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A Grand Universal Theory of Oppenheimer’s Success

Donna Langley
Langley and the Universal team outbid others for Oppenheimer, treated it from the beginning like a blockbuster, and managed to maintain Oscar momentum from July through its seven wins last night. Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/WireImage
Scott Mendelson
March 12, 2024

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer pulled off something incredible at last night’s Academy Awards—not only did the film approach a sweep by winning seven Oscars, including best picture, but that victory marked the first time a single studio has won the top trophy and the battle for global theatrical market share in a single year. Universal, which is owned by Comcast, edged out Disney for the first time since 2015, earning $4.91 billion in 2023 to Disney’s $4.82 billion. 

That victory rested upon releasing 12 films in 2023 (and another 10 from Focus) compared to 12 films from Disney (including three 20th Century titles) and another four from Searchlight, which makes market share a historically inelegant way to declare who “won” a year. But those Universal releases were big (Fast X, with $705 million in box office on a whopping $340 million budget) and small (Five Nights at Freddy’s, with $291 million on a $20 million budget), and somewhere in the middle. (The Super Mario Bros. Movie, which earned $1.36 billion, and Oppenheimer, at $960 million, cost around $100 million each.) When paired with last night’s Oscar triumph, these wins essentially affirm that Universal is not just the top-earning theatrical studio, but also the healthiest, the most diverse, and, with the backing of Comcast C.E.O. Brian Roberts, likely the safest.