Oppenheimer

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"The world will remember this day."


Oppenheimer
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"They won't fear it until they understand it. And they won't understand it until they've used it. Theory will take you only so far."

Genre: Drama
Thriller
Biopic
Directed By: Christopher Nolan
Produced By: Emma Thomas
Charles Roven
Christopher Nolan
Based On: American Prometheus by Kai Bird
Martin J. Sherwin
Starring: Cillian Murphy
Emily Blunt
Matt Damon
Robert Downey Jr.
Florence Pugh
Josh Hartnett
Casey Affleck
Rami Malek
Kenneth Branagh
Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema
Distributed By: Universal Pictures
Syncopy
Atlas Entertainment
Release Date: July 11, 2023 (Le Grand Rex)
July 21, 2023 (United States and United Kingdom)
March 29, 2024 (Japan)
Runtime: 180 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $100 million
Box Office: $974.3 million
Prequel: Tenet


Oppenheimer is a 2023 epic biographical thriller film written, directed, and co-produced by Christopher Nolan. It follows the life of the late J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist who helped develop the first nuclear weapons during World War II. Based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, the film chronicles Oppenheimer's studies, his direction of the Los Alamos Laboratory, and his fall from grace after his 1954 security hearing. Cillian Murphy stars as the late J. Robert Oppenheimer, alongside Robert Downey Jr. as the United States Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss. The ensemble supporting cast includes Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, and Kenneth Branagh.

Oppenheimer was announced in September 2021. It is Nolan's first film not distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures since Memento (2000), due to his conflicts regarding the studio's simultaneous theatrical and HBO Max release schedule. Murphy was the first cast member to sign the following month, with the rest joining between November 2021 and April 2022. Pre-production began in January 2022, and filming took place from February to May. The cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, used a combination of IMAX 65 mm and 65 mm large-format film, including, for the first time, scenes in IMAX black-and-white film photography. As with many of his previous films, Nolan used extensive practical effects, with minimal compositing.

Oppenheimer premiered at Le Grand Rex in Paris on July 11, 2023, and was theatrically released in the US and the UK ten days later by Universal. Its concurrent release with Warner Bros.'s Barbie was the catalyst of the "Barbenheimer" phenomenon, encouraging audiences to see both films as a double feature. Oppenheimer grossed over $974.3 million worldwide, becoming the third-highest-grossing film of 2023 (only behind The Super Mario Bros. Movie and Barbie), the highest-grossing World War II-related film, the highest-grossing biographical film, and the second-highest-grossing R-rated film.

Among its many accolades, Oppenheimer won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Murphy, and Best Supporting Actor for Downey. It also won five Golden Globe Awards (including Best Motion Picture – Drama) and seven British Academy Film Awards (including Best Film), and was named one of the top ten films of 2023 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute.

Synopsis

In 1945, the first atomic bomb was successfully tested -- a triumph for the late J. Robert Oppenheimer, director of the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos. The politicians take further decisions about the use of the bomb away from Oppenheimer and the other scientists on the project. President Harry S. Truman orders the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Oppenheimer wanted Truman to brief Stalin before using it in Japan, but Truman did no such thing. The Soviets are threatened, and Oppenheimer believes that this started the nuclear arms race.

Though publicly praised, Oppenheimer is haunted by the mass destruction and fatalities. He later meets Truman, and after expressing his guilt, Truman berates Oppenheimer as he considers himself responsible for the decision to use the bomb. Oppenheimer urges restricting further nuclear weapons development, which Truman dismisses.

Rear Admiral Lewis Strauss is a retired Naval officer and high-ranking member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Strauss had recruited Oppenheimer as a scientific advisor to the AEC after the war was over.

As an advisor to the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Oppenheimer's stance generated controversy, while Teller's hydrogen bomb received renewed interest in the middle of the burgeoning Cold War. Oppenheimer says that Hydrogen presented insurmountable technical difficulties and should not be pursued. He instead tries to convince the AEC to control the spread of nuclear weapons around the world.

AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) resents Oppenheimer for having publicly humiliated him by dismissing his concerns about exporting radioisotopes (which helped other nations build the Atomic bomb) and for recommending negotiations with the Soviet Union after they successfully detonated their bomb. Oppenheimer suggested that the US and the Soviets should offer concessions to each other not to pursue a Hydrogen bomb as if the US builds one, the Soviets will have no choice but to build one as well. Despite Oppenheimer's objections, Truman green-lights the H-bomb program. Strauss believed that Oppenheimer collaborated with the Russians during the Manhattan Project, and this is how they were able to produce a bomb in such a short period after the war.

Strauss also believes that Oppenheimer denigrated him during a conversation Oppenheimer had with Einstein in 1947.

In 1954, wanting to eliminate Oppenheimer's political influence, Strauss secretly orchestrated a private security hearing before a Personnel Security Board concerning Oppenheimer's Q clearance. However, it becomes clear that the hearing has a predetermined outcome. Strauss claims that he was the Chairman of the AEC, but the charges against Oppenheimer were brought by William L. Borden (David Dastmalchian), a lawyer and executive director of the JCAE who wrote to the FBI. Strauss claims that Borden was a rabid anti-Communist and had access to Oppenheimer's security file on which he based his claims. It is strongly indicated that Strauss provided Oppenheimer's security file to Borden and used Borden to bring Oppenheimer down.

Oppenheimer's past communist ties are exploited, and Groves' and other associates' testimony is twisted against him. Oppenheimer brought his brother to work on the Manhattan Project, and he was a known Communist. This also goes against Oppenheimer. Teller testifies that he lacks confidence in Oppenheimer and recommends revocation. Groves supports Oppenheimer. The entire review was done behind closed doors, as an administrative process, with no public hearing and no burden of proof on the prosecution. Roger Robb (Jason Clarke) served as special counsel to the AEC at Oppenheimer's security hearing and was appointed by Strauss. He had full access to Oppenheimer's file while Oppenheimer's attorney didn't have access to his client's file. The board revokes Oppenheimer's Q clearance, damaging his public image and limiting his influence on nuclear policy.

In 1959, during Strauss' Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Commerce, Hill testified about Strauss' motives in engineering Oppenheimer's downfall, resulting in the Senate voting against his nomination.

In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson (Hap Lawrence) presented Oppenheimer with the Enrico Fermi Award as a gesture of political rehabilitation. A flashback reveals Oppenheimer and Einstein's 1947 conversation never mentioned Strauss. Oppenheimer instead expressed his belief that they had indeed started a chain reaction-a nuclear arms race-that would one day destroy the world.

Summary

During World War II, Lt. Gen. Leslie Groves Jr. appoints physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer and a team of scientists spend years developing and designing the atomic bomb. Their work came to fruition on July 16, 1945, as they witnessed the world's first nuclear explosion, forever changing the course of history.

Plot

In 1926, the 22-year-old doctoral student J. Robert Oppenheimer grapples with anxiety and homesickness while studying experimental quantum physics under Patrick Blackett at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. Upset with Blackett's attitude, Oppenheimer leaves him an apple poisoned with cyanide but later retrieves it. The visiting scientist Niels Bohr advises Oppenheimer to study theoretical physics at the University of Göttingen instead.

Oppenheimer completes his PhD and meets the scientist Isidor Isaac Rabi. They later meet the theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg in Switzerland. Wanting to expand quantum physics research in the US, Oppenheimer begins teaching at the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology. He marries Katherine "Kitty" Puening, a biologist and ex-communist, and has an intermittent affair with Jean Tatlock, a troubled communist psychiatrist who later dies by suicide.

When nuclear fission was discovered in 1938 after the Germans succeeded in splitting the atom, Oppenheimer realized it could be weaponized. In 1942, during World War II, US Army Colonel Leslie Groves, the director of the Manhattan Project, recruited Oppenheimer as the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory to develop an atomic bomb. Oppenheimer fears the German nuclear research program, led by Heisenberg, might yield a fission bomb for the Nazis.

Oppenheimer assembles a team consisting of Rabi, Hans Bethe, and Edward Teller, and collaborates with the scientists Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard, and David L. Hill at the University of Chicago. Teller's calculations reveal an atomic detonation could trigger a catastrophic chain reaction that would ignite the atmosphere and destroy the world. After consulting with the late Albert Einstein, Oppenheimer concludes the chances are acceptably low. Teller attempts to leave the project after his proposal to construct a hydrogen bomb is rejected, but Oppenheimer convinces him to stay.

After Germany's surrender in 1945, some scientists questioned the bomb's relevance. Oppenheimer believed it would end the ongoing Pacific War and save Allied lives. The Trinity test is successful, and President Harry S. Truman orders the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, resulting in Japan's surrender. Though publicly praised, Oppenheimer is guilt-ridden and haunted by the destruction and mass fatalities. After Oppenheimer expresses his guilt to Truman, the president berates him and dismisses his plea to cease further atomic development.

As an advisor to the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Oppenheimer's stance generated controversy, while Teller's hydrogen bomb received renewed interest amidst the burgeoning Cold War. AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss resents Oppenheimer for publicly dismissing Strauss's concerns about exporting radioisotopes and for recommending negotiations with the Soviet Union after the Soviets successfully detonated their bomb. Strauss also believes that Oppenheimer denigrated him during a conversation Oppenheimer had with Einstein in 1947.

In 1954, wanting to eliminate Oppenheimer's political influence, Strauss secretly orchestrates a private security hearing before a Personnel Security Board concerning Oppenheimer's Q clearance during which his loyalty to America is questioned. However, the hearing is a show trial. Oppenheimer's past communist ties are exploited, and his associates' testimony is twisted against him, with Teller's being the most damaging. After Kitty delivers impassioned testimony in defense of herself and her husband, the board no longer suspects Oppenheimer of disloyalty but revokes his clearance, thereby damaging his public image and limiting his influence on American nuclear policy.

In 1959, during Strauss's Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Commerce, Hill testified about Strauss's motives for engineering Oppenheimer's downfall. Strauss's nomination is voted down, with the junior Massachusetts senator John F. Kennedy casting the deciding vote. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Oppenheimer with the Enrico Fermi Award as a gesture of political rehabilitation.

A flashback reveals that Oppenheimer and Einstein's 1947 conversation never mentioned Strauss. Instead, the two discussed Oppenheimer’s legacy, and Oppenheimer expressed his fear that they had indeed started a chain reaction, a nuclear arms race, that would one day destroy the world. As Einstein leaves, the remorseful Oppenheimer imagines the world consumed by nuclear fire and closes his eyes in despair.

Production

Development

The director Sam Mendes was interested in adapting the 2005 Oppenheimer biography American Prometheus (2005) by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin. After that project failed to materialize, the book was optioned by various filmmakers over the next fifteen years. The authors became pessimistic about a film adaptation. Oliver Stone declined an opportunity to direct, saying he "couldn't find my way to its essence". In 2015, J. David Wargo optioned the book, then commissioned and rejected several scripts. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Wargo flew to Hollywood to meet with actor James Woods, who set up a meeting with Charles Roven, a producer for various Christopher Nolan films, and in turn, Roven gave a copy of the book to Nolan. Both Wargo and Woods are executive producers of the film.

Nolan had long desired to make a film about Oppenheimer, even before reading American Prometheus. In 2019, towards the end of the production of Nolan's science-fiction film Tenet (2020), star Robert Pattinson gave him a book of Oppenheimer's speeches. According to Nolan, the speeches showed Oppenheimer "wrestling with the implications ... of what's happened and what he's done". Nolan wanted to depict "what it would have been like to be Oppenheimer in those moments", in contrast to Tenet, which employs time travel to curb a potential weapon of mass destruction.

In December 2020, Warner Bros. Pictures announced plans to give its 2021 films simultaneous releases in theaters and on HBO Max, citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the film industry. Nolan, who had partnered with Warner Bros. on each of his films since Insomnia (2002), was outraged, as he was a staunch supporter of traditional film exhibitions. In January 2021, media reports mentioned the possibility that Nolan's next film could be the first not to be financed or distributed by Warner Bros. By mid-2021, Nolan had left Warner Bros. and was meeting with other studios to develop his new project. Nolan had previously supported Warner's decision to give Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) a simultaneous release, saying he felt that situation had been handled properly, but said he had been excluded from any discussions regarding the postponed release of Tenet.

In September 2021, it was announced that Nolan would write and direct a biographical film about Oppenheimer and his contributions to the Manhattan Project, with Cillian Murphy in negotiations to star. Due to his strained relationship with Warner Bros., Nolan approached multiple studios, including Sony, Universal, Paramount, and Apple. According to insiders, Paramount was ruled out early in the process due to the replacement of the CEO and chairman, Jim Gianopulos, with Brian Robbins, an advocate for increased streaming service releases.

Nolan signed with Universal because he had previously worked with Donna Langley, chairwoman and chief content officer of the NBCUniversal studio group, on an unsuccessful attempt to make a film version of the UK television series The Prisoner. Langley agreed with Nolan's stance on traditional film exhibition and Universal agreed to finance and distribute Oppenheimer, with production set to begin in the first quarter of 2022. Universal also agreed to Nolan's terms, which included a production budget of $100 million, an equal marketing budget, an exclusive theatrical window ranging from 90 to 120 days, 20 percent of the film's first-dollar gross, and three weeks both before and after the opening, in which Universal could not release another new film.

Writing

Nolan became aware of Oppenheimer as a youth, after hearing the lyric "How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer's deadly toy?" in the Sting song "Russians" (1985). He was also inspired by his fears of a nuclear holocaust throughout childhood, as he lived during the era of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the anti-nuclear protests in RAF Greenham Common. He felt that "while our relationship with that nuclear fear has ebbed and flowed with time, the threat itself never actually went away", and felt the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine had caused a resurgence of nuclear anxiety. Nolan had also penned a script for a biopic of Howard Hughes approximately during the time of production of Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (2004), which had given him insight on how to write a script regarding a person's life. Emily Blunt described the Oppenheimer script as "emotional" and resembling that of a thriller, while also remarking that Nolan had "Trojan-Horsed a biopic into a thriller".

By September 2021, both Roven and Nolan had begun contacting Bird and Sherwin to discuss the script. During Bird's first meeting with Nolan, he had already written a spec script while they discussed the script's content, although Nolan had not disclosed the script to them yet. Oppenheimer is the first screenplay written by Nolan in the first person, as he wanted the narrative to be conveyed from Oppenheimer's perspective. He described the "texture" of the film being "how the personal interacts with the historic and the geopolitical" intending to make it a cautionary tale. He began developing the script after he completed Tenet and wrote it in only a few months; he had already been thinking about making a film about Oppenheimer for over 20 years.

A major plot element is Oppenheimer's response to the long-term consequences of his actions. Nolan wished to explore the phenomenon of delayed reactions, as he felt people are not "necessarily confronted with the strongest or worst elements of their actions in the moment". He also chose to alternate between scenes in color and black-and-white to convey the story from both subjective and objective perspectives, respectively, with most of Oppenheimer's view shown via the former, while the latter depicts a "more objective view of his story from a different character's point of view". Wanting to make the film as subjective as possible, the production team decided to include visions of Oppenheimer's conceptions of the quantum world and waves of energy. Nolan noted that while Oppenheimer never publicly apologized for his role in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he still believed Oppenheimer had felt genuine guilt for his actions and thus portrayed him as exhibiting those feelings.

"I think of any character I've dealt with, Oppenheimer is by far the most ambiguous and paradoxical. Which, given that I've made three Batman films, is saying a lot."

Christopher Nolan


Nolan began by trying to find the "thread that connected the quantum realm, the vibration of energy, and Oppenheimer's own personal journey" and sought to portray the difficulties in his life, particularly regarding his sex life. As such, Nolan wanted to candidly portray his affair with Jean Tatlock. He also wanted to explore Tatlock's influence on Oppenheimer's life, since she was a Communist, which had "enormous ramifications for Oppenheimer's later life and his ultimate fate". Nolan also sought to explore the relationship between Oppenheimer and Admiral Lewis Strauss, former chair of the US Atomic Energy Commission, having been inspired by the relationship between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri as depicted in Amadeus (1984).

Another critical moment of the film was the meeting in which President Harry S. Truman called Oppenheimer a "crybaby". Nolan wanted to convey the scene from Oppenheimer's perspective and felt it was a "massive moment of disillusion, a huge turning point for Oppenheimer in his approach to trying to deal with the consequences of what he'd been involved with", while also underscoring that it is a "huge shift in perception about the reality of Oppenheimer's perception". He wanted to execute a quick tonal shift after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, desiring to go from the "highest triumphalism, the highest high, to the lowest low in the shortest amount of screen time possible".For the ending, Nolan chose to make it intentionally vague to be open to interpretation and refrained from being didactic or conveying specific messages in his work. However, he did have the intention to present a "strong set of troubling reverberations at the end".

Casting

Oppenheimer marks the sixth collaboration between Nolan and Murphy, and the first starring Murphy as the lead. To prepare for the role, Murphy read extensively on Oppenheimer's life and was inspired by David Bowie’s appearance in the 1970s. Nolan called Murphy one day to ask him to play the part, and Murphy enthusiastically accepted and was excited to play a lead role in a Nolan film. Afterward, Nolan flew to Dublin to meet with Murphy, who read the script in Nolan's hotel room. Murphy lost an undisclosed amount of weight for the role to better match the real-life Oppenheimer's gaunt appearance. Nolan also set up a phone call between Murphy and Nobel laureate Kip Thorne, who had previously worked with Nolan on Interstellar (2014). As a graduate student, Thorne attended some of Oppenheimer's seminars and explained to Murphy his experience with Oppenheimer's gift for facilitating group discussions of difficult scientific concepts.

The casting process was so secretive that some cast members did not know which role they would be playing until they signed on. Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, and Emily Blunt took pay cuts to work on the film, with each earning $4 million instead of their usual $10–20 million upfront salary. Downey went to Nolan's house to read the script, which was printed in black on red paper. Downey would later describe Oppenheimer as "the best film" in which he has appeared to date. Blunt met Nolan in Los Angeles and, when she was offered the role of Katherine "Kitty" Oppenheimer, she enthusiastically accepted; she also contacted Murphy to get an expectation of what working with Nolan would be like. Asked to play the part of Leslie Groves, Damon—who had appeared in Nolan's Interstellar—was taking a break from acting as a result of negotiations with his wife in couples therapy, but signed on to Oppenheimer as he had reserved one exception: if Nolan offered him a role in a film. Nolan cast writer-director Benny Safdie as physicist Edward Teller after asking director Paul Thomas Anderson about his experience directing Safdie in Licorice Pizza (2021). Safdie had worked alongside a nuclear physicist at Columbia University while in high school. It is Nolan's first film since Insomnia (2002) to not feature Michael Caine.

Filming

Pre-production had begun by January 2022 in New Mexico, where a two-day casting call took place in Santa Fe and Los Alamos for people to audition to play residents, military personnel, and scientists. Another casting call was held in February.

Principal photography began on February 28, 2022, at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, and lasted for 57 days with Hoyte van Hoytema serving as cinematographer. The original shooting schedule had set aside approximately 85 days for filming. However, during pre-production, it had become clear that principal photography could not be completed within $100 million over that many days on location all over the United States. To efficiently use the budget for location shooting in California and New Jersey and constructing high-quality historically accurate sets in New Mexico, Nolan compressed the shooting schedule from 85 to 57 days. Murphy, who appears in nearly every scene, described the pace as "insane".

Gary Oldman said he would be on set for a day in May for "one scene, a page and a half". The original choice for the Oval Office location in the Nixon Presidential Library fell through a week before filming, and since Oldman's dates were unmovable, the production design team redressed the Oval Office set from Veep, which according to Ruth De Jong had fallen into "nightmarish" disrepair. Nolan filmed his eldest child, his daughter Flora, in a scene in which she played a young woman disintegrated in a nuclear explosion. It appears in the film as one of Oppenheimer's visions, in which Nolan intended to show "that if you create the ultimate destructive power, it will also destroy those who are near and dear to you".

The film used a combination of IMAX 65mm and 65mm large-format film. It is also the first film to shoot sections on IMAX black-and-white photographic film, which Kodak created and FotoKem developed specifically for the film. Van Hoytema used 50mm and 80mm Hasselblad lenses when filming on the IMAX MKIV or IMAX MSM 9802 cameras, while scenes shot on the Panavision Panaflex System 65 Studio cameras were shot using Panavision Sphero 65 and Panavision System 65 lenses. Additionally, the production had Panavision construct a custom probe lens to allow the filmmakers to use IMAX cameras for macro photography and microphotography to record the miniature effects. In the second week of April, filming took place on location at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Filming also occurred in California, primarily around the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Scenes set in the city of Berkeley itself were filmed in Pasadena.

During a 2021 research trip, Nolan discovered that Los Alamos had drastically changed from its 1940s appearance and could not be used for exterior shots of the town; for example, the town's equivalent of a Main Street has a Starbucks. Instead, the production team constructed a version of 1940s-era Los Alamos on top of a similar plateau at Ghost Ranch. It took three months to build the set, which was used for only six shooting days. The general plan was to shoot only exterior shots on the set at Ghost Ranch, then shoot interior shots on location inside various historic buildings in the real town of Los Alamos. Interior shooting in Los Alamos began on March 8, 2022. Many scenes in the film take place in academic lecture halls; to save time and money, the production team decided against attempting to reconstruct those halls' assets at Ghost Ranch, and shot them inside a historic Women's Army Corps dormitory in Los Alamos. Scenes were also filmed in Oppenheimer's original cabin in Los Alamos, which had been restored. Kai Bird visited the set and was impressed by Murphy's performance. The New York hotel scenes were shot in Albuquerque's Old Post Office building, while the Washington, D.C. scenes were shot in state government buildings in the state capital of Santa Fe.

Filming involved the use of real explosives to recreate the Trinity nuclear test, forgoing the use of computer-generated graphics. When this news first broke online, many fans (aware of Nolan's famous preference for in-camera practical effects) thought it meant he had set off a real atomic bomb. Nolan later remarked that it was both "flattering" and "scary" that his fans would think of him. The production team was able to obtain government permission to film at White Sands Missile Range, but only at highly inconvenient hours, and therefore chose to film the scene elsewhere in the New Mexico desert. The production filmed the Trinity test scenes in Belen, New Mexico, with Murphy climbing a 100-foot steel tower, a replica of the original site used in the Manhattan Project, in rough weather. A special set was built in which gasoline, propane, aluminum powder, and magnesium were used to create the explosive effect. Although they used miniatures for the practical effect, the special effects supervisor, Scott R. Fisher, referred to them as "big-atures", since the special effects team had tried to build the models as physically large as possible. To make the models look closer to their intended real-life size, the team used forced perspective. Visualizations of the interactions between atoms, molecules, and energy waves, as well as the depiction of stars, black holes, and supernovas, were also achieved through practical methods. Nolan claimed the film contains no computer-generated effects and used practical effects to achieve "real-world imagery". Filming wrapped in May 2022.

Post-production

Editing was completed by Jennifer Lame, who had previously edited Tenet. While inspecting the footage during editing, Nolan and Lame performed "character passes" to ensure all the characters were properly displayed on screen, due to the film having a faster pace than most traditional blockbusters. Visual effects were handled by DNEG, which produced more than 100 VFX shots from more than 400 practically shot elements, marking their eighth collaboration with Nolan. Andrew Jackson (not to be confused with the US president of the same name) was the visual effects supervisor, who stated that the film used mostly "invisible" visual effects through "'in-camera' special effects created on set". Digital compositing was used for the Trinity scene to add multi-layers to the explosion which was shot in a multifaceted viewpoint.

Steven Spielberg was the first person to see the final cut, in a private screening of its first 70mm print. Nolan said: "He said some very kind things, but really just to watch him watch ... I wasn't even supposed to watch it with him, but seeing the great master watching? It was sort of irresistible."

Why The World Will Remember This Movie

  1. Amazing and breathtaking cinematography, as expected from a Christopher Nolan film (if not better). It’s also the best that it’s ever been.
    • It also helps greatly that this film was used with practical effects, completely abandoning CGI to immerse the audience in a tangible and authentic world, especially given the immense scale of the movie.
  2. Christopher Nolan himself decided to present this movie's narrative in 1st person rather than 3rd person, allowing the audience to witness the world from his perspective, putting the viewers in J. Robert Oppenheimer's shoes, allowing them to witness his actions, experiences, emotions, understandings, complexities, and thoughts. And the first-person perspective in this movie is handled excellently as well.
  3. Impressive and stellar acting, especially from Cillian Murphy as the late J. Robert Oppenheimer, Emily Blunt as the late Kitty Oppenheimer, Florence Pugh as the late Jean Tatlock, Robert Downey Jr. as the late Lewis Strauss, and even Matt Damon (who took a break from acting until this very film) as the late Leslie Groves.
    • Cillian Murphy, in particular, nailed it with his performance as the late J. Robert Oppenheimer, also helping with the fact that Cillian Murphy himself knows how to use his physicality well, along with movement and intonation. This is also considered one of Cillian Murphy's best performances in any type of media (if not better than his portrayal as Thomas Shelby in Peaky Blinders).
    • Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal of the late Lewis Strauss (who turns on his longtime companion and confidant because he felt slighted during Oppenheimer's campaign about isotope export) was also excellent, and he also carried the buildup to Lewis Strauss being the antagonist perfectly well, helping with his delivery of powerful dialogues like "Amateurs seek the sun and get eaten. Power stays in the shadows," especially in a chilling but effective manner that stuns many audiences. Even Robert Downey Jr. himself said that this movie was the best film he had ever been in.
    • Emily Blunt was amazing as the late Kitty Oppenheimer, and undertakes the role of said character but does so without losing her character to the protagonist. Emily Blunt herself displays the dichotomy of Kitty's affections that were vast for her husband but nonexistent for anyone else.
    • Matt Damon came back to acting in this film after he took a break from acting for a while, and he certainly did not disappoint with his portrayal (which can also be seen as his Nolan comeback, by the way) as the late Leslie Groves, especially when he manages to encapsulate some of the more comical angles to Groves' relationship with Oppenheimer, especially in the late stages of the Manhattan Project.
  4. Amazing and memorable quotes and dialogue (both in the trailers and the actual movie), despite most of it being hard to follow without having to watch the actual film at least two or more times (see QTANP #2), such as:
    • "Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this, he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity." (the opening caption of the movie)
    • "We imagine a future, and our imaginings horrify us."
    • "God doesn't play dice."
    • "Do stars die?"
    • "Well, if they do, they'd cool, then collapse. In fact, the bigger the star, the more violent its demise. Their gravity gets so concentrated, it swallows everything."
    • "Can't keep a good man down."
    • "You know, I've always wondered why you didn't involve him in the Manhattan Project. Greatest scientific mind of our time."
      • "Of his time."
    • "Heisenberg sought me out in Copenhagen. It was chilling, my old student working for the Nazis. He told me some things to draw me out. Sustained fission reactions in uranium."
    • "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." (Despite that one controversial scene that was mentioned in QTANP #4)
    • "Would the Japanese surrender if they knew what was coming?"
    • "Why would we move out to the middle of nowhere for who knows how long?"
    • "Why? How about because this is the most important f**king thing to ever happen in the history of the world!"
    • "Why limit yourself to just one dogma?"
    • "They won't fear it until they understand it. And they won't understand it until they've used it. Theory will take you only so far."
    • "Are you saying that there's a chance that when we push that button... we destroy the world?"
    • "It's not a new weapon. It's a new world."
    • "Take off that ridiculous uniform. You're a scientist."
    • "You are the man who gave them the power to destroy themselves. And the world is not prepared."
    • "The power you are about to reveal will forever outlive the Nazis, and the world is not prepared."
    • "You can't lift the stone without being ready for the snake that's revealed."
    • "You don't get to commit sin and then ask us all to feel sorry for you when there are consequences."
    • "We have to make the politicians understand, this isn't a new weapon, it is a new world."
    • "We've got one hope: Antisemitism."
    • "You think anyone in Hiroshima or Nagasaki gives a shit who built the bomb? They care who dropped it. I did. Hiroshima isn't about you."
    • "You drop a bomb, and it falls on the just and the unjust. I don't wish the culmination of three centuries of physics to be a weapon of mass destruction."
    • "Is it big enough?"
      • "To end the war?"
        • "To end all war."
    • "Detonators charged!"
    • "Ten. Nine. Eight."
    • "Seven. Six."
    • "Five. Four. Three."
    • "Two. One."
    • "It’s too soon to… It’s too soon to determine what the results of the bombing are. But I’ll bet the Japanese didn’t like it!"
    • "I’m so proud. So proud of what you have accomplished."
    • "I just wish we had it in time to use against the Germans!"
    • "The world will remember this day!"
    • "The world is changing. Reforming. This is your moment."
    • "We've all heard about Einstein and Szilard's letter to Roosevelt warning him that Germans could make a bomb. And I know what it means for the Nazis to have a bomb."
    • "I don't know if we can be trusted with such a weapon. But I know the Nazis can't."
    • "Amateurs chase the sun and get burned... power stays in the shadows."
    • "When they've punished you enough, they'll serve you salmon and potato salad, make speeches, give you a medal, and pat you in the back telling all is forgiven. Just remember, it won't be for you... it would be for them."
    • "Genius is no guarantee of wisdom. How could this man who saw so much be so blind?"
    • "We're not convicting – just denying."
    • "America and Russia may be likened… to two scorpions in a bottle. Each capable of killing the other, but only at the risk of his own life. Now, there are various aspects of this policy…"
    • "A lot of scientists blame me, but how was I supposed to protect him?"
    • "…are too secret for discussion. Candor is the only remedy. Officials in Washington need to start leveling with the American people."
    • "He turned the scientists against me, one by one, starting with Einstein. I told you about that. Einstein. Einstein by the pond."
    • "You did, but you know, sir, since nobody... really knows what they said to each other that day, is it possible they didn't talk about you at all? Is it possible they spoke about something, uh... more important?"
    • "Is anyone ever going to tell the truth?"
    • "Wake up. It is Strauss. It's always been Strauss and you know it. Why won't you fight him?"
    • "Albert? When I came to you with those calculations, we thought we might start a chain reaction that would destroy the entire world..."
    • "I remember it well. What of it?"
    • "I believe we did."
  5. Impressive and compelling soundtrack from Ludwig Göransson, who also had compelling scoring in films and television shows such as Creed, The Mandalorian, Black Panther, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Tenet, The Book of Boba Fett, Turning Red, and Ahsoka, and it shows here.
    • The soundtrack also creates a non-stop aura of tension and dread, which is impressive for a movie like this.
  6. Incredible direction from Christopher Nolan (although Christopher Nolan has always had excellent direction with every single one of his movies, especially with the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception, so this is to be expected, after all).
  7. Many of the historical figures in this movie are very well written and remain faithful to their real-life counterparts, especially the late J. Robert Oppenheimer and the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, who is portrayed the most accurately compared to the other characters, as their importance to the history of the 20th century is seen throughout the movie's great writing as a true portrayal of what happened in real life, making them very compelling as characters and are very easy to relate with on a personal level, making the film more special and unique from other biopic movies.
  8. It avoids many tropes from other historical biopic movies and tries to be more original by staying true to the actual events of the historical figure it's based on since it's a problem that most biopics suffer from changing the events of their historical figure and dumbing down the source material and a period of human history, and this movie doing a reverse of that by showing everything that happened in J. Robert Oppenheimer's life is impressive and makes this film stand out from many other biopics about well-known historical figures in the past.
  9. Excellent pacing (despite the courtroom scenes), especially from a 3-hour long movie, similar to eight other excellent 3-hour long movies.
    • Even with its slow pacing, the courtroom scenes remain amazing, especially for the most part.
  10. This movie does an excellent job at utilizing the IMAX effects, while also reinventing them at the same time, and it shows (especially with the practical effects).
  11. Amazing and impactful story that explores the invention of the Atomic Bomb.
    • This story is also greatly helped by the movie's non-linear storytelling.
    • The movie also depicts the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer wonderfully well, with some scenes going into great detail about what happened in his life and how much he went through during the early 20th century before he died in the 1960s, making this a wonderful tribute to the man and shows how deep Christopher Nolan went into Rob's backstory and his importance to the history of World War II.
  12. Amazing dynamics, especially the character dynamics, and it shows throughout the movie.
  13. J. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein's chemistry in this movie is also amazing, and it also shows in the ending of the movie, which will be discussed later.
  14. The famous Trinity test scene, and especially the buildup to the explosion in said scene. It also helps that this is one of the most (if not the most) memorable scenes in the whole movie. It’s especially apparent during the actual explosion, where instead of using CGI, Christopher Nolan decided to make a bomb in miniature, alongside using chemicals and layering clips while editing, further creating what feels like a realistic atomic explosion, adding on to WTWWRTM #1.
  15. The ending is spine-chilling and touching, especially when Oppenheimer asked Albert Einstein to remember a conversation they had in the past, where calculations indicated a possibility that a chain reaction from detonating the atomic bomb could wind up destroying the entire world, topped off with Einstein telling him, "I remember it well. What of it?", and complete with Oppenheimer responding "I believe we did".
  16. Oppenheimer proves that films can still be innovative and have deep and unique stories and can also revolutionize the film industry with its creative use of film techniques and 100% faithful portrayal of past human history that doesn't butcher any aspect or important event that happened in it and shows that doing so can cause a lot of controversial since the film is set during a controversial time in human history and doing so would be a bad idea, and Christopher Nolan decided to the best thing he could by making the film an actual portrayal of the life of the late J. Robert Oppenheimer and add a layer of complexity to the film missing in most biopics today, making this movie one of the most revolutionary films of the 2020s to date, even to the point of grossing almost $1 billion worldwide (more specifically, $974.3 million), which is beyond impressive for an R-rated biopic.

Qualities That Are Not Prepared

  1. While indeed excellent, the last hour of the movie is filled with slowly-paced courtroom drama scenes. While this isn’t an issue, they can drag out a bit at times, which can be somewhat tiring. However, for the most part, the courtroom scenes are still just as amazing as the rest of the film.
  2. While the dialogue is indeed amazing, it is a bit hard to follow without having to watch the film at least two times or more, not helping with the fact that this is a 3-hour long dialogue-heavy film in such a distinction.
    • This could also mean that this film surprisingly repeats the same problem two other Christopher Nolan movies like Inception and Tenet had, being that you have to watch the movie at least two or more times to fully understand what's going on.
  3. The music, while good, can be a bit too loud at times to the point where it makes the dialogue look too quiet in a good amount of scenes in the movie.
  4. The sex scenes can come off as unnecessary and don’t do much to impact the film. It's even apparent with that one ridiculous and controversial moment where Jean Tatlock was having sex with J. Robert Oppenheimer, she selects a sentence in an ancient Sanskrit scripture, which happens to be an otherwise good quote which is "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.".

Reception

Box office

As of April 27, 2024, Oppenheimer has grossed $329.9 million in the United States and Canada and $644.4 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $974.3 million. It is the second-highest-grossing R-rated film of all-time behind Joker (2019). In September 2023, Oppenheimer became the highest-grossing biographical film of all time, surpassing Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).

By August 2023, Oppenheimer had become the highest-grossing film ever to not reach the top spot at the domestic box office, although, in its sixth weekend, it topped the worldwide box office with a total of $38.12 million, surpassing Barbie for the first time. It is also the highest-grossing World War II-related film, surpassing Dunkirk (2017), also a Nolan film. Additionally, Oppenheimer became one of the top five highest-grossing IMAX releases, earning $183 million (approximately 20% of its total gross), over $17 million of which was earned from the 30 screens showing IMAX 70 mm prints. The film was booked to be rereleased in IMAX theaters on November 3, including six IMAX 70 mm prints, as these theaters reported selling out during the initial release.

United States and Canada

In the United States and Canada, Oppenheimer was released alongside Barbie, in what became known as Barbenheimer. The week of their releases, AMC Theaters announced that over 40,000 AMC Stubs members had already pre-booked tickets to both films on the same day. After grossing $33 million on its first day (including $10.5 million from Thursday night previews), it went on to debut to $82.5 million, finishing second behind Barbie and marking one of the best opening weekends ever for an R-rated drama. 64% of the audience was male, with 33% being 18–34 years old. The Barbenheimer phenomenon was credited with boosting interest in the film, with a total of 79% of tickets sold over the weekend being for the two films (27% for Oppenheimer), a combined total of 18.5 million people. The opening weekend was Nolan's best for an original film, being the highest of his filmography outside of the latter two films from The Dark Knight trilogy. It achieved the third-highest opening weekend for a biopic film, behind The Passion of the Christ (2004) and American Sniper (2014).

Oppenheimer made $46.2 million in its second weekend (a drop of 44%), remaining second behind Barbie. The film made $28.7 million in its third weekend, finishing third behind Barbie and newcomer Meg 2: The Trench. On August 16, Oppenheimer surpassed Sing (2016) to become the highest-grossing film to never reach the number one spot at the box office. During its fourth weekend, the film made $18.8 million (a drop of 35%) rising back up to the second place. In its fifth and sixth weekends, the film grossed $10.7 million and $9 million (a drop of 43% and 16% respectively), finishing in third and fourth place at the box office and passing $300 million domestically in its sixth weekend. Following its 13 Oscar nominations, the film expanded from 1,008 theaters to 2,262 in its 28th week of release and made $1 million, an increase of 284% from the previous weekend.

Other territories Outside the United States and Canada, the film grossed $98 million in its opening weekend. The following weekend, Oppenheimer earned $77.1 million, dropping by just 21% to become Nolan's highest-grossing film in 30 countries, including India, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Turkey. In its third weekend, Oppenheimer grossed $52.8 million (a drop of 31%) and $32 million in its fourth weekend. The film continued to hold well in the following weeks, making $32 million and $29.1 million in its fifth and sixth weekends. As of September 10, 2023, the highest-grossing territories were the United Kingdom ($75 million), China ($61.6 million), Germany ($51.9 million), France ($43.1 million), and Australia ($25.9 million). In Japan, the film, which was, during months of controversy, said to underplay the actual effects of the bomb, will be released on March 29, 2024.

Critical response

The film received critical acclaim. Critics praised Oppenheimer primarily for its screenplay, cast performances, and cinematography. It was frequently ranked as one of Nolan's best films and one of the best of 2023. On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 93% of 501 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 8.6/10. The website's consensus reads: "Oppenheimer marks another engrossing achievement from Christopher Nolan that benefits from Murphy's tour-de-force performance and stunning visuals." Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 90 out of 100, based on 69 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while those polled by PostTrak gave it a 93% overall positive score, with 74% saying they would recommend the film.

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave Oppenheimer a perfect four out of four, describing it as "magnificent" and "one of the best films of the 21st century". The A.V. Club's Matthew Jackson deemed it a "masterpiece", adding that "it's Christopher Nolan's best film so far, a step up to a new level for one of our finest filmmakers and a movie that burns itself into your brain". Empire's Dan Jolin labeled it a "masterfully constructed character study", taking particular note of Murphy's performance and van Hoytema's IMAX cinematography. Peter Suderman writing for Reason magazine said that the film leaves the viewer with a sense of "fear and foreboding about the horror of full-on nuclear conflict in the wake of the nuclear bomb. Humanity is both great and terrible. Oppenheimer isn't just a movie—it's a warning."

Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for RogerEbert.com awarded Oppenheimer a full four out of four rating. He lauded Nolan's storytelling, exploration of Oppenheimer's character, and its technical achievements, concluding: "As a physical experience, Oppenheimer is something else entirely—it's hard to say exactly what and that's what's so fascinating about it". Peter Travers described the film as a "monumental achievement" and "one of the best films you'll see anywhere". Caryn James of BBC Culture similarly termed it "boldly imaginative and Nolan's most mature work yet", adding that it combined the "explosive, commercially-enticing action of The Dark Knight trilogy" with the "cerebral underpinnings" of Memento, Inception, and Tenet. IGN critic Siddhant Adlakha ranked Oppenheimer 10/10, describing it as "a three-hour biopic that plays like a jolting thriller" and Nolan's most "abstract" work yet.

Saibal Chatterjee from NDTV rated the film four and a half out of five and stated: "Oppenheimer, a cinematic achievement of blinding brilliance, achieves a sublime combination of visual grandeur, technical flair, emotional intimacy and an examination of the limits of human endeavor and ambition". In August 2023, it ranked number three on Collider's list of "The 20 Best Drama Movies of the 2020s So Far," writing that Nolan "explores the world's obsession with destructive nuclear weapons from the perspective of their creator; using the Greek myth of Dante as an inspiration, Oppenheimer makes it clear that once this type of power is unleashed, it is bound to be used again."

Despite praising the film's themes and performances, CNN's Brian Lowry believed that "Nolan juggles a lot, in a way that somewhat works to the movie's detriment". While praising how the film acknowledges the contribution of "American scientists and American enterprise", Brett Mason complained that it omits the crucial contributions of non-Americans who ensured the work was able to commence as early as December 1941: "Nolan completely ignores the crucial role that British science and Australian physicist Mark Oliphant played in jump-starting the quest." Writing for the Los Angeles Times, Justin Chang defended Nolan's accurate depiction of how Oppenheimer could not see the true victims of his work. Chang wrote that instead of satisfying "representational completists" by detouring to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, "Nolan treats them instead as a profound absence, an indictment by silence". According to Richard Brody, the movie-listings editor at The New Yorker who described the film "History Channel movie with fancy editing", "I was tempted to call it a movie-length Wikipedia article. But after a look online, I realized I was giving Wikipedia too little credit—or Christopher Nolan, the movie's writer, and director, too much".

For IndieWire's annual critics poll, in which 158 critics and journalists from around the world voted, Oppenheimer was placed second in their Best Film list, with 69 overall mentions and 17 first-place votes. Nolan was also ranked second on the Best Director list, while his screenplay was placed eighth. Murphy was the highest-placed actor on the Best Performance list (fourth overall) while Van Hoytema's work topped the Best Cinematography list. Oppenheimer also appeared in over 410 critics' lists of the best films released in 2023 and was ranked first in 99 of them.

Response by filmmakers

Oliver Stone deemed the film "a classic, which I never believed could be made in this climate". Paul Schrader called Oppenheimer, "the best, most important film of this century", while Denis Villeneuve called it "a masterpiece". Steven Soderbergh said of the film, "Oppenheimer is a real accomplishment. I read somewhere that Christopher Nolan implied that this is the movie he's been building toward, and I think he's right. And I'm thrilled that it's a massive hit." Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki said, “As a person of Japanese ancestry and descent, my response to Oppenheimer is that I would like to dedicate a different film to that when that day comes.”

Accuracy and omissions

The film was noted for its accuracy, with some scenes being taken word-for-word out of the book or real-life events. Many of the changes are small embellishments or changes from real life. For example, Oppenheimer was not as excited about his discovery of black holes as shown in the film since he did not know how significant it would become. The study was indeed released on the same day Germany invaded Poland, as shown in the film. During the Trinity test, Donald Hornig had his hand on the kill switch for a faster reaction time and not near it as depicted in the film. Truman did call Oppenheimer a "crybaby" but in a letter to Dean Acheson one year later, not immediately after meeting Oppenheimer.

It was also pointed out that the incorrect American flag was used. In the film, the current 50-star flag is shown. This version was not adopted until 1960. During the war, the American flag had only 48 stars as Hawaii and Alaska had yet to become states.

The scene where Oppenheimer poisons his professor's apple is based on accounts that Oppenheimer gave of the incident, but it is unclear whether it occurred in real life. Oppenheimer is depicted as putting potassium cyanide in the apple before having a change of heart the next day and narrowly preventing it from being eaten. There is no evidence that Niels Bohr nearly ate the apple or had any involvement in the incident. Oppenheimer and Einstein were friends, but the specific conversations that the film revolves around never happened. Oppenheimer took his concerns about an unstoppable chain reaction to physicist Arthur Compton at the Metallurgical Laboratory, not Einstein. Compton was also the first to appoint Oppenheimer to take over the research into the bomb design part of the Manhattan Project.

In addition to their interpersonal conflicts, Strauss had another reason to undermine Oppenheimer's credibility by revoking his security clearance: Oppenheimer was opposed to further development of the hydrogen bomb by the United States. Scott Sagan describes the loss of Oppenheimer's influence as a possible constraint upon the nuclear arms race between the US and USSR as a "broader tragedy" less clearly depicted in the film than the scientist's tragedy but he called the production "highly accurate" otherwise for a Hollywood film.

Many efforts undertaken at other Manhattan Project sites like Hanford, Washington, and Oak Ridge, Tennessee were not shown. Most of them, overseen by General Leslie Groves, focused on producing the radioactive material that powered the nuclear explosions. In addition to the team at Los Alamos, those working at other Project sites, particularly the University of Chicago's Metallurgical Laboratory, also expressed concerns about using the atomic bomb against Japan.

Another technical problem accurately represented throughout the film was plutonium production. This can be analyzed through the occurrence of discussions of fizzle, ingenuity, engineering breakthroughs and setbacks, and once again, the determination to succeed. Oppenheimer focused on the great cost it took to obtain the plutonium, as well as the overall process of breeding plutonium. Enrico Fermi, the main scientist involved in the Manhattan Project, was the one who discovered that plutonium was the element necessary to produce a spontaneous fission reaction. His contributions to the Manhattan Project were not included in the film as much as they were recognized in real life.

An omission that drew some criticism was the lack of discussion of the impact of nuclear testing on the Indigenous population around the Trinity test site. Kate Gardner in a review of the film for Physics World writes,

"The one glaring omission from the film is in fact 19,000 omissions – the number of people, mostly Indigenous, who lived near the Trinity test site in New Mexico. Oppenheimer implies the area was empty, side-stepping the thorny truth that local residents were not warned about the test at all – not even given a false story to prevent them from drinking the toxic rainwater that fell for the next few days."

Kate Gardner


Influence

The renewed attention to the site and associated nuclear testing encouraged the United States Congress to revise the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (1990), which provided compensation programs for people affected by radiation and nuclear testing during the Cold War, known as "Downwinders" and primarily consisting of the Navajo Nation. The United States Senate approved amendments to accommodate additional services to people in New Mexico, but it has not passed through Congress as the House of Representatives had not yet debated its inclusion as part of the national defense bill for the 2024 fiscal year.

Accolades

Oppenheimer earned a leading 13 nominations at the 96th Academy Awards, becoming Nolan's most Oscar-nominated film. At the ceremony, the film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Murphy, Best Supporting Actor for Downey, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. Besides composer Göransson, all recipients were first-time Oscar winners, including Nolan, Thomas, Roven, Downey, and van Hoytema, who had each earned previous Academy Award nominations. Oppenheimer became the highest-grossing and longest Best Picture-winning film since 2003's The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The film was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for Blunt, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup and Hairstyling.

The film won numerous other accolades. It won a leading five Golden Globe Awards, receiving Best Motion Picture – Drama, Best Director for Nolan, Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama for Murphy, Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture for Downey, and Best Original Score for Göransson at the 81st ceremony. The National Board of Review and the American Film Institute named Oppenheimer one of the top-ten films of 2023. Oppenheimer received nominations for 13 Critics' Choice Movie Awards (winning eight), 13 British Academy Film Awards (winning seven), 14 Saturn Awards (winning four), and four Screen Actors Guild Awards (winning three), while its score earned three nominations at the 66th Annual Grammy Awards (winning one).

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Trivia

  • This is currently Christopher Nolan's 12th film overall.
    • It's also his first R-rated film since Insomnia (which was 21 years before this movie), along with his third R-rated film overall, with his first and second being Memento and Insomnia, respectively.
      • It's also his longest-running film at 180 minutes. It was also his wish to surpass his previous longest-running film, Interstellar (2014) (169 minutes)
  • This movie is currently the highest-grossing biographical film of all time, surpassing Bohemian Rhapsody (2018).
    • It's also the second highest-grossing R-rated movie of all time, behind Joker (2019).
      • It also surpassed Saving Private Ryan (1998) as the highest-grossing World War II film domestically, and surpassed Christopher Nolan's own Dunkirk (2017) as the highest-grossing World War II film worldwide.
  • Christopher Nolan only needed three months to prep the film and he shot it in just 57 days.
  • Interestingly, this movie was shot under the working title of "Gadget".
  • Christopher Nolan severed his relationship with Warner Bros. because he hated their release pattern for Tenet (2020) during the COVID-19 pandemic, i.e., a bare-bones theatrical release before it made its way almost simultaneously onto HBO Max. He took it to Universal Pictures instead who readily agreed to his push for a cinema release.
  • The scenes from J. Robert Oppenheimer's perspective are in color, and the scenes from Lewis Strauss' perspective are in black and white.
    • For the black and white sections of the movie to be shot in the same quality as the rest of the film, Kodak produced a limited supply of its Double-X black and white film stock in 70mm. This film stock was chosen specifically for its heritage - it was originally sold to photographers as Super-XX during World War II. It was very popular with photojournalists of the era.
      • This is also the first ever IMAX film partially shot in 65mm black and white celluloid.
        • The film company Kodak pioneered the first ever black and white IMAX format film especially for this film to ensure color accuracy for its monochrome segments. Kodak is also known for pioneering the Kodachrome film which was the earliest successful color film for cinematography - made possible by the financing of Lewis Strauss himself, who was an investment banker before his career in government and subsequent career focus on atomic energy policy.
  • Because of the size of the IMAX 15-perf 70mm film, and the speed at which it's pulled through the camera, it is nearly impossible to record on-set sound with the camera running. This is why most dialogue scenes are shot in the 5-perf 70mm format, rather than full-frame IMAX.
  • The Trinity detonation scene combines practical effects and digital compositing. Multiple explosions were performed practically, with a hybrid of gasoline, propane, aluminum, and magnesium substances involving big miniatures. These were filmed at high speeds from multiple angles and then layered using digital effects to create the iconic mushroom cloud.
    • The test scene also references Richard Feynman's story from the chapter "Los Alamos from Below". Just before the test, Feynman doesn't put sunblock on his face but gets inside a car, saying that the glass will block the ultraviolet rays.
  • Matt Damon was on a break from acting as a promise to his wife, with one condition: it would go on hold if Christopher Nolan called. As luck would have it, Nolan offered Damon the role of Leslie Groves, and the break went on hold.
  • This is currently the sixth collaboration between Cillian Murphy and Christopher Nolan, after Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), and Dunkirk (2017). Murphy has appeared in more Nolan films than any other actor, except Michael Caine, who appeared in seven (or eight if you count his vocal cameo in Dunkirk).
    • Cillian Murphy, already quite slim, had to lose a significant amount of weight to better approximate the real J. Robert Oppenheimer's appearance. He also trained in horse riding to look more comfortable in the saddle while galloping.
      • Cillian Murphy lost 28 pounds by sticking to a strict diet and abstaining from alcohol during filming. Matt Damon joked that by contrast he was eating Mexican food and drinking margaritas while shooting in New Mexico. Murphy also tried to get 10 hours of sleep a night and would retire early with melatonin supplements.
  • The casting of Josh Hartnett marks an interesting full-circle moment as Hartnett was one of the three finalists to play Batman in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (2005), but respectfully declined the role, later going on to say he regretted the decision as he is a huge admirer of Nolan's work as a filmmaker and wished to build a creative relationship with him. The film hit theaters on July 21, 2023, which is Hartnett's birthday.
  • J. David Wargo, who studied physics at MIT, optioned the rights to American Prometheus in 2015, but the project languished in development hell for years. Wargo met with his old friend James Woods during the pandemic, and Woods set up a meeting with Charles Roven, who in turn passed on the book to Sir Christopher Nolan. Wargo and Woods are credited executive producers. What helped Nolan decide to direct the film was a book of J. Robert Oppenheimer's speeches given to him by Robert Pattinson at the wrap party of his 11th film, which was also his previous film, Tenet.
    • After said film had finished filming, Robert Pattinson, who stars in the film as Neil, gave Christopher Nolan a book containing Oppenheimer's speeches as a wrapped gift.
  • Early in the film when Oppenheimer is introduced, someone asks what the "J" stands for. Before he can respond, James D'Arcy's character Patrick Blackett snaps "Nothing" in reply and the question is never answered in the film. The "J" stands for "Julius". According to "American Prometheus," the book on which the movie was based, J. Robert Oppenheimer was named after his father Julius, but always insisted that the "J" stood for nothing. Coincidentally, Harry S. Truman's middle name is simply S - it stands for nothing.
  • Several scenes were shot on location at Princeton. Tom Conti found it "really very funny" to walk through Princeton and have people react to him dressed as Albert Einstein.
  • In a 2023 interview with HugoDecrypte, Christopher Nolan spoke about his specific decision to not use computer-generated imagery to depict the Trinity test and his view on the use of AI in film: "It's an artistic choice because I feel that computer graphics, incredibly sophisticated and versatile that they are, and extraordinary work has been done with them, they tend to feel a little 'safe' to me. They tend to play more in the world of animation and so it's difficult to get 'threat' from them, particularly in a film where the rest of the tone is very realistic, very textured. I think any tool, whether AI-generated, whether it's computer based or whatever, it's all another tool for filmmakers to create with. So as long as we have faith in our human beings creating these tools... the medium of film will continue to develop in exciting ways."
  • Martin Sherwin had been diagnosed with cancer as discussions between Kai Bird and Christopher Nolan took place to develop a movie about Oppenheimer based on Bird's and Sherwin's book "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer", according to an article in The New York Times on July 7, 2023. Sherwin was too sick to attend the negotiations and later died from cancer during the filming of the movie.
    • Also according to the said article in The New York Times on July 7, 2023, about the movie, Kai Bird visited the set in Los Alamos. Upon arrival, he was stunned at Cillian Murphy's resemblance to J. Robert Oppenheimer, and the two had the following exchange, "Dr. Oppenheimer! I've been waiting decades to meet you!" Bird said. Murphy just laughed. "We've all been reading your book," the actor told him. "It's mandatory reading around here."
  • Christopher Nolan insisted on immersion while shooting this film. He required the cast to rehearse in full costume and that they be properly dressed before coming on set. Any actor caught wearing modern clothing would be given a long, hard stare until they changed. This was done out of the belief that it could keep the cast ready to shoot at a moment's notice and prevent delays.
  • Oppenheimer says the mathematics for his quantum theory and connection to "dark stars" (black holes) may be validated by an astronomer, following his work. Astrophysicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking who was an infant during the Blitz, went on to do just that. Hawking's research and theoretical data became the basis for Christopher Nolan's Interstellar (2014).
  • Production designer Ruth De Jong said Christopher Nolan cut 30 days of filming to reallocate funds to the production design, "It felt like a $100 million indie. This is not Tenet (2020). Chris wanted to shoot all over the United States... just plane tickets alone and putting crew up all over the place is expensive. Not to mention I have to build Los Alamos, it doesn't exist. That's where I really felt like it was impossible. Chris said, 'Forget the money. Let's just design what we want.' So that's what we did, and when construction first budgeted my town it was $20 million. Chris was like, 'Yeah, no. Stop.' We had this huge white model and I started pulling buildings out of it, not to mention we want to shoot in New York and New Jersey and Berkley and Los Angeles and New Mexico... The producers were asking what I could do on my end to shrink the budget. Executive producer Thomas Hayslip then comes into my office and says, 'Chris is going to shoot this in 55 days.' That is a lot of money we get back! At that point you feel like I have to deliver above and beyond because he just went and gave up his days. He, more than anyone, knows what he wants to get in every single day and how he wants to get it and he goes from 85 to 55 days."
  • The AEC hearing room 2022 scenes were filmed in an existing office room with four walls and no air conditioning. Christopher Nolan wanted the claustrophobia of the actors to be genuine, and set a challenge for filming within limited space without being able to move the ceiling or the walls as normally would be done on a studio set. He and the other crew members had to crouch out of camera range or sit on the floor during filming.
  • Part of the filming took place in J. Robert Oppenheimer's original (but restored) cabin in New Mexico according to an article in The New York Times on July 7, 2023, about the movie and the work surrounding the Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin book "American Prometheus" on which the movie is based.
  • Christopher Nolan claimed that one advantage of filming an ensemble cast was that the lives and personalities of the Manhattan Project scientists are well-documented, and each cast member would arrive with an encyclopedic knowledge of their character and their relationship with the team.
  • When Matt Damon read the script first presented to him by Christopher Nolan, he was flabbergasted to see that it was written in the first person, a format he had never seen before. As Christopher Nolan explained to his visual effects supervisor, "We have to find a way into this guy's head. We've gotta see the world the way he sees it, we've gotta see the atoms moving, we've gotta see the way he's imagining waves of energy, the quantum world. And then we have to see how that translates into the Trinity test. And we have to feel the danger, feel the threat of all this somehow.'
  • At the Christmas party, and shortly before the bomb is tested, an individual can be seen playing the bongo drums. This was Richard Feynman, one of the youngest scientists who was working at Los Alamos. His wife was dying of lymphatic tuberculosis at a sanitarium in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and was one of the only individuals routinely given the chance to leave Los Alamos. One of the few private cars available to him was owned by Klaus Fuchs, who often lent it to Feynman.
  • The score that plays after Niels Bohr asks a young Oppenheimer if he can hear the music when discussing his comparison of mathematics and music consisted of 21 separate tempo changes and took 3 days to compose despite clocking in at only 107 seconds. Given its complexity, composer, Ludwig Göransson, wanted to record the score in segments, but with some convincing from his wife Serena McKinney, and a series of specialized recording techniques, the score was recorded in one, continuous take.
  • Physicist Enrico Fermi arrives to watch the Trinity test towards the end. Fermi is famous among other things for the Fermi Paradox, a thought experiment that questions why humans have never observed evidence of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe. One possible reason for this is that any sufficiently intelligent species may inevitably wipe itself out through self-destructive behavior. The creation of nuclear weapons, especially when Edward Teller and other physicists feared the fission bomb they were building might incinerate the planet, was one such "Great Filter" moment in human history.
  • Christopher Nolan cited Olivia Thirlby as one of the actors who were very adept at contributing encyclopedic details about her character, Lilli Hornig, claiming that she helped provide some of the jokes about being a female member of the project, ideas for her hair, and wardrobe, and improvising some of Hornig's speech urging the bomb to not be used on Japan.
    • Cillian Murphy also credited Thirlby with creating the name "Oppenhomies" for the cast's group text, and recommended that she "trademark the shit out of it, because someone else will."
  • This is the second and consecutive collaboration between Christopher Nolan and composer Ludwig Göransson, right after Tenet (2020). Frequent Nolan collaborator Hans Zimmer wasn't available since he was committed with the scores of Dune (2021) and Dune: Part Two (2024) at the time of both Nolan films.
  • Christopher Nolan left a note on Cillian Murphy's copy of the script that said, "Dearest Cillian. Finally, a chance to see you lead... Love, Chris."
  • This is also Robert Downey Jr.'s favorite film of his own. When it premiered at Odeon Luxe Leicester Square in London, he said, "Just going to flat out say it: This is the best film I've ever been in."
    • Speaking of Robert Downey Jr., Christopher Nolan himself was very enthused to work with Robert Downey Jr. on this film, as he considered his portrayal of Tony Stark/Iron Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be "one of the greatest casting decisions in the history of movies". Nolan further expressed excitement that he got to help Downey play against type by casting him as a real person rather than the movie star personas he's known for being.
      • Robert Downey Jr. even claimed that due to the copious amount of dialogue, he made a point to immediately memorize all of his lines for the entire role before filming.
  • Denis Villeneuve (the director of both Dune and Dune: Part Two) said of this film, "Where Oppenheimer is right now has blown the roof off of my projection. It's a three-hour movie about people talking about nuclear physics... There's this notion that movies, in some people's minds, became content instead of an art form. I hate that word, content. That movies like Oppenheimer are released on the big screen and become an event brings back a spotlight on the idea that it's a tremendous art form that needs to be experienced in theaters."
  • This is currently the largest movie-related page on this wiki overall (second if you count The American film & entertainment industry), as well as being the 6th largest page on this wiki overall (which also makes it one of the top 10 largest pages on this wiki overall too), with 85,451 bytes as of the current revision.
    • This is also the largest page for an R-rated movie on this wiki, as well as the largest page for a Christopher Nolan movie.
      • Coincidentally, this is also the largest page for a movie released in 2023, surpassing The Super Mario Bros. Movie. What's also interesting is that both are currently part of the top 3 highest grossing films of 2023 worldwide (albeit still behind Barbie in terms of the worldwide box office), along with both movies being distributed by Universal Pictures.

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