Since it began releasing high-end films several years ago, Netflix has faced a tricky question: where to put all of them?

Many theaters wouldn’t show the movies because Netflix released them too quickly online. And pure digital distribution is insufficient to satisfy either the rules of the Motion Picture Academy or the tastes of high-end directors.

Netflix has now answered that question. The streaming giant has signed a lease with the owner of New York’s recently closed Paris Theater to reopen the theater and screen its films there on an ongoing basis.

“After 71 years, the Paris Theatre has an enduring legacy, and remains the destination for a one-of-a-kind moviegoing experience,” Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos said in a statement. “We are incredibly proud to preserve this historic New York institution so it can continue to be a cinematic home for film lovers.”

The company said it will use the theater for special events and commercial screenings of select films. It did not specify the deal’s terms or length.

The Paris sits on a prime piece of real estate straddling midtown Manhattan and the borough’s Upper West Side, near the entrance to Central Park. The theater is Manhattan’s last single-screen palace – a symbol of a pre-multiplex era – as other members of the endangered class such as the nearby Ziegfeld no longer operate as movie theaters.

The deal was signed with the New York developer Sheldon Solow, who in addition to the Paris owns 9 West 57 Street and other prominent towers in Manhattan. Solow, who Forbes recently valued at more than $5 billion, did not renew the lease of City Cinemas, the Paris’ longtime tenant.

But Netflix made a deal with Solow to show “Marriage Story,” its current Noah Baumbach Oscar hopeful, in the theater shortly afterward. That agreement turned out to be a prelude to a larger pact.

Netflix is the first pure streamer with a high-profile theater play. Amazon flirted with a buy of the Landmark chain last year before deciding against it.

Netflix is currently using Broadway’s Belasco Theater to show Martin Scorsese’s “The Irishman,” an unusual arrangement that most experts said was not sustainable for future films; waiting for Broadway theaters to be available at the moment of release left too much to chance.

The country’s largest movie theater chains have refused to show Netflix films because the company as a rule does not honor an exclusive theatrical window of between 30 and 90 days.

But the Motion Picture Academy, which administers the Oscars that Netflix urgently seeks, requires films be shown for a week in New York or Los Angeles to be eligible for the prizes.

Maybe more important, many directors with which Netflix wishes to be in business want a prominent theatrical platform for their films, though whether a single coastal theater remains sufficient for that purpose is an open question. Netflix did not specify how it would decide which directors or films would get the theater, especially in the busy fall, when a single screen would be hotly in demand.

Also unclear is whether independent theaters, which have sometimes been open to showing Netflix films, will become more resistant now with Netflix in the theater business.

A representative for the National Association of Theatre Owners said he did not have a comment on Netflix’s move.

The Paris deal is likely to soften press for Netflix at a moment when it’s been hit hard by the group and other film organizations for refusing to lengthen its theatrical window for “The Irishman.”

Still, some rival studio executives are unlikely to be happy with the deal. They have previously complained that moves such as this allow Netflix to pursue a non-traditionalist approach while doing just enough to appease the academy and other mainstream groups.

Netflix is also negotiating to buy the Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. If the deal goes through, Netflix will likely put the theater to similar use as The Paris in New York.


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