Netflix has obtained the rights to distribute Martin Scorsese’s next film, IndieWire reported. The mob film, titled The Irishman, reunites the illustrious filmmaker with Robert De Niro, the actor he helped turn into a superstar.
Netflix has already established itself as a serious player in the movie business, but this amounts to perhaps its biggest coup yet. North American distribution rights for The Irishman were originally owned by Paramount Pictures, the film studio whose CEO Brad Grey was ousted in 2016 following a $450 million loss. Now the streaming giant has swooped in and will release the film to its 94 million subscribers around the world.
Based on the book “I Heard You Paint Houses” by Charles Brandt, The Irishman will depict the life of Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran, a mafia hitman who allegedly murdered American labor union leader Jimmy Hoffa. Frequent Scorsese and De Niro collaborator Joe Pesci, as well as The Godfather star Al Pacino, are said to be in negotiations to join the film.
The surprising deal is as much a microcosm of Netflix’s emergence in Hollywood as it is a reflection of the major studios’ reticence to dole out cash for risky, non-tentpole films. Paramount’s last collaboration with Scorsese—the filmmaker’s spiritual passion project Silence—was a critical success but a box office disaster, earning just $7 million in the US on a $40 million budget. Scorsese’s planned $100 million budget for The Irishman was likely far too big of a gamble for Paramount to make.
Either that, or Scorsese wanted to take his talents to a platform where he think they’ll be better appreciated. In December, the filmmaker argued that cinema is “gone,” blaming the risk-averse, franchise-obsessed Hollywood studio system for the industry’s creative woes.
“I’m worried about double-think or triple-think, which is [when studios] make you believe you have the freedom, but they can make it very difficult to get the picture shown, to get it made, [and] ruin reputations,” he told the Associated Press.
To that end, Scorsese will have all the creative (and financial) freedom he wants at Netflix. The streaming service has cavernously deep pockets, and is known not to meddle with auteurs—especially someone as iconic as Scorsese. With Netflix, Scorsese will get to make the movie he wants to make, with as much money as he needs to make it.
But that also means the film is unlikely to receive a traditional theatrical release. Unlike Amazon, Netflix’s streaming rival which releases its films in theaters before they appear online, Netflix releases the films it distributes online the same day as in theaters. Several major theaters have boycotted Netflix’s strategy, maintaining that it depresses turnout if viewers can watch a new release online in the comfort of their own homes, rather than spend money to see it at a theater.
Indeed, one of Netflix’s previous “day-and-date” releases, Beasts of No Nation, was shown in hardly any theaters—just enough to qualify for the big awards. It grossed less than $100,000 at the box office. The film did, however, increase the prestige of Netflix’s film branch and may have also led to more subscribers worldwide.
Netflix hopes Scorsese’s film will do the same. And even though the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is resistant to the disruptive platform, and didn’t reward Beasts of No Nation with any Oscar nominations, it’s only a matter of time before the streaming leader starts winning Academy Awards with directors like Scorsese onboard.