Killers of the Flower Moon has of course already enjoyed considerable festival prestige, becoming the toast of Cannes where it made its world premiere in May and has to date accrued a 97 percent “positive” score on Rotten Tomatoes. However, Paramount is abandoning the platformed strategy in favor of something that looks an awful lot like when Universal Pictures defiantly put Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer into global cinemas on the same date as Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, and one week after what was expected to be one of the biggest hits of the summer, Paramount’s own Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One.
Instead Oppenheimer stunned skeptics who doubted audience interest in a talky, R-rated, and adult-oriented drama with little in the way of CGI spectacle. In fact, Oppenheimer proved to be the biggest IMAX release of 2023 and has grossed $778 million to date, with projections now placing it potentially north of $900 million by the end of its run. The film’s over-performance has also invited speculation as to whether adult audiences are starved for big event films that tackled serious subjects or historical figures (many times both at the same time) after more than a decade of multiplexes becoming consumed with superhero theatrics and space opera imagery.
Apple and Paramount would appear to be putting that theory to the test since only a handful of filmmakers’ names have the cache of Christopher Nolan with modern audiences, and Martin Scorsese is one of them.
Indeed, Killers of the Flower Moon appears to be Scorsese’s most commercially appealing film in a decade, which is how long it’s been since the filmmaker worked with Leonardo DiCaprio on the screen. In 2013 that came in the form of The Wolf of Wall Street, which was the highest grossing film of Scorsese’s career when unadjusted for inflation, with that spectacle of excess snorting $407 million worldwide. Killers of the Flower Moon again sees DiCaprio in a Scorsese epic about greed, avarice, and sin, and this time with Robert De Niro, who has not collaborated with DiCaprio since Michael Caton-Jones’ This Boy’s Life way back in 1993. Flower Moon will thus be their first collaboration in a Scorsese joint.
So could Killers of the Flower Moon be an R-rated, zeitgeist-grabbing event on the scale of Oppenheimer?
… Probably not quite that. While Scorsese has remained one of the most influential and intensely followed filmmakers of the last half-century, his clout with the mainstream never reached the levels of Nolan or (as a more contemporary comparison) Steven Spielberg in his heyday. It’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see a Scorsese movie flirt with a billion-dollar gross like Oppenheimer currently is.