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‘The Irishman’ Is Netflix’s Biggest Theatrical Release at Home and Abroad

Despite friction in the U.S. over its release in select cinemas, Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” is enjoying the biggest theatrical rollout of any Netflix film to date, with key international markets screening the movie and bolstering its profile as awards season gets underway.

The nearly three-and-a-half-hour mob epic has secured relatively large releases in major overseas territories such as the U.K. and Italy, where opposition to screening Netflix films is proving more muted. It is also being shown in the important Asian markets of Japan and South Korea. Pushback from some exhibitors has, however, sharply curtailed the film’s outing in other countries such as Germany and France.

Even after “The Irishman” drops on Netflix’s own streaming platform next Wednesday, its theatrical release is expected to continue around the world, including in the U.S., according to several well-placed sources.

Outside the U.S., Netflix has been working with Glen Basner’s FilmNation Entertainment to liaise with local distributors in many countries. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, as different countries have different windowing rules.

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In London and other major British cities, distributor Altitude Films launched “The Irishman” in arthouse theaters through the Everyman and Curzon cinema chains, where the movie has been playing on about 80 screens. “It’s really quite a serious footprint,” British film industry analyst Angus Finney said, adding: “If Sony Pictures Classics were to release a crossover movie…this would be the kind of pattern they would hope for.”

Other British theater chains, including Cineworld-owned Picturehouse, Vue and Odeon, turned down “The Irishman” in order to uphold the 90-day window that is standard practice across much of Europe, Finney said. The film’s long run time, which makes it almost impossible to squeeze in three screenings per day, was another deterrent.

In Italy, “The Irishman” is playing on about 100 screens via Cineteca di Bologna, the same boutique distributor that last year released “Roma,” by Alfonso Cuaron. “Roma’s” release caused an uproar among Italian exhibitors at the time, but there haven’t been any protests over “The Irishman.”

“Italians are starting to be more serene about the whole Netflix/windows issue,” said Italian box office analyst Robert Bernocchi. A Netflix film hitting movie theaters “is no longer this apocalyptic occurrence, as though the future of filmmaking depended on it.”

But the issue remains a sensitive one. The heads of Italy’s exhibitors and distributors associations both declined to comment. So did Netflix, FilmNation, Altitude and Filmwelt, “The Irishman’s” distributor in Germany, where it reached fewer than 50 screens.

“Most German exhibitors refused to play the film because they fear losing the window,” said Arne Schmidt, spokesman for Hamburg-based premium cinema operator Astor Gruppe, which did not screen Scorsese’s film.

Spanish distributor Tripictures, which launched “The Irishman” in about 50 theaters in Spain, also did not reply to a request for comment.

In France, the film has been absent altogether because of the country’s 30-month window between a movie’s theatrical release and its availability on TV and other outlets. “The Irishman” did have a French premiere last month at the Lumiere Festival in Lyon, which is run by Cannes Film Festival chief Thierry Fremaux, and it also had a gala screening at the Cinematheque Francaise in Paris. But it has gone nowhere else in France.

In Asia, “The Irishman” launched from the Tokyo Film Festival and is currently in theaters in Japan via Aeon Entertainment. It is also playing in South Korea, on up to roughly 100 screens, via Pancinema. In Australia, the film is being shown in Dendy Cinemas and a patchwork of independents in all but two states..

Whether “The Irishman” will screen in China, where STXInternational is believed to hold the rights, is not yet known. It will not be playing in Middle East movie theaters despite opening the Cairo Film Festival on Wednesday.

The international rollout, though small by Hollywood blockbuster standards, is proving a generally smoother affair than “The Irishman’s” debut in the U.S. earlier this month, when it opened on just eight screens in New York and L.A. Though it added theaters in the top 10 U.S. markets the following week and has since expanded considerably, John Fithian, president of the National Assn. of Theater Owners, said it was “a disgrace” that an agreement couldn’t be reached to put “The Irishman” on more screens.

Whether international exhibitors’ greater acceptance of the film heralds a permanent shift in attitude toward Netflix releases remains to be seen. But the streaming giant itself no doubt hopes so. “If everyone would just be calm and talk through it, over the next few years we’ll be able to find the right answer for everyone,” Netflix film chief Scott Stuber said recently in New York.

Patrick Frater contributed to this report.

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