‘Oppenheimer’ Will Be the Biggest Test of Christopher Nolan’s Box Office Power

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A three-hour film about nukes is a hard sell – unless the director of “The Dark Knight” is making it

Christopher Nolan Oppenheimer IMAX
Universal Pictures

Christopher Nolan is one of precious few filmmakers whose name is a major box office draw, and Universal is banking on that being the case with his latest film “Oppenheimer,” a three-hour biopic about the man who led the development of the nuclear bomb and, as one person says in the film, gave humanity “the power to destroy themselves.”

A film with that subject matter would be a hard sell if any other director was attached. Since theaters reopened, films that explore serious, real-life issues have often been the domain of limited release, and even there they have struggled. Oscar contenders like Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking” and Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin” struggled to build much of a theatrical following, while Universal’s “She Said,” based on the New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein, had one of the worst wide-release runs in box office history.