Hollywood insiders say Netflix is being more 'flexible' with movie theaters, but a wide release for Scorsese's 'The Irishman' faces an uphill battle
- At the urging of director Martin Scorsese, Netflix is attempting to secure a wider release for his movie "The Irishman" than it got for its award season contender last year, "Roma," multiple sources told Business Insider.
- Netflix has come a long way since trying to release the company's first original movie, "Beasts of No Nation," in theaters.
- "They are more open and flexible with theatrical runs," a source who works in exhibition told Business Insider.
- But industry insiders have mixed opinions on whether the big theater chains will work with Netflix.
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As we get closer to the fall, for Netflix it means time is running out for it to appease its latest big-name filmmaker: Martin Scorsese.
This time last year, the streaming giant was mounting an award-season campaign for Alfonso Cuarón's "Roma." Netflix spent as much as $60 million on the campaign, which resulted in a best picture Oscar nomination and wins in the best foreign language, cinematography, and director categories.
Now Netflix is building a campaign for Scorsese's "The Irishman."
The movie is a passion project for the auteur that will mark the first time he's worked with Robert De Niro since 1995's "Casino." Because of the ambitious storytelling that involves pricey CGI deaging, Scorsese has said Netflix was the only place that would make the movie (Cuarón said the same about "Roma").
But when it comes to the movie's release, Scorsese is looking for a traditional theatrical release, preferably larger than the 21-day release Netflix gave "Roma" last year before it become available to stream on its service, multiple sources familiar with the negotiations Netflix is having with theaters told Business Insider.
The New York Times reported on Wednesday that Netflix had been in discussions with major theater chains like AMC Theatres (the largest chain in the world) and Cineplex (Canada's largest exhibitor) about playing "The Irishman." But those talks have been "dragging on for months," the Times wrote.
Back then, the streaming service tried to release the Cary Joji Fukunaga drama starring Idris Elba in theaters the same day as it streamed the movie, leading the major chains to refuse to show the movie, as it didn't respect the exclusive 90-day theatrical window all other studios and distributors obey before making its titles available on streaming or home video. In the aftermath, Netflix bad-mouthed the exhibition community on multiple occasions, including CEO Reed Hastings in 2016 saying theaters were "strangling the movie business."
But since then, Netflix has staffed up its movie division, and now has executives with deep ties in the movie theater industry who are constantly talking with theaters about how Netflix movies can play in their houses, according to a Netflix source.
There have still been hiccups. Netflix put too many restrictions on Alamo Drafthouse last year when discussing showing "Roma," leading the popular indie chain to decline a first-run release of the movie (it screened "Roma" after it began streaming).
But one source in the exhibition space told Business Insider that this year Netflix has been easier to work with.
"They are more open and flexible with theatrical runs," this person said.
But it's still an uphill struggle when it comes to Netflix working with the big three chains in the US: AMC, Regal, and Cinemark.
It's a testament to Netflix better understanding the movie theater landscape that it's even having talks with AMC and Cineplex, but the industry insiders Business Insider talked to were split on if the talks would lead to an agreement.
One thought was that if Netflix was willing to give a more favorable percentage of theatrical grosses to the theaters compared to what studios do, the theaters may be more willing to show "The Irishman" on a shortened window.
However, another insider disagreed with that thinking, believing that once the traditional theatrical window is shortened for one movie, it is the beginning of the end for an exclusive window, as no one else will respect it.
"I don't think the conversations are going to go anywhere," this insider, who also works in exhibition, said of the report that Netflix is in talks with AMC and Cineplex. "In a year or two Netflix's leverage is going to be weaker because of Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus coming on the scene. That's why exhibition isn't going to blink."
Netflix hasn't announced a release date yet for "The Irishman" (theatrical or streaming). It will have its world premiere when the movie opens the New York Film Festival on September 27.
Netflix declined to comment for this story.