Netflix looks to buy historic Golden Age movie theater in Hollywood

The Egyptian Theater in Hollywood
Tom Bonner/American Cinametheque

Netflix is in the market for a movie theater, but not just any movie theater. The streaming giant is currently in discussions to purchase the historic Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, California, for “many tens of millions of dollars,” Deadline reports.

The deal is being described as less of an outright sale and more a partnership with the Egyptian’s current owners, the nonprofit film organization American Cinematheque. According to the proposed terms of the agreement, Netflix would use the Egyptian on weeknights for red carpet premieres of its original programming and industry-related screenings, while American Cinematheque would continue to run the theater on the weekends for festivals, retrospectives, and lectures.

The purchase comes amid a growing discussion about whether or not Netflix’s original films should qualify for the Academy Awards. Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma, which Netflix distributed, won three Oscars at the 2019 awards ceremony, including Best Foreign Film and Best Director. However, filmmakers like Steven Spielberg argue that content that’s designed to be viewed at home is a television program, not a theatrical movie, and shouldn’t be eligible for the film industry’s biggest awards.

In addition, many major theater chains have balked at Netflix’s release strategy, in which films arrive on the streaming service mere days after their theatrical premieres, cutting into their potential box office earnings.

If Netflix buys the Egyptian, that debate gets even more complicated. According to Academy rules, a film must run for seven straight days at a commercial theater in Los Angeles County to qualify for the Oscars. With the Egyptian in its pocket, Netflix could screen its original movies for the requisite time period without having to negotiate deals with existing theater chains.

The Egyptian Theater is one of Hollywood’s oldest and most memorable landmarks. It was built in 1922 for $800,000 (the equivalent of about $11.6 million in 2019 dollars) and hosted the first Hollywood premiere for Douglas Fairbanks’ Robin Hood that same year.

The ornate “movie palace,” which is decorated with hieroglyphics and Egyptian-style murals, is one of the most enduring symbols of Hollywood’s decadent Golden Age. The theater was renovated in the mid-1990s and remains a popular tourist attraction.

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