” Knox explained. “Shows like [Taylor Swift and Beyoncé's] draw large groups of fans who couldn't otherwise afford the live experience and making a night out of it and fans who saw the tour but want to reexperience it with the added scenes of backstage footage.”
There's also the communal aspect of being with others who have similar interests and are motivated to watch a highly produced concert film where they can catch details they may have missed before. Some are simply itching for an interactive experience at the theater instead of watching a traditional film.
“People want to have a different kind of experience. With a concert [film], every seat is a front-row seat,” Nutt said, adding that theaters have to “evolve moving forward.” Offering people different reasons to go to the theater, like concert movies, will hopefully “reenergize a whole new audience.”
“I know many people who went to the 'Eras' concert live in a stadium, and they said, 'I can't wait to go see that in a movie theater because I was sitting in the rafters. I really want to see what her facial expressions were.' I've known people who have seen [the show] live and have gone to see it two or three times at the movie theater,” Nutt said.
There are artists who could hypothetically incentivize their fans to show up at the movie theater. Knox theorized that “big touring acts” with enthusiastic fan followings like Harry Styles and Bad Bunny “could draw a crowd.”
“I do think this is going to catch on,” Nutt said of the current concert movie resurgence, though he noted there are often ebbs and flows in Hollywood.
Knox agreed, explaining that over time, there may be an oversaturation “with more acts wanting to cash in.” Once concert films start to “underperform,” he forecasted, “the market will retreat.”