Analysis by Brian Lowry, CNN
(CNN) — If you think about it, 2023 is shaping up to be the year that blonde women bailed out the movie industry, with Taylor Swift’s concert film, “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour,” providing a shot of adrenaline to the fall after “Barbie” helped offset several high-profile flops during the summer.
While theater owners have every right to be thrilled seeing people fill seats (or even dancing in front of them, per “Eras” etiquette), the highs associated with those standouts don’t provide enough of a boost to replace what they really need – namely, a steady drip of hits. So while the this fall harvest is surely welcome, as is so often true, a Swift solution isn’t likely to be an enduring one.
Advance sales for “The Eras Tour” left little doubt that the event would be a major success, leaving only the precise numbers in doubt. Collecting somewhere around $96 million in domestic release, per theater chain AMC’s estimates, its first three days in theaters shattered the overall record for any concert film.
Among other things, as Deadline reported, thanks to “The Eras Tour” the aggregate weekend tally for theaters in North America rose to its highest level since early August, when – ta-da – “Barbie” was still packing them in, with an assist from “Oppenheimer.”
The film grossed more than $30 million elsewhere around the globe, with $13 million coming on Imax screens – the kind of numbers, its CEO said in a statement, “usually reserved for Hollywood blockbusters.”
Credit theaters with creativity, as the Swift invasion and Beyoncé’s upcoming version of the Renaissance Tour amount to taking matters into their own hands at a time when studios have struggled – even with big-name franchises – to consistently deliver attractions that will overcome the headwinds associated with streaming and the pandemic.
Those titles, however, have the feeling of a sugar rush, with short-lived benefits, which doesn’t address the underlying problem or the general malaise assailing the theatrical business.
In that sense, the next blonde hero flying to the rescue might be more important: Brie Larson, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, whose sequel “The Marvels” hits theaters on November 10. After Disney’s recent stumbles at the box office – with underwhelming returns for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny” and “Haunted Mansion” – seeing a big-budgeted Marvel movie buoy the fall would be a welcome return to better days.
Even Marvel, though, offers no certainty of success, as “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” got its next phase of movies off to at best a so-so start, before the third “Guardians of the Galaxy” blasted its way to an $845 million global box-office haul, making it one of the clear bright spots in an otherwise uneven year.
As if the climate for movies weren’t uncertain enough, the studios have done themselves no favors by allowing the strikes by the writers and actors guilds (the former settled, the latter still in progress) to drag on as long as they have, forcing them to juggle release schedules in order to avoid theatrical deserts next spring.
Studios will eventually catch up, but if we’ve seen anything over the last three years, any development that even temporarily blunts the willingness and desire to go to the movies offers no assurances of recovering those losses with so much streaming content spread out before consumers.
Like “Barbie,” “The Eras Tour” already appears to have provoked a certain giddiness in distribution circles, providing evidence, as TV networks like to say when they pop a big rating, that “The pipes still work” in terms of the ability to deliver mass-viewing experiences.
Still, there aren’t many artists with the kind of followings that Swift and Beyoncé command. That alone isn’t reason to throw cold water on the celebration, merely a reminder that with a challenge of this magnitude, Hollywood can’t just shake it off.
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