Martin Scorsese’s new film The Irishman has been ruffling feathers throughout the film industry. Most notably for its unusual release pattern.
The film was funded by streaming giant Netflix, meaning that it was available on SVOD just 19 days after it first hit cinema screens.
This is a highly unusual ‘collapsing of the theatrical window’. A film of this size and scope would be expected to have at least four months between first appearing on the big screen and then going into consumer homes (it’s three months in North America).
This has led the Big Three cinema chains in the UK, Vue, Odeon and Cineworld (which also owns Picturehouse), refusing to screen the film. The Irishman opened on 8th November on the screens of much smaller chains and independent operators.
Further consternation was caused by Netflix’s decision not to allow cinemas or distributors to release box office data. This is a rare situation and one which we are yet to truly understand the impact of. In response, major chains withdrew permission for their data to be shared and we as industry watchers are left in the dark as to how The Irishman performed.
In an effort to uncover at least some of the story, I have been working with usheru to analyse screening times for UK and Irish cinemas which did screen the film.
How many screenings were there of The Irishman?
The Irishman was screened 6,678 times in its first 28 days of release, across the UK and Ireland. Unusually, there was an uplift of screenings in the film’s second week, revealing that it likely performed very well in its first week.
How does this compare to similar titles?
It’s always tricky to find suitable films to compare a new film to (known as “comps”) as it depends on which aspect(s) you think are most crucial. I’ve picked four which provide different degrees of comparison:
- Once Upon A Time in Hollywood – Very long, big-budget historical film aimed at an older audience with a top-level director and a very well known (and respected) cast.
- Spotlight – Top quality, (semi) historical, true-life drama with an ensemble of top acting talent.
- Blade Runner 2049 – Very long, big-budget re-telling of much-loved world.
- Joker – Top performing recent title.
Note: I’m sure there were many other films which could have been used; these are just a few which sprung to mind. If you disagree with any, feel free to block out that part of the graph with a piece of paper, or whatever is to hand.
The Irishman was screened 6,678 times in its first 28 days of release, across the UK and Ireland. This may sound a lot but when we compare it to our comps, it is quickly dwarfed.
Spotlight was screened more than three times as often, both Once Upon A Time in Holywood and Blader Runner 2049 were screened just under eleven times more often than The Irishman and Joker received over sixteen times as many screenings.
The differences are even starker when we focus in on each of the days in the first fortnight.
Was the running time an impediment?
The Irishman is three and a half hours long, meaning that it is longer than 99.8% of movies released in cinemas over the past twenty years (more on that here).
A few weeks ago I looked at why cinemas dislike screening long movies. In short, they have to program fewer showings a day and also lose out on the chance of having two prime-time screenings each day. We can’t know precisely what kind of limitation the running time was for The Irishman, but we can see how it shows up in the screenings data.
I calculated the average number of screenings on offer in the first week of releases for our cohort of five movies. As the chart below shows, The Irishman had the fewest, with an average of just 2.5 screenings per day per cinema site. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is almost an hour shorter and consequently had an average of 3.7 screenings a day.
This data is only looking at sites which went on to screen The Irishman, meaning no mega-chain multiplexes. The Big Three exhibitors have the luxury of being able to program new films in many screens simultaneously, thereby offering audiences variety in both start time and experience, such as premium seating, large format, etc).
In the chart above, the Joker had an average of 5.1 screenings per day but if I include all sites (not just those that screened The Irishman) that average shoots up to 8.9. Likewise, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’s screenings per day average increases from the 3.7 illustrated above to 4.9.
Perhaps this last stat is the clearest indication we have of how The Irishman’s release was hampered, compared to if it had been a little shorter and with the traditional release pattern.
I am very grateful to usheru who supplied the raw screenings data for today’s research. They describe themselves as a “film analytics company that works with producers, distributors and cinemas to drive revenue through direct-to-consumer insights”. Their Head of Film, Alex Stolz, is also behind the FILM DISRUPTORS podcast, which you can listen to here.
I have stuck to the data in this article as it’s the most reliable, objective measure of The Irishman’s release. However, I have also had plenty of off-the-record chats with people in the exhibition sector who are connected to venues which screened the film. All stated that the film had performed very well in their site(s), with many citing numerous sold-out screenings and some referring to the film as being among the top-performing titles they’d screened this year.
Sadly we’ll never know for certain due to Netflix’s refusal to allow the distributor and exhibitors to release box office data.
Do the the second and third charts also look only at sites which went on to screen The Irishman or include every theater that screened them for each of these 5 movies please ?
They refer to all cinemas which showed the other films, not just those also showing The Irishman (hence the big difference in scale of release)
It might interest you to know that the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia Canada decided to show the film for the first time at a Canadian film festival fully one week after it started streaming on Netflix in Canada and three weeks after it had played in independent cinemas in larger Canadian cities. Without revealing box office numbers, it was obvious that there remained a huge pent-up demand for the film on the large screen even after the streaming window had begun. Ticket sales were surprisingly robust. Traditional rules of windowing are clearly ripe for disruption when a film is as epic as this one.
Thanks for this. On this point: “Unusually, there was an uplift of screenings in the film’s second week, revealing that it likely performed very well in its first week.”
It may well have performed well in opening weekend but was always on a platform release – London first then wider . We came in on 15th.
So the challenge is to explain the market failure which resulted in no major chain making a deal to show a film which was surely a paying proposition.
Irishman was great. The de-aging effect was utilized to it’s fullest.
It may intrigue you to realize that the Whistler Film Festival in British Columbia Canada chose to show the film unexpectedly at a Canadian film celebration completely multi-week after it began spilling on Netflix in Canada and three weeks after it had played in free films in bigger Canadian urban communities. Without uncovering film industry numbers, clearly there stayed a colossal repressed interest for the film on the enormous screen even after the streaming window had started. Ticket deals were shockingly powerful. Conventional principles of windowing are obviously ready for interruption when a film is just about as epic as this one.