Considering the unprecedented last few years that Taylor Swift has had, it might be hard to remember that Taylor Swift’s cinematic history is actually a bit spotty.
She’s been a part of some successes, including a small role in 2010’s romcom ensemble Valentine’s Day and a voice part in 2012’s animated The Lorax, which pulled in a strong $216 million and $349.2 million worldwide, respectively. But more recently, there have been the notable misses of 2019’s Cats and 2022’s Amsterdam, two movies that exist more as memes in 2023 than as actual motion pictures that people widely enjoyed. Unless, that is, you are talking about going to a Rowdy Cats screening, which is a different story altogether. (Rowdy Amsterdam when!?!?)
But digital fur technology and surprise car flattenings aside, Taylor Swift has never previously been asked to actually carry a movie theater experience. And though the recent writers’ and actors’ strikes meant a dip in the overall fall box office projections (we’ll see you in 2024 Dune 2 and Challengers), Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour was going to be a record-breaking cultural moment regardless of whether the cinemas needed saving or not. It couldn’t have come at a better time for AMC and the rest of the big theater chains, but Swift’s big-screen bow is about more than ticket stubs and popcorn sales.
The big picture meaning of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour can be traced back to March in Glendale, Arizona, when Swift debuted her phenomenon of a tour. Regardless of what fans hoped for or expected, she demolished all notions of what a stadium tour could be when you are the biggest musician in the world. Over the course of the next few months, the tour evolved and grew. Songs were added and swapped, the runtime extending to three-and-a-half hours by the time its initial US run landed in LA, the site that serves as the setting for the film. Tickets became even in higher demand and harder to get, and that’s saying a lot since the initial on-sale exposed Ticketmaster’s many flaws and the resale market’s unethical practices, something many of us had long known, but was now seeing Congress and The White House weighing in.
And for as many people who raved about the concert and shared their clips on social media, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of Taylor Swift fans didn’t get to go to ‘The Eras Tour.’ Whether priced out or living in a place she didn’t visit or a myriad of other possible reasons, most Taylor Swift fans lived vicariously through their peers, taking to Twitter nightly to see which surprise song made the acoustic setlist or what celebrity was spotted losing their mind (it was often Emma Stone). And though it isn’t possible for a movie to take the place of a live concert, Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour comes as close as possible, less because of how the movie is captured and more in how fans are going to interact with it.
In terms of the capture, director Sam Wrench is more than capable, with a resume that extends from Billie Eilish to BTS projects. The big-screen treatment allows fans who have seen the live show a chance to take in details of the performances and production that get easily obscured by the overwhelming nature of live music. It also manages to pepper in breathtaking moments of Swift connecting with the camera and the audience getting lost in her songs, emoting them right back to her. There isn’t much artistic liberty taken — at least any that wasn’t already there at the actual concert — and Wrench doesn’t seem intent on putting his own fingerprints on the film, moving it away from something more auteurist like Stop Making Sense. The mission is more about recreating the live experience as the performer envisioned it, harnessing the sheer magnitude of SoFi Stadium and Swift alike. And in that, Wrench succeeds mightily.
But the show of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour is as much in the auditoriums it will pack than it is on the screen. Swift fans have already pre-sold enough tickets to indicate more than 100 million that the US box office opening weekend, and she is still adding screenings that will see that figure grow. Those figures — obviously not the greatest measuring stick for art, but useful for this point — doesn’t just indicate interest, but also enthusiasm. That investment from the Swifty community is a big part of what makes ‘The Eras Tour’ special and that translates to a movie experience as well. Expect everything you know about the cinema to go out the window when attending the Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour movie. There will be singing, there will be dancing, people might stand throughout, and phones will be used liberally. Rowdy Cats will have nothing on this.
And, that’s a good thing. Movie theaters are a sacred space, and this summer’s Barbenheimer phenomenon showed that young people will still flock to the theater, but making it feel like a communal moment that they want to take part in is the big selling point. And nothing serves that purpose like a concert. So when Swift fans start posting videos from screenings this weekend, showing their friends screaming the bridge to “Cruel Summer” together, know that it might not look like the movie theater experience you hold dear, but it is ultimately good for all cinema. A boisterous screening can be as wonderful as a silent, reverent, deeply moving one. And these are the gateways that open people up to the magic of the movie theater in general.
Fans may or may not want to know ahead of time which songs were cut from the film in service of making the movie’s runtime a bit more manageable for the masses — it still clocks in at nearly three hours — or which acoustic numbers made the cut, but that information is certainly out there if you are looking for it. For me, it was less about what was and wasn’t included than it was about being able to focus in on different aspects of the show. In the film, “Enchanted” felt even more consequential, the lone entry from Speak Now whose dramatic nature makes it ideal for a cinema. It was seeing Kobe Bryant’s daughter Bianca getting Swift’s hat at the end of “22,” a clip that went viral when it happened but still felt like a magic trick on the big screen. It was the floor-shattering effect during “Delicate,” which is easily lost in a live show when you are transfixed on the singer and not a bird’s eye perspective. And it was Swift’s gradually curling hair as the performance goes on, the sheer superhuman nature of the endeavor reflected in each wavy lock.
The biggest question is what the lasting legacy of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour film will be. While it is already assured to be the biggest theatrical concert movie ever released, very few films of its ilk manage to remain integral parts of culture. For every The Last Waltz and Homecoming, there are dozens of concert films that wind up as barely watched DVDs on a bookshelf or steaming service afterthoughts. But this film feels built to last because of the fandom, who could see repertory screenings pop up indefinitely the way local communities screen Rocky Horror Picture Show or the Hollywood Bowl hosts yearly Sound Of Music singalongs. Fans will dress up, know all the words, and make the show as much about the audience as it is about the film. Even in this first screening, it all already feels bigger than Taylor Swift, if anything can be bigger than Taylor Swift. And now you don’t need a nearly impossible ticket to experience it.