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LOS ANGELES — Christopher Nolan’s movies, from “The Dark Knight” to “Inception,” have been a force on the box office for a solid 20 years.
But “Oppenheimer,” the director’s R-rated historical drama concerning 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 on the domestic box office, the fifth-most this 12 months, and topped $777 million globally, the fourth-highest, since its July 21 debut. And it continues to attract audiences.
In each consecutive weekend since its release, “Oppenheimer” has seen domestic ticket sales drop lower than 45%. Typically, movies will see box office receipts shrink by between 50% and 70%. In its most up-to-date weekend, receipts shrunk just 23%.
And that is without ever being the primary film on the domestic box office. Warner Bros.‘ record-breaking “Barbie,” which opened the identical weekend as “Oppenheimer,” has held the highest spot for five out the of the last six weeks. “Barbie” is the highest-grossing domestic release of the 12 months, and is trying to eclipse Universal’s “Super Mario Bros. Movie” because the top-grossing global film in 2023.
Universal is banking on the longevity of “Oppenheimer” on the box office, because it doesn’t plan to make the movie available on streaming until February, which falls in what’s often the thick of Oscar campaign season. The film itself, Nolan, and stars Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. are considered early favorites for next 12 months’s Academy Awards.
Already, “Oppenheimer” was facing limited direct competition on the box office heading into the autumn, but the continuing dual labor strikes in Hollywood have pushed several movies to dates later within the 12 months 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 12 months. The epic sci-fi film was expected to take nearly all of premium format screens, but now, “Oppenheimer” can proceed to carry several of those for weeks to come back.
The film’s success also comes at a time when major superhero movies and franchise sequels have underperformed. 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 sort of big budget trust from studios to ambitious, twisty movies on a big 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.” Globally, it’s his fourth-highest film, falling just shy of the $825 million “Inception” tallied in 2010. Each “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises” generated greater than $1 billion at the worldwide box office.
The Nolan touch
“Oppenheimer” director Christopher Nolan has called 70-millimeter IMAX film the “gold standard.”
Julien De Rosa | Afp | Getty Images
“I feel it starts with the filmmaker,” said Jim Orr, president of domestic theatrical distribution for Universal Pictures. “We feel very privileged to be in business with Christopher Nolan. He crafted a very compelling tale about some of the significant events in human history.”
Nolan’s movies have come to be event cinema. In several movies, and particularly “Oppenheimer,” he has shied away from computer-generated images in favor of practical effects. His movies are also known for his or her thunderous soundscapes.
That is why 37% of all tickets sold for “Oppenheimer” through Monday were for premium format screens like IMAX and Dolby, based on data from EntTelligence. Typically, these costlier screens account for lower than 15% of ticket sales for a movie.
Notably, the typical premium ticket price for “Oppenheimer” has been $16.90, while standard tickets for the film averaged at $11.68 a bit.
“IMAX has played a significant role with audiences looking for out the largest and best auditoriums, leading to sellouts going into the sixth weekend of release,” said Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at BoxOffice.com. “Its box office performance in that format ranks amongst the perfect of all time, matched only by uber-franchise sequels like Avengers, Star Wars and Avatar.”
Nolan’s 70mm version of “Oppenheimer,” which has been a significant driver of foot traffic to IMAX screens equipped to indicate it, has also broken records at one among Hollywood’s most legendary cinemas, the TCL Chinese Theatre. Inside its first three weeks in theaters, “Oppenheimer” became the highest-grossing film release within the theater’s 97-year history.
It beat out 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” which made the record in 15 weeks. The influx in interest for “Oppenheimer” led that cinema so as to add 6 a.m. showings to satisfy demand.
Word of mouth has only benefitted the dialogue-heavy drama, with many non-target audiences heading to theaters to see it that typically would not have been drawn.
“The success of ‘Oppenheimer’ reflects a singular confluence of factor,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore. “The draw created by the fame of some of the well-respected movie directors, a superbly executed marketing campaign, an inspired release date and an epic movie show experience that elevated the film to event status.”
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal and CNBC. NBCUniversal distributed “Oppenheimer.”