Netflix has signed a lease to keep New York City’s iconic Paris Theater open, and will use the space to play some of its most prestigious films, the company announced today. The Netflix have plans to get into major theatrical distribution, but will instead use this to showcase their own films. The move comes at a time when AMC Theaters and Regal have also refused to stream Netflix originals because of discrepancies over exclusive theatrical windows.
The theater shuttered in August, and Netflix reopened it for a limited time to screen Noah Baumbach’s new movie, Marriage Story. Now, “the company plans to use the theater for special events, screenings, and theatrical releases of its films,” according to a press release. Terms of the lease — like how long Netflix plans to use the space — were not disclosed. Plans are still coming together, but Netflix is looking to use the space for specials and possibly ongoing series related to its films. The company could host retrospectives for directors like Noah Baumbach, for example, that could also include non-Netflix originals.
This isn’t the first time that Netflix has showed interest in taking over theaters to showcase its films. The company was reportedly considering purchasing the iconic Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles, according to a report from Deadline in 2019. Much like Netflix’s announced plans for the Paris Theater, sources told Variety that if Netflix purchased the Egyptian Theater, it would be used as “an event space (think premieres, awards screenings and cocktail receptions), and it will continue to invite the American Cinematheque to program films at the theater.”
Films are becoming a big business for Netflix, which has traditionally focused more on the television side. Between The Irishman, Marriage Story, Dolemite is My Name, The King, and American Son, Netflix is making a big attempt to compete with prestigious film studios like Fox Searchlight and A24. Still, that doesn’t mean Netflix is ignoring blockbusters. In 2019, competing with companies like Disney means having blockbusters that capture people’s attention. Netflix having a theater means that movies like 6 Underground, Netflix’s Ryan Reynolds-starring movie that looks similar to Universal’s Fast and Furious franchise, could play at a theater. Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, told investors last month that Netflix is getting more ambitious with its film slate.
“I think we’ve got just in the fourth quarter alone, you’re talking about films that are — that range from massive scale action from Michael Bay with 6 Underground to Oscar hopefuls like The Irishman, Marriage Story, and The Two Popes, Eddie Murphy’s return in Dolemite,” Sarandos said. “We’re really excited about it and it’s our first time we’ve seen this scale and this volume of films in one quarter.”
Even CEO Reed Hastings acknowledged that Netflix is different from its competitors. If streaming is a whole new world, the company’s uniqueness is “really about our movie slate more than anything else.”
Investing in films — and especially from impressive directors like Martin Scorsese and Noah Baumbach — means that Netflix has to appeal to filmmakers who want their movies shown in theaters. Scorsese wanted a national release for his film The Irishman, but Netflix couldn’t come to an agreement with AMC and Regal, the two biggest theater chains in the country. Both companies want studios like Netflix and Amazon to adhere to the 12-week exclusive theatrical release window before bringing their films to subscribers. Netflix is loath to do so, but understands creative partners want their films in cinema. As The Verge previously wrote on the issue:
Deciding to forgo a full theatrical release for The Irishman would send the message to famous directors like Scorsese that Netflix can’t or won’t bend the rules. Adhering to AMC’s policies might have an adverse effect on Netflix’s subscriber base, who are used to seeing a Netflix Original on their homepage the day it’s released. There’s added pressure from the intensifying streaming wars, which have more companies competing for the same audience — and for those overall talent deals. (You could call that aspect of the business “the creator wars.”)
Netflix needs its movies to play for at least seven days in a theater in order to garner award nominations (hence what happened with Roma last year). The company has numerous films it sees as Oscar award contenders, and those have received limited release windows. Owning smaller theaters across the country could help Netflix play their own films for as long as they want, while also simultaneously releasing those titles on the streaming service, to appease both subscribers and talent. What’s unclear is whether Netflix will also stream its middlebrow movies (like Tall Girl or To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) in theaters like the Paris, or whether it will only be used for its prestigious slate.
The industry is changing — streaming is becoming front and center for independent film releases, and people are staying home to watch instead of going out. This could be Netflix’s way of trying to have the best of both worlds. As Martin Scorsese wrote for The New York Times earlier this month, “It’s a perilous time in film exhibition.”
“The equation has flipped and streaming has become the primary delivery system,” he wrote. “Still, I don’t know a single filmmaker who doesn’t want to design films for the big screen, to be projected before audiences in theaters.”