Instead of going to see the biggest musical act live, what if you could just watch them in a movie theater? To be sure, Taylor Swift did not invent the idea of doing a theatrical release for a concert film, but, with a movie version of The Eras Tour hitting theaters on October 13, 2023, she’s going to change the Fall blockbuster game pretty significantly. Let’s be real: There’s a good chance that this live concert movie is going to be bigger than The Marvels or whatever other movies are still actually coming out this year. Swift is also encouraging fans to dance and sing in the movie theaters, as though it was an actual concert. Which is...interesting. Because although that sounds pretty annoying, this exact same thing happened nearly six decades ago, when The Beatles released A Hard Days Night in theaters.
For those of us out of the exact target demographic of Taylor Swift (we’re waiting for another Dad Rock album!) it’s still easy to see that Swift is, pretty much the biggest musical phenomenon since the Beatles. Just look at photos of fans at her concerts, and then go back and watch all the screaming people in old Beatles concert footage. It’s basically the same thing.
Which brings us to The Eras Tour: The Movie: Swift Harder. In a very smart and very funny piece on The Mary Sue written by Kate Hudson titled “Ignore Taylor Swift, Don’t Treat ‘The Eras Tour’ Movie Like a Concert,” she argues this is going to be annoying AF. To be clear, Hudson is a Swift fan and that’s why she’s saying this kind of behavior is going to suck, writing that “...singing and dancing while in a jam-packed movie theater is incredibly obnoxious, whether it’s a Taylor Swift-approved distraction or not.” I won’t steal all of Hudson’s zingers here, such as writing that “Hearing someone scream-sing while standing up for the entirety of a three-hour movie sounds less like a fun evening out and more like a special brand of torture they reserve for you in the lowest level of hell...” but I will say that I utterly agree. For parents bringing their Swiftie kids to see this in the theater (or even just Swiftie parents going on their own) I already feel bad for you. This sounds like it’s gonna be rough.
AND YET. Because I was born in 1981, I am old enough (young enough?) to have a mom who saw A Hard Day’s Night in a movie theater in 1964 when my mom was just 13 years old. And, because this story was repeated by both her and my grandfather many times, I remember it vividly; people in the movie theater screamed and danced the entire time and it drove my grandpa nuts. Why would somebody go to a movie theater to see and hear the Beatles and just scream and dance the entire time? In fact, one of the reasons my mom told me this story was because when we watched A Hard Day’s Night together in the year 2000, she was like “This is actually the first time I’ve paid attention to the plot.”
In the early 1960s, the Beatles basically invented how to do all of this. Speakers — you know those things music comes out of at concerts — literally weren’t powerful enough for huge musical acts to play in arenas prior to the Beatles. Doing a movie instead of a concert wasn’t really a thing until the Beatles decided it was. And, no matter how much money you had, in 1964 it was waaaaay harder to see the Beatles live than it is to see Taylor Swift today. Even people who saw the Beatles at their famous Shea Stadium concert (including a very young Meryl Streep) basically couldn’t hear the concert either, which was described by some as a “silent film.” So, in 1964, seeing the Beatles in concert, or in a movie theater, was equally nuts, because people were screaming and freaking out, much like Swifties today.
But, there’s a big difference here. While there have been many Beatles concert films, what made A Hard Day’s Night cool is that it was a meta-fictional movie about the Beatles doing stuff, not just a hastily made concert movie. While the Beatles are sarcastic about their fame in A Hard Day’s Night, the release of the movie wasn’t cynical, As Paul McCartney said, “We wanted to be in a film, if at all possible. But, we wanted to make a good one.”
The Eras Tour movie will certainly be good, at least as a concert film, assuming there’s any objectivity at all about the relative quality of Taylor Swift products. But where does Taylor go from here? At the point at which people will be standing in packed movie theaters screaming like my mom when she was 13 years old in 1964, maybe it’s time for Taylor to go full Beatles? Could she do a movie with a zany plot next?
Yes, yes, we all know about the “All Too Well,” short film. But that’s basically a really slick music video. Could Taylor truly make a movie the way the Beatles did? Hell, the Spice Girls did it, and that movie actually holds up decently well today. After A Hard Day’s Night — a metafictional account of the Beatles on tour — they made the utterly absurd follow-up Help! If you’ve never seen it, Help! is the true inspiration for Austin Powers, with a plot that involves Ringo accidentally being in possession of a sacred ring (really!) that various nefarious people are trying to retrieve. It’s a straight-up comedy mashed with a James Bond-heist movie, complete with science fiction devices. And yes, the Beatles sing throughout the whole thing.
Could Taylor Swift do that? Releasing a concert movie and having people dance and sing in a movie theater is one thing. But, it’s been done before. Let’s see if Taylor Swift can do a movie where she duels with mad scientists, skis in Austria, gets zapped by a shrinking ray, all before battling a tiger — and then we’ll talk.