EXCLUSIVE: The Paris Theatre, the last great single-screen prestige picture palace in New York, is expected to shutter in late July or August, according to the buzz on the Gotham arthouse theater circuit. Unless something dramatic happens, the last movie that will play there is the Ron Howard-directed Pavarotti. Meaning it might be over for another cornerstone prestige theater in Manhattan when the fat man finishes singing.
As content generating giants like Disney, WarnerMedia and Comcast move toward streaming services to rival Netflix and Amazon that will make it even harder to pry moviegoers out of their homes, the prospect of losing yet another Gotham arthouse theater has become downright depressing. Located across from the Plaza on 58th Street and Fifth Avenue, the 71-year old Paris Theatre opened its doors in 1948, with actress Marlene Dietrich cutting the ribbon. The house served up a steady diet of arthouse films, with French fare naturally the priority but other foreign films finding that theater a strong launch point.
The 586-seat Paris Theatre became the last single-screen theater in Manhattan with the shuttering of nearby Ziegfeld Theatre. Both were great places to hold film premieres.
The scorecard for arthouse theaters in New York hasn’t been great lately. Lincoln Plaza is still closed. Though its owner, Millstein Properties, told Deadline — after we broke the story it might go by the wayside — that the theater would be refurbished, it is sitting idle with no clear direction. Sources said Millstein Properties got closest with an approach from Alamo Drafthouse to overhaul and curate, but nothing is close. Alamo is opening its 12 screen facility downtown at 28 Liberty Tower and would seem the ideal exhibitor to take a stronger presence in Manhattan, but some fear the space could just as easily end up a Target retail outlet.
The Paris is owned by Sheldon Solow, best known for the prestige building 9 West 57th Street. It has been booked for years by Bob Smerling, who didn’t return phone calls. The presence of throwback houses like The Paris is dependent upon the goodwill of the handful of family owned real estate companies that dominate Manhattan. That theater occupies prime real estate that could most certainly be used for other purposes and draw high rents.
Prestige films are encountering a hard road in general, but the prospect of not having Paris anymore would be a serious problem, said Tom Bernard, partner in Sony Pictures Classics, who has heard the rumors and counts the Paris Theatre as one of the great remaining showcase theaters in Manhattan.
“When you launch a film in the Paris and it is a hit, that could be one-third of the box office because your film would play there for months, sometimes all through an Academy season,” he said.
He said the slow disappearance of theaters willing to play arthouse movies for long stretches will make it harder to see another Green Book or a similar picture succeed in a slow rollout fueled by audience word of mouth.
“It is just hard, when other theaters throw off the lowest grossing films after a weekend, but places like The Paris, Lincoln Plaza and the Angelika gave movies room to perform and draw audiences,” Bernard said. “That area is a prime arthouse zone that has generated incredible box office, where a film can be curated for maximum profitability. The Paris is a perfect place to premiere a movie; there are plenty of seats, a balcony, great projection. It’s a terrific location,” he said. Stay tuned.