‘Oppenheimer’ set to overpower at the Oscars Sunday night

Director Christopher Nolan poses during a photocall before the premiere of the film “Oppenheimer” at the Grand Rex in Paris, France, July 11, 2023.

Director Christopher Nolan poses during a photocall before the premiere of the film “Oppenheimer” at the Grand Rex in Paris, France, July 11, 2023.
| Photo Credit: Sarah Meyssonnier

When Hollywood gathers for the 96th Academy Awards on Sunday, the blockbuster biopic Oppenheimer is widely expected to overpower all competition — including its release-date companion, Barbie — at an election-year Oscars that could turn into a coronation for Christopher Nolan.

The Oscars, kicking off on ABC at 7 p.m. EDT Sunday, are springing forward an hour earlier than usual due to daylight saving time. But aside from the time shift, this year’s show is going for many tried-and-true Academy Awards traditions. Jimmy Kimmel is back as host. Past winners are flocking back as presenters. And a big studio epic is poised for a major awards haul.

Still, much is circling around this year’s show. Demonstrators are expected to protest the Israel-Hamas war near the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Police have beefed up their already extensive presence. The war in Ukraine will be on some attendees’ minds, particularly those of the journalist filmmakers behind the documentary favorite, 20 Days in Mariupol. And with the presidential election in full swing, politics could be an unavoidable topic despite an awards season that’s played out largely in a vacuum.

Hollywood also has plenty of its own storm clouds to concern itself with.

The 2023 movie year was defined by a prolonged strike over the future of an industry that’s reckoning with the onset of streaming, artificial intelligence and shifting moviegoer tastes that have tested even the most bankable brands. The academy, while also widely nominating films like Killers of the Flower Moon and Poor Things, embraced both Oppenheimer, the lead nominee with 13 nods, and Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, the year’s biggest hit with more than $1.4 billion in ticket sales and eight nominations.

Ahead of the broadcast on ABC, a red carpet preshow will begin at 6:30 p.m. EDT. E! will kick off its red-carpet coverage at 4 p.m. EDT and arrivals are being streamed on YouTube by The Associated Press.

The show will be available to stream via ABC.com and the ABC app with a cable subscription. You can also watch through services including Hulu Live TV, YouTubeTV, AT&T TV and FuboTV.

Five past winners in each acting category will together announce winners for the first time since 2009. Among the many announced presenters are: Zendaya, Al Pacino, Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Yeoh, Steven Spielberg, Dwayne Johnson, Matthew McConaughey, Lupita Nyong’o, Mahershala Ali, Nicolas Cage and Bad Bunny.

All of the best original song nominees will be performed, including the most likely winner, “What Was I Made For” from Barbie, to be performed by Billie Eilish and Finneas O’Connell. The others are: “I’m Just Ken,” with Ryan Gosling and Mark Ronson; “The Fire Inside,” from Flamin’ Hot, to be performed by Becky G; Jon Batiste’s “It Never Went Away” from American Symphony; and “Wahzhazhe (A Song for My People),” from Killers of the Flower Moon, to be performed by Scott George and the Osage Singers.

Oppenheimer comes in having won at the producers, directors and actors guilds, making it the clear front-runner for best picture. The film is widely expected to win in a number of other categories, too. Nolan is tipped to win his first best director Oscar, while Robert Downey Jr. (best supporting actor) and Cillian Murphy (best actor) are also predicted to win their first Academy Award. Paul Giamatti (The Holdovers) could challenge Murphy.

With the forecasted Oppenheimer romp, the night’s biggest drama is in the best actress category. Emma Stone (Poor Things) and Lily Gladstone (Killers of the Flower Moon) are nearly even-odds to win. While an Oscar for Stone, who won for her performance La La Land, would be her second statuette, an win for Gladstone would make Academy Awards history. No Native American has ever won a competitive Oscar.

While Barbie bested (and helped lift) Oppenheimer at the box office, it appears likely it will take a back seat to Nolan’s film at the Oscars. Gerwig was notably overlooked for best director, sparking an outcry that some, even Hillary Clinton, said mimicked the patriarchy parodied in the film.

In supporting actress, Da’Vine Joy Randolph has been a lock all season for her performance in Alexander Payne’s The Holdovers.

Composer John Williams, 92, is expected to attend the ceremony where he’s nominated for the 49th time for best score, for Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Meanwhile, Godzilla is going to the Oscars for the first time, with Godzilla Minus One notching a nomination for best visual effects.

Also for the first time, two non-English language films are up for best picture: the German-language Auschwitz drama The Zone of Interest and the French courtroom drama Anatomy of a Fall. The Zone of Interest is the heavy favorite to win best international film.

Historically, having big movies in the mix for the Oscars’ top awards has been good for broadcast ratings. The Academy Awards’ largest audience ever came when James Cameron’s Titanic swept the 1998 Oscars.

Last year’s ceremony, where a very different best-picture contender in Everything Everywhere All at Once triumphed, was watched by 18.7 million people, up 12% from the year prior. ABC and the academy are hoping to continue the upward trend after a nadir in 2021 when 9.85 million watched a pandemic-diminished telecast relocated to Los Angeles’ Union Station.

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