Repertory exhibitor American Cinematheque has confirmed that they are negotiating with streamer Netflix, which has offices in Hollywood, to sell the historic Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. This acquisition would provide a deep-pocketed owner to keep up the movie palace, which was built in 1922, opening with the Douglas Fairbanks “Robin Hood.” Netflix is spending tens of millions to acquire and refurbish the site.
Departed chief Barbara Smith, who co-founded the Cinematheque in 1981, acquired the earthquake-damaged theatre from the city for $1 in 1997 and raised $12.8 million to restore the magnificent interior and facade. Maintaining the venue, which has two screens, was always an expensive labor of love; the projection booth is equipped with 70 and 35mm as well as digital projectors. The Cinematheque has a ten-year lease on the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, which has built a healthy West Side fanbase.
The Egyptian marks the first movie theater acquisition for Netflix and would provide a welcome venue for year-round awards events and premieres for high-end projects that are theater-bound — see Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman.” Netflix will partner with the Cinematheque, giving it a much-needed cash infusion. Netflix will book screenings on weeknights while the Cinematheque continues its melange of classic screening series, special events, and festival bookings on weekends.
This move also gives Netflix philanthropic brownie points for saving a beloved venue. Netflix would continue to book their films via indie theaters like Landmark in Los Angeles and around the country.
The Cinematheque has been making a challenging transition in the wake of the indefatigable Smith’s retirement. Producer Rick Nicita is the chairman of the board, on which Netflix’s Ted Sarandos is a member (per Netflix, he recused himself from the deal, which is expected to close in a few months) and has been conducting a search for Smith’s successor.
Coming up April 23 is the Academy Board of Governors rules meeting, at which the subject of Oscar eligibility rules will be raised. The board could require that streamers like Netflix commit to an exclusive theatrical window of up to four weeks–Netflix gave “Roma” three weeks before its streaming date — but the Board may well stick with the status quo.