In the middle of the Oscars telecast on Sunday, where Netflix’s Roma took home three awards including Best Director, the streaming service took the opportunity to tout its big awards contender for next year: The Irishman. While the announcement teaser didn’t include any footage from Martin Scorsese’s ambitious gangster drama, it concluded with a curious statement: “In theaters this fall.”
Netflix famously broke its own rule by releasing Roma in select theaters three weeks before the film landed on the streaming service. In the past, Netflix has held fast to its assertion that subscribers would be angry if it didn’t offer its films on the streaming service at the same time they were in theaters (which was silly), which in turn is why major theater chains refused to show their movies. But with Roma, Netflix wanted a major Oscar push, and to do that they had to follow a more traditional format.
Ultimately, Roma is still playing in select theaters today, and that theatrical exhibition may have broken new ground for the streaming service’s upcoming projects. Given that The Irishman hails from Scorsese, Oscar-winning writer Steven Zaillian, and boasts an ensemble that includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci, it’s considered a major Oscar contender. But Scorsese also wants it to be a blockbuster at the box office.
To that end, THR reports that the filmmaker has asked Netflix to give The Irishman a wide theatrical release (as opposed to the limited rollout of Roma), and executives at the streaming service are working to make that happen. Major theater chains like AMC and Regal have long held fast to their rule that no film shall be shown in their theaters unless it’s given a 90-day exclusive window—meaning it can’t show up on a streaming service for three months. It’s unclear how Netflix will get around that, or if the streaming service will finally take a page out of Amazon Studios’ manual and give The Irishman a big theatrical push and save its online release for a few months later. That also means Netflix would finally have to release box office numbers.
The Irishman is a major investment for the streaming service with a budget of at least $125 million. The true story drama chronicles the life of a hitman (played by De Niro), but the actors are playing their characters over many decades, and indeed the first half of the film will feature them all being digitally de-aged via cutting edge visual effects technology. No other major studio would pony up the money necessary for such a gamble, which is what led Scorsese to Netflix in the first place.
2019 is shaping up to be a crucial year for Netflix. They missed out on Best Picture, but they’re planning theatrical awards season releases for other films like Steven Soderbergh’s The Laundromat, Dee Rees’ The Last Thing He Wanted, David Michod’s The King starring Timothee Chalamet, Fernando Meirelles’ The Pope, and an untitled Noah Baumbach movie starring Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver. But 2019 is also the year that Disney launches its own streaming service Disney+, and Warner Bros. and Apple are aiming to launch their own “Netflix killers” soon as well. Competition is about to get fierce, and if Netflix wants to lead the charge in terms of awards, they’re going to have to change up their strict rules regarding theatrical windows.
The Irishman may be the film to open those doors, especially since filmmakers like Scorsese can now point to Netflix’s expensive Oscar campaign for Roma and say, “You did it for Alfonso, why not me?”