Netflix in talks to buy Hollywood's historic Egyptian Theater

At a controversial time, the streaming giant could be set to buy a piece of Hollywood history

FILE PHOTO: Grauman's Egyptian theatre is seen as preparations continue for the 81st Academy Awards in Hollywood, California February 19, 2009. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok/File Photo
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Anyone who has ever visited Los Angeles will have strolled down Hollywood Boulevard and seen the famous Grauman's Egyptian Theatre.

This week, news has emerged that Netflix is in talks to acquire the Egyptian Theatre, which would put a historic Hollywood venue in the hands of the streaming giant.

The insider, close to the deal told Bloomberg that the theater would be used to host industry screenings and premieres, and a purchase doesn’t signal that Netflix wants to get in the business of brick-and-mortar locations. The individual asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. Netflix would acquire the Egyptian from American Cinematheque, a nonprofit that owns two theaters in the Los Angeles area.

The Oscars versus Netflix 

The possible acquisition comes at a controversial time. Netflix has been deepening its ties within the movie industry. The company joined the major film studios as a member of the Motion Picture Association of America in January.

But Netflix hasn't been entirely welcomed. It clashed with Hollywood traditionalists over how long award-caliber movies should play in theaters before going online – an issue that divided the industry when Roma was nominated for a best-picture Oscar this year, and won Best Foreign Language film, and director Cuaron won Best Director and Best Cinematography.

The Egyptian, located on Hollywood Boulevard, is steeped in Tinseltown history. It was built by Sid Grauman and hosted the first-ever movie premiere in 1922, a screening of Robin Hood starring Douglas Fairbanks. The Egyptian was also the site of Netflix's Hollywood premiere for Roma.

It also shines a new light on Steven Spielberg's anti-Netflix stance. In February 2019 he described himself as "a firm believer that movie theaters need to be around forever."

Adding, "I hope all of us really continue to believe that the greatest contributions we can make as filmmakers is to give audiences the motion picture theatrical experience."

An industry-focused theatre 

American Cinematheque also owns the circa-1940 Aero theater in Santa Monica, California.

Netflix has no plans to run the Egyptian like a commercial theater and won’t be selling tickets to casual moviegoers, according to the person familiar with the situation. The deal also doesn’t involve the Aero theater, the first person said.

The Netflix deal would help put the cash-strapped American Cinematheque on firmer footing, according to Deadline, which originally reported on the talks. That could put Netflix in a more favorable light with the film community ahead of a April 23 board of governors meeting of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

The group is expected to weigh rule changes that could require movies to play longer in theaters before streaming in homes – an idea promoted by directors such as Steven Spielberg. That could be a problem for Netflix, which has only been giving its prestige movies a few weeks exclusively in theaters before showing them online.