Robert De Niro Weighs In On Streaming Vs. Theatrical As His Netflix Pic ‘The Irishman’ Looms

Robert De Niro
Deadline/Anthony D'Alessandro

When it comes to the ideal way of watching movies, theatrical is king for two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro.

Following De Niro’s opening keynote today at the Tribeca Film Festival media luncheon, Deadline asked the event co-founder about his take on theatrical versus streaming, especially as independent films are increasingly finding their way onto portals like Netflix and Amazon, forgoing a potentially low-grossing and pricey theatrical release and vying for a wider audience online. This October, De Niro’s ninth collaboration with director Martin Scorsese, The Irishman, will be released by Netflix.

“I like the traditional in-theater,” said De Niro, who hosted a screening during awards season in New York for Alfonso Cuarón’s ultimate three-time Oscar winner Roma on the big screen. “Depending on what the movie is — if it’s a comedy, you have to watch it with an audience.”

“I don’t watch that much streaming stuff, but I know the binge watching that people do,” he continued.

That said, De Niro admitted he will watch movies on a computer sometimes, “which might not be the orthodox way to do it, but in terms of time and expediency, you still get the same umpf, especially if it’s about the story.”

“I come from the theater (in regards to) screening movies. I like that. But as I said, sometimes at the end of the day, it’s just about seeing what it is. I just need to see it. Does it take away from the experience (when watching on computer)? Yes, but if it’s a special movie that’s a couple of hours long, that would be better to see in a theater with an audience to have that communal feeling; it’s good to make the effort to see it in that way,” said De Niro, who’ll be talking with Scorsese on Sunday afternoon during a Tribeca Talks session at the festival.

While De Niro didn’t specifically address theatrical plans for The Irishman, on which he is also a producer, it’s been reported Scorsese wants a wide theatrical release for the movie — Netflix is currently figuring all that out. Should the streaming giant be able to find a compromise with the large chain exhibitors on a specific window and a wide release, it then must weigh which of its other awards-season titles land theatrical releases.

With the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sticking by their eligibility rules — that a film requires no more than a one-week run in a Los Angeles County theater to qualify for the Best Picture Oscar race — Netflix can rest easy and proceed with the shortened window theatrical release plans of its awards-season contenders it practiced last year, followed by an immediate global streaming date. While that irked rival theatrical distributors with traditional releases, Netflix walked away with four Oscar wins last February, equal to that of Universal, Fox and Disney.

In the wake of that, Amazon Studios boss Jennifer Salke is also mulling a similar theatrical/streaming rollout for some of that company’s future titles.

Last year, De Niro electrified the Tribeca Film Festival’s opening-day lunch at Thalassa restaurant on Franklin Avenue by bashing the inadequacies of President Donald Trump, calling him a “Lowlife-in-chief.” This year, the festival co-founder expressed those remarks during his Friday night appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where he slammed Trump for being “a total loser” and “wannabe gangster,” and by the way, “gangsters have more morals,” De Niro said.

However, similar to last year, he continued to express his admiration to the press as “rock stars” in the current upside-down political era. This afternoon’s Tribeca Film Festival opening day lunch also included co-founder Jane Rosenthal, Tribeca Enterprises EVP Paula Weinstein and Festival Director Cara Cusumano.

Here is De Niro’s full speech:

Who would have thought that at an international film festival, the press would be rock stars?

It’s always been the press’s function to report the news – and we’re very grateful you’re doing it for the Tribeca Film Festival, chronicling how we’re building a community to celebrate storytelling and shining a light on the discovery of new voices. Our stories are made to be told to an audience, and your independent and critical reporting is critical to making that happen. We’re all in the truth-telling business together.

These days your proud profession is also in the front line of finding the truth our political leaders try to obscure. They call you fake news, enemies of the people, and encourage violence against you. And you’re not intimidated. Thank you!

Welcome to the 18th Tribeca Film Festival. 18…We’re legal now.

We wouldn’t have gotten to one, let alone 18 without the devoted and creative leadership of my partner Jane Rosenthal.

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