Taylor Swift movie draws ‘overwhelming’ crowds to local theaters

Talking at movie theaters usually is frowned upon. Singing, dancing and cheering — practically unheard of.

But that’s exactly what happened at dozens of tri-state area screenings this weekend as throngs of fans flocked to the opening weekend of “Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour” concert film.

Crowds stood from their seats, crooning love songs or blasting break-up ballads. Impromptu dance parties started in the front of the theaters, and cheers erupted after each song.

“It’s been cool because you’ll see complete strangers interacting in the theater. It’s like as long as they have T-Swift in common, they can become best friends,” said Phoenix Theatres general manager Brock Daack, sitting next to a towering stack of Taylor Swift-themed popcorn buckets.

The concert film was released in select theaters Thursday, with a widespread release Friday evening. The release came on the tail of Swift’s first record-breaking Eras Tour leg, which this summer attracted millions of attendees to sold-out stadiums nationwide.

The film sold out numerous tri-state theaters, online booking data attests, and on Friday generated more than $39 million in North American ticket sales alone.

For many local Swifties — a commonly used moniker for Taylor Swift fans — the film was their first chance to experience the tour. For those lucky enough to snag in-person tickets, it was a chance to experience the three-hour concert all over again.

“(The movie) was just as fantastic as it was on tour,” reviewed AMC Classic Dubuque attendee Katrina Gubbels, who also saw the concert in person this summer. “It was just as emotional, just as much fun and just as exciting.”

The film was marketed as a true concert experience, with a runtime of a whopping 2 hours and 48 minutes. It follows Swift through one of her live concerts where she sings songs from her various albums spanning over17 years.

Many local attendees dressed up for their screenings, wearing outfits reminiscent of Swift’s different albums or “eras.” Others had arms full of colorful friendship bracelets to swap with other viewers, a ritual established during the in-person tour.

Phoenix Theatres visitors and friends Inga Clark, 9, and Naomi Slaght, 10, both had bracelets stacked halfway up their forearms. Each bracelet was handmade, many made with pastel colored beads or small letters spelling out song or album titles.

“I made these ones here, but these are the ones that I traded for,” Inga said, pointing to her array of colorful bracelets. “It’s like being (at the concert).”

The film’s popularity came as a welcome change of pace for theaters, its box-office-busting numbers an increasingly rare occurrence in the post-pandemic days of online streaming.

Sara Clasen, manager at Voy 61 Drive-In Theatre near Maquoketa, Iowa, said Friday marked several visitors’ first time at the outdoor theater. Despite the rain, she said the turnout still was impressive on opening night and sales are projected to be similarly robust for subsequent showings.

“The response has been overwhelming. We’ve had a lot of people who had never heard of us until the Taylor Swift showing, but now that they’ve been here, they’ll definitely come back,” Clasen said. “With the tour, Taylor is usually doing these concerts outside in open-air stadiums, and we can offer that kind of atmosphere.”