'Oppenheimer' shows Christopher Nolan is the prestige box office hero Hollywood needs


Valerie Macon | Afp | Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Christopher Nolan’s films, from “The Dark Knight” to “Inception,” have been a force at the box office for a solid two decades.

But “Oppenheimer,” the director’s R-rated historical drama about the man who speareheaded the creation of the atomic bomb, has outpaced even the loftiest of expectations.

As of Sunday, the dizzying, dialogue-heavy three-hour epic has generated around $300 million at the domestic box office, the fifth-most this year, and topped $777 million globally, the fourth-highest, since its July 21 debut. It continues to attract audiences. Box office receipts typically shrink between 50% and 70 percent for films. The receipts for its most recent weekend shrank by just 23%.

And this is without having ever been the number one film in the domestic box office.

Warner Brothers’ record-breaking “Barbie” opened on the same weekend as Oppenheimer and has held the number one spot for the past six weeks. “Barbie” is the highest-grossing domestic release of the year, and is looking to eclipse Universal’s “Super Mario Bros. Movie” as the top-grossing global film in 2023.Universal is banking on the longevity of “Oppenheimer” at the box office, as it does not plan to make the movie available on streaming until February, which falls in what’s usually the thick of Oscar campaign season. The film itself, Nolan, and stars Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. are considered early favorites for next year’s Academy Awards.

Already, “Oppenheimer” was facing limited direct competition at the box office heading into the fall, but the ongoing dual labor strikes in Hollywood have pushed several films to dates later in the year or off the calendar completely.

Last week, Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment moved “Dune: Part Two,” which was slated for release in early November, to next year. The epic sci fi film was expected by many to dominate the premium format screens. However, now “Oppenheimer”, which is a sequel to a popular franchise, can hold dozens of these for several weeks. Meanwhile, original storytelling has thrived, with Warner Bros.’ funky and metafictional “Barbie” and Angel Studio’s conservative-friendly “Sound of Freedom” dominating the box office.

Nolan himself has parlayed his success with Batman movies into the kind of big budget trust from studios to ambitious, twisty movies on a large scale, like “Dunkirk” and “Interstellar. “

“Oppenheimer” is Nolan’s third highest-grossing domestic release, behind 2008’s “The Dark Knight” and 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” It’s Nolan’s fourth highest grossing film globally, just behind the $825 Million “Inception” earned in 2010. Both “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” generated more than $1 billion at the global box office.

The Nolan touch

“Oppenheimer” director Christopher Nolan has called 70-millimeter IMAX film the “gold standard. Getty Images

“I think it starts with the filmmaker,” said Jim Orr, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures. “We are very proud to work with Christopher Nolan. He created a story that was incredibly compelling about one of history’s most important events. Nolan’s films are now event cinema. He has opted for practical effects in several of his films, including “Oppenheimer.” His movies are also known for their thunderous soundscapes.

That’s why 37% of all tickets sold for “Oppenheimer” through Monday were for premium format screens like


and Dolby, according to data from EntTelligence. Typically, these more expensive screens account for less than 15% of ticket sales for a film.

Notably, the average premium ticket price for “Oppenheimer” has been $16.90, while standard tickets for the film averaged at $11.68 a piece.

“IMAX has played a major role with audiences seeking out the biggest and best auditoriums, resulting in sellouts going into the sixth weekend of release,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. Its box office performance is among the best ever, only surpassed by mega-franchise films like Star Wars, Avengers and Avatar. “Nolan’s 70mm version “Oppenheimer,” a major driving force for foot traffic at IMAX screens that can show it, also broke records at the TCL Chinese Theatre, one of Hollywood’s legendary cinemas. It beat 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” which broke the record after 15 weeks. This increased interest in “Oppenheimer”, led the cinema to increase its 6 a.m. shows to meet demand. The success of ‘Oppenheimer’ reflects a unique confluence of factors, said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. Disclosure: Comcast owns NBCUniversal, CNBC and NBCUniversal. NBCUniversal distributed “Oppenheimer. “