Billed as an epic thriller about “the man who changed the world”, this $100m (£80m) drama was certainly more adult-oriented than most of what’s on offer this summer blockbuster season.
Shot on IMAX cameras both in colour and black-and-white, the film charted its title character’s contributions to the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb.
Where there’s usually a veil of secrecy around the plots of Nolan’s films, Oppenheimer was the first biopic he’s made, so we knew a fair bit of what the film was about.
So, with that very mild spoiler warning in mind, here’s everything you need to know about Oppenheimer.
How to watch Oppenheimer
The film was originally released in cinemas worldwide on Friday, 21 July. After Nolan’s falling out with Warner Bros over the day-and-date release strategy for its 2021 film slate on HBO Max, Universal Pictures is financing and distributing the film.
Amusingly, Nolan’s old muckers at Warner counter-programmed Greta Gerwig’s Barbie opposite it on the same day and in doing so, helped break records via the 'Barbenheimer' viral craze of seeing both movies back-to-back.
The fallout to Oppenheimer has been resoundingly positive.
Our own write-up praised Murphy's performance, calling it a "career best" in a war drama that was labelled "masterful." The Independent commented on Nolan's depiction of this harrowing real-life tale, explaining that he delivers it with a "sickly wonder" while the Evening Standard also noted how the filmmaker tackles Oppenheimer's post-bomb remorse.
The film currently holds a 93% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes. Read a review round-up below...
Yahoo Movies UK: Cillian Murphy gives a career-best performance in masterful war drama (4-min read)
The Independent: Clever, imaginative and Christopher Nolan at his best (4-min read)
Evening Standard: Christopher Nolan’s dark, immersive epic gives Cillian Murphy the role of his career (3-min read)
The Telegraph: A film that dazzles on the most intimate and cosmic scales (4-min read)
Total Film: "Christopher Nolan firing on all cylinders" (2-min read)
Cillian Murphy plays the title character, theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. This marks his sixth film collaboration with Nolan after the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Dunkirk, but the first time he’s been in the leading role. And not for lack of trying.
“I have always said publicly and privately, to Chris [Nolan], that if I’m available and you want me to be in a movie, I’m there. I don’t really care about the size of the part,” Murphy told AP in 2023. “But deep down, secretly, I was desperate to play a lead for him.”
“You realise this is a huge responsibility. He was complicated and contradictory and so iconic,” Murphy said of Oppenheimer, the man. “But you know you’re with one of the great directors of all time. I felt confident going into it with Chris. He’s had a profound impact on my life, creatively and professionally. He’s offered me very interesting roles and I’ve found all of them really challenging. And I just love being on his sets.”
Additionally, Nolan’s Interstellar surprise guest-star Matt Damon plays a major role as Lt. General Leslie Groves, the engineering officer who directed the Manhattan Project.
Other returning Nolan collaborators include Sir Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Matthew Modine, David Dastmalchian, and Casey Affleck. Another Dark Knight alum, Gary Oldman, has a cameo role as US President Harry S. Truman.
Working with Nolan for the first time, Emily Blunt plays activist and scientist Kitty Oppenheimer; Robert Downey Jr plays Lewis Strauss, Oppenheimer’s opponent in the debate about developing the hydrogen bomb; and Florence Pugh plays Jean Tatlock, an old flame of Oppenheimer’s and a member of the American Communist Party.
Rounding out the star-studded cast (among others!) are Rami Malek, Benny Safdie, Olivia Thirlby, Michael Angarano, and Josh Hartnett.
And that’s not all – there’s also Jason Clarke, Alex Wolff, Tony Goldwyn, Jack Quaid, Emma Dumont, and Dane DeHaan.
We could go on all day listing even more names, but suffice to say, it’s a suitably epic ensemble.
Per Universal’s official synopsis, Oppenheimer is “an epic thriller that thrusts audiences into the pulse-pounding paradox of the enigmatic man who must risk destroying the world in order to save it”.
Often credited as “the father of the atomic bomb”, Oppenheimer was a theoretical physicist whose involvement in the war effort began with his appointment to the Office of Scientific Research and Development, (OSRD) whose role was to explore the weapons potential of uranium.
The screenplay was adapted from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which was published in 2005. The biography spans from his early career to the beginnings of the Cold War and his life after the Second World War.
Talking about the film at Cinemacon in 2023, Nolan said: “I know of no more dramatic tale with higher stakes. Like it or not, J. Robert Oppenheimer is the most important person who ever lived. He made the world that we live in for better or for worse. His story has to be seen to be believed.”
When command of the OSRD was handed over to the military in 1942, Groves selected Oppenheimer to head the top-secret Manhattan Project in a purpose-built laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico.
The joint efforts of Oppenheimer and the scientists at Los Alamos eventually resulted in the world’s first nuclear explosion, the Trinity nuclear test, in July 1945. The famously CG-averse Nolan recently revealed that the film recreates this event using real explosives, which should make most of us happy that he didn’t film anywhere near us.
The film also covers some of Oppenheimer’s life after the war, including subsequent accusations of disloyalty to the United States and a pivotal security hearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954.
Universal launched the official teaser for Oppenheimer on 28 July, 2022 — nearly a full year before its release — via a dynamic, livestreamed teaser that counts the hours, days, and months to the anniversary of the Trinity test with every viewing.
The first full trailer was released in December 2022 after it appeared in front of Avatar: The Way of Water, another film with strong links to the IMAX format. Watch it below.
A third, more revealing, trailer was released in May 2023 which gave a more straightforward look at the plot of the film.
Oppenheimer is now available to watch at home via digital download, 4K, Blu Ray and DVD from Wednesday, 22 November.