About Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer Film

Oppenheimer (/ˈɒpənhmər/ OP-ən-hy-mər) is a 2023 epic biographical thriller film written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It stars Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the American theoretical physicist credited with being the “father of the atomic bomb” for his role in the Manhattan Project—the World War II undertaking that developed the first nuclear weapons. Based on the 2005 biography American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, the film chronicles the career of Oppenheimer, with the story predominantly focusing on his studies, his direction of the Manhattan Project during World War II, and his eventual fall from grace due to his 1954 security hearing. The film also stars Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife “Kitty”, Matt Damon as head of the Manhattan Project Leslie Groves, Robert Downey Jr. as United States Atomic Energy Commission member Lewis Strauss, and Florence Pugh as Oppenheimer’s communist lover Jean Tatlock. The ensemble supporting cast includes Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, and Kenneth Branagh.

The film was announced in September 2021 after Universal Pictures won a bidding war for Nolan’s screenplay, following Nolan’s conflict with longtime distributor Warner Bros. Murphy was the first cast member to sign on the following month, with the rest of the cast joining between November 2021 and April 2022. Pre-production was under way by January 2022, and filming took place from February to May. Oppenheimer was filmed in 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. Like his previous works, Nolan made extensive use of practical effects, with minimal computer-generated imagery used to perfect the former. Editing was handled by Jennifer Lame, and the score was composed by Ludwig Göransson. The film is Nolan’s fourth to receive an R-rating in the United States, preceded by Following (1998), Memento (2000) and Insomnia (2002).

Oppenheimer premiered at Le Grand Rex in Paris on July 11, 2023, and was theatrically released in the United States and the United Kingdom on July 21 by Universal. Its simultaneous release with Warner Bros.’s Barbie led to the Barbenheimer cultural phenomenon, which encouraged audiences to see both films as a double feature. The film grossed over $955 million worldwide, becoming the third-highest-grossing film of 2023, the highest-grossing World War II-related film, the highest-grossing biographical film, and the second-highest-grossing R-rated film. It received critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including nominations for eight Golden Globe Awards, and was named one of the top-ten films of 2023 by the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute.

Oppenheimer Film


In 1926, 22-year-old doctoral student J. Robert Oppenheimer grapples with anxiety and homesickness while studying under experimental physicist Patrick Blackett at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. Upset with the demanding Blackett, Oppenheimer leaves him a poisoned apple but later retrieves it. Visiting scientist Niels Bohr recommends that Oppenheimer instead study theoretical physics at Göttingen.

He completes his PhD there and meets fellow scientist Isidor Isaac Rabi. They later meet theoretical physicist Werner Heisenberg in Switzerland. Wanting to expand quantum physics research in the United States, 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 Party USA member who later dies in an apparent suicide.

In December 1938, nuclear fission is discovered, which Oppenheimer realizes could be weaponized. In 1942, during World War II, U.S. Army Colonel Leslie Groves recruits Oppenheimer to lead the Manhattan Project to develop an atomic bomb. Oppenheimer, who is Jewish, is particularly driven by the concern that the German nuclear research program, led by Heisenberg, might yield a fission bomb for the Nazis.

He assembles a scientific team that includes Rabi, Hans Bethe and Edward Teller in Los Alamos, New Mexico, and also collaborates with scientists Enrico Fermi, Leo Szilard and David L. Hill at the University of Chicago. Teller’s calculations reveal an atomic detonation could possibly trigger a catastrophic chain reaction that would ignite the atmosphere and destroy the world. After consulting with Albert Einstein, Oppenheimer concludes the chances are acceptably low. Teller’s proposal to construct a hydrogen bomb is swiftly rejected. He attempts to leave the project, though Oppenheimer convinces him to stay.

Following Adolf Hitler’s death in 1945, some Project scientists question the bomb’s relevance, while Oppenheimer believes it will end the ongoing war in the Pacific and save Allied lives. The Trinity test is successful, and President Harry S. Truman orders the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing Japan’s surrender. Though publicly praised, Oppenheimer is haunted by the mass destruction and fatalities, but Truman agrees to take responsibility of the bombings. Oppenheimer urges restricting further nuclear weapons development, which Truman curtly dismisses.

As an advisor to the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Oppenheimer’s stance generates controversy, while Teller’s hydrogen bomb receives renewed interest amidst the burgeoning Cold War. AEC Chairman Lewis Strauss resents Oppenheimer for having publicly humiliated him by dismissing his concerns about exporting radioisotopes, and for recommending negotiations with the Soviet Union after they successfully detonated their own bomb. He 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 hearing before a Personnel Security Board concerning Oppenheimer’s Q clearance. However, it becomes clear that the hearing has a predetermined outcome. Oppenheimer’s past communist ties are exploited, and Groves’ and other associates’ testimony is twisted against him.

Teller testifies that he lacks confidence in Oppenheimer and recommends revocation. The board revokes Oppenheimer’s clearance, damaging his public image and limiting his influence on nuclear policy. In 1959, during Strauss’ Senate confirmation hearing for Secretary of Commerce, Hill testifies about Strauss’ personal motives in engineering Oppenheimer’s downfall, resulting in the Senate voting against his nomination.

In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson presents 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. Oppenheimer instead expressed his somber belief that they had indeed started a chain reaction that would destroy the world.


  • Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, a theoretical physicist and director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
  • Emily Blunt as Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, Robert Oppenheimer’s wife and a former Communist Party USA member.
  • Matt Damon as Gen. Leslie Groves, a United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) officer and director of the Manhattan Project.
  • Robert Downey Jr. as Rear Admiral Lewis Strauss, a retired Naval officer and high-ranking member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC).
  • Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, a psychiatrist, Communist Party USA member, and Robert Oppenheimer’s romantic interest.
  • Josh Hartnett as Ernest Lawrence, a Nobel-winning nuclear physicist who worked with Oppenheimer at the University of California, Berkeley.
  • Casey Affleck as Boris Pash, a U.S. Army military intelligence officer and commander of the Alsos Mission.
  • Rami Malek as David L. Hill, a nuclear physicist at the Met Lab, who helped to create the Chicago Pile.
  • Kenneth Branagh as Niels Bohr, a Nobel-winning physicist, philosopher and Oppenheimer’s personal idol.
  • Benny Safdie as Edward Teller, a Hungarian theoretical physicist known for being the “father of the hydrogen bomb”.
  • Jason Clarke as Roger Robb, an attorney and future U.S. circuit judge who served as special counsel to the AEC at Oppenheimer’s security hearing.
  • Dylan Arnold as Frank Oppenheimer, Robert’s younger brother and a particle physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project.
  • Tom Conti as Albert Einstein, Nobel-winning German theoretical physicist known for developing the theory of relativity.
  • James D’Arcy as Patrick Blackett, Oppenheimer’s college professor and Nobel-winning physicist at Cambridge University.
  • David Dastmalchian as William L. Borden, a lawyer and executive director of the JCAE.
  • Dane DeHaan as Maj Gen. Kenneth Nichols, a U.S. Army officer and the deputy district engineer of the Manhattan Project.
  • Alden Ehrenreich as a Senate aide to Lewis Strauss, a fictional character who is an aide during Strauss’s nomination for United States Secretary of Commerce.
  • Tony Goldwyn as Gordon Gray, a government official and chairman of the committee deciding the revoking of Oppenheimer security clearance.
  • Jefferson Hall as Haakon Chevalier, a Berkeley professor who became friends with Oppenheimer at university.
  • David Krumholtz as Isidor Isaac Rabi, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who worked as a consultant on the Manhattan Project.
  • Matthew Modine as Vannevar Bush, head of the Office of Scientific Research and Development.
  • Scott Grimes as Counsel to Lewis Strauss
  • Kurt Koehler as Thomas A. Morgan, an industrialist and former chairman of the board of the Sperry Corporation who was one of the panel members at Oppenheimer’s security clearance hearing.
  • John Gowans as Ward V. Evans, a chemist and academic who served as one of the panel members at Oppenheimer’s security clearance hearing.
  • Macon Blair as Lloyd K. Garrison, a lawyer who helped to represent Oppenheimer at his security clearance hearing.
  • Gregory Jbara as Sen. Warren Magnuson, Chairman of Senate Commerce Committee.
  • Harry Groener as Sen. Gale W. McGee
  • Tim DeKay as Sen. John Pastore
  • Matthias Schweighöfer as Werner Heisenberg, a German Nobel Prize-winning physicist who worked in the country’s nuclear weapons program during World War II.
  • Alex Wolff as Luis Walter Alvarez, a Nobel-winning physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project.
  • Josh Zuckerman as Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz, a physicist who became Oppenheimer’s protégé at Berkeley.
  • Rory Keane as Hartland Snyder, a physicist, who collaborated with Oppenheimer to calculate the gravitational collapse of a dust particle sphere.
  • Michael Angarano as Robert Serber, a physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project.
  • Emma Dumont as Jackie Oppenheimer, Frank’s wife and Robert’s sister-in-law.
  • Guy Burnet as George C. Eltenton, a chemical engineer in the U.S. with ties to the Soviet Union.
  • Louise Lombard as Ruth Tolman, a psychologist close to Oppenheimer during the development of the atomic bomb.
  • Tom Jenkins as Richard C. Tolman, Ruth’s husband and General Groves’ chief scientific adviser on the Manhattan Project.
  • Olli Haaskivi as Edward Condon, a nuclear physicist who helped with the development of radar and briefly took part in the Manhattan Project.
  • David Rysdahl as Donald Hornig, a chemist who worked on the firing unit at Los Alamos.
  • Josh Peck as Kenneth Bainbridge, a physicist who was the director of the Manhattan Project’s Trinity nuclear test.
  • Jack Quaid as Richard Feynman, theoretical physicist who worked in the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos.
  • Gustaf Skarsgård as Hans Bethe, a German-American Nobel-winning theoretical physicist and the head of the Theoretical Division at Los Alamos.
  • James Urbaniak as Kurt Gödel, a mathematician known for his theorems that revolutionized mathematics and had far-reaching implications for philosophy and computer science.
  • Trond Fausa as George Kistiakowsky, a Harvard professor who took part in the Manhattan Project.
  • Devon Bostick as Seth Neddermeyer, a physicist who discovered the muon and advocated for the implosion-type nuclear weapon used in the Trinity Test.
  • Danny Deferrari as Enrico Fermi, an Italian Nobel-winning physicist and creator of the Chicago Pile.
  • Christopher Denham as Klaus Fuchs, a German-born physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project and spied for the Soviet Union.
  • Jessica Erin Martin as Charlotte Serber, head technical librarian at Los Alamos.
  • Ronald Auguste as J. Ernest Wilkins Jr., an African American nuclear scientist, mechanical engineer and mathematician who worked with Oppenheimer on the Manhattan Project.
  • Máté Haumann as Leo Szilard, a Hungarian physicist who conceived the idea of nuclear chain reaction in 1933, and later in July 1945 at the Chicago branch of the Manhattan Project circulated the petition to President Truman against unannounced use of atomic weapons on Japan.
  • Olivia Thirlby as Lilli Hornig, a Czech-American scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project.
  • Jack Cutmore-Scott as Lyall Johnson, a security officer at Berkeley who worked at the Manhattan Project.
  • Harrison Gilbertson as Philip Morrison, a physics professor who worked on the Manhattan Project.
  • James Remar as Henry L. Stimson, Secretary of War under President Truman.
  • Will Roberts as George C. Marshall, a United States general who served as a key figure in the country’s atomic weapons program.
  • Pat Skipper as James F. Byrnes, U.S. Secretary of State.
  • Gary Oldman as Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States who made the decision to drop the two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
  • Hap Lawrence as Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th President of the United States.


Following the 2005 publication of the biography American Prometheus by Bird and Sherwin, director Sam Mendes had been interested in adapting the book into a film. After that project failed to materialize, and the book was optioned by various filmmakers over the fifteen years following, the authors grew pessimistic about seeing their work adapted to the screen. At one point Oliver Stone was offered the opportunity to direct, but turned it down because 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 prior to reading American Prometheus. In 2019, towards the end of production on Nolan’s science-fiction film Tenet (2020), star Robert Pattinson gave the director a book of Oppenheimer’s speeches. According to Nolan, the speeches showed the physicist “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 the studio on each one of his films starting with Insomnia (2002), was outraged with the decision as he was a staunch supporter of traditional film exhibition in movie theaters. 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, the filmmaker had left Warner Bros. and was meeting with other studios to develop his new project. Nolan had previously supported the studio’s decision to give Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) a simultaneous release, stating that he perceived that situation to have 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 set during World War II about Oppenheimer, with Cillian Murphy in negotiations to star. Due to his strained relationship with Warner Bros., Nolan approached multiple studios for the project, including Sony, Universal, Paramount, and Apple. According to insiders, Paramount was ruled out early in the process in relation to the replacement of CEO and chairman Jim Gianopulos with Brian Robbins, an advocate for increased streaming-service releases.

Nolan ended up going to 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. He was unable to “‘crack’ the adaptation”, but they stayed in touch. Langley agreed with Nolan’s strong stance in favor of traditional film exhibition. Therefore, Universal agreed to finance and distribute Oppenheimer, with production set to begin in the first quarter of 2022. The studio 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 a three-week period both before and after the film’s opening in which Universal could not release another new film.


July 21, 2023

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