Fall Box Office Preview: Taylor Swift May Be the Biggest Hit of the Season

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A summer full of hope for theaters is giving way to a fall filled with uncertainty. Anxious studios, paralyzed by striking actors and writers demanding better labor contracts, are pushing several films like “Dune: Part Two” and “Kraven the Hunter” to 2024, and there’s a good chance that more release delays will come if the strike continues.

How ironic then, that cinemas might get a bailout not from a studio, but from the Antihero.

Last week, Taylor Swift set the film industry on its ear when AMC Entertainment announced that it would directly distribute a concert film recorded during the pop star’s wildly successful Eras Tour with a full theatrical window starting Oct. 13. After just one day, AMC reported a stunning $26 million from presales. Now, exhibition sources told TheWrap, Swift’s concert film is likely to become the first October release to top $100 million on its opening weekend.

Even if it doesn’t, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” will likely shatter the box office record for concert films, currently held by “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never” with $73 million grossed domestically in 2011. (That figure isn’t adjusted for inflation; taking that into account, a $100 million opening would still top it.)

Taylor Swift (Photo Credit: Getty Collection)
Taylor Swift in the Eras Tour, which is having a concert film version released in October.(Photo: Getty Images)

Make way for Tay

The surprise move has sent theaters with other films coming that weekend scurrying out of Swift’s way. Universal’s “The Exorcist: Believer” moved up to Oct. 6, while Paramount scrapped plans for a one-week limited run of Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” ahead of its wide release on Oct. 20.

And while those films and others like Universal/Blumhouse’s “Five Nights at Freddy’s” may find some box office success among a certain audience subset, “Eras Tour” has the potential to play out for weeks like “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” have for nearly two months now.

It’s hard to say whether that will be the case since we’ve never seen a concert film perform like this in presales, but if Swift’s fans are so dazzled by the film that they come back for repeat viewings, there’s no knowing how far it will go.

“Theaters have such an incredible opportunity to turn this concert film into more than just a big ticket sale proposition,” veteran marketing executive and consultant Bob Mitchell told TheWrap. “The theater chains are still in a business of real estate. They have a property here where there’s a big opportunity to treat this as an event release and to make theaters feel like a community space.”

And this potential windfall Swift has suddenly blessed theaters with is important. While there are still enough studio films on the slate to reduce the chances of an autumn slump like the one seen last year, there probably isn’t one in the bunch that will provide the turnout of something like “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” which made $453 million domestically last year.

Brie Larson plays Carol Danvers in “The Marvels.” (Marvel Studios/Disney)

The two studio films yet to come out this year with the best chance of earning tentpole numbers — i.e. $200 million-plus — are Disney’s two November offerings: “The Marvels” and “Wish.”

“The Marvels” will be a big test of Marvel Studios’ staying power now that one of the key components of its winning formula during its peak years — the “Guardians of the Galaxy” series — is complete. While “The Marvels” is the sequel to the $1.12 billion hit “Captain Marvel,” that film got a boost from being the lead-in to “Avengers: Endgame.”

It’s unclear how much of Marvel’s audience is still interested in more adventures with Carol Danvers or in seeing more of her newfound allies from the MCU’s streaming shows: Monica Rambeau from “WandaVision” and Kamala Khan from the critically praised but scarcely viewed “Ms. Marvel.”

“Wish,” meanwhile, could help Disney break out of its animation slump after “Strange World” bombed a year ago. With an original story built on the tropes and history of the century-old Disney animated canon, “Wish” could be a Thanksgiving box office hit reminiscent of “Moana” or possibly even better, but only if Disney can once again sell the film as a theatrical event the way it easily did prior to the pandemic.

Asha in Wish is played by Ariana DeBose. (Disney)

Aside from these films, the other titles between now and Thanksgiving will be films that theaters will hope can provide secondary levels of revenue, in the $75 million-$125 million domestic range. The first film of the season, Warner Bros./New Line’s “The Nun II,” is already on its way to that range, and theaters will be hoping for upcoming titles like 20th Century’s “The Creator,” Sony/Columbia’s “Dumb Money” and Universal/DreamWorks’ “Trolls Band Together” to do the same or even overperform.

Then, as the calendar shifts to December, the holiday market will rely heavily on Warner Bros. and its trio of offerings: “Wonka” starring Timothée Chalamet, the DC sequel “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” and “The Color Purple,” which features an ensemble musical cast led by Fantasia Barrino and Taraji P. Henson.

Warner insiders are banking on at least one of these three films appealing to moviegoers across demographics, with their varied tones and genres allowing them to coexist alongside each other and other films such as Universal/Illumination’s original animated film “Migration.”

Timothée Chalamet in “Wonka.” (Warner Bros.)

But with no other major franchise films coming out in December, it will be up to Warner to drive much of the holiday turnout and success is no guarantee. With DC suffering repeated flops at the box office it’s quite possible that “Aquaman 2” may fall to audience apathy as well, even given that it is a sequel to a film that grossed over $1 billion worldwide.

The strike factor

“Wonka” and “Color Purple” are films that could seriously use an end to the SAG-AFTRA strike, as they both rely on their actors for drawing power. Having Chalamet out on a press tour to talk about playing Willy Wonka and the ensemble cast of “Color Purple” discussing their work alongside director Blitz Bazawule and producer Oprah Winfrey would go a long way to drumming up interest in both films.

But as things stand, films from major studios will have to sell themselves without their actors, and that will put even more weight on how well they are received by critics and opening night audiences. Word of mouth has always been vital to a film’s success, but we’ve seen movies like “The Flash” and “Fast X” drop off quickly on the charts when the PostTrak and CinemaScore results aren’t top marks.

With few titles sporting popular franchise recognition and without a major tool for drumming up audience interest, there’s a good chance that films will see their theater counts drop faster than ever if audiences deem that they don’t have the goods.

The post Fall Box Office Preview: Taylor Swift May Be the Biggest Hit of the Season appeared first on TheWrap.