Oppenheimer: Cillian Murphy film marches towards Oscars success

Robert Downey Jr. poses with the award for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role in any Motion Picture for "Oppenheimer" at the 81st Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 7, 2024 in Beverly Hills, California
Image caption,Robert Downey Jr alluded to Oppenheimer’s unlikely success during his Golden Globes acceptance speech

By Steven McIntosh

Entertainment reporter

When Oppenheimer star Robert Downey Jr collected his Golden Globe for best supporting actor last week, he reflected on what an unlikely success the movie had been.

“A sweeping story about the ethical dilemma of nuclear weapons grosses $1bn?” he joked of the film, which admittedly hadn’t sounded punter-friendly on paper.

“But Universal [Pictures] went all in,” the actor continued, “on Christopher Nolan… and this cast and crew, and helped them render a masterpiece.”

Oppenheimer now looks just as likely to conquer awards season as it did the 2023 summer box office.

Nolan’s three-hour epic about the father of the atomic bomb, J Robert Oppenheimer, has scored four Screen Actors Guild nominations and will likely feature heavily when the Bafta Film Awards announce their shortlists this week.

The Oscar nominations will follow on 23 January. While Downey Jr is a frontrunner for best supporting actor, his co-stars Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt are also likely to be nominated for leading actor and supporting actress respectively.

Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer
Image caption,Cillian Murphy, who portrays J Robert Oppenheimer, is likely to score a best actor nomination at the Oscars

To date, Oppenheimer has grossed $958m (£753m) – and that’s not even its final total, as the film has been been re-released in Imax this month.

Although the movie would have been on the Academy’s radar anyway because of its artistic value, that level of box office success can give an awards campaign a significant boost, as voting bodies are keen to show gratitude to the films which kept cinemas afloat.

That helps make Oppenheimer just the kind of film the Academy can get behind – it occupies the sweet spot between artistic merit and commercial success.

While many of the last decade’s box office juggernauts have been largely ignored by the Academy – including the vast majority of Marvel films – rewarding Oppenheimer would be a way of acknowledging commercial success while ensuring the Oscars’ reputation for recognising quality stayed intact.

So how did such a cerebral film about a tortured theoretical physicist tempt such great swathes of the public – now accustomed to watching films at home – out to the theatres?

A big part of the answer, of course, is Barbie.

Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in Barbie
Image caption,Oppenheimer was released on the same day as Barbie – inadvertently creating the Barbenheimer phenomenon

The Barbenheimer phenomenon swept the world in the summer of 2023. The two films helped each other at the box office precisely because they had been released on the same day.

When fans noticed in early July that two blockbusters which could not be more tonally different were scheduled against each other, it prompted an abundance of memes.

Doctored pictures combining the films two posters went viral, as did cinema seating plans, showtime schedules, and debates about which film to see first.

On the eventual release date, 21 July, fans raced to see the explosion of pink and plastic that was Barbie, before going on to watch a very different kind of explosion, and its devastating aftermath, in Oppenheimer.

Both films were almost instantly deemed best picture contenders and received critical acclaim. In a five-star review, The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin said: “Nolan’s portrait of the father of the nuclear bomb is a triumph, like witnessing history itself being split open.”

It’s worth saying, though, that Oppenheimer was not to everyone’s taste.

Florence Pugh is Jean Tatlock and Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer
Image caption,Florence Pugh plays Jean Tatlock, the psychiatrist who also had a relationship with Oppenheimer

The top complaint from many ticket-buyers was that they couldn’t hear the dialogue. This is a regular criticism of Nolan – characters in his films often mumble or are drowned out by background noise.

Most directors punch up the audio in post production using a process called automated dialogue replacement (ADR), which sees actors re-record some of their lines in a recording studio after filming has wrapped. But not Nolan.

Following the criticism, he told Business Insider: “I like to use the performance that was given in the moment rather than the actor revoice it later. Which is an artistic choice that some people disagree with, and that’s their right.”

(Personally, we recommend tracking down subtitled screenings.)

Another subject of debate was the runtime. In an awards season that also includes Martin Scorsese’s 3.5-hour Killers of the Flower Moon, many said directors need to be more willing to cut the duration of their films.

Oscars pundit Joey Nolfi of The Awardist podcast suggested many of this year’s films do not earn their runtime, adding: “Oppenheimer is the worst offender of the year. The first 30 minutes and last hour of that movie, I was actively angry.”

The third hour of Oppenheimer sees the film go in a different direction. In the aftermath of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the physicist grapples with his guilt at a series of hearings held in drab meeting rooms.

“The last hour could have been a title card summarising what happened,” Nolfi suggested, only half joking. “And it turned into a completely different film.”

Nonetheless, Oppenheimer continued to surge as awards season heated up.

The accidental phenomenon

The fact that Oppenheimer’s box office success owes so much to its link with Barbie is ironic, and came about thanks to chain of events set off by the release of Nolan’s previous film Tenet during the Covid pandemic.

Nolan had a long-standing relationship with Warner Brothers, dating back to his 2002 film Insomnia. Every film he made after that for the next two decades was with the same studio, including The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk.

Christopher Nolan directing Oppenheimer
Image caption,Nolan ended his relationship with Warner Bros after the studio started releasing films straight to streaming platforms

The director stuck with Warner Bros for his 2020 film Tenet – a time-bending thriller starring John David Washington. But his 10th collaboration with the studio turned out to be the last.

Tenet was released in a summer where film companies were grappling with worldwide lockdowns and populations nervous about returning to cinemas.

As a result, Warner Bros announced in late 2020 they would be drastically altering their rollout model for films released in the following year. The company said it would significantly shorten the theatrical window, and in many cases release films in cinemas and on streaming service HBO Max on the same day.

The move enraged Nolan – a cinema lover to his bones. As a direct result of the company’s new strategy, he said he would leave Warner Bros and take his next film to the company’s rival Universal. That film was Oppenheimer.

Ironically, his old studio, Warner Bros, then accidentally made Nolan’s new film, with his new studio, more successful by scheduling the Barbie film against it, thus creating the Barbenheimer phenomenon – the viral trend nobody saw coming.

But of course, it was mutually beneficial – and Barbenheimer helped Barbie at the box office just as much as it did Oppenheimer.

Emily Blunt in Oppenheimer
Image caption,Emily Blunt is a favourite to be nominated for best supporting actress – but not to win

With awards buzz growing, can anything stop Oppenheimer at the Oscars?

Yes, easily.

Unlike other categories, best picture is decided by a preferential ballot, where voters rank the nominated films in order of preference.

Some voters’ dislike of Oppenheimer could mean the top prize goes to a more consensus choice. The Holdovers, Poor Things and, of course, Barbie, are among the major threats.

There’s also no guarantee Murphy will repeat his Globes win at the Academy Awards. Best actor is particularly crowded this year and Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright, Colman Domingo, Leonardo DiCaprio and Bradley Cooper are also strong contenders.

Blunt is also unlikely to win her category – as The Holdovers star Da’Vine Joy Randolph has dominated best supporting actress at precursor ceremonies.

While Oppenheimer film will likely pick up some technical prizes, it could turn out that Downey Jr. is the film’s best hope of what’s known as an “above-the-line” win.

But this is awards season. https://kesulitanitu.com/Nobody knows anything for sure, and there could still be many twists and turns between now and the Oscars on 10 March.

Some success for the film is likely, but not guaranteed. To quote one of Oppenheimer’s most memorable lines – theory will only take us so far.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *