It's A 'Tragedy' Netflix's The Irishman Isn't Playing In More Theaters, Rian Johnson Says

The Irishman

When it comes to the ongoing debate regarding Netflix’s place in the film distribution world, people fall into two camps: Netflix good, Netflix bad. Knives Out director Rian Johnson, falls somewhere in the middle. He’s not anti-Netflix -- but he does think it’s unfortunate that more people can’t see Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman in theaters. Instead, The Irishman will arrive on Netflix on the same day Knives Out gets a wide release in theaters. It sounds like Johnson would've been happy to see Scorsese's movie next to his own as box office competition.

As an avid cinephile, Rian Johnson sees the issue from two different perspectives -- as a filmmaker, and as a fan. But in an interview with IndieWire he made it clear that he understands the disappointment surrounding The Irishman’s distribution:

Look, just as a moviegoer, it’s great that some people can see The Irishman in the theater. It’s a tragedy that more people can’t.

Martin Scorsese’s critically-acclaimed new film has become a bit of a lightning rod in the Netflix-as-distributor debate. A passion project for both the director and star Robert De Niro, it took more than a decade to bring The Irishman to fruition -- and many studios passed on it, until Netflix picked up the tab. But after negotiations with theater chains fell through, the studio chose to only give the film a limited release. That means many moviegoers, especially those that live outside of major cities, have to wait until November 27 to stream the film on Netflix.

Despite his disappointment that his fellow film fans will miss out on The Irishman’s big screen run, Rian Johnson does see value in what Netflix is offering filmmakers:

I’m conflicted. Obviously, these movies are getting made because Netflix is stepping up to the plate and making them. We would not have a three-and-a-half hour movie that does what The Irishman does, that has that luxury, without Netflix taking a big swing. Now that Netflix is producing important movies with great directors, it’s just pushing the issue more and more. I’m happy Netflix is doing what they’re doing.

In recent years, Netflix given a platform to several acclaimed filmmakers, including Alfonso Cuaron, Ava Duvernay, and Bong Joon-ho, to share their work with a wider home audience. But their method for distribution has become a sore spot for industry insiders -- particularly when award season comes around. For years, Oscar nominations have been reserved for films that were given a cinematic release. Netflix’s 21st-century method for distribution has forced us to shift how we think about what an Oscar-worthy movie is.

Rian Johnson is the latest of many prominent Hollywood figures to offer his opinion on the Netflix question. Some, like Christopher Nolan, continue to advocate only for a traditional movie-going experience. But as fans continue to stream at home, and more filmmakers turn toward streaming platforms that are willing to produce and distribute their work, Rian Johnson’s nuanced outlook feels both realistic and refreshing.

Katherine Webb