When Netflix first started getting into the film distribution business, many wondered exactly how far it could go. It was an attractive option for independent filmmakers seeking an accessible, commonplace way to get their work out into the world, but how big could it get? The steps kept coming. First, their increased presence at film festivals, treating Sundance like a buyer’s market over the past two or three festivals. Then, the push of Beasts of No Nation as a serious Oscar contender in 2015. Then came Ava Duvernay’s documentary 13th at the end of 2016, currently a favorite at this year’s Academy Awards for Best Documentary. But now, one of cinema’s most venerable filmmakers will be turning to the platform for his long-gestating next project.
For some time now (and really, since 2008), news has trickled out about Martin Scorsese’s next film The Irishman, based on the real-life story of the mob hitman Frank Sheeran, who alleged shortly before his death in 2003 that he was the gunman behind the controversial murder of Jimmy Hoffa. Robert De Niro and Al Pacino are attached to star in the project, and Joe Pesci has been frequently rumored but not confirmed; the actor has only appeared in one film since 1999. It’s also been promised that at least De Niro will be digitally aged down, ostensibly to tell the kind of long-spanning crime tale that Scorsese has favored over the years. It’s a dream collaboration for the director’s fans, returning to his Goodfellas/Casino days in full form.
Late yesterday, Indiewire broke news that The Irishman, which was set up at Paramount as part of Scorsese’s contract with the studio, will likely be passed over to Netflix for a 2019 release. Paramount had previously held rights to the film, with STX Entertainment handling the foreign release, but those deals are both likely now dead in the water as the streaming giant steps in to foot the rumored $100 million bill for the film. As of this publication, Netflix has not commented on the report.
Paramount has been in turmoil of late, with chairman Brad Grey stepping down in the wake of a number of high-profile underperformers (Star Trek Beyond) and failures (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Monster Trucks). And the idea of another risky Scorsese project (De Niro and Pacino, though respected, aren’t the guaranteed draws they once were) was imaginably a sticking point for Paramount in the wake of the highly underwhelming performance for Silence, which is on the verge of leaving U.S. theaters with barely $7 million grossed in total. Regardless, it’s a shocking manuever for the studio to let such an upside-heavy project leave their hands, and yet another indicator of how powerful a figure Netflix is becoming in the film industry itself, well beyond the boundaries of streaming.