10 facts about Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer you should know

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The release of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer is near, and it’s one of the most highly anticipated blockbusters of 2023. This sprawling biopic tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer as he and his team of scientists race against the clock to build the atomic bomb that would help the Allied forces win World War II.

Audiences know they will never be the same after watching this, so to help them prepare for this cinematic experience, here’s a list of the top 10 facts about Oppenheimer.

Nolan shot this film with IMAX and Panavision cameras

A glowing corona of light in "Oppenheimer."
Universal Pictures

Nolan and IMAX are a match made in heaven. The director has a long history of filming his movies with IMAX cameras, having used this cinematic technology in his films dating back to The Dark Knight. For this latest passion project, Nolan used both IMAX 65mm and Panavision 65mm cameras, which have some of the best resolutions on Earth. Thus, the IMAX print of the film stretches for about 11 miles and weighs around 600 pounds.

It’s Nolan’s first R-rated film in over 20 years

Florence Pugh in "Oppenheimer."
Universal Pictures

The last R-rated film Nolan directed was on of his least-remembered: 2002’s Insomnia, which starred Al Pacino and Robin Williams. But after two decades of him directing PG-13 films, the Motion Picture Association of America has given Oppenheimer an R rating for “some sexuality, nudity, and language.”

This mature rating can best be attributed to a sex scene between Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh, the latter of whom plays psychiatrist Jean Tatlock, a member of the Communist Party who had an affair with Oppenheimer.

This is Cillian Murphy’s sixth film with Nolan

Shot of Cillian Murphy in "Oppenheimer."
Universal Pictures

Cillian Murphy has a long history of collaborating with Nolan, having starred as the evil Scarecrow in The Dark Knight Trilogy, Robert Fischer in Inception, and the “Shivering Soldier” in Dunkirk.

But with their sixth project together, Murphy finally got the chance to be the leading man. When speaking to Esquire about his prestigious role, he said, “It does feel immense, and it feels terrifying. But if I felt it was easy, I wouldn’t be interested.”

This is the director’s first big-budget movie without Warner Bros.

Close-up of Christopher Nolan.
[Image courtesy of Jaguar PS/Shutterstock]

Following his work on 2000’s Memento, Nolan released all of his movies in collaboration with Warner Bros. Pictures. However, the director had a falling out with the studio after it decided to move its slate of 2021 films to HBO Max (now just Max) on the day of their theatrical releases. Warner Bros. took such an action to attract viewers while the world was still reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented many people from congregating in theaters.

Nevertheless, Nolan told ET that he felt the studio disrespected the cast and crew of those films by changing how said movies would be released without consulting them, forever straining the director’s relationship with Warner Bros.

Some of the cast didn’t know who they were playing

Matt Damon in "Oppenheimer."
Universal Pictures

Oppenheimer has one of the most star-studded casts ever seen in a modern Hollywood film, including Murphy, Iron Man actor Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Matthew Modine, and Jack Quaid, to name only a few.

But according to The Hollywood Reporter, Nolan chose to keep his actors in the dark about who they were playing in the film until the deal was finalized. Given that this is a Christopher Nolan film, pretty much any Hollywood actor would accept a role in it without even asking who they were portraying.

Real explosives were used to film nuclear tests

A man walks through fire and smoke in "Oppenheimer."
Universal Pictures

Many people have joked online that Nolan, given his history of relying on practical effects, would detonate an actual nuclear bomb to make this film.

This obviously didn’t happen, as even Nolan wouldn’t want to cause an environmental disaster for the sake of cinematic realism. But true to his nature, the director swore off CGI and used actual explosives to blow up a miniature town when recreating the Trinity nuclear test.

It is Nolan’s longest film to date

A timer in "Oppenheimer."
Universal Pictures

Moviegoers would want to use the bathroom before watching this one in the theater. Oppenheimer now holds the record for Nolan’s longest-running film, clocking in at 180 minutes (a whopping three hours), which surpasses Interstellar’s 169-minute runtime.

Given the depth and complexity of Oppenheimer’s life and his role in creating the atomic bomb, those three hours were surely necessary to do his story justice on the big screen.

The black-and-white scenes hold great significance

A black and white shot of Oppenheimer and two men in "Oppenheimer."
Universal Pictures

Some audiences will likely wonder why certain portions of the film are devoid of color, and there’s a creative reason for this. According to GamesRadar, when speaking to Total Film Magazine, Nolan said, “I wrote the script in the first person, which I’d never done before. I don’t know if anyone has ever done that or if that’s a thing people do or not. The film is objective and subjective. The color scenes are subjective. The black-and-white scenes are objective. I wrote the color scenes from the first person. So for an actor reading that, in some ways, I think it’d be quite daunting.”

The cast lived together in New Mexico

A crowd of people in "Oppenheimer."
Universal Pictures

Much like how the scientists of the Manhattan Project moved to Los Alamos to build the atomic bomb, the cast of Oppenheimer formed their own little community as they lived in a hotel in New Mexico during filming.

Blunt described the experience as being similar to “summer camp” when speaking to People. Though the cast lived in close quarters and had dinner together, Murphy missed out on many of his castmates’ activities due to the amount of pressure he dealt with as the film’s eponymous lead.

Robert Pattinson helped inspire Nolan to make the film

Robert Pattinson in "Tenet."
Warner Bros.

Near the end of filming Nolan’s previous movie, Tenet, star Robert Pattinson gave the director a book containing Oppenheimer’s speeches as a gift, which drove Nolan to make a biopic about the legendary physicist.

“When you read the words of people speaking at that time, you see them wrestling with the implications and the consequences of what’s happened and what they’ve done,” Nolan said to The Hollywood Reporter. “I started to get very excited about, rather than using it as an analogy in a science fiction sense, telling the actual reality of the story, really trying to be there, to give people the experience of what it would have been like to be Oppenheimer in those moments.”

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