How ‘Oppenheimer’ and Christopher Nolan’s Oscar Prospects Dramatically Improve With ‘Dune 2’ Moving to 2024

The Oscar race got a shake-up this week, with Warner Bros. officially moving “Dune: Part Two” to 2024. It’s a game-changing move that could benefit the summer’s second-highest blockbuster “Oppenheimer.” The two seemed destined to dance in several artisan races at the upcoming Academy Awards.

I agree with the move by WB to move “Dune 2.” Why have its auteur director Denis Villeneuve, shockingly snubbed for the first entry, being forced to go toe-to-toe with several cinema masters? Sequels in franchises (i.e., 2002’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”) missed a directing nom before the third installment swept the next ceremony.

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The first “Dune” walked away with six Oscars — production design, cinematography, film editing, sound, visual effects and original score. Based on the trailer and early buzz, the second installment would likely be competitive once again in those same races (perhaps even more). With “Oppenheimer,” Nolan assembles another dynamite team of talented artists, all competitive in those same races.

But why does it matter?

Well, if you’re Universal Pictures and you want to win best picture after coming up short with “1917” (2019) and “The Fabelmans” (2022), you are anxious to get your first best picture trophy since “Green Book” (2018). You’re also likely aware one of the best ways to craft the narrative “it’s Nolan’s time” is best achieved when multiple tech statuettes are bestowed upon a single film.

Read: Variety’s Awards Circuit for the latest Oscars predictions in all categories.

Throughout history, the most awarded movies at the Oscars have been period pieces or tech-driven features such as James Cameron’s “Titanic” (1997) and Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” (2003). Since the expansion of the best picture lineup from five to 10 nominees in 2009, there have been others that dominated their respective ceremonies but came up short of the top prize, such as “Gravity” (2013), which despite winning seven statuettes lost out to “12 Years a Slave,” which netted only three in total.

OPPENHEIMER, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
OPPENHEIMER, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, 2023. © Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Removing “Dune 2” allows “Oppenheimer” to plead its case among the tech branch members. When it comes to nominations, each of the categories is voted on by their respective branches. However, after noms, the entire membership (who are eligible) cast ballots, determining the winners.

Barring unforeseen shortcomings (which you can never count out in an Oscar season), “Oppenheimer” is currently projected to land in the realm of 12 Oscar noms — picture, director, actor (Cillian Murphy), supporting actor (Robert Downey Jr.), supporting actress (Emily Blunt), adapted screenplay, production design, cinematography, costume design, film editing, sound and original score. With 12, Nolan’s atomic bomb origin tale would be on par with others such as “Ben Hur” (1959), “Dances with Wolves” (1990) and “Schindler’s List” (1993). It would be in a powerful, tentpole position if it could also find a way to muster in additional noms such as makeup and hairstyling, visual effects, or perhaps even a Matt Damon double dip in supporting actor.

Keep in mind it’s very early, with fall festivals nearing kickoff later this week with Venice and Telluride. Any number of films slated to come down the pike, such as Bradley Cooper’s partly monochrome “Maestro” or Yorgos Lanthimos’ sci-fi period dramedy “Poor Things” could offer competition. In addition, we know Martin Scorsese’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” has more than enough juicy bits to whet the appetites of industry voters. Not to mention, Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” slated to become the highest-grossing film globally, could be the “pink” engine that could as the slog of awards season draws out.

With a $777 million global box office, critical acclaim, and a “Dune”-less year ahead, “Oppenheimer” stakes its claim as an early frontrunner.

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