Christopher Nolan’s next movie “Oppenheimer,” a $100 million-budgeted historical drama about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb, could be considered one of an endangered species.
These days, it’s rare for traditional studios to pump nine figures into a film that isn’t inspired by popular toys, novels or comic books. Even before COVID-19 upended the moviegoing landscape, audiences had been gravitating toward superheroes and science-fiction spectacles — and not much else. That reality has made it increasingly difficult for Hollywood to justify the economics of greenlighting expensive movies that aren’t based on existing intellectual property. They’re a bigger risk, not only in recouping investments for studios, but also in generating profits, spawning sequels and leveraging consumer product riches. No matter how well people receive Nolan’s film, it’s unlikely J. Robert Oppenheimer’s face will adorn t-shirts or lunch boxes.
By backing “Oppenheimer,” Universal Pictures is making a bold bet that the right director can still get audiences excited to visit cinemas for original content. The film, which isn’t due in theaters until 2023, will need to defy the odds to become commercially successful. On top of its $100 million production budget, the studio will need to spend $100 million more to properly promote the film to global audiences. Because Nolan’s contract guarantees he receives first-dollar gross — an increasingly uncommon perk that grants the filmmaker a percentage of ticket sales — it will take $50 million to $60 million more to achieve profitability than it would take another film of similar scope. Consequently, insiders at rival studios estimate “Oppenheimer” will need to generate at least $400 million at the global box office in order to turn a profit.
Christopher Nolan’s next movie “Oppenheimer,” a $100 million-budgeted historical drama about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb, could be consider…