Oppenheimer: Release date, cast and plot for Christopher Nolan's new movie

“They won't fear it until they understand it. And they won't understand it until they use it.”

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in OPPENHEIMER, written and directed by Christopher Nolan.
This still is an 11K scan of a 70mm B&W IMAX film frame
Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer. (Universal)

Summer 2023 sees the release of Christopher Nolan’s new film, Oppenheimer, his first movie since 2020’s Tenet and his split from Warner Bros.

Billed as an epic thriller about “the man who changed the world”, this $100m drama is certainly more adult-oriented than most of what’s on offer this summer blockbuster season. Shot on IMAX cameras both in colour, and black-and-white, the film charts its title character’s contributions to the Manhattan Project and the creation of the atomic bomb.

Where there’s usually a veil of secrecy around the plots of Nolan’s films, Oppenheimer is the first biopic he’s made, so we do know a fair bit of what the film’s about.

Read more: Christian Bale would play Batman again for Christopher Nolan

So, with that very mild spoiler warning in mind, here’s everything we know about Oppenheimer so far…

Oppenheimer release date

OPPENHEIMER, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Universal)
Oppenheimer written and directed by Christopher Nolan, seen here on set with Cillian Murphy. (Universal)

Oppenheimer will be released exclusively in cinemas worldwide on 21 July, 2023. After Nolan’s falling out with Warner Bros over the day-and-date release strategy for its 2021 film slate on HBO Max, Universal Pictures is financing and distributing the film.

Amusingly, Nolan’s old muckers at Warner are counter-programming Greta Gerwig’s Barbie opposite it on the same day.

From a casting point of view, it seems as if everyone who’s anyone is either in one film or the other…

Oppenheimer cast

Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer, written and directed by Christopher Nolan. (Universal Pictures)
Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer, written and directed by Christopher Nolan. (Universal Pictures)

Cillian Murphy plays the title character, theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. This marks his sixth film collaboration with Nolan after the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Dunkirk, but the first time he’s been in the leading role.

Read more: Cillian Murphy says his kids have posh English accents

Additionally, Nolan’s Interstellar surprise guest-star Matt Damon plays a major role as Lt. General Leslie Groves, the engineering officer who directed the Manhattan Project.

Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, right, director of the Institute for Advanced Study, listens intently to a discussion by Dr. Albert Einstein regarding matter in terms of space. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, right, director of the Institute for Advanced Study, with Dr. Albert Einstein. (Corbis via Getty Images)

Other returning Nolan collaborators include Sir Kenneth Branagh, James D’Arcy, Matthew Modine, David Dastmalchian, and Casey Affleck. Another Dark Knight alum, Gary Oldman, has a cameo role as US President Harry S. Truman.

Working with Nolan for the first time, Emily Blunt plays activist and scientist Kitty Oppenheimer; Robert Downey Jr plays Lewis Strauss, Oppenheimer’s opponent in the debate about developing the hydrogen bomb; and Florence Pugh plays Jean Tatlock, an old flame of Oppenheimer’s and a member of the American Communist Party.

OPPENHEIMER, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Universal)
Robert Downey Jr in Oppenheimer, written and directed by Christopher Nolan. (Universal)

Rounding out the star-studded cast (among others!) are Rami Malek, Benny Safdie, Olivia Thirlby, Michael Angarano, and Josh Hartnett.

And that’s not all – there’s also Jason Clarke, Alex Wolff, Tony Goldwyn, Jack Quaid, Emma Dumont, and Dane DeHaan.

We could go on all day listing even more names, but suffice to say, it’s a suitably epic ensemble.

The true story behind Oppenheimer

OPPENHEIMER, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Universal)
Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt in Oppenheimer, written and directed by Christopher Nolan. (Universal)

Per Universal’s official synopsis, Oppenheimer is “an 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.”

Reportedly, Nolan is taking his lead from Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, which was published in 2005. The biography spans from Oppenheimer’s early career to the beginnings of the Cold War and his life after World War II.

Read more: Everything we know about Barbie

Often credited as “the father of the atomic bomb”, Oppenheimer was a theoretical physicist whose involvement in the war effort began with his appointment to the Office of Scientific Research and Development, (OSRD) whose role was to explore the weapons potential of uranium.

Three of the men who played leading roles in the development of the atomic bomb visit the American Chemical Society Atomic Exhibit in Grand Central Palace. Looking at a photo of the atomic explosion over Nagasaki, Japan, are left to right, Brig. Gen. K. D. Nichols, Prof. H.D. Smythe who wrote the government atomic report and J.R. Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos, N.M. atomic labratory.
Brig. Gen. K. D. Nichols, Prof. H.D. Smythe who wrote the government atomic report and J.R. Oppenheimer, director of the Los Alamos, N.M. atomic laboratory. (Getty)

When command of the OSRD was handed over to the military in 1942, Groves selected Oppenheimer to head the top-secret Manhattan Project in a purpose-built laboratory at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

The joint efforts of Oppenheimer and the scientists at Los Alamos eventually resulted in the world’s first nuclear explosion, the Trinity nuclear test, in July 1945. The famously CG-averse Nolan recently revealed that the film recreates this event using real explosives, which should make most of us happy that he didn’t film anywhere near us.

OPPENHEIMER, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Universal)
Oppenheimer, written and directed by Christopher Nolan (Universal)

The film is also expected to cover some of Oppenheimer’s life after the war, including subsequent accusations of disloyalty to the United States and a pivotal security hearing before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954.

Some sections of the film were shot in black-and-white on IMAX cameras, and judging by the trailer, these might be the post-war parts of the story. Then again, Nolan seems as averse to linear storytelling as he is to CGI, so maybe this will distinguish a Dunkirk-like structure, where we see the subsequent scenes unfolding in between bits of the build-up.

In any case, all the hype seems to suggest Oppenheimer will arrive with a bang, not a whimper…

Is there a trailer for Oppenheimer?

Universal launched the official teaser for Oppenheimer on 28 July, 2022 — nearly a full year before its release — via a dynamic, livestreamed teaser that counts the hours, days, and months to the anniversary of the Trinity test with every viewing.

The first full trailer was released in December 2022 after it appeared in front of Avatar: The Way of Water, another film with strong links to the IMAX format. Watch it below.

Oppenheimer is coming to cinemas and IMAX on 21 July, 2023.