Negotiations are under way to secure a December or more likely an early January release for “Taylor Swift: “The Eras Tour” movie in mainland China cinemas.
The film, which has grossed some $250 million worldwide since debuting on Oct. 13, is currently being reviewed by Chinese authorities. Separate bodies must approve the import of foreign movies and the content all films destined for public release.
Alibaba Pictures, part of the digital media and entertainment division of e-commerce giant Alibaba, is among the companies understood to be piloting the import and distribution.
Wanda Films, which was previously the majority owner of AMC Theaters, “The Eras Tour’s” North American distributor, is understood to be on board as a theatrical exhibition partner. While AMC and Wanda have untangled most of their corporate connections, Wanda is a powerful ally and is the operator of the largest cinema chain in China.
Unconfirmed industry commentary from China points to a wide release with tens of thousands of screenings per day and distribution including premium screen formats, such as Imax and Dolby.
Alibaba Pictures has acknowledged Variety’s messages, but declined to respond. “We do not comment on rumors or speculation,” said AMC Theaters in reply to emailed requests for comment.
There is a certain urgency to the process as the movie will be available for streaming outside China on Dec. 13 (Swift’s birthday), and some online piracy within China is to be expected. But posters circulating within China point to a release in the first half of January.
Another source, close to the process told Variety: “The approvals process is ongoing and not yet completed. The Film Bureau’s concern is not so much about content censorship but whether this film could be the first major title to be released under its ‘branch distribution’ policy.”
For years, all foreign films that are imported and released in China on a revenue-sharing basis have officially been distributed by a state-owned entity, with private-sector companies given an assisting role. Chinese film regulators are now experimenting with allowing cinema exhibitors or distributors to take on that task and be given due credit.
Were “The Eras Tour” movie approved and released in the Middle Kingdom in December it would join one of China’s peak cinema-going seasons, but which has an already crowded releasing calendar. “Wonka” and “Aquaman 2” are the two highest profile Hollywood releases in December, with the majority of new release titles Chinese-made features.
The more likely January release presents a smart counter-cyclical opportunity for an event film such as “The Eras Tour.” The first weeks of January usually represent a box office low point in China as they fall between the busy Christmas-New Year season and the Chinese New Year peak in late January or early February. And Swift, who is hugely popular in China, could be expected to be able to mobilize her legions of Chinese fans.
Chinese state-owned media at times seems as obsessed with the Swift phenomenon as everybody else. In 2019, the tabloid-like Global Times even published a piece titled ‘Welcome to China, Taylor Swift” when the star merely appeared live in Shanghai at an Alibaba-backed shopping event, similar to the U.S.’s Black Friday.
Nearly every foreign star is given a Chinese nickname and Swift is no exception. She is known as Meimei and her fans call themselves not “Swifties” but “Meimeis.”
The Chinese character “Mei” can be taken to mean unlucky, and “meimei” is used as a term of endearment, expressing sympathetic reference to Swift’s occasional chart disappointments. It is also a pun. The “unlucky” mei symbol is also a homonym of the Chinese character for “beautiful.”