Martin Scorsese has been in the news a lot recently, but it’s been more about his feelings on the superhero movie genre, and less about the new movie that the man actually made. The Irishman is being praised by critics everywhere as one of the accomplished director’s best works. Normally, this would likely translate to some serious box office success. Except, this is Netflix and even Martin Scorsese isn’t going to change Netflix, no matter how much money could be made, apparently..
The Irishman started it’s theatrical run on November 1 in New York and L.A. and it will be expanding to a handful of other theaters over the next couple of weeks, but that’s all going to basically stop once November 27 rolls around and the film makes its Netflix debut. Of course, this is common practice for the streaming service. Most Netflix movies never see the inside of a theater, and those that do aren’t there very long, but Netflix has never had a movie quite like this one.
As CNBC points out, The Departed, Martin Scorsese’s last movie about gangsters, that was a critical darling and an award winner, grossed almost $300 million at the global box office. There’s every reason to believe that The Irishman could put up similar numbers. This means Netflix is potentially leaving a lot of money on the table by not giving the film a more traditional theatrical run.
On those occasions that Netflix touts its viewership numbers for films, it’s easy to try and translate them into box office numbers and try and estimate what the box office could have been. The math doesn’t translate perfectly, of course. A lot of people who watch a movie on Netflix might have never gone to a theater to see the same film.
But with Martin Scorsese things are a bit different. There is always going to be a theatrical audience for his films. It’s the way people have expected to consume his movies. Also, a lot of those other Netflix movies aren’t being praised the way The Irishman is.
Of course, because The Irishman is coming to Netflix in just a couple weeks, some of those who might otherwise go to the theater are certainly going to just wait and watch it at home.
In the end, of course, Netflix’s goal isn’t box office success, it’s subscriber numbers. The only reason The Irishman is even being put in theaters is to make it eligible for the Academy Awards. And any awards it wins will be used as a marketing tool to convince people to subscribe.
If The Irishman saw a more traditional theatrical role out, maybe fewer people would think subscribing to Netflix was necessary. There’s certainly a balancing act here. Losing subscribers would be a disaster for Netflix. At the same time, you’d think that the company would try to position a movie like The Irishman to make as much money at the box office as possible. Money is money, and Netflix needs it.
It seems like there’s a middle ground where Netflix could make more money in theaters without losing subscribers. Perhaps in time Netflix will take a chance and alter this formula, but if they won’t do it for Martin Scorsese, it seems unlikely.