Every few years, Christopher Nolan descends from the Mount Olympus of directors to deliver another must-see movie. His consistency rivals any living or legendary filmmaker. As a writer, director, and producer, he’s one of the most successful auteurs working in cinema, and he’s making blockbusters that match the scale of Spielberg’s or Kubrick’s classics. The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, Memento: his body of work is a checkerboard of originality and adaptation.
Nolan recently announced that his 12th film will be a change of pace for his filmography; the director is writing and producing a biopic concerning the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer. For more about who that is, what the movie might be about, and the cast—so far—check out our breakdown of everything we know about Oppenheimer.
What Is Oppenheimer About?
Oppenheimer is an adaptation of the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Martin Sherwin and Kai Bird. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book is being adapted into a movie described as, “An IMAX-shot epic thriller that thrusts the audience into the pulse-pounding paradox of the enigmatic man who must risk destroying the world in order to save it.”
Oppenheimer was a scientist most famous for leading The Manhattan Project—the team that developed the atomic bomb for the United States of America in World War II. He later served as chairman of the United States Atomic Energy Commission where he worked to slow the developing nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union.
In 1954, Oppenheimer was branded a communist for his affiliation with multiple groups. He was relieved of service from the federal government and would continue his contributions to science as a teacher and groundbreaking theoretical physicist during his exile. He received three Nobel Prize nominations in physics from 1946 to 1967, though he never won one before his death in 1967.
Who Plays Who in the Oppenheimer Cast?
Frequent Christopher Nolan accomplice Cillian Murphy (Peaky Blinders) is set to star as J. Robert Oppenheimer himself. Cillian collaborated with Nolan previously in The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception, and most recently, Dunkirk.
Emily Blunt (A Quiet Place) reteams with Murphy, her co-star from A Quiet Place II, as Katherine Oppenheimer. Katherine was an activist and scientist, and one of many links between Oppenheimer and the communist ideology.
Deadline reported that Matt Damon joined the cast as Lieutenant General Leslie Groves. Groves was the military director on the Manhattan Project, and he also oversaw the construction of the pentagon.
In the same report, it was announced that Robert Downey Jr. joined the film as Lewis Strauss. Strauss and Oppenheimer found themselves on opposing sides of the debate about the development of the hydrogen bomb in the late 1940. Like Oppenheimer, Strauss would go on to serve as chairman for the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
Florence Pugh (Black Widow) is set to star as Jean Tatlock, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Tatlock was one of several points of connection between Oppenheimer and communism, and the two were locked in an affair that would spark off and on for years.
The Hollywood Reporter also announced the addition of Academy Award winner Rami Malek as a scientist, and director and actor Benny Safdie (Goodtime) as Edward Teller—a Hungarian physicist who helped create the first hydrogen bomb.
Additional cast includes Josh Hartnett (Penny Dreadful) in an as of yet undisclosed role. Nolan is joined by his working partner and wife Emma Thomas as a producer. He’s also reteaming with the Tenet composer, Ludwig Goransson, and the Tenet editor, Jennifer Lame.
When is Oppenheimer set to be released?
Swiftly after Universal Studios announced its deal as the new distributor for the director’s films, they announced his new movie is set to be released on July 21, 2023. Oppenheimer will be exclusively in theaters, and it’ll be available in the standard digital cinema projection as well as in IMAX, 70mm, and 35mm formats.
Nolan is also one of the most vocal proponents of celluloid film and the silver-screen experience. In March 2020, he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post about the magic of movies and movie theaters. In the documentary Side By Side, which dissects the differences between celluloid film and digital cameras, his comments reveal him as a film purist. His commitment bleeds into the distribution of his pictures where he ensures a limited authentic film release—ala Quentin Tarantino. Even when almost literally every other film was pulled from release in 2020, Nolan and Warner were insistent on Tenet’s summer release. While it didn’t save cinema when Warner Bros forced its release amid the coronavirus pandemic in August 2020, it was another heady and action-packed picture by the Englishman. It was his lowest-grossing feature since The Prestige.
After Warner Brothers announced plans to give their films same-day streaming service debuts on HBOMax, Nolan, along with other creators and the movie theater companies themselves, was more than displeased. He ripped the decision and the service calling HBOMax, “the worst streaming service.” In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, he said, “…they didn’t tell anyone. In 2021, they’ve got some of the top filmmakers in the world, they’ve got some of the biggest stars in the world who worked for years, in some cases, on these projects very close to their hearts that are meant to be big-screen experiences. They’re meant to be out there for the widest possible audiences…and now they’re being used as a loss-leader for the streaming service–for a fledgling streaming service—without any consultation. So, there’s a lot of controversy. It’s very, very, very, very, messy. A real bait and switch.”
The director separated as a working partner with Warner shortly thereafter and assuredly became the hottest free agent on the market. Even Netflix tried their best to court the streaming service naysayer, their film chief Scott Stuber stating, “He’s an incredible filmmaker. I’m going to do everything I can.” But Nolan aligned with Universal for the release of his newest picture. The studio allegedly won favor by promising a six-week blackout surrounding the film’s release date where no other Universal properties are to be released, as well as by promising a 100-day exclusive theatrical release.
“Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas’ films have shattered the limits of what cinematic storytelling can achieve,” said Donna Langley, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman, in a statement. “We are thrilled to be working alongside them on this exceptional and extraordinary project and are grateful for their shared passion and commitment to the theatrical experience.”
Keep checking back at Collider for everything Oppenheimer as news trickles out about Christopher Nolan’s newest picture. And catch it exclusively on the big screen on July 21, 2023.