The overwhelming success of “Oppenheimer” was one of the few hopeful stories about the film industry to emerge from 2023. Christopher Nolan‘s film about the inventor of the Atomic Bomb brought in the kind of box office haul that most adult-oriented dramas could only dream of (with a serious boost from the viral Barbenheimer phenomenon), and remains an Oscar frontrunner in the final weeks before the Academy Awards.
While betting on a Christopher Nolan film to succeed is usually a safe wager, the film’s lack of genre appeal still made it seem like a risky proposition for a summer studio film. In a new interview with the New York Times, Nolan and his “Oppenheimer” star Robert Downey Jr. reflected on the film’s unlikely blockbuster status and what it could mean for the future of the film industry.
“Oh yeah. They were saying that to me until the night it opened,” Nolan said when asked if anyone doubted that a historical drama could dominate the summer box office. “So that opening weekend was thrilling. The numbers coming in were defying all of our greatest hopes. We always have done well putting challenging material out there, but it was a complete shock for (my wife and producer) Emma and me the level at which it worked. Because we’d made the film very efficiently.”
Downey added that the film could represent a new type of blockbuster that brings in massive profits by keeping budgets low and catering to a specific audience while maintaining the gravitas of a tentpole film.
“Fiscally responsible event cinema,” he said. “It almost laughs in the face of what I grew up in: the ’80s, bloated, big-budget behemoth that you go, ‘It doesn’t matter, because they’re still going to double their money.’”
It was a busy weekend for Downey, who was also honored at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. He devoted much of his acceptance speech to praising his “Oppenheimer” collaborators Nolan and Cillian Murphy, and credited the film with re-establishing him as a serious actor after spending a decade making Marvel movies.
“I wouldn’t be here tonight if I hadn’t participated with Cillian as the head of the acting department under the tutelage of Chris Nolan,” he said. “There’d be no reason to have me here as a modern master, because what have I done for you lately?”