With Netflix making a bigger and bigger impression on the awards circuit each year, we’re circling back to the disconnect between streaming services and theater chains regarding the theatrical release of their films. This time around, the focus is on Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, and this particular case could reshape the theatrical distribution model on a much wider scale depending on the outcome.
The movie stars Robert De Niro as Frank Sheeran, a hitman who worked with some of the most notorious individuals out there, including Jimmy Hoffa. The film is said to focus on Hoffa’s disappearance while offering “a monumental journey through the hidden corridors of organized crime: its inner workings, rivalries and connections to mainstream politics.” This monumental journey also includes Joe Pesci, Al Pacino, a reported budget of $160 million million, potentially groundbreaking VFX, and a New York Film Festival debut. Of course Netflix is going to mount an awards push for this one, but with a project of this scale, clout and anticipation, they’re not just looking to get the film in select theaters to tick a box for Oscar eligibility; Netflix is aiming to give this one a nationwide release. In fact, Scorsese himself requested it.
Given the fact that many major theater chains require a 90-day exclusive window for films they screen, it’ll be very interesting to see what kind of concessions Netflix is will to make, if any. If the streaming service plays by that rule, that means they can’t add the film to their platform for three months after its big screen debut. As one might expect, they don’t want that, making the situation quite complicated for all involved and, according to The New York Times, Netflix, AMC and Cineplex aren’t seeing eye to eye on the matter right now.
Netflix doesn’t want to adhere to that 90-day restriction. The concern for theater chains is that if they make an exception and shorten that window for Netflix, then other studios might demand the same. That could prove to be hugely problematic for business, especially with so many companies putting tons of resources into streaming services of their own. AMC is keen on releasing The Irishman but not at the expense of their other relationships as chief executive Adam Aron explained; “We can only do so, however, on terms that respect AMC’s important and close relationships with our longstanding studio partners, including Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, Sony, Paramount, Lionsgate and so many other filmmakers who are the lifeblood of our substantial business.”
It’s said that negotiations have been going on for months with things looking like they hit a dead end in July. However, just two weeks go, apparently AMC and Cineplex went back to the drawing board in an attempt to figure out separate arrangements with Netflix. If you’re wondering where one of AMC’s biggest competitors, Regal Cinemas, stands, that chain actually isn’t working with Netflix at all. Regal gave this statement: “Currently, we are not in any discussion with Netflix on The Irishman nor on any other movie. Of course, if Netflix will decide to respect the industry business model and release the movie with a proper theatrical window, we will be more than happy to discuss the booking of the movie in Regal theaters.”
Netflix has screened content at smaller chains including Landmark Theatres and Alamo Drafthouse, giving them one-week exclusives. As for Roma, that film wound up with the longest window yet, 21 days. Will Netflix ever go beyond that?