Why Oppenheimer’s delayed home release isn’t all good news

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According to reports, Christopher Nolan’s blockbusting epic Oppenheimer won’t be available on home release to buy or rent until November. We have some thoughts. 

I love the cinema. By visiting this website, chances are you do too. The smell of popcorn, the trailers playing on a loop in the lobby, the thrill of watching more trailers before the main event (we all bloody love trailers). There’s nothing quite like immersing yourself to the magic of the big screen. 

I think you can tell there’s a ‘but’ coming. 

Earlier this week, producer Emma Thomas confirmed to Associated Press that Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, arguably one of the biggest (and longest) films of the year wouldn’t be available on digital until late November. The film memorably opened against Greta Gerwig’s Barbie in July in a double bill dubbed ‘Barbenheimer’


Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer. Credit: Universal Pictures

Now, Barbie became available on digital last week. It had a brilliant, successful time in the cinemas (still does!) and it is currently the highest grossing film of the year, having grossed well over $1bn at the global box office. 

Oppenheimer hasn’t done badly either. It just overtook Bohemian Rhapsody as the highest grossing biopic ever and is well on its way to also gross $1bn. Christopher Nolan is famously passionate about the cinematic experience and Oppenheimer is truly a brilliant, complex film, best seen on the biggest screen possible. 

It’s just a shame that so many people can’t experience it until November, four months after its original release. While for many of us the cinema is a safe place, that’s not the case for everyone. There are a multitude of reasons why some people are unable to go to their local multiplex, either due to physical disabilities or other reasons. 

Let’s back up a little. The 45-day window for films to go from cinemas to home entertainment is a relatively recent development. In March 2022, Cineworld boss Mooky Greidinger said it was the “new normal”

Cineworld filed for administration in June 2023. 

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Greta Gerwig's Barbie.

You can already watch Barbie at home. Credit: Warner Bros.

The 45-day window guaranteed that films would stay in cinemas for at least 45 days before heading to streaming. In 2010, 90 days between theatrical and disc was considered radical, so 45 days seemed, at least in 2022, the blink of an eye. Much was said and written about the rule and how it would destroy cinemas back then. A lot of it turned out to be correct. 

The point of this piece isn’t to argue that every film should be made immediately available on digital, no one is asking for that, but to simply shine a light on something we rarely talk about. Oppenheimer, along with Barbie, is one of the most talked about films of the year, but unless a film is made available on digital, not everyone can be a part of that conversation. 

Perhaps cinema is a luxury and it’s not like anyone’s world is coming to an immediate end if they can’t see a certain film, but it is painful to be shut out of so many cultural conversations. Of course, most of us would prefer the big screen experience and we’re all keen to support cinemas, but streaming and VOD has given many the opportunity to catch up on films quite soon after their cinema releases. 

Many of Disney’s latest films have popped up on Disney+ roughly two months after they debuted in cinemas. Such a timeframe has allowed them to have successful cinema runs while also allowing those who can’t go to the cinema a chance to see them relatively soon after their premieres. 

“They can just wait” is probably the most common answer when it’s brought up that not everyone is able to go to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster. Of course, that is correct, people often do wait for months to see the films everyone has been talking about. They also dodge spoilers like bullets (increasingly tricky in an online world) but finding out who did or didn’t die in the latest superhero adventure is not really what we’re talking about here. 

“Cinemas are suffering already” is another frequently brought up reason why films should stay in cinemas as long as possible. Again, this is true. Cinemas have suffered immensely in the aftermath of a global pandemic and a terrible cost of living crisis. They need bums in seats and thankfully, both Barbie and Oppenheimer, as well as The Super Mario Bros. Movie and sleeper hits like M3GAN have proved that there is still a hunger for the big screen experience. 

There are also plenty of brilliant cinemas that have tried to make things easier for guests with additional needs. As well as making their lobbies and screens as physically accessible as possible, many cinemas have introduced relaxed screenings which make it easier for neurodivergent audiences to enjoy the cinematic treats available. Lights are usually left on, or simply dimmed a little bit, and the volume of the feature film on screen might be lowered. 

These measures are appreciated and a hugely important step in making sure everyone can enjoy cinemas, but we also want people to have the chance to enjoy films, whatever their circumstances. Do I have a definite answer on how to save cinemas and make sure everyone can enjoy the latest blockbuster in a timely manner? Do I heck. But I would love for everyone to be part of a conversation, whether that’s on the latest Marvel film or Netflix’s newest original film, sooner rather than later. 

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