Netflix has just acquired the Egyptian Theatre, which was the site of the first Hollywood movie premiere and the long-time home of the American Cinematheque, a member-supported nonprofit cultural arts organisation. “This collaboration will enable the nonprofit American Cinematheque to expand the scope and diversity of its widely praised movie and event programming, its filmmaker-centric festivals and its educational outreach at the beloved theater,” according to a statement from the streaming giant.
The move though has raised eyebrows as Netflix does not care for theatrical window rules for movie runs in Hollywood, and has earned the wrath of ‘Cinema’ people. According to a piece in Vulture, “The Academy [Oscars] requires a film to run for at least seven consecutive days at a commercial theater in Los Angeles County in order to be eligible for its awards. Purchasing the Egyptian would allow Netflix to showcase Oscar-eligible movies without having to deal with other theaters’ traditional release-window requirements.”
The Egyptian Theatre was originally built in 1922 during the silent film era. A fixture in Hollywood’s Golden Age, the Egyptian was the site of the first Hollywood movie premiere, of Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks. At the premiere, Fairbanks was joined by Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin, Jesse L. Lasky, and Mary Pickford. Other notable Silent-era premieres held at the Egyptian include: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923), Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) and Don Juan (1926) starring John Barrymore and Mary Astor.
The venue has hosted film festivals and cinematic experiences over the near-century it has been in Hollywood. In 1996, the City of Los Angeles sold the building to the American Cinematheque as part of the City’s Hollywood Revitalisation project. The Cinematheque then raised the extensive funds to renovate and restore the theater to its original grandeur and reopened it as a movie theater showcasing the longtime organisation’s celebrated public programming.
In 2016, with the generous support of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Turner Classic Movies and The Film Foundation, the projection booth at the Egyptian Theatre was retrofitted to begin screening 35mm nitrate film and is now one of only four theaters in the United States capable of showing this rare, ultra fragile and flammable film stock. “Part of the new plans includes upgrading equipment to enhance the audience experience, and renovating and restoring the theater,” a statement from Netflix said.
Established in Los Angeles in 1984 the American Cinematheque is a space where both the public and members of the film industry “come together as a community with the common language of film”. The Egyptian Theatre will reportedly continue to remain the home of the American Cinematheque with the organisation’s celebrated curation team continuing to autonomously program Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Netflix will reportedly invest in the theater’s renovation and will use the revitalised space for special events, screenings, and premieres during the week.
“The Egyptian Theatre is an incredible part of Hollywood history and has been treasured by the Los Angeles film community for nearly a century,” said Scott Stuber, head of Netflix Films. “We’re honored to partner with the American Cinematheque to preserve the theater’s storied legacy and continue providing remarkable film experiences for audiences. We look forward to expanding programming at the theater in ways that will benefit both cinema lovers and the community.”
“The American Cinematheque was honored to bring the Egyptian back to life in 1998, and together with Netflix we are thrilled to continue this stewardship by restoring it once again for a new generation of film fans to experience movies on the big screen,” said Chairman of the American Cinematheque, Rick Nicita. “The Egyptian Theatre remains our Hollywood home and we are grateful to both the City of Los Angeles and the Attorney General of the State of California as we accept this incredible opportunity that will greatly benefit the American Cinematheque.”
“Love for film is inseparable from L.A.’s history and identity,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti. “We are working toward the day when audiences can return to theaters – and this extraordinary partnership will preserve an important piece of our cultural heritage that can be shared for years to come.”
“The Netflix and American Cinematheque partnership at the Egyptian Theater is a win-win for film, historic preservation, and the arts,” said Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, Los Angeles City Council 13th District. “The collaboration ensures the cultural destination remains in the Heart of Hollywood for decades to come.”