Christopher Nolan is applauding superhero movies for “saving” cinema — and he’s definitely not talking about Batman.

The “Oppenheimer” writer-director, whose epic blockbuster is nominated for 13 Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Director, told the New York Times that Marvel was a savior at the box office especially post-pandemic. It probably helped that he was sitting next to Robert Downey Jr.

In the interview, Nolan reflected on meeting with Downey while casting “Batman Begins.” The casting process occurred prior to Downey leading Marvel tentpole film “Iron Man,” directed by Jon Favreau, marking a career comeback for the Oscar-nominated actor.

“The truth is, I think Jon Favreau casting Robert as Tony Stark is one of the most significant and consequential casting decisions in Hollywood history. It wound up defining our industry,” Nolan said. “Coming out of COVID, you say, ‘Thank God for Marvel movies.’ And it’s one of those where, in retrospect, everybody thinks it was obvious. But he took an enormous risk casting you in that role.”

“You’re always looking to work with great actors, but you’re also looking to catch them in a moment in their lives and careers where you’ve got something to offer them that they haven’t done before, or haven’t done in a long time,” he continued. “I just really wanted to see this incredible movie star put down all of that baggage, that charisma, and just lose himself in a dramatic portrayal of a very complicated man. I always wanted to work with him, really. Once I stopped being afraid of him.”

The conversation, naturally, turned to the “Barbenheimer” craze, which was created by his “Oppenheimer” sharing a release date with Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.” Both films are now nominated for Best Picture.

Nolan called their shared opening weekend “thrilling.”

“The numbers coming in were defying all of our greatest hopes. We always have done well putting challenging material out there, but it was a complete shock for [producer] Emma [Thomas] and me the level at which it worked,” he said. “Because we’d made the film very efficiently.”

Downey characterized “Oppenheimer” as “fiscally responsible event cinema.”

“It almost laughs in the face of what I grew up in: the ’80s, bloated, big-budget behemoth that you go, ‘It doesn’t matter, because they’re still going to double their money,’” Downey said.

Nolan recently racked up a DGA Award and Golden Globe win for directing “Oppenheimer.” He previously told the Associated Press that there should be a “balance” within Hollywood between indie films and IP-driven adaptations.

“There’s always a balance in Hollywood between established titles that can assure a return in audience and give people more of what they want, that’s always been a big part of the economics of Hollywood,” Nolan said. “And it pays for lots of other types of films to be made and distributed.”

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

Nolan added that there “needs to be respect for the audience’s desire for something new.”

“One of the big thrills of going to the movies is, frankly, seeing a trailer for a movie you’ve never heard of, type of movie you haven’t seen,” he said. “A healthy ecosystem in Hollywood is about a balance between the two things and always has been.”

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