Netflix, a new star on Hollywood Boulevard
In a few months, it will be reborn from its ashes to celebrate its centenary, and Hollywood Boulevard will find the oldest of its jewels. With its imposing columns, spectacular sets and prestigious courtyard, the Egyptian Theater is part of the history of American cinema. It was in this room in Los Angeles that the first of the premieres took place, in 1922, for the release of Robin Hood, played by Douglas Fairbanks. The budget, for the time, was staggering – 1 million dollars. The launch party had to be up to par. The red carpet was rolled out, the limos ordered, the concept invented. The film, silent, will make a lot of noise.
A century later, this mythical place is preparing to spread its wings again, in all their scope, after imposing works. And thanks to whom? Thanks to… Netflix! The firm founded in 1997 by Reed Hastings has put on the table nearly 15 million dollars to buy the Egyptian Theater from the American Cinematheque. For 1 symbolic dollar, this one had inherited in 1998 the cinema then abandoned. A big check, but above all a coronation in Technicolor for the king of streaming, who offers himself one of the stars of Hollywood Boulevard.
“His takeover is a strong symbol”
In Los Angeles, this acquisition has raised a lot of teeth. The paradox does not lack spice: here is the gravedigger of the big screens – in the eyes of his critics – flying to the aid of a treasure of the 7e art. “The Egyptian Theater is literally the historic heart of Hollywood! recalls Jonathan Kuntz, a film historian at the School of Theatre, Film and Television at the University of California, Los Angeles. Its takeover is a strong symbol of Netflix’s role and new power in the film industry. »
This change of ownership confirms, in fact, an indisputable reality: Netflix is indeed now a major player in Hollywood. Born with the ambition to revolutionize the video rental market, before shaking off a century-old model by offering streaming from 2007, the Reed Hastings firm has succeeded, by elbows and shoulders, to stand out in the big leagues. Last year, the former start-up had already opened imposing offices on Vine Street, a few blocks from the intersection with Hollywood Boulevard. Insolent, the large red letters of “Netflix”, planted on the roof, echo the famous sign “Hollywood”, visible on the neighboring hill.
However, the heart of American cinema has long since ceased to beat here. “The studios moved to West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley in the late 1950s, early 1960s, emphasizes Jonathan Kuntz. Hollywood Boulevard is more a tourist affair than anything else. » If the sun is still beating down on the avenue of the stars, we are far from the glamor of the Roaring Twenties. After two years of pandemic, the curious are back in Los Angeles and track their favorite stars on the smoking concrete. But they often have to zigzag between the homeless dragging their desolation and the somewhat shabby souvenir shops. And if you linger, the time for a selfie, in front of the famous Chinese Theater or at the foot of El Capitan – a building from 1926 – other temples of cinema from the golden age, you pass more quickly in front of the Pacific Theatre, closed since 1994, and in front of the Scientology building.
Despite its setbacks, Netflix maintains its strategy
But then, why set your sights on the past? Out of a taste for challenge, even provocation? To say, like Muhammad Ali, “I am the Greatest”clenching your fists and pumping up your biceps? “Both with its offices and with the Egyptian Theatre, Netflix is first and foremost about planting the corporate flag in Hollywood, says Jonathan Kuntz. Even if there may also be other considerations, the Egyptian Theater is an ideal place for event evenings and to organize its premieres there, in excess. »
Impress, the Egyptian Theater is made for that. Unlike the other cinemas on the boulevard, it does not directly overlook the street. It is set back a little, separated from the (tarmac) strip by an inner courtyard. There is therefore space to roll out the red carpet, to welcome fans and photographers whose flashes no longer crackle.
Because Netflix does not intend to change strategy, despite its current setbacks: fall in the number of subscribers after the heyday of the pandemic, stock market price down sharply, etc. The goal is not to bet on entry tickets to boost its revenue, even if the ogre has already got its hands on two other rooms. One, the Paris Theater, is in New York, and the other is in Pacific Palisades, a very chic district of Los Angeles. The Bay Theater, where the door displays the company’s “N” logo, shows films produced for Netflix in five rooms. As The top of the basketwith Adam Sandler, a sports drama devoted to basketball, with a very classic construction: the hero gives himself the trouble, works hard, fails, finds himself lower than the ground… before bouncing back and chaining the baskets.
Here, we are far from Parisian-style arthouses. It’s more business class: few seats – around forty – but wide and comfortable, in leather, with the possibility of reclining and personalized attention. Upon arrival at the Bay Theater, the viewer is offered a menu with tacos, pizzas, burgers, salads, cocktails, which will be served at their seat. This star treatment comes at a price: $13.75 for a seat, $15 for a burger, and $7 for a bottle of water. “The system of theaters costing a few dollars and not very comfortable, it’s over, believes David, a regular at the place. Might as well stay at home… and watch Netflix! »
From Silicon Valley to Hollywood
The Bay Theater has another advantage: many film and entertainment professionals live, like David, in this upscale residential area of Los Angeles. Practical for previews and gala evenings before the race for the Oscars…
In fifteen years of streaming, Netflix has succeeded in its bet: to find a place in Hollywood. Which was not easy for a company founded by a computer engineer, Reed Hastings, whose dreams were populated by algorithms and databases, not travelings before. Far from the beginnings of his adventure 550 kilometers away, in Silicon Valley. With an envelope and a DVD…