The blockbuster summer release Oppenheimer is still putting up double-digit millions of theatrical dollars every weekend. Can Christopher Nolan’s record-shattering biopic top $1 billion at the global box office?
Currently sitting atop $916 million in worldwide receipts, Oppenheimer has slowed much more domestically than it has internationally. Stateside, the film is tracking toward an additional $3.5 million or thereabouts, lifting its final domestic box office tally to $323 million. In foreign markets, however, Oppenheimer continues to gross more than $10 million on weekends, adding additional millions during the rest of the week. At this pace, it will top $620 million internationally.
If these projections are correct, then Oppenheimer looks like to end its run somewhere around $955 million, leaving it just a little shy of the magical $1 billion threshold. On the highest end, I think the film will top out at $960 million, and I’d likewise guess $945 million is the lower end of outcomes.
So call it a $50 million gap, give or take. That’s a number small enough that I’m inclined to think Warner Bros. Discovery might choose to rerelease Oppenheimer during the holiday season — maybe Thanksgiving, allowing Barbie to rerelease at Christmas? Or a double feature release of both at the same time, to take advantage of the viral phenomenon?
If the studio had to choose to invest in one or the other, I’d say Barbie is likely to generate a larger sum upon rerelease, while on the other hand a rerelease for Barbie won’t move the needle as importantly as it would for Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer might gross less from a rerelease than Barbie, but it could top $1 billion — and those bragging rights are valuable for a wide variety of reasons.
It would not only make Christopher Nolan a very happy man, it would be a big deal for a biopic to top $1 billion for the first time in history. It would also benefit the film’s award season odds, although it’s fair to say Oppenheimer likely needs no additional visibility or boost. And the financials on Oppenheimer are probably more beneficial for the studio than the numbers for Barbie, as the latter has to split its box office earnings among several high-profile companies and producers.
So if I had to bet on one or the other film getting a rerelease, I’m inclined to think Oppenheimer would score another round of screenings sometime later this year. But honestly, I think the smartest move from a business sense would be a double-feature rerelease of both films at Thanksgiving, with heavy marketing for Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom attached to both.
2023 has been a rough year at the box office, despite a handful of huge performers helping to mask the true extent of pain felt around Hollywood. Would-be blockbusters crashed and burned, and franchises that used to enjoy record-setting openings became nonstarters.
Even films that did perform successfully still often fell far short of expectations. Besides Oppenheimer, Barbie, The Super Mario Bros, Guardians of the Galaxy, and 2022 holdover Avatar: The Way of Water, the only other films scoring applause-worthy box office was Spider-Man: Across the SpiderVerse. Other success stories were more modest tales of mid-range or lower budgeted pictures boosted by audiences who rejected all of those big-budget flops and disappointments.
Warner Bros. Discovery in particular took some big hits, as their entire DCEU slate crashed and burned so badly that a seeming “sure thing” sequel like Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom is now in danger of suffering by association. Shazam! Fury of the Gods, The Flash, and Blue Beetle combined for a total of $525 million worldwide, or an average of just $175 million per film.
It’s also true that Meg 2: The Trench, Creed III, The Nun II, and Evil Dead Rise all hit solid numbers, with the last two in particular having relatively small budgets resulting in large profit margins. But these were each well below $500 million range in theaters, and the combined box office totals for all four films adds up to less than $1 billion. And that simply doesn’t make up for the colossal failure of WBD’s DC slate.
Meaning it’s Oppenheimer and Barbie that are lifting spirts and bank accounts at WBD and helping provide headlines that overshadow the startling warning sign of those seven other films’ combined worldwide revenue barely covering their combined costs. What’s the average gain for each film, if we compare their united costs with united outcomes, maybe $15-20 million for each film? That’s after years of development and production, costing a combined billion or so dollars. And Warner didn’t make all of the successes, in some cases it was merely one of the distributors.
Amid this disastrous outcome (again, some of the films were individual successes, but that combined slate was overall a testament to a very bad year), Warner’s choice of gutting streaming content, cancelling movies, and refusing to negotiate with writers and actors for months looks even less advisable from a longterm business standpoint — although maybe it looks more appetizing from short-term perspectives where bonuses and impending sell-off of the company’s parts might for example create bias.
Oppenheimer getting a rerelease to boost it beyond $1 billion would generate a lot of attention and headlines, which in turn would spill over into the award season media coverage, and all of that provides a nice buffer alongside Barbie’s enormous success at every level, helping tamp down negative stories about the theatrical collapse of the biggest brands like DC and Harry Potter, and that a handful of modestly budgeted projects had to do the lifting just to cover losses on tentpole IP failures.
Yes, Oppenheimer is glowing brightly for Warner, and while it looks unlikely to reach $1 billion during its current theatrical run, a rerelease would provide many benefits and could carry the film across the finish line at the box office and the Oscars. But looming on the horizon is the reality that the studio is counting on some big gambles, mass firings, and a favorable outcome with the guilds (or A.I.) to avoid running off the rails the rest of the year and into the future.
There’s certainly plenty of opportunity to correct mistakes and generate success for upcoming projects, but plenty of risks remain, and ongoing problems and decisions seem to suggest a likelihood of more of the same in the future. The film slate for the rest of 2023 also looks iffy now.
Wonka, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom, and The Color Purple each have things in their favor, for sure. But Wonka could easily be another failed attempt at a franchise lacking modern audience interest, Aquaman 2 could suffer from overt audience disinterest in the DCEU, and The Color Purple competes against Aquaman 2 and animated Migration for holiday audiences.
Into 2024, Warner has Dune Part Two, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, Furiosa, Twisters, Beetlejuice 2, Joker: Folie a Deux, and The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim. That looks like a pretty strong slate (as 2023 did when discussing it in late-2022).
But the first Dune film was a modest performer at $402 million; the previous Godzilla-Kong movie likewise did a decent $470 million, but wasn’t quite the runaway hit the studio hoped for; Furiosa, Twisters, and Beetlejuice 2 are sequels to nostalgic films and franchises but are the sort we’ve seen stumble at the box office this year precisely because their appeal is limited; and an animated Lord of the Rings prequel doesn’t look likely to generate enormous blockbuster results.
Of that slate, only the Joker sequel looks inherently likely to be a blockbuster hit, with the rest seemingly like $400-600 million performers for the top earners and $200-300 million for the rest, perhaps lower if any of them outright flop.
Which isn’t a great outlook for WBD’s 2024, but based on the past few years that’s what appears very possible.
That’s why a $1 billion record set by Oppenheimer at the end of 2023 and some Oscar love in the New Year would be some welcome positivity at the studio, and why I think WBD will do a rerelease to achieve this likely outcome. Imagine if both Barbie and Oppenheimer battle it out at the Oscars for popular awards including Best Picture, if both are also billion dollar grossers and record-setters. The marketing for the rerelease would easily serve as strong award-season promotion as well.
If 2024 is a bust, 2025 brings Minecraft, Superman: Legacy, and The Batman – Part II, which look more like what the studio needs to finally stabilize its situation and get some likely big wins under their belt again. But 2025 is still a long way away, and 2023 may have more in store for Hollywood.