Oppenheimer is the biggest box office earner to win Best Picture at the Oscars in two decades


Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” ended a years-long Academy Awards drought for big-budget blockbusters on Sunday, winning the Oscar for Best Picture and six other prizes and bucking a trend of small-budget or independent films winning the prize that had prompted questions about the Academy being out of touch with the film audience.
Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan, and Charles Roven, winners of the Best Picture award for “Oppenheimer”, onstage in the press room at the 96th Annual Academy Awards. FILMMAGIC
Key facts
  • According to BoxOfficeMojo, Oppenheimer’s global box office earnings stood at $957 million, making it the biggest global earner to win the Academy’s top prize since “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which won in 2004.
  • The final installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy raked in $1.15 billion worldwide.
  • With a domestic box office of $329 million, the biopic about the physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer is also the biggest earner in the U.S. to win best picture since “The Return of the King.”
  • The last film to both win Best Picture at the Oscars and rake in over $100 million at the U.S. box office was 2012’s Argo, whose domestic tally stands at $136 million.
Big number

$100 million. That was the estimated budget for Oppenheimer – which was financed and distributed by Universal Pictures—making it one of the biggest budget films to win the best picture Oscar in recent years.

With a budget of around $90 million, the 2006 crime drama “The Departed” is the most recent Oscar winner with a comparable budget. Since then, the Ben Affleck-directed Argo is the only Best Picture winner, whose budget was higher than $25 million.

News peg

The biopic capped off a dominant awards season run, winning seven prizes at the Academy Awards on Sunday night. Aside from the top prize, Nolan won best director, while the film’s titular lead Cillian Murphy won best actor.

Robert Downey Jr. won Best Supporting Actor for playing U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Lewis Strauss, while the film also won prizes for cinematography, original score and editing.

The best picture and best director wins were a first for Nolan, who is among the highest grossing directors in history with many of his top films earning strong critical acclaim. We estimate Nolan will make $72 million pre-tax from the film.

Key background

The Oscars have been dominated by smaller-budget films in recent year, with far smaller box office earnings than the likes of Oppenheimer. Last year’s winner, “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” brought in $143 million at the global box office.

CODA, which won the year before that, saw an extremely limited theatrical run before it was released on Apple TV+.

Among Best Picture winners in the last decade, only two films—the 2019 Korean dark comedy Parasite and the 2018 release Green Book—have earned more than $200 million at the global box office.

The Oscars have received some criticism suggesting the Academy was out of touch with filmgoers, prompting a few changes. In 2009, nominees for the Best Picture category were increased from five to ten.

This was done after another Nolan blockbuster, 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” was snubbed for best picture, causing an outcry among fans.

This article was first published on forbes.com and all figures are in USD.

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