The drama, directed by Martin Scorsese, is screening at a total of eight outlets starting Friday. Those include the American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood and the 1,015-seat Belasco Theater in Manhattan. It will be expanding to eight other top markets on Nov. 8.
Netflix has refused to say which locations will be booking the 209-minute crime drama after this weekend. “The Irishman” will begin streaming on Nov. 27 — far short of the traditional 72-day window for movies to play in theaters before moving on to other platforms. Netflix is also continuing its policy of not reporting grosses. The company declined to comment when contacted by Variety.
NATO president John Fithian said he was disappointed that Netflix and theater owners couldn’t figure out a way to get “The Irishman” on more screens. “It’s a disgrace,” he said. Fithian claimed that Netflix is leaving “significant money on the table,” warning that Netflix will become a less attractive destination due to its insisting on a short window.
“It’s a very big disappointment,” he said. “This is a major director, a cinephile, who has made all kinds of important movies for our industry. And ‘The Irishman’ is going to play on one-tenth of the screens it should have played on, had Netflix been willing to come to an understanding with our members. Netflix still has time to course correct and accommodate filmmakers who want a real theatrical release. If they don’t, their competitors surely will.”
“The Irishman” has a budget of $160 million and is one of Netflix’s major Oscar season hopefuls. It’s the ninth time that Robert De Niro has worked with Scorsese and the first time that Al Pacino has been directed by the filmmaker. The cast also includes Joe Pesci and Harvey Keitel, two longtime Scorsese collaborators.
Based on Charles Brandt’s nonfiction book “I Heard You Paint Houses,” “The Irishman” focuses on the relationship between hitman Frank Sheeran (De Niro) and labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa (Pacino), who disappeared in 1975 under mysterious circumstances and has never been found.
Netflix’s plan for “The Irishman” is similar to its release pattern last year for Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma,” which had a 21-day release at independent theaters before it started streaming. Netflix said the film eventually played at 1,100 locations worldwide but it never reported grosses.
“Roma” won Academy Awards for Cuaron as director and cinematographer and took the foreign language film trophy but lost the best picture Oscar to “Green Book.” That led to speculation that Netflix’s releasing policy could have inspired a backlash among voters.
The New York Times first reported on Fithian’s comments. Scott Stuber, Netflix’s head of original films, shrugged off NATO’s concerns and told the newspaper, “For ‘The Irishman,’ it was important for us to give it that theatrical run, to put it in big houses where people could congregate and have the opportunity to see it that way. But I also think people are going to love it just as much on Netflix.”