Netflix will open Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman” on Nov. 1 in limited release. The crime drama, which stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, will keep adding cities over a three and a half week period before launching on the streaming service on Nov. 27.
Scorsese reportedly had wanted the film to have a more traditional rollout, but this release pattern is more aligned with the limited, exclusive theatrical run that Netflix granted Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” in 2018. It’s unclear how many screens “The Irishman” will ultimately appear on, because major theater chains such as AMC and Regal are unlikely to agree to such a short theatrical run. Most major studio films wait roughly 90 days between their big screen debuts and their home entertainment bows and exhibitors are worried that shortening that window will cannibalize their businesses. Historically, they haven’t been big fans of Netflix, bristling at past comments that the streaming services’ executives have made about the health of theatrical business. Bashing Netflix is a frequent applause line at CinemaCon, the exhibition industry’s annual trade show — a sign of the tensions that exist behind traditional media and the streaming services that are upending their business.
Insiders say, however, that relations between exhibitors and Netflix have improved in recent years. Scott Stuber, the veteran producer who took over Netflix’s feature film department in 2017, has been more solicitous of theater owners and has helped smooth some ruffled feathers.
Netflix isn’t the only streaming service experimenting with windows. At one point, Amazon had earned the affection of the theater business by committing to releasing its films in theaters before waiting to debut them on its subscription service, Prime. Now, it’s changing things up following the box office disappointments of films such as “Late Night” and “Beautiful Boy.” Future fall releases such as “The Report” and “The Aeronauts” will launch on the subscription platform within weeks of their theatrical debuts.
Privately, theater owners had said they were eager to screen “The Irishman,” noting the history-making collaboration between Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci, and Pacino, names synonymous with the greatest in gangster cinema. It’s unclear what kind of discussions took place, but sources close to the exhibition side at one point suggested that theater owners might be willing to show the movie if it appeared exclusively in theaters for roughly 70 days. As it stands, the exclusive theatrical window for the film will consist of 26 days.
Insiders believe that “The Irishman” will ultimately have a theatrical footprint similar to that of “Roma,” which screened in roughly 250 theaters in the U.S. and approximately 1,600 venues overseas. Theater chain such as iPic, Alamo Drafthouse, and Landmark have been willing to exhibit Netflix releases in the past, and are expected to show “The Irishman.”
“The Irishman,” which tells the story of a mob hit man (De Niro) whose life becomes entwined with the rise and fall of labor leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), is seen as a major Oscar contender. It will begin screening in Los Angeles and New York on Nov. 1, with additional engagements in the U.S. and in the U.K. beginning Nov. 8. Over the subsequent two weeks it will add cities around the world and expects to continue adding venues even after it starts streaming.
“The Irishman” will be the opening night feature at this year’s New York Film Festival. That takes place on Sept. 27.
It will be impossible to assess whether or not “The Irishman’s” box office performance will justify its hefty $175 million budget. As is its custom, Netflix will not release box office results for the film.
“The Irishman” isn’t the only high-profile Netflix release this fall. The streaming service’s upcoming projects include Steven Soderbergh’s “The Laundromat” with Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman; Craig Brewer’s “Dolemite Is My Name” starring Eddie Murphy; and David Michôd’s “The King” with Timothée Chalamet.