Unless you live under a very soundproof rock, you probably heard that the career-spanning Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour concert film opened this past week. Now that the box office totals have been formally compiled, we know this much is true: The nearly three-hour picture produced both the biggest opening weekend and largest total domestic gross for a concert film in the U.S. That’s ever. That makes it a prime time to look at the biggest concert films of all time and the most well-reviewed. Are you ready for it?
It’s worth noting at the top that the definition of a “concert film” can be a little tenuous. Frequently, concert films incorporate documentary segments, as is the case with, for example, Madonna’s Truth or Dare, U2’s Rattle and Hum, and The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. In fact, 1970’s Woodstock film is generally listed as a documentary as opposed to a concert film; this label carries over to such a degree that Box Office Mojo at IMDBPro’s list of the biggest concert films of all time does not include it (were it on the list, it would actually place sixth).
Another important note is that concert films aren’t just music. The genre also includes stand-up comedy. Four of the Box Office Mojo Top Ten as listed (not counting Woodstock) are stand-up films.
As of October 18, 2023, the Top Ten Concert Films of All Time in the U.S. are:
10. Part of Me (Katy Perry) $25,326,071
9. One Direction: This Is Us $28,873,374
8. Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain $32,244,051
7. Richard Pryor: Live on the Sunset Strip $36,299,720
6. The Original Kings of Comedy $38,182,790
5. Eddie Murphy: Raw $50,504,655
4. Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert $65,281,781
3. This Is It (Michael Jackson) $72,091,016
2. Justin Bieber: Never Say Never $73,013,910
1. Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour $92,804,678 (opening weekend only)*
The list is instructional for a couple of reasons. One is that fact that Richard Pryor’s 41-year-old film hangs in the top ten without having its dollar amount adjusted for inflation just demonstrates how insanely popular he was. The other is that all of the musical concert films on the list have been released since 2008, showing a general resurgence in the format.
In terms of The Eras Tour, it’s frankly amazing that the film vaulted to the top of the U.S. list in one week. The film, like the ongoing live tour and performer that it covers, is a legitimate pop phenomenon. In the 17 years since her 2006 debut album, Taylor Swift has sold over an estimated 200 million records worldwide and is the only artist to sell over a million copies of an album in its first week of release five times. Her list of awards is frankly stunning, so we’ll simply highlight two: she has 12 Grammys, including three for Album of the Year, and 101 separate Guinness World Records.
As for worldwide box office totals, Swift easily vaulted the crowd to take second place with her cumulative $123.5 million take. The only concert film in her way is Jackson’s This Is It, which pulled in over $261 million during its run (conflicting estimates also put the actual total at $286 million). In most territories, the film ran from the end of October 2009 to December 3. Swift’s film, on the other hand, has a unique rollout; it’s only playing on Thursday/Friday/Saturday/Sunday, and is initially scheduled to run over the course of four weekends (through about November 10). Of course, that could always change, especially if Swift has a shot at dethroning Jackson.
The huge ticket sales for the film are simply a reflection of the record-breaking sales of the live tour. The Eras Tour launched on March 17, 2023, and will continue to run (with planned breaks) through November of 2024. It’s already the highest-grossing tour by a woman and the second-highest-grossing in history (behind only Elton John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour, which wrapped in July). As with the film, Swift has a legitimate chance to take the top spot.
In terms of critical consensus, The Eras Tour thus far ranks among some of the best-reviewed of the concert film genre. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shows the film with 100% positive based on reviews from 56 critics. Other concert films with a perfect score include the Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, which recently received a 40th anniversary re-release. Other critical darlings in the concert film arena include Martin Scorsese’s paean to The Band, The Last Waltz (98% from 56 reviews) and the aforementioned Woodstock (100% on 26 reviews).
For Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson wrote, “…Eras is a grand showcase for her signature musicianship, her insistent and perhaps unique ability to tell stories specific enough to be enticing but general enough to be inspiring. Swift is also a canny salesperson, peddling vicarious experience at top dollar. Eras marks a new career apex, a picture of the Swift machine in full and awesome motion.” Writing for The New Yorker, Richard Brody said, “Swift is a melodramatist in the best sense, finding heroic grandeur in ordinary lives and circumstances, conceiving her experiences as a form of naturalistic legend in which her audience, of girls and young women, find their own experiences taken seriously, as they deserve to be.” And Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post described a high point, writing, “But by the time Swift strips things down to sing ‘All Too Well’ — just a girl and her guitar — the song grows from a familiar heartbreak ballad to something profoundly moving and, ultimately, monumental.”
Whether The Eras Tour winds up, years from now, being considered the very best (or, at least among the very best) remains to be seen. But it looks like it may be the biggest. Not only in America, where it’s already captured the crown, but worldwide. Perhaps the most mind-boggling thing about Swift as phenom is that, at ten albums in, she’s only 33. Should she decide to rest on her laurels in the near future, few could blame her. Then again, Shania Twain recently returned to a massively successful 76-date tour at 58, and the Stones keep rolling (Mick’s 80 now), so it’s quite possible somewhere down the line … The Eras Tour will get a sequel.
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