Why Christopher Nolan Found Oppenheimer’s Success So ‘Encouraging’

 Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer .
Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer .

For years, culture predictors have been pondering about the end of movie theaters in the advent of at home streaming. Many filmmakers have expressed their frustration, with Martin Scorsese opening up about flashy superhero films taking over at the box office and pushing out smaller films, and Quentin Tarantino echoing his sentiment. However this summer saw something truly spectacular. Christopher Nolan’s three hour WWII biopic, Oppenheimer, was an unlikely box office hit, becoming the fifth highest grossing movie of the year. Now the filmmaker is opening up about his film’s success and why he finds it encouraging.

In a recent interview with Variety, Nolan talked about his personal outlook on where the movie business is heading and how that informs his own art. While he had heard many lamenting about the death of the theatrical experience, the Interstellar filmmaker felt his own outlook change after releasing Oppenheimer, especially after the film thrived at the box office. He explained:

Really for the whole time I think I’ve been working in movies, I felt the sort of cultural establishment always predicting the demise of movie theaters. Now I get asked that question, you know, ‘What do I think about the health of the movie business?’ I don’t really know how to respond. We just released a three-hour, R-rated film about quantum physics and it made a billion dollars. Like what? Obviously our view is that the audience is there and they’re excited to see something new.

2023 was a unique year at the box office in general when compared to previous years. The top three films at the box office were not sequels or superhero films. Many superhero movies performed poorly, and audiences rushed out to the theaters to see Barbie and Oppenheimer on the same weekend. The Hollywood strikes delayed promising titles like Dune: Part Two, but in general theatrical turnout was up greatly since the previous years. The demise of movie theaters doesn’t seem as imminent as it once did, and based on what movies performed well, people are looking for something new and fresh at the box office. Oppenheimer feels like the poster child for this idea, and Nolan himself finds the turnout for the film to be hopeful:

The success of Oppenheimer certainly points to a sort of post-franchise, post-IP landscape for movies … It’s kind of encouraging. It reminds the studios that there is an appetite for something people haven’t seen before or an approach to things that people haven’t seen before.

There is certainly a lot of truth in this sentiment, and while there were still a lot of IP projects in the box office rankings last year, this should not gloss over high-performing original titles. The Iron Claw impressed, and the horror flick Talk To Me attracted big audience numbers as well. There is a lot of promise when it comes to non-IP based projects, and hopefully this continues going into 2024.

There are many theories as to why Oppenheimer was able to shine amongst other epic period pieces of the year like Napoleon and Killers of the Flower Moon. The “Barbenheimer” internet phenomenon was something unpredictable, and encouraged audiences to flock to the cinemas and see the film alongside Barbie opening weekend. In addition, Christopher Nolan's spectacle should not be overlooked. He already has a built in audience with his previous franchise work in The Dark Knight trilogy, and fans likely were excited to see what kind of unbelievable technical achievement Nolan was able to put together on the big screen. Whatever the reason, it is certainly encouraging for cinephiles everywhere, and the persistence of new creative ideas.

Fans can revisit the box office sensation that was Oppenheimer now by renting the film on Amazon, or you can wait until it becomes available for Peacock subscribers on February 16th. There are also a lot of exciting titles, many of which are original, non-IP projects, heading to cinemas this year. For more information on what’s to come, make sure to check out our 2024 movie release schedule.