Martin Scorsese’s newest mafia saga The Irishman will receive distribution in China from STX. After original backers Paramount dropped out, Scorsese finally struck a deal with Netflix to make his epic mob movie. The streaming service plans to give the film a limited theatrical release in the U.S. and U.K. This after reports that the film might not get any theatrical distribution.
Based on Charles Brandt’s I Heard You Paint Houses, The Irishman tells the story of mob hitman Frank Sheeran. Robert De Niro plays Sheeran, marking the actor’s first collaboration with Scorsese since 1995’s Casino. Frequent Scorsese actors Harvey Keitel and Joe Pesci also return to work again with the famed director. Al Pacino, who has never worked with Scorsese before, joins the gang as famed Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. The movie also stars Bobby Cannavale, Anna Paquin, Ray Romano and Jack Huston.
With Scorsese still at work shooting The Irishman, Deadline reports that STX has now picked up the film for distribution in China. The Chinese market, one of the world’s biggest, remains one of the few places Netflix has yet to penetrate. STX is expected to handle streaming rights in China as well.
Of course, STX was the company that originally paid $50 million to snap up international rights for The Irishman two years ago at the Cannes Film Festival. This was before Paramount dropped out on the film, leaving Netflix to pick up the project. A battle then ensued between Netflix, STX, Paramount and financier Fabrica de Cine over rights to distribute the movie overseas. After a long struggle, rights issues were finally untangled and now STX gets their piece of the pie.
Ultimately however, Netflix has the most to gain or lose with The Irishman. The company reportedly committed $125 million to produce the film and pay Scorsese. But now the movie’s budget has swelled possibly north of $140 million. That’s a massive budget for a film with no bankable stars, from a director who’s not known as a box office giant. Much of that budget reportedly will go into using CGI to de-age actors, including De Niro, who plays Frank Sheeran over the course of decades.
Netflix of course has a reputation for making bold moves. Last year they shelled out a reported $90 million to pick up the Will Smith film Bright, which dropped late last month to terrible reviews, but mostly positive audience reaction. This month, Netflix pulled off an even gutsier move by paying $50 million to take The Cloverfield Paradox from Paramount and debut it by surprise after the Super Bowl. With The Irishman, there’s no stunt marketing angle. And this is not a genre like sci-fi that is massively popular with audiences. Netflix here seemingly hopes to score with critics and Oscar voters, in a grab for legitimacy in the prestige filmmaking realm.
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