The Quorum

Universal Blinked. Did It Need To?

We certainly didn’t see that coming. If you felt the ground shake yesterday morning, it was not an earthquake. At least not the geological kind. It was the news that TAYLOR SWIFT: THE ERAS TOUR will be arriving in theaters on October 13th in AMC, Regal and Cinemark circuits. If there was a rumbling, the epicenter was most likely near Universal City. That’s because, up until yesterday, Universal’s THE EXORCIST: BELIEVER was on that weekend. Fast forward a few hours, and EXORCIST was shifted a week earlier to October 6th. 

Universal blinked. But did they need to? The decision to move is easy to defend. Like the stock market, Hollywood doesn’t like uncertainty, and as stories of SWIFT breaking pre-sale records started to roll in, it became clear that we were in uncharted territory. Speculation that SWIFT might become a Marvel or BARBIE-sized event no doubt rattled execs at Universal. On top of that, studios still prioritize the bragging rights that come with opening #1 at the box office. It became clear relatively early that if EXORCIST went up against SWIFT, it would open #2. 

But does that matter? OPPENHEIMER opened #2 to BARBIE, and I don’t hear anyone at Universal complaining about a $300M domestic haul. 

An argument could be made that Universal missed an opportunity to leverage this moment. As we learned earlier this year with BARBENHEIMER, a rising tide can lift all ships. Two movies on the same weekend can both be events. There could have been an opportunity for the studio to lean into it. To make it another opportunity for a double-header. To further the narrative that theatrical is back and healthy thanks to two entirely different films. 

Universal might argue that there’s a big difference between this moment—the would-be EXORSWIFT—and BARBENHEIMER. What made the BARBIE and OPPENHEIMER showdown so compelling was that the two films targeted different audiences. They were demographic complements. That’s not necessarily the case here. SWIFT is primarily targeting younger women. And we know that horror films rely heavily on younger women as well. EXORCIST and SWIFT would be going after the same audience. 

That’s true, but that assumes two things: One, that young women are a monolith and will only see SWIFT. Two, it assumes that this audience won’t see more than one movie. It’s not an all-or-nothing game. It’s not SWIFT or EXORCIST. It could very well be SWIFT and EXORCIST. 

But there’s another reason we think Universal’s decision to move EXORCIST might have been unnecessary. Yesterday, The Quorum polled 919 people to gauge interest in the two films. First, we asked people if they were interested in EXORCIST. They were given three choices: yes, maybe, or no. The same question was posed for SWIFT. 

Across all age respondents, 43% said they were interested in seeing EXORCIST vs. 23% for SWIFT. Broken out by age group, EXORCIST was the clear choice for everyone over 25 years old. Among 16 to 24-year-olds, the two films tied. 

It’s important to note that this study does not include people under 16.. But, these results do highlight something that has been missing from the SWIFT narrative. Not everyone wants to see this concert movie. The data shows that a wide swath of people would prefer to see the horror movie over the concert film. 

When this study was fielded, both films were still on the same date. So we asked people to imagine it’s October 13th and tell us which movie they would see in a theater. More than twice as many people chose EXORCIST (41%) over SWIFT (19%). The results were very similar among just 16 to 24-year-olds, thus confirming that not all younger audiences want to see SWIFT. 

Drilling down even further, we see that there is one segment where the SWIFT film outperforms EXORCIST. That’s among people who saw the Taylor Swift concert or wanted to but didn’t. For example, 34% of people who saw the concert said they would see SWIFT versus 26% for EXORCIST. Among those who didn’t see the concert because tickets were too expensive, 37% picked SWIFT to 30% for EXORCIST. For those who didn’t see the concert because tickets were sold out, the number jumps to 38% (though this is a small sample size of only 95 respondents). 

But look at the numbers for people who had no interest in seeing Taylor Swift in concert. Only 2% of this group want to see the SWIFT movie versus 55% of EXORCIST.  

There’s something else worth noting in the data. Look at the first pie chart above. Among people who saw Taylor Swift in concert, 36% said they would see both films. This data point suggests that October 13th could have been another news-worthy, press-driven head-to-head opportunity between two very different movies. 

Risky? Perhaps. But the results of this study show that there is strong interest in EXORCIST and a sizable audience of people who don’t want to see the Taylor Swift audience. Universal has robbed us of another terrific box office story by moving a week earlier.

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