Even though most movies pretty much vanish from your local multiplex after a month anyway, major theater chains are holding fast to their three-month release window even though in practice a film’s run is far shorter. That creates a predicament for a company like Netflix, which wants to give some of its movies theatrical releases, but also runs into a wall with major theater chains that don’t want to agree to the studio’s abbreviated theatrical run. It happened last year with Roma, which played at some smaller chains like Landmark, and now it’s happening again with The Irishman.
Indiewire reports that Netflix could not convince major theater chains to budge for even the new Martin Scorsese. The theater chains were worried about opening up the floodgates of abbreviated releases, and so The Irishman will be in indie theaters for three weeks only. Per Indiewire, “On November 1, it will open in Los Angeles and New York, followed by a platform release in the U.S. and the U.K. November 8, adding more theaters each weekend on November 15 and November 22. When it premieres on Netflix November 27, it will see ‘an expanded theatrical release in the U.S. and international markets.’”
While this won’t necessarily hurt or help The Irishman’s Oscar chances—Roma managed to pick up three Oscars and was seen a serious contender to take home Best Picture—it does signal that theaters are so scared of losing their release window that they’ll miss out on the profits from a new Scorsese picture that brings together Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci. The calculus seems to be that if they give an inch to streaming, they’ll lose a mile and eventually they’ll be sharing profits on major releases with streamers. Theater chains are banking on their exclusivity, and if you significantly shorten that window, then it gives people less of an incentive to show up. I’d counter that high ticket prices and crummy service also give people less of an incentive to show up, but the theater chains don’t seem too concerned about solving those problems.