Will Taylor Swift's 'Eras Tour’ conquer China’s box office like it did in North America?
Published: Dec 27, 2023 02:20 PM
Taylor Swift Photo: IC

Taylor Swift Photo: IC

Pre-sale of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour has quickly swept the Chinese film market by breaking 20 million yuan ($ 2.80 million) as of Wednesday afternoon since it was announced it is set to premiere in Chinese cinemas on Sunday.

Will the Eras Tour conquer the box office in the Chinese mainland like it did in North America? The film has crossed a notable box office milestone by grossing more than $250 million globally. The Eras Tour will challenge the record set by the music documentary Michael Jackson's This Is It ($261 million).

Despite the immense popularity of this film, diverse opinions arise among industry experts and audiences. Some view "concert films" as expanding the boundaries of cinema and enhancing theater services, anticipating the inclusion of new elements like musicals and sports broadcasts in this domain. Others argue that such films fail to capture the concert's atmosphere adequately and lack the narrative essence of traditional movies, questioning whether non-fans would be interested.

Concert films are not a new concept, originating in the mid-20th century as documentaries showcasing artists' tours. They have evolved to encompass various genres, ranging from films emphasizing raw stage performances to narrative documentaries.

The Eras Tour featuring Taylor Swift falls into the former category, using Swift's concert as source material. Despite being shorter than the actual concert's average duration of 3.5 hours, the film still fully captures the essence of the live performance.

With a global opening week box office of $130 million, the film surpassed the previous record set in 2011 by Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which earned $73 million in its opening weekend. Within just three days, it became the first concert film to surpass $100 million in box office history. Analysts predict a final box office of $400 million, a figure only surpassed by Barbie and Super Mario Bros. Movie this year.

Promotional material of <em>Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour</em>Photo:Sina Weibo

Promotional material of Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour Photo:Sina Weibo

Such success may inspire imitation in the Chinese entertainment industry. In fact, China has previously released concert films. In 2011, Mayday produced China's first 3D concert film, Mayday 3DNA, followed by global 4DX versions Mayday Nowhere and the Screen X-shot Mayday Life.

Despite significant technological investments to enhance visuals, expand the viewing experience, and strengthen the fusion of music and imagery, the revenue was not as expected. Box office figures reached 16.03 million yuan, 20.67 million yuan, and 50.208 million yuan for the three films, respectively.

I believe Taylor Swift's unique appeal makes replicating the success of the Eras Tour challenging. Successful concert films hinge on two main factors: the artist's international recognition and distinctive contemporary popularity. 

Taylor Swift's unquestionable influence, with over 200 million record sales globally and being Spotify's most-streamed female artist, contributes to her brand advantage and convincing star power.

Additionally, high production standards and visually appealing creativity are essential for concert films. In the Eras Tour, Taylor Swift crafted spectacular scenes reminiscent of Broadway musicals, aiming for uniqueness in everything from costume to performance. Described by Western media as one of the most ambitious productions of the 21st century.

While Taylor Swift's popularity and prowess are convincing advantages, these criteria pose challenges for current Chinese musicians. In essence, "concert films" offer low production costs for the film itself but demand various prerequisites for high returns. Nevertheless, this model is worth studying and adapting in China's entertainment industry.

Taylor Swift's distinctiveness, coupled with her concert film's success, comes at the perfect time with the New Year holiday approaching, creating a mutually reinforcing achievement.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times.