Christopher Nolan Shares ‘The Crazy Thing’ About Oppenheimer’s Box Office Dominance And How He Feels About Movies Still Going To Theaters

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Written By Maya Cantina

In a world where movie streaming seems to be the new future, Christopher Nolan has always been a big advocate of the movie-going experience. This year, it looks like he got his wish as Oppenheimer’s box office dominance has brought mass audiences to theaters. With the British filmmaker making such a theater-going impact this year, Nolan shares “the crazy thing” about Oppenheimer’s success and how he feels about people still traveling to theaters. 

The historical biopic that told the story of “the father of the atomic bomb” became a massive hit making over $900 million and being the third highest-grossing movie of the year. Oppenheimer’s director Christopher Nolan let Empire know he’s very proud of his summer flick’s success and “the crazy thing” he discovered about it. 

I’ve just made a three-hour film about Robert Oppenheimer which is R-rated and half in black-and-white – and it made a billion dollars. Of course I think films are doing great. The crazy thing is that it’s literally the most successful film I’ve ever made. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and in the United Kingdom it’s my highest-grossing film. So I feel great about the state of the movie business, based on my own experience. But also based on seeing other movies break out, seeing audiences come back.

When the COVID-19 pandemic happened, movie theaters experienced shutdowns which forced audiences to watch movies from the streaming pleasures of their homes. Then came “Barbenheimer” where we were introduced to the pink world of Barbie and the dark world of Oppenheimer released on the same day. Before you knew it, a cultural phenomenon occurred where people were flocking to theaters for double feature screenings that did wonders for AMC ticket sales. After all, you had to know for yourself which movie to see first for a unique back-to-back movie-going experience. Overall Barbenheimer dominated the box office with the fourth-largest opening weekend in movie history.

Sure, movie fans could have waited until Oppenheimer made its way into streaming to see it at home. But, according to Christopher Nolan, there’s a special reason why movies like his epic biopic needed to be seen in a movie theater.

The audience’s desire to be surprised, to see something new, to see something they did not know they wanted, that’s always been the most powerful force in theatrical film. So it was wonderful to see that this year.

There are indeed just some movies where you need to have the big screen experience that you can’t get at home. To get a better picture of Oppenheimer’s accomplishments, some wild stats of the popular Christopher Nolan film showed its international take of $477.2 million edged out The Dark Knight’s gross of $471.2 million. When the biographical thriller played during its first five days in Italy, it outgrossed Tenet’s run. The Golden Globe-nominated flick also broke records for Nolan in Greece, France, Germany, and Spain. Looking at these numbers proves that audiences couldn’t resist the need to see Oppenheimer’s atomic explosion on a screen more massive than their television.

Christopher Nolan has never been afraid to be vocal about the state of movie theaters. He once issued a bleak warning to theaters that the theater-going experience needs its value to be pushed or everyone will use television as their portal to watch films. The Dunkirk filmmaker has hated the idea of movies skipping theaters feeling that having a big movie released on television will “diminish” a film’s impact. This was all the more reason why Nolan felt the need to take a stand calling on Congress to save movie theaters during the pandemic so they wouldn’t be a thing of the past. 

As soon as movie theaters started to reopen in L.A., you better believe the Hollywood blockbuster filmmaker was spotted to relish the experience of the silver screen. We’re not sure which movie he saw during the Los Angeles reopening, but I’m sure Nolan didn’t care as the avid cinephile was in his happy place. The Inception director’s theories of audiences’ need to flock to theaters were further proven when he snuck into a theater during Oppenheimer’s opening night and felt touched seeing the seats filled with audience engagement.

Oppenheimer’s “crazy thing” of its box office records had to do with this movie being Christopher Nolan’s highest-grossing film. The numbers don’t lie as audiences didn’t wait around for the movie to come to streaming. There are just some moments that need to be experienced the way a filmmaker wants you to. The 2023 movie release is currently available on digital rental services.


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