Netflix is refusing to play by the rules yet again. Stymied by the big theater chains, the streamer has booked Broadway’s Belasco Theatre for its November 1 opening of Martin Scorsese’s epic “The Irishman” for one of several New York theatrical dates. The three-and-a-half-hour mafia drama starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci, which grabbed kudos when it opened the New York FIlm Festival, will play at the Shubert Organization’s historic midtown theater through December 1.
Netflix will install state-of-the-art film equipment for this first-ever movie showing in the 1,016-seat theater. Since the Belasco’s opening in 1907 its storied stage plays include “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Oh! Calcutta!,” “American Buffalo,” and most recently “Network.” Moving into the theater after “The Irishman” will be Conor McPherson’s Bob Dylan musical “Girl from the North Country,” which starts previews in February.
As befits a Broadway presentation, “The Irishman” will show eight times a week — Tuesday through Saturday nights, with matinees on Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. Tickets are $15, plus processing fees. Broadway is enjoying a boom year and New Yorkers will likely flock to this opportunity to see a 209-minute movie without intermission from Little Italy’s own Scorsese, even if the seats may not offer the same comfort level as many contemporary cinemas.
“We’ve lost so many wonderful theaters in New York City in recent years, including single-house theaters like the Ziegfeld and the Paris,” Scorsese said in a statement. “The opportunity to recreate that singular experience at the historic Belasco Theatre is incredibly exciting. Ted Sarandos, Scott Stuber, and their team at Netflix have continued to find creative ways to make this picture a special event for audiences and I’m thankful for their innovation and commitment.”
Indeed. Netflix’s marketing team is growing more sophisticated about turning the streamer’s premium awards-bound features into must-see events via festival showings and big-screen theatrical runs. As is always the case with Netflix Original features, “The Irishman” will head to streaming (on November 27) shortly after its initial theatrical date.
This is the first announcement of theaters showing “The Irishman.” Netflix has been courting exhibitors, but has been met with resistance from the top national and regional theater chains. It remains to be seen how many chains are willing to book Netflix’s robust fall slate, even though circuit AMC often arranges rental dates for films that don’t hold to the 90-day exclusive window. Netflix four-walls many of their indie theater bookings and will continue to find dates from circuits like Landmark, Alamo Drafthouse, and other independents that previously played “Roma,” “The Laundromat,” and this week’s “Dolemite Is My Name.”
But these efforts are piecemeal and leave some significant cities and towns around the country uncovered. With “The Irishman” earning great reviews amid heavy awards talk for Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci and Pacino, the expectation is that if theaters can be found, audiences will come.
New York is a key location for reaching Oscar voters. Los Angeles also offers a variety of possibilities, including theaters that played “Roma” for weeks. Not playing “Roma” was the Arclight Theater in Hollywood, which would seem ideal for “The Irishman,” along with The Landmark on the west side. Arclight has theaters in the area as well as other cities nationally, and has in the past gone against the National Association of Theater Owners’ preferred policy of not playing films that violate windows. But so far, that does not extend to Netflix.
It’s likely that Arclight will stick with the chains’ collective refusal to play Netflix. While the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is still negotiating with Netflix for future investment, renovation and involvement, there is no deal in place and if it does go through, Netflix would not use the Egyptian for theatrical bookings but for premieres and promotional events. “Dolemite is My Name” played there last week as part of a film festival.
Could renting a stage theatre allow Netflix to finally break into France, where “Roma” was barred from playing a single cinema? The Belasco marks a throwback to the beginning of the industry, when in 1915 Epoch Producing Corporation searched for large auditoriums for the hordes of moviegoers eager to see Hollywood’s first blockbuster, D.W. Griffith’s controversial “The Birth of a Nation.” A film historian like Scorsese appreciates the irony of returning to exhibition’s roots just as the viewing experience keeps evolving.
Anne Thompson contributed to this report.