EXCLUSIVE: It’s official. New York’s iconic Paris Theatre will remain Manhattan’s last single-screen movie palace for a long time to come. Netflix has confirmed that it has closed an extended lease agreement to keep the theater open. Netflix would not disclose the length of the agreement; Deadline revealed on November 14 that the deal it was signing with the Solow Family that owns the prime real estate is for 10 years. The theater shuttered in August when the lease with City Cinemas expired, and Netflix surprisingly drew a temporary reprieve to show its awards season film Marriage Story by New York director Noah Baumbach.
Netflix disclosed it will use the theater for special events, screenings, and theatrical releases of its films. Translation: Netflix has secured a prime and prestigious beach head theater in New York, as it continues to persuade elite filmmakers to make their prestige films for the streaming service, preceded by a theatrical release. Netflix earlier bought an ownership stake in The Egyptian in Los Angeles, another storied movie theater, and these are two impressive houses to be able to dangle before directors like Alfonso Cuaron, Baumbach and Martin Scorsese. Latter’s Netflix film, The Irishman, is currently playing in The Belasco Theatre on Broadway but I hear it might well eventually find its way into The Paris at some point.
“After 71 years, the Paris Theatre has an enduring legacy, and remains the destination for a one-of-a kind movie-going experience,” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer. “We are incredibly proud to preserve this historic New York institution so it can continue to be a cinematic home for film lovers.”
This is not the outcome that distributors of prestige theatrical fare not at Netflix was hoping for, as it remains to be seen if there will be room for anything but Netflix fare on the marquee. But this prime space was dead as a movie theater. How did this reprieve happen? I hear the secret weapon here was Scott Stuber, who in addition to overseeing the feature slate as head of Netflix’s film program, has also put to work his statesman skills honed over years at Universal Pictures and other venues where he brokered deals and courted talent. After years of a contentious relationships between Netflix and the major theater chains, Stuber has become Netflix’s theater whisperer. Just as he led the negotiations with AMC and Cineplex to show Scorsese’s The Irishman (those talks didn’t work out), I’m told he put a lot of time into attempting to change the Solow Family’s plan to turn the space on W 58th and Fifth Avenue into a medical clinic. It makes one think that if anyone can end the stalemate between Cannes and Netflix, it will be Stuber.
The Paris Theatre opened in 1948, with actress Marlene Dietrich on hand to cut the ribbon. Opened at the time by Pathé Cinema, the theater originally showed French titles, the first of which was La Symphonie Pastorale, which ran for eight months. Even as the blockbuster picture became the easiest way to make money, The Paris was known for being a place where a prestige film could stay for months. That included Best Picture winner The Artist. Among the foreign language films introduced there to an American audience are Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet, which ran for almost an entire year from 1968-1969; Claude Lelouch’s A Man And A Woman; and Marcello Mastroianni’s comedy Divorce Italian Style, which played for over a year. The theater closed in August 2019 after the extended run of the Ron Howard-directed documentary Pavarotti.
Signs that the Paris were in trouble first surfaced last June, as distributors became alarmed at the increasing sense City Cinemas wasn’t being given much of a chance to renew its lease. In August, the theater staff actually placed a sign in the window of the theater regrettably informing patrons it was shuttered.