What Taylor Swift and Beyoncé's concert films mean for movie theatres

Among the world’s most successful recording artists, Taylor Swift and Beyoncé are both leveraging their power to determine how and when their concert films — documenting tours that have become social media phenomena — will be seen.

Not many pop artists can sell out theatres the way they can, film critic says

A woman in a chrome corset, left, and a woman in a blue ballgown are pictured during a red carpet event.
Beyoncé and Taylor Swift attend the world premiere of Swift's concert film, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour, on Wednesday in Los Angeles. Both pop stars have long-anticipated concert films out this year. (John Shearer/Getty Images for TAS)

Ask a Swiftie what they're up to this weekend and they'll likely say they'll be at their nearest movie theatre for the release of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour — a concert movie based on the pop star's wildly popular world tour.

Anticipation was high on Thursday evening as fans settled in at a downtown Toronto movie theatre to see the show. While the film's opening was originally slated for Friday, the pop star made a surprise announcement that it would be released a day early.

"We're obviously really big fans of Taylor Swift and we've been waiting for this [movie] for a really long time," said Gargee Kulkarni. She was seeing the film with her friend Nikhita Kapor — both have tickets to see Swift live in Toronto next year.

"We're treating it as a concert because not a lot of people got Toronto tickets," Kapor said. "So we're really excited. We're here to trade our friendship bracelets, just make some memories and have fun."

WATCH | Can Taylor Swift and Beyoncé pack movie theatres like they do stadiums?

Taylor Swift and Beyoncé attempt to pack movie theatres like stadiums

6 months ago
Duration 1:58
Music's two reigning queens of pop are attempting to replicate their stadium-filling success with film versions of their tours in theatres. Taylor Swift's The Eras Tour arrives in theatres Friday, while Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé is set to premiere in December.

Swift isn't going to the movies alone: Beyoncé's self-directed concert film Renaissance, based on her popular tour of the same name, will arrive in theatres in December. The two rang in Swift's film during a Los Angeles movie premiere on Wednesday night.

Among the world's most successful recording artists, Swift and Beyoncé leveraged their power in deciding how and when their concert films — both documenting tours that became social media phenomena this year — would be seen.

Rather than collaborating with movie studios to distribute their films, the artists cut out the middleman by producing their own films and working directly with theatres to release them. It's a savvy move that benefits the artists and the theatrical industry, experts say.

Music just a fraction of pop stars' value

Jem Aswad, a music editor at Variety magazine, said that Swift and Beyoncé's plans for their concert films are a business lesson in how to "maximize their creative output."

"Realistically, for any pop artist or mainstream artist in 2023, music is a percentage of their brand," he said. He noted that Rihanna, who hasn't released an album since 2016, is now running a billion-dollar cosmetics empire.

"Music may be what these people rode in on, but it really doesn't necessarily keep them there when you're talking about pop stars."

LISTEN | Why concert films are having a renaissance: 

According to Toronto film critic Sydney Urbanek, sidestepping studios means that both the artists and the movie theatres will get to take home a bigger cut of the profits than they would otherwise. 

That's especially good news for movie theatres, which are on the upswing after a challenging few years of pandemic shutdowns and a slow trickle of audiences reluctant to return to public screenings, according to a Statistics Canada report released earlier this month.

Beyonce accepts the award for Best Dance/Electronic Music Album for "Renaissance" during the 65th Annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, U.S., February 5, 2023.
Beyoncé, seen at this year's Grammy Awards, will have a concert film in theatres in December. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

"There are only so many artists out there that can probably sell out theatres the way both of these two can," said Urbanek, who specializes in pop music on screen. 

She noted that both Swift and Beyoncé have previously released film projects on streaming platforms. "Neither artist wants to be predictable in any way, and neither artist necessarily wants to replicate something that they've already done in the past," she said.

That also means the Swift show Canadians see on tour next year could be wildly different from the one depicted in the film, she added.

Theatres willing to accommodate Swift

While it's too early to say how Swift's film will do at the box office, presale numbers offer a hint. Cineplex announced on Thursday that Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour made $6.2 million in advance ticket sales — its highest pre-selling event ever.

Dave Cohen, the president of Landmark Cinemas, said the Canadian movie theatre chain has seen a tremendous amount of interest in Swift's film, with more than $1 million worth of advance tickets making it among their highest pre-selling events of all time.

"Fans are already writing in to see if they can sing and dance and stand up in the auditorium," he said.

He also confirmed that there were "somewhat strict" conditions around the way the film was released: the chain can only screen the film between Thursday and Sunday for a four-week commitment.

Eras Tour film tickets are also pricier than a regular admission, costing $19.89 — a nod to Swift's birth year and 2014 album of the same name, a re-recording of which will be released later this month.

"That's not normally the accommodation we would make, but we're excited about having a new potential form of entertainment to show in our theatres," said Cohen. 

The concert film can be resilient, if done well: Just this summer, new wave band Talking Heads re-released their 1984 classic Stop Making Sense for its 40th anniversary. The beloved film's live premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival became Imax's highest-grossing live event of all time.

Taylor Swift performs during a Los Angeles night of 'The Eras Tour' in August 2023.
Taylor Swift's concert film raked in $6.2 million in advance ticket sales for Cineplex — its highest pre-selling event ever, the movie theatre chain announced Thursday. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/The Associated Press)

Both Landmark and Cineplex are emphasizing plans for more theatrically released concert films, bridging the event-style hype that surrounded the Barbie movie this summer with a passionate, built-in base of music fans — like those of the K-pop boy band BTS, who have released several concert films.

Nonetheless, Cohen says that movie theatres are once again in a comfortable place.

"We've been busier than ever with movies this year," he said. "Even without Taylor Swift, we've had a lot of our customers come back to the cinema."


Jenna Benchetrit is a senior writer with the business content unit at CBC News. She has also covered entertainment and education stories. A Montrealer based in Toronto, Jenna holds a master's degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. You can reach her at jenna.benchetrit@cbc.ca.

With files from Laura Thompson and Tyler Cheese