Oppenheimer: Everything we know about the atomic bomb creator's epic new biopic

A promotional image for the Oppenheimer movie. Cillian Murphy (playing J. Robert Oppenheimer) stands in front of an explosion.
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

This summer, renowned filmmaker Christopher Nolan returns to the big screen with "Oppenheimer," his second movie based on real wartime events — the first was "Dunkirk" (2017). This time around, however, he's not taking us to the frontlines of World War II, but instead dealing with the complicated process behind the creation of the first nuclear weapons.

The biopic follows the "father of the atomic bomb," J. Robert Oppenheimer. It's being marketed as a cautionary tale of sorts and may be a good reminder of the astounding destructive power of nuclear weapons

Who was J. Robert Oppenheimer?

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Julius Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist. During World War II, he became the first director of the Los Alamos Laboratory — established by the Manhattan Project — and led the team that created the atomic bomb. He was among those who observed the Trinity test in New Mexico on July 16, 1945, when the first atomic bomb successfully detonated.

Oppenheimer later became the chairman of the U.S. government's General Atomic Commission and leading advisor on the future of nuclear weapons, according to the Department of Energy's Los Alamos National Laboratory. He advised against the accelerated development of the hydrogen bomb — a weapon that's even more powerful than the atomic bomb

In 1954, the U.S. government's Atomic Energy Commission revoked Oppenheimer's security clearance with accusations surrounding his loyalty and associations with communist sympathizers. However, in 2022, five decades after his death, the U.S. formally nullified that decision and affirmed Oppenheimer's loyalty, The New York Times reported. 

What was the Manhattan Project?

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The Manhattan Project was established in World War II with the objective of producing the first nuclear weapons before Nazi Germany did. While the project was spread across several different locations, the name "Manhattan Project" stuck after an early component of the work began at the U.S. Army's Manhattan District.

The project led to the detonation of an implosion-type bomb during the Trinity test, conducted at New Mexico's Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range on July 16, 1945. A month later, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These are still the only times nuclear weapons have been used in war.  

Oppenheimer release date

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"Oppenheimer" is scheduled to be released  on July 21, 2023, in IMAX 70 mm, vertical 70 mm, and 35 mm.

Christopher Nolan's Syncopy Inc. co-produced the movie alongside Atlas Entertainment and Universal Pictures. Unless plans change, the film will hit movie theaters on the same day as Greta Gerwig's "Barbie" — from Warner Bros. Pictures.

What is the plot of Oppenheimer?

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The movie follows the life and biggest achievements of J. Robert Oppenheimer, putting the main focus on the creation of the atomic bomb and his pivotal role in spearheading the Manhattan Project.

Rumours suggest that the movie will also deal with his personal life during those events and his connections to civilians linked to the Communist Party. Other crucial figures in the development of nuclear weapons for the U.S., such as Lewis Lichtenstein Strauss, are also expected to heavily feature.

Oppenheimer trailers

Universal Pictures released an online trailer for "Oppenheimer" on Dec. 19, 2022, which amps up the wonder behind the scientific breakthrough. A second, more ominous trailer played exclusively in front of IMAX screenings of "Avatar: The Way of Water." 

We got a longer, more detailed trailer on May 8. This three-minute long trailer gives us a better look at the cast and storyline, starting with the race against the Nazis to build the bomb, before hinting at the ramifications of success.

Oppenheimer cast

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"Oppenheimer" may have one of the most star-studded casts in recent memory. Actors have been lining up to work with Christopher Nolan for years, but the prospect of making a biopic that could earn numerous awards made this project even more attractive for Hollywood's finest.

The cast is led by Cillian Murphy (J. Robert Oppenheimer), Emily Blunt (Katherine "Kitty" Oppenheimer), Matt Damon (Leslie Groves), Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss), Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock), and Rami Malek in an unknown role.

The supporting cast includes Benny Safdie, Josh Hartnett, Kenneth Branagh, Dane DeHaan, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Modine, Jack Quaid, David Dastmalchian, Jason Clarke, Josh Peck, James D'Arcy, Gary Oldman, Olivia Thirlby, and Casey Affleck, among others.

Oppenheimer director, writer, and crew

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Christopher Nolan wrote and directed "Oppenheimer." The script is based on "American Prometheus," (Knopf, 2005), a biography of the real-life Oppenheimer, by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

Nolan produced the film alongside longtime partners Emma Thomas and Charles Roven. He also reteamed with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema ("Interstellar," "Tenet"), editor Jennifer Lame ("Tenet"), and composer Ludwig Göransson ("Tenet") to cook up the movie's audiovisual feel.

Fran Ruiz is an entertainment freelancer and massive dinosaur nerd. He has a BA of English Studies, focusing on English Literature, from the University of Malaga, in Spain, as well as a Master's Degree in English Studies, Multilingual and Intercultural Communication. On top of writing features and other longform articles for  Live Science & Space.com since 2021, he is a frequent collaborator of VG247 and other gaming sites. He also serves as associate editor over at Star Wars News Net and its sister site, Movie News Net.