Published On: August 1, 2019 01:30 PM NPT By: Agencies

‘The Irishman’ was an offer Hollywood had to refuse (and only Netflix could accept)

‘The Irishman’ was an offer Hollywood had to refuse (and only Netflix could accept)


Days after announcing its premiere at this year's New York Film Festival in late September, Netflix dropped a teaser trailer for Martin Scorsese's The Irishman. The film will open sometime this fall in what is presumed to be a wider theatrical release than normal for Netflix as it has all eyes on a bunch of Oscar nominations, if not Oscar victories. The film was initially a Paramount picture before they put it in turnaround and Netflix put up the necessary capital.

Say what you will about art versus commerce, but any studio would have been insane to produce a $160 million period-piece mob drama.

Yes, thanks to extensive use of the de-aging technology used to create (among other examples) "younger Samuel L. Jackson" in Captain Marvel and "young Arnold Schwarzenegger" in Terminator Genisys, the film cost just slightly less than Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book and The Lion King. Sure, it'll be neat (and hopefully entertaining) to see Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci play their 30-years-younger selves over an extended period. However, there is no scenario that exists for a movie like The Irishman to make as much as it would need to in conventional global theatrical release (around $400 million to $450 million) to break even.

For reference, The Godfather earned $133 million domestic 47 years ago (around $708 million adjusted for inflation) while even the second, Oscar-winning installment made "only" $47 million in 1974 ($229 million adjusted) and The Godfather Part III earned $66 million in 1990 ($142.5 million adjusted). So looking at just domestic for the moment, even if The Irishman sold as many tickets as The Godfather Part III, it would still require an equal-or-greater overseas figure to break even before its post-theatrical lifespan. Despite their relative prevalence, gangster pictures, especially one that aren't Untouchables-like action-adventure films, haven't exactly been box office dynamite over the last few decades. 

Going back 40 years, the biggest-grossing period-piece true crime picture remains Ridley Scott's American Gangster, which earned $130 million domestic and $260 million worldwide in 2007. But after that Denzel Washington/Russell Crowe picture, which was unique because it starred Denzel Washington as an anti-hero, the next biggest is Michael Mann's Public Enemies. That actioner earned $214 million on a $100 million budget in 2009 even with peak-famous Johnny Depp and Christian Bale as the robber and the cop. Black Mass got tons of free publicity in late 2015 due to the "Depp in a prestigious picture again" thing and still only made $99 million worldwide on a $53 million budget.

Depp's Blow earned $86 million worldwide way back in 2001 on a $53m budget and that was good for Depp for his pre-Pirates of the Caribbean track record. Donnie Brasco (Depp and Al Pacino) earned $124 million worldwide way back in 1997. The Gangster Squad (which re-imagined a true-life mob vs. LA cops story as Dick Tracy for adults starring the likes of Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone) earned just $105 million on a $60 million budget four years ago. There was once a place for bigger budget cops-n-robbers action thrillers like L.A. Confidential or The Departed, but that's presumably not The Irishman. 

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