Manhattan’s Paris Theatre has been given a stay of execution. The last prestige single-screen movie house in New York, which closed in August, will become a home for the Noah Baumbach-directed Netflix film Marriage Story when the picture plays theatrical engagements in a handful of theaters in Los Angeles and New York on November 6. That film rolls out wider November 15 before the Scarlett Johansson-Adam Driver divorce tale hits the streaming service December 6.
Is this a one-off, or does it portend a Netflix future for the movie house? Netflix would not comment beyond confirming that Marriage Story will re-open the doors of last great single-screen prestige picture palace in New York, which had shuttered when the City Cinemas lease with real estate magnate Robert Solow expired at the end of August. Deadline, which first revealed the pending demise of the Paris in June, also reported that Netflix was among those trying hard to get the lease from the Solow family, which owns that building as part of Gotham’s priciest real estate, on 58th Street, next to its Solow Building and adjacent to the Plaza Hotel an Bergdorf Goodman, just west of Central Park. When the house shuttered and equipment was moved out of the 581-seat Paris, with employees hanging this sign in the window: “Unfortunately, our lease has ended and the Paris Theatre is now closed. We would like to extend our sincere appreciation to all of our guests over the years. Thank you for your patronage and we regret that we cannot continue to serve you.”
Prospects were dim for the Paris as word in Gotham’s prestige film community spread that the Solows were looking to turn the space into a walk-in medical center or some similar enterprise that would generate more revenue befitting such a pricey neighborhood. Maybe that will still happen. Netflix wasn’t saying yet if it had ponied up to re-open the theater only for this limited showing, or if this will be something longer lasting.
Netflix could very much use the theater as it continues to draw higher caliber filmmakers making awards season fare and has changed from a token four-wall strategy to appease those filmmakers and instead trying to give a meaningful theater launch to last year’s Oscar winner Roma, Marriage Story, The Irishman, The Two Popes and seven other fall releases before offering them to its subscribers on the streaming service. I don’t think Netflix cares much about the theatrical revenue — it won’t report grosses, just as it doesn’t disclose viewership figures. The initiative is meant to melt Academy voter perception that its films aren’t the same as traditional theatrical releases.
Netflix has to work around a veritable boycott by major theater chains that still refuse to play Netflix product. Major theater chains say a month in a theater isn’t nearly long enough, and have held fast to a 90-day moratorium between the time a film opens in theaters to when it exploits ancillary platforms. This despite AMC’s bizarre announcement this week that it would get involved in a film streaming venture, which prompted one seasoned film vet to say, “Way to go, AMC. Give the consumer another reason not to leave home, and to not go to the movie theater.”
Back to Netflix. It’s the second time the streamer has gotten into a deal directly with a prestige theater. As Deadline broke last April, Netflix made a deal with the non-profit American Cinematheque to buy the venerable Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. The deal is still being papered, but this amounted to the first brick and mortar movie theater acquisition investment for Netflix and an investment, placed by sources at tens of millions of dollars, though the company at the time denied it was leaning into a move into the operational theater business. Netflix had been rumored as a buyer of Landmark Theaters, though sources said that amounted to a conversation, the kind everyone has, and it never got serious before that chain went to Charles Cohen’s Cohen Media Group, with 50 theaters in 27 markets that play the kind of prestige fare that Netflix is putting out theatrical in the form of 10 films this awards season.
If Netflix is successful in employing The Paris as it will use The Egyptian — that theater will host Netflix movies on weekday nights and splashy premieres, while the American Cinemateque will program around it — Netflix would have a couple prestige palaces that are important for Oscar pictures and also for Hollywood purists who don’t want to see these theaters die. The Egyptian hosted Hollywood’s very first movie premiere in 1922, the silent film Robin Hood that starred Douglas Fairbanks and Wallace Beery. Cinematheque in 1998 completed a $12.8 million renovation and facelift to the theater, but the non-profit has been cash strapped and the Netflix investment gives it needed stability.
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. Best Picture winners like The Artist got an important foothold with months long runs in the Paris.
The disruptive Netflix continues to be inventive in finding showcases for its Oscar fare. A month long run of the Martin Scorsese-directed The Irishman begins at Broadway’s Belasco Theatre begins November 1. It’s the first film to ever screen in the Belasco’s 112-year history, and The Irishman will mimic the standard Broadway schedule of eight performances per week, Tuesday through Sunday evenings, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday. In keeping with Broadway tradition, it will go dark on Monday as all the plays do on Broadway. Netflix will outfit the theater with state of the art equipment for the month.
Give Netflix, Ted Sarandos and its film head Scott Stuber credit here. Their motive is to diversify their business, but at a time when there are more reasons to feel alarmed and depressed about where movie going is headed as studios focus on global tentpoles and lean into streaming launches as vital parts of their future, the streaming company once considered the bane of the theatrical release is making some interesting moves to preserve landmark Hollywood picture palaces. They also gave Scorsese the budgetary latitude to make a three and one-half hour long epic, reuniting with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in the crime film for the first time in a quarter century with The Irishman, and throwing Al Pacino and a great cast into the mix for good measure and removing the stigma of needing grosses to justify the large budget pegged at $160 million or more, and huge P&A spend that would have accompanied a traditional theatrical release.