“Oppenheimer” might open in third place, but that might not matter

With ‘The Flash’ (Warner Bros. Discovery) grossing a whopping $9.7 million in Thursday previews (hoping to hit $70 million) while ‘Elemental’ (Disney) only grossed 2.4 million dollars, this weekend is perhaps the most critical of the summer for two of the brands that define franchise cinema.

Compelling though these results may be, we’re already distracted by the impending drama of July 21, the opening date of both “Oppenheimer” (Universal) and “Barbie” (WBD) – and battleground for the ongoing IMAX screening of “Mission: Impossible”. — Dead Reckoning Part 1” (Paramount), which opens the week before. As the box office battles continue, this one will be tough to beat in 2023.

It’s too early to monitor audiences, but not to gauge industry expectations. There’s a possibility that the top three for the weekend of July 21 could be “Reckoning” #1, “Barbie” #2, and “Oppenheimer” #3, but even that would be a misleading index. Here because.

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“Mission: Impossible – The Showdown Part I”©Paramount/Courtesy of Everett Collection

“Reckoning,” which moved to a Wednesday open to earn two more days of IMAX and other premium games, could be the summer’s biggest hit with a potential five-day opening of more than $125 million. Franchise popularity and expectations aside, star Tom Cruise has tremendous credibility following the success of ‘Top Gun: Maverick’.

That would suggest a second weekend of “Reckoning” at least in excess of $50 million – and less for “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie.” Industry sources suggest that “Barbie” has the edge and could ultimately be the biggest domestic hit.

Nor is it a franchise film. “Oppenheimer” is a biopic about a scientist, played by respected actor-not-yet-film star Cillian Murphy. The real star of him is director Christopher Nolan, and the allure of him includes literally how much bang the director can get for $100 million dollars (along with a potentially stellar critical reaction).

“Barbie” is a comedy with predominantly female appeal, with intense interest especially from older and non-minority women. Director Greta Gerwig is two-up with “Lady Bird” and “Little Women,” neither of which were guaranteed hits. Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling in the leads give him more star appeal than ‘Oppenheimer’.

Each cost around $100 million. (“Reckoning” is approaching $300 million.) Unlike “Reckoning,” these films will rely less on a huge opening; more important is the initial reaction that generates word of mouth and sustains several weeks of impressive stage performance.

Cruise’s drive to keep IMAX screens is “Reckoning” which needs several weeks of successful performance to turn a profit. Without ‘Oppenheimer’, it would be a no-brainer…but Universal dated ‘Oppenheimer’ when it announced production in October 2020 and filming with IMAX cameras ensured it would be an IMAX priority.

The previous ‘Mission: Impossible’ films came out in late summer and did well with late summer openings, but with ‘Oppenheimer’ blocking three weeks of IMAX screens, the placement may have been as good as it gets. Cruise’s intelligence is the key to his longevity, but if he did hope at the last minute to change that, he wasn’t based on realist thinking.

Oppenheimer might open in third place but that might not | SoxGame.info
“Oppenheimer”Universal images

The IMAX benefit for “Oppenheimer” is a mixed blessing. It promises that you have to see it on the biggest screen possible to experience its full impact, but the limited number of premium format screens is further limited by the film’s three-hour running time. This will hurt its initial weekend gross even if many premium screens sell out all weekend.

Cruise would be comforted if “Reckoning” took the top spot in its second weekend, but that’s secondary to more important factors facing all three films: initial gross, how they perform over multiple weeks, overseas gross and related budgets. Horse racing is fun, but the leaderboard only offers bragging rights.