In its most ambitious ever theatrical rollout plan for one of its original productions, Netflix will give The Irishman a 27-day theatrical window before the film makes its streaming service bow November 27. Netflix will launch on November 1 in Los Angeles and New York the epic crime drama that reunites director Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro for the first time in 24 years, in the Steven Zaillian-scripted adaptation of the Charles Brandt novel about the disappearance of former Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa. The film will add screens in the U.S. and expand to UK theaters on November 8.
While the screen counts aren’t set yet, the film will be in theaters in most major U.S. cities by the time it begins streaming on Netflix the day before Thanksgiving. Netflix will promote The Irishman with heavy P&A and endeavor to hold and even expand its movie screen presence after the film expands to the streaming service.
The Irishman makes it world premiere as the opening-night film of the New York Film Festival on September 27.
While Netflix executives Ted Sarandos, Scott Stuber and distribution head Spencer Klein certainly tried over the past few months to find common ground with major movie chains including AMC and Cineplex, The Irishman won’t be playing in multiplex screens controlled by those companies, or Regal and Cinemark, because the four-week progression to SVOD remains unacceptable to those chains. The major exhibitors remain dug in on the three-month moratorium before films can begin their ancillary runs, an effort to protect their brick and mortar businesses. If those chains made an exception for Netflix’s Scorsese film, every studio but Disney would be breathing down their necks to shorten the windows that would allow awareness from large P&A spends to not be largely forgotten by the time most theatrical releases hit that second leg of their revenue waterfalls.
It might be easier to find the remains of Hoffa than the solution to the theatrical release conundrum for studios, streamers and exhibitors, heading into a future where consumers are accustomed to getting what they want when they want it. Netflix had had a rancorous relationship with the major exhibitors, but that has calmed down as everyone looks to hone their business models in this fast-changing landscape.
Still, this marks the most aggressive Netflix has been in putting an auteur filmmaker’s picture into theatrical release, beyond Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma. Roma spent 21 days in theaters before bowing on Netflix, and The Irishman will get an extra week in theaters. Much of that has to do with the optics of awards season, and in drawing more A-list directors to make films at Netflix. There is a reason Netflix doesn’t report the theatrical grosses of its films; the revenue is secondary to bolstering the perception among Oscar voters that Netflix is indeed making features, even if they will mostly be consumed on the home TV screens or iPads of Netflix subscribers. The Irishman will be Netflix’s biggest test of its evolving model since Roma, which is actually still on a small number of movie screens, and was in the hunt until the very end for Best Picture in the last Oscar race. Though it lost top prize to Green Book, Roma drew 10 Oscar nominations and won Best Foreign Language Film, with Cuarón taking home trophies for directing and cinematography.
Netflix is confident that it will secure enough market penetration on independently owned screens to satisfy Scorsese, the Oscar-winning director who is keen to have his $160 million film get the big-screen treatment to which he is accustomed. That large screen will test the expensive and groundbreaking VFX “de-aging” techniques prevalent in this film that allow the actors to play characters as they age over years, similar to the way that Scorsese used cutting-edge 3D techniques for Hugo. That film’s theatrical run didn’t cover Hugo‘s huge expense, but here, Scorsese has the benefit of not being graded by box office returns, as The Irishman provides a fat Thanksgiving holiday streaming feast for its subscribers in the U.S., and around the world as well. At a time when there is unprecedented chaos and disruption in the movie business, The Irishman rollout bears a close watch as Netflix evolves its model from a defiant streaming subscriber first strategy into something else. The stakes are high; the Disney+ launch is coming and majors Comcast and WarnerMedia are right behind with OTT services. Last month, Netflix saw its market value on Wall Street drop $26 billion in one week, when it added fewer subscribers than it forecast.
The Irishman tells a sprawling story that culminates in the murder of Teamster boss Hoffa — played by Al Pacino — as seen through the eyes of WWII vet Frank Sheeran (De Niro), a hustler and hitman who claims he ended Hoffa’s life on orders of mob boss Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci). Hoffa’s body has never been found and Sheeran’s admission is one of numerous theories of the union boss’s demise.
Joining De Niro, Pesci, Harvey Keitel and Pacino are Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Stephen Graham, Stephanie Kurtzuba, Jack Huston, Kathrine Narducci, Jesse Plemons, Domenick Lombardozzi, Paul Herman, Gary Basaraba and Marin Ireland. The film is produced by Scorsese, De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Irwin Winkler, Gerald Chamales, Gaston Pavlovich and Randall Emmett.