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A de-aged Robert De Niro in The Irishman

Another year, another potential Oscar contender from an auteur filmmaker, and another conversation about streaming films and theatrical releases. Just as Alfonso Cuaron’s Netflix film Roma was a point of contention last year, this year Martin Scorsese’s new film is causing a stir. That’s because Netflix and theaters are fighting about the possibility of The Irishman hitting the big screen.

The issue at hand is whether or not Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, a crime epic featuring a star-studded cast led by Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, will get a wide theatrical release. As of right now The Irishman is set to premiere at the New York Film Festival on September 27, but where and when general audiences can see the $159 million film is up in the air at the moment.

As reported by The New York Times, the theatrical rollout for The Irishman is undetermined at this point and won’t be finalized until the discussions between Netflix and certain theater chains come to a conclusion, one way or another. The negotiations have been going on for months as the existing exhibition industry grapples with the challenges of a changing marketplace due to streaming.

Netflix is currently in talks with at least two large theater chains to bring The Irishman to the masses. Those chains are AMC Theatres, which has a footprint of 11,000 screens worldwide, and Canada’s largest exhibitor Cineplex, which has over 1,600 screens. The head of Netflix’s film division, Scott Stuber, is leading the talks with the theater chains and even Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, has gotten in on them.

AMC’s chief executive has confirmed that talks are underway regarding The Irishman and other Netflix films playing in AMC theaters, but that nothing has been decided as of yet. AMC and Cineplex are negotiating separately so the outcome of the talks may not wind up being the same for both chains. The main issue that has dragged out these talks and seen them break down and pick back up, is of course, the theatrical release window.

The theater chains want The Irishman to be booked for close to the standard three months in theaters before the film is made available to stream on Netflix. That three-month window is obviously not to Netflix’s liking as it has 151 million subscribers to please that are used to the instant gratification the service provides. This insistence on a three-month theatrical window by the theater chains and the reluctance on Netflix’s part to abide is why no Netflix film has gotten a blockbuster-sized release.

Netflix has softened its stance in recent years, with last year’s Roma getting a 21-day theatrical release at independent and small chain theaters prior to its debut on the streaming service. But as of yet, Netflix seems pretty unwilling to extend theatrical exclusivity much beyond that 21-day mark.

Apparently Martin Scorsese is pushing for a big national release of his long-awaited return to the crime genre with Robert De Niro but he knew when he signed on with Netflix, that was not guaranteed. If the film had been made at Paramount Pictures as originally intended, it would have received a normal theatrical release, no problem. But when Paramount was unwilling to foot the bill for the film, Scorsese took it to Netflix, which means that The Irishman is in this nebulous space as far as exhibition is concerned.

Hopefully the theaters and Netflix can come to some sort of agreement because The Irishman looks like it deserves both the experience and the attention that comes with a wide theatrical release.

We’ll keep you updated on The Irishman, which premieres at the New York Film Festival on September 27. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to see everything headed to theaters the rest of this year.

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