Netflix has been portrayed as the boogeyman of the movie theater industry for years. But now the streaming video giant is looking to preserve one of cinema’s most famous historical institutions: the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard.
The Los Gatos, Calif., company is in talks to buy the storied Egyptian Theatre from American Cinematheque, the Los Angeles nonprofit that owns the venue known for hosting special screenings and events, said two people close to the matter who were not authorized to comment. American Cinematheque declined to comment.
Netflix is not interested in becoming a major player in the exhibition industry. Rather, the talks signal the company’s desire to endear itself to filmmakers who want to preserve the old way of going to the movies. Netflix has irked theater owners by making films available on its streaming service at, or near, the same time they are released in theaters. But the company increasingly needs to court filmmakers at a time when it is rapidly expanding. The company is expected to spend $15 billion on content this year.
Purchasing the Egyptian would also enhance Netflix’s already formidable presence in Hollywood, adding to Netflix’s big office space on Sunset Boulevard and the Netflix-owned billboards blanketing the Sunset Strip with advertisements for the firm’s movies and shows.
If a deal closes, American Cinematheque is expected to continue screening films at the Egyptian on weekends while Netflix presents its own programming midweek.
Deadline first reported on the talks, which are said to be in the advanced stages. A deal has not been finalized.
Netflix’s rising clout in the cinema industry was a hot topic at the annual CinemaCon trade show in Las Vegas last week.
At the event, John Fithian, head of the National Assn. of Theatre Owners, called on the industry to protect the traditional business practice of putting movies exclusively in theaters before making them available for home viewing. Movies typically run in theaters for an average of 90 days before becoming available on home video. The comments were widely seen as a dig at Netflix and other attempts to shrink the theatrical window.
“In this new climate, it’s important to ask, ‘How does any given movie stand out against endless choices in the home?” he said. “Everyone in this room knows the answer to that important question — a robust theatrical release provides a level of prestige to a movie that cannot be replicated.”
The Times reported last year that Netflix had explored the idea of buying theaters in Los Angeles and New York, and even considered acquiring L.A.-based Landmark Theatres. The thinking at the time was that owning its own venues would make it easier for Netflix to get Oscar nominations.
Last year, Netflix broke through with Oscar voters without the benefit of owning theaters, getting multiple nominations for Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” and the Coen brothers’ “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” Netflix granted a short theatrical window to those movies in order to satisfy Oscar eligibility rules and get a bigger audience.
Filmmakers remain split on the influence of Netflix on film. Steven Spielberg has reportedly supported proposed rule changes that would rein in Netflix’s clout at the Oscars (Spielberg has a small auditorium named after him within the Egyptian). But others counter that Netflix supports interesting independent filmmaking that is overlooked by traditional studios.
Sid Grauman first opened the Egyptian Theatre in 1922 at a time when an Egyptian craze was sweeping the nation after the discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb. Its first film was “Robin Hood,” starring Douglas Fairbanks. It also hosted the premiere of “The Ten Commandments” in 1923.
The theater closed in 1992. The city of Los Angeles later sold it to American Cinematheque, which renovated the space and reopened it in 1998.
The venue could be spruced up again if Netflix buys it. The deal could also improve the financial picture for American Cinematheque, which could use the cash to support its programming. Netflix is not expected to purchase American Cinematheque’s other location, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica.
American Cinematheque has promoted an eclectic variety of events. Upcoming screenings, for example, include a double feature of the Marx Brothers movies “A Night at the Opera” and “A Day at the Races” on April 25 and the MaltinFest film festival, named for critic Leonard Maltin, in May.
The deal is not expected to affect Netflix’s deals with theater chains including Landmark and IPic Entertainment, which screen the streamer’s movies.