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Could Christopher Nolan’s film “Oppenheimer” achieve the remarkable milestone of $1 billion in global box office earnings? Initially, this might have seemed highly improbable for a three-hour historical drama primarily focused on scientists discussing theoretical physics.
However, “Oppenheimer,” starring Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, often referred to as the father of the atomic bomb, has emerged as a bona fide blockbuster with a genuine shot at entering the billion-dollar club. After ten weeks in theaters, the film has amassed an astonishing $926 million in worldwide box office revenue. Surprisingly, it currently ranks as the third-highest-grossing movie of the year, surpassing major budget tentpoles such as Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” ($845 million), the tenth installment of the “Fast and Furious” franchise ($704 million), and “Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One” ($576 million).
For “Oppenheimer” to reach the coveted $1 billion mark, it still needs to generate an additional $74 million globally. While not an insurmountable task (the film has consistently exceeded theatrical expectations), it will require audiences to continue showing up for the movie over the coming weeks. Recent weeks have seen a roughly 20% decline in global ticket sales, which, while better than many films at similar points in their theatrical runs, presents a challenge. Notably, “Oppenheimer” has largely exhausted its potential in North America, as expected after two robust months in theaters. Therefore, the movie’s fate largely hinges on its performance in international markets. It is still enjoying strong ticket sales in countries like China, Italy, and Germany.
Box office experts find it challenging to draw useful comparisons for “Oppenheimer.” It currently holds the distinction of being the second-highest-grossing R-rated film in history, trailing only 2019’s “Joker” ($1.07 billion). Rather than playing out like a conventional historical biopic, it has resonated with audiences more like an all-audience superhero epic. Much of this can be attributed to Christopher Nolan’s reputation as a brand name in filmmaking and his ability to drive fans to experience the film in IMAX format, where it has raked in $181 million.
Although predicting its ultimate box office performance remains a challenge, insiders close to the film, as well as rival studio executives, anticipate “Oppenheimer” could conclude its initial run just shy of $950 million, a remarkable achievement in itself. However, a potential re-release in IMAX theaters or garnering attention during awards season (as Oscar nominations tend to boost ticket sales) could propel the film past the $1 billion mark, potentially in late 2023 or early 2024.
It’s essential to note that “Oppenheimer” does not need to reach $1 billion to be considered a success. With a production budget of $100 million, the film has already proven immensely profitable for Universal Pictures and Christopher Nolan, who earns a percentage of box office revenue, potentially amounting to tens of millions of dollars.
Should “Oppenheimer” surpass $1 billion, it would mark Christopher Nolan’s third film to achieve this milestone, following “The Dark Knight” ($1 billion) and “The Dark Knight Rises” ($1.08 billion). It currently stands as Universal’s highest-grossing non-franchise film of all time and ranks as the 12th highest-grossing film in history, outperforming “The Secret Life of Pets” ($894 million). These achievements further solidify Christopher Nolan’s position as a dominant force in the global box office arena.