Netflix "Missed a Strategic Opportunity" With 'Irishman' Release, Theater Chief Says

Premiere of  Netflix's "The Irishman" at TCL Chinese Theatre October 24, 2019 - atmosphere -  Getty-H 2019
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

"They sent a signal to filmmakers that even if you’re Martin Scorsese, you won’t get the wide theatrical release you want through Netflix," says NATO president John Fithian.

A week after Netflix gave Hollywood Boulevard an Irishman-themed makeover for the premiere of the film at TCL Chinese Theatre, Martin Scorsese's epic is opening Friday in just eight theaters in New York and Los Angeles.

The National Association of Theatre Owners is speaking out against the release plan for the 209-minute, R-rated film, saying Netflix erred in not being willing to compromise with two major chains and agree to a more traditional theatrical window. (The Irishman is set to debut Nov. 27 on the streamer.)

"Netflix is facing a challenge to their business model for the first time and missed a strategic opportunity," NATO president-CEO John Fithian said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.

Added the exec, "They are competing now for subscribers and filmmakers with companies with deep pockets, deep libraries and multiple ways to reach consumers. They sent a signal to filmmakers that even if you’re Martin Scorsese, you won’t get the wide theatrical release you want through Netflix."

Since it began producing original movies several years ago, Netflix has insisted on making those titles available almost immediately to its subscribers. However, most theater circuits won't carry a film that isn't exclusive to cinemas for roughly three months (it's closer to 72 days for digital sell-through).

Earlier this year, Netflix and Scorsese himself engaged in extensive talks with AMC Theatres and Cineplex about carrying The Irishman. Sources say the two chains were willing to consider collapsing the window to 60 days, provided that the streaming giant commit to a major marketing spend and to a more generous split for the theater companies.

Netflix is hardly the only company that is frustrated with windows, since many movies fall by the wayside in a few weeks. The streamer, however, would only consider a 30-day or 45-day window and the talks collapsed.

Fithian went even further in an interview with The New York Times for a Friday story, calling the end result of the negotiations "a disgrace."

The Irishman debuts this weekend in New York City at the IFC Center, Broadway's Belasco Theatre and the Landmark at 57 West. In Los Angeles, it will play at the Regency Village Theatre, Hollywood Laemmle, The Landmark, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Downtown and the Egyptian Theatre (which Netflix is in the process of buying). 

The movie is set to expand next week into additional markets in the U.S. and overseas.

Netflix relies on a patchwork of independent cinemas to carry its films, particularly during awards season. Like the streamer's Roma last year, The Irishman — starring Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci — has major Oscar ambitions.

On Wednesday, the company will also unveil another awards contender, Noah Baumbach's drama Marriage Story, in at least five theaters in New York and Los Angeles before it arrives on the streamer a month later. 

While Alfonso Cuarón's Roma won Oscars for best foreign-language film, direction and cinematography, it lost out in the coveted best-picture race, with some attributing that to the fact that the pic didn't have a high-profile theatrical run. 

Per its standard policy, Netflix won't report grosses for The Irishman.