Everything We Know About Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan has worked with Cillian Murphy five times (in "Dunkirk," "Inception," and all three films in "The Dark Knight" trilogy), and he name-dropped J. Robert Oppenheimer, the real-life father of the atomic bomb, in his last movie," "Tenet." For his next summer blockbuster, Nolan has chosen Oppenheimer as the subject, and he's teaming with Murphy for a sixth time.

In this case, however, the actor is taking on a starring role for the very first time in his collaborations with Nolan. "Oppenheimer" will give Murphy a chance to flex his acting muscles as the lead, as we've seen him do on television in "Peaky Blinders" and in other movies like "28 Days Later" and "Sunshine." Yet he's not the only big name in the film's cast, nor is its star-powered ensemble the only reason to be excited about "Oppenheimer."

Since he prefers practical effects, Nolan crashed a real Boeing 747 for "Tenet," and true to form with "Oppenheimer," he's already brought footage to CinemaCon 2023 of nuclear bomb testing, recreated without CGI. Here's everything we know about "Oppenheimer" so far.

When and where to watch Oppenheimer

"Oppenheimer" will be in theaters on Friday, July 21, 2023. It's opening the same day as the Margot Robbie-led "Barbie," which will test Christopher Nolan's clout as a brand-name filmmaker as he goes head-to-head with a movie based on an actual toy brand. However, while there's been some speculation that "Oppenheimer" might back off to avoid competing with "Barbie," reports of its release date being delayed have been greatly exaggerated.

Nolan is a huge proponent of the theatrical experience — for this film, he famously parted ways with his longtime studio, Warner Bros., after it opted to give all of its theatrical releases in 2021 a simultaneous release on HBO Max. According to The Hollywood Reporter, before Nolan landed at Universal Pictures with "Oppenheimer," one of his stipulations was that the movie receive an exclusive theatrical window of around 100 days.

Unless something changes, this means "Oppenheimer" will be hanging around the multiplex for about three months before it heads to streaming or becomes available on digital platforms. If you want to see the movie sooner rather than later, your best bet is going to be the big screen.

What we know about the plot of Oppenheimer

"Oppenheimer" is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer" by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, the latter of whom passed away the same week that the movie's title and release date were announced. The book's title refers to the Greek myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods.

The month after the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — prompting the Japanese government's unconditional surrender near the end of World War II — an issue of The Scientific Monthly magazine referenced this same myth with the quote: "Modern Prometheans have raided Mount Olympus again and have brought back for man the very thunderbolts of Zeus." Here, the "thunderbolts of Zeus," that godlike power, serve as a metaphor for the bomb's destructive ability to kill hundreds of thousands of people.

Given that Oppenheimer was a real person, the physicist who headed up the Los Alamos research laboratory for the Manhattan Project (which produced the first nuclear weapons), it would be reasonable to assume that "Oppenheimer" is going to be a simple biopic about him. However, "simple" and "Nolan" aren't two words that go together.

Instead, Universal is positioning "Oppenheimer" as "an IMAX-shot epic thriller." In a cool first for IMAX, parts of the movie have been filmed in black and white. The aforementioned CinemaCon footage indicated that these parts constitute the movie's present timeline, with color being used for flashbacks. This brings Christopher Nolan back to his "Memento" roots and dovetails with his idea that the "Oppenheimer" story is being "very subjectively [told], but also with a more objective story strand that intertwines with that."

What we know about the Oppenheimer cast and crew

"Oppenheimer" is written and directed by Christopher Nolan, and he's producing it with his longtime partners Emma Thomas and Charles Roven. The film reunites Nolan with Hoyte van Hoytema and Ludwig Göransson, his cinematographer and composer for "Tenet."

Besides Cillian Murphy in the central Oppenheimer role, Emily Blunt costars as his wife, biologist, and botanist Katherine "Kitty" Puening. Also top-lining the cast is Nolan's old "Interstellar" collaborator, Matt Damon, who plays Manhattan Project director, General Leslie Groves Jr.

Another major casting coup Nolan scored for "Oppenheimer" is Robert Downey Jr., who plays Lewis Strauss, the founding commissioner of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The film will be Downey's first since his pre-pandemic flop, "Dolittle," which, in turn, was the first movie he made after retiring from the Marvel Cinematic Universe in "Avengers: Endgame." Nolan has heaped praise on Downey Jr. already, saying "Oppenheimer" serves as a reminder that he's more than just a movie star, but "one of the greatest actors of all time."

Other talents Nolan has nabbed include Florence Pugh, who plays psychiatrist Jean Tatlock; Benny Safdie, who plays theoretical physicist Edward Teller; and Josh Hartnett, who plays pioneering American nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence, per Universal. In addition, the film reteams Nolan with David Dastmalchian ("The Dark Knight"), Matthew Modine ("The Dark Knight Rises"), and Sir Kenneth Branagh and James D'Arcy (both "Dunkirk.")

Another frequent Nolan collaborator, Gary Oldman, told Deadline that he appears in "Oppenheimer" in a single scene. That's just the tip of the iceberg for the supporting players, as "Oppenheimer" also features such familiar faces and names as Michael Angarano, Dylan Arnold, Jason Clarke, Dane DeHaan, Alden Ehrenreich, Tony Goldwyn, Scott Grimes, David Krumholtz, Rami Malek, Jack Quaid, Matthias Schweighöfer, Gustaf Skarsgård, and Alex Wolff.

Oppenheimer trailer and synopsis

Any big tentpole film with Christopher Nolan's name on it is going to be a can't-miss, but when you add in Robert Downey Jr. and all the other fine actors above, "Oppenheimer" might make a case for itself as the most stacked cast Nolan has ever worked with in his career. Despite all the names listed, though, the first trailer for "Oppenheimer" (see the live countdown teaser here) put Cillian Murphy front and center, making it clear that this is his movie, first and foremost.

The second trailer, which you can see above, brought in more of the ensemble cast and set the stage for the film. Though the trailer doesn't include the famous words once quoted by Oppenheimer — "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds," from the Hindu religious text, the Bhagavad Gita — they are alluded to in the official "Oppenheimer" synopsis. Via Universal Pictures:

Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer is an IMAX-shot 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.