A big budget Martin Scorsese crime epic is being day-and-dated to stream online, with limited theatrical play – starring Robert De Niro in a long-overdue 9th collaboration, no less.
And a part of me just died inside.
Paramount Pictures is screwing up a lot of things lately, and Netflix is having a dubious track record as savior. A year ago, Paramount yanked the anticipated animated movie The Little Prince from theaters just one week before it was to open wide across North America, with no explanation. Netflix picked it up…but denied it an actual theatrical run, launching it almost exclusively through its streaming service.
Fast-forward to now. We have the botched release of Scorsese’s passion project Silence, also by Paramount, coupled with that studio’s ongoing, tumultuous power shifts in leadership (which have culminated in studio chair Brad Grey stepping down). Enter Netflix again. It has snagged the rights to Scorsese’s The Irishman from Paramount because it was in a better position to risk the $100 million dollar budget, and now the legendary auteur can be free to make the movie how he wants to make it. Great, right?
But here’s the rub. As IndieWire reported in their exclusive scoop on this story, The Irishman – in which De Niro will play Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a mob hitman best known for his alleged involvement in the death of Jimmy Hoffa – will have a “2019 release day-and-date with a limited Oscar-qualifying release” in a Netflix deal that will “release the movie to its 93 million subscribers.” In other words, Netflix will duplicate their disastrous release strategy for Beasts of No Nation, the critically-hailed 2015 movie that got absolutely zero Oscar traction.
By contrast, Amazon Studios has shown a legitimate commitment to traditional theatrical plays before premiering movies on their streaming service, and they’ve showed how successful that can be by leading Manchester By The Sea to major Oscar contention via 6 Academy Award nominations.
Outside of documentaries (which don’t require successful theatrical runs in order to be contenders), Netflix has an abysmal track record with its titles, proudly foregoing theatrical runs and, thus, reducing their content to TV movies (especially in perception).
Yeah, but this is Scorsese, so it’ll be viewed differently, right? That assumption didn’t help Silence, even with a theatrical run (albeit horribly promoted). And that’s the key here, too: marketing. Even if Netflix puts a big promo push behind The Irishman, it’ll be akin to one by HBO, not a major movie studio. That will be the perception.
Netflix, like HBO, is a great place for major filmmakers to produce additional stories they’re intrigued by (ex: Boardwalk Empire and Vinyl), not long-gestating passion projects.
Look, we’ve got a couple of years for this situation to evolve. But for now, given Netflix’s outspoken commitment to streaming over theatrical – which is the polar opposite of Amazon Studios’ successful approach that respects the theatrical experience – one of the most highly anticipated collaborations of a generation will not be made available on the big screen for nearly 100% of its audience. That, more than any dashed Oscar hopes, is the worst news of all.
I hate Netflix.