Christopher Nolan is set to return to movie theaters in 2023 with the release of “Oppenheimer,” based on the life of theoretical physicist and “the father of the Atomic bomb” J. Robert Oppenheimer. Nolan has never made a biographical drama before, but don’t expect the Oscar-nominated director to take the traditional biopic route. As with all of Nolan’s films, expect the unexpected when it comes to “Oppenheimer.” An abundance of details about the project is scarce at the moment, but reports suggest Nolan will be scaling things back significantly after the $200 million-plus spectacle of “Tenet.” What does a $100 million Nolan biopic look like? We’re going to find out.
Check out a rundown of everything we know about Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” below. IndieWire will continue to update this list as new information about the biographical drama is revealed.
Cillian Murphy’s Performance Will “Really Move People”
“Oppenheimer” actor David Dastmalchian teased the “powerful” performance given by co-star Cillian Murphy in the Christopher Nolan period piece.
“I believe that what I got to see Cillian creating on set as well is going to really move people in a powerful way,” Dastmalchian told People magazine. “I’m just honored that I get to be a part of it in any way, shape, or form. I’m really, really blessed.”
Teaser Trailer Offers a Live Countdown to the Premiere
Tick, tick…The “Oppenheimer” premiere is coming! Set for a July 21, 2023 release, the teaser trailer counts down the literal seconds until Christopher Nolan’s explosive epic lands in theaters.
The official poster for “Oppenheimer” was released July 21 unveiling the official tagline: “The world forever changed.” The marketing materials also re-confirms the premiere date of July 21, 2023.
Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Robert Downey Jr. Take Pay Cuts for $100 Million Feature
Per a Variety report, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Robert Downey Jr. were each paid $4 million, a fraction of their respective regular salaries, to star in Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” The film has an estimated budget of $100 million and with a star-studded cast, not everyone could be getting market price. Yet Downey Jr., Blunt, and Damon all reportedly have backend deals, meaning if the film hits big at the box office, their bank accounts will benefit.
Olivia Thirlby Is Cast
Olivia Thirlby joins the ensemble cast.
Gary Oldman Has a Cameo
After playing Commissioner Gordon in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” Batman trilogy, Gary Oldman revealed he will reunite with the director thanks to a cameo in “Oppenheimer.” Oldman told Talk Sport (via Screen Rant) that he will appear in one scene which is only one and a half pages of the script. The Oscar winner did not detail who he will be playing.
Tony Goldwyn Comes Onboard
Tony Goldwyn joined “Oppenheimer” in an undisclosed role. The “Scandal” alum most recently starred in Oscar-nominated biopic “King Richard.” Goldwyn additionally has Lionsgate’s “The Plane,” Amazon’s “People We Hate at the Wedding,” and Netflix’s “Murder Mystery 2” in the works.
Alex Wolff Joins the Cast
The rising star of “Hereditary,” “Old,” and “Pig” has joined the stacked cast in a yet-to-be-announced role. The news was first reported by THR.
Matthias Schweighöfer Jumps Onboard
“Army of the Dead” breakout star Matthias officially joined “Oppenheimer.” Schweighöfer also led “Army of the Dead” 2021 spin-off film, Netflix’s “Army of Thieves.”
Josh Peck Plays a Scientist
“How I Met Your Father” star Josh Peck is set to play Kenneth Bainbridge, a real scientist who was involved in the Manhattan Project. Child star Peck shot to fame with “Drake & Josh” before starring in Disney+’s “Turner and Hooch” series.
“No Exit”‘s David Rysdahl Enters “Oppenheimer”
“No Exit” star David Rysdahl officially joined “Oppenheimer” after starring in indie breakous “Nine Days” and Cathy Yan’s “Dead Pigs.”
Jason Clarke Jumps Onboard
Hot off of HBO Max’s “Winning Time,” Jason Clarke joins “Oppenheimer” in an undisclosed role. Clarke famously appeared in Oscar contenders “Zero Dark Thirty” and “The Great Gatsby.”
David Dastmalchian Joins the Cast
David Dastmalchian is confirmed to be reuniting with “The Dark Knight” director Christopher Nolan in “Oppenheimer.” Nolan selected Dastmalchian for his first feature film role, to which Dastmalchian is still grateful for. “It all started with him choosing to let me be a part of that film,” Dastmalchian told The Hollywood Reporter for a 2018 profile. “How do you thank the person that changed your life so profoundly?”
Dastmalchian went on to appear in breakout role as the Polka Dot man in “The Suicide Squad” and also in “Dune.”
Cillian Murphy transformed into physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer in the first look image for the biopic. “Oppenheimer” is set to be released in theaters on July 21, 2023.
Kenneth Branagh Teams Up with “Tenet” Director
Kenneth Branagh is back working with Christopher Nolan following his turn in “Tenet.” Branagh joined the “Oppneheimer” cast in February 2022 in an undisclosed role.
Production Stars in New Mexico in February
As announced by The Hollywood Reporter on February 22, production on the film will start in New Mexico and on a sprawling, custom-built set. That same day, it was announced that “Solo: A Star Wars Story” lead Alden Ehrenreich joined the cast, along with “Plot Against America” actor David Krumholtz.
“The Boys” breakout star Jack Quaid was announced to be part of the “Oppenheimer” cast in February 2022.
Dane DeHaan Flies Into “Oppenheimer”
Dane DeHaan joins the cast of “Oppenheimer” in an undisclosed role, Deadline reported. DeHaan will also appear in HBO Max’s upcoming true crime series, “The Staircase,” based on the murder of Kathleen Peterson.
Josh Hartnett Joins the Cast
Deadline has reported that Josh Hartnett will join the cast of Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” It’s not yet known what role he will play in the film. He most recently starred in Guy Ritchie’s “Wrath of Man.”
Florence Pugh, Rami Malek, and Benny Safdie Join the Nuclear Cast
Adding to the top-drawer cast are Oscar nominee Florence Pugh (“Little Women”), Oscar winner Rami Malek (“Bohemian Rhapsody”), and director/actor Benny Safdie (“Licorice Pizza”). They’re joining Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, and Cillian Murphy on the epic nuclear thriller. Pugh will play Communist Party member Jean Tatlock, who has an affair with Oppenheimer and raised security concerns for government officials. Safdie will play Edward Teller, the Hungarian physicist best known as the father of the hydrogen bomb, and a fellow member of the Manhattan Project. Malek, meanwhile, plays a scientist. (Via The Hollywood Reporter.)
Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon Are Latest A-List Cast Members
According to Deadline, Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon are the latest A-list actors circling roles in Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.” The publication reports: “Nolan is writing and directing the film that revolves around J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who ran the Manhattan Project that led to the invention of the atomic bomb. The film will bow on July 21, 2023, a slot typically saved for Nolan films in the past. Details behind who Damon and Downey will be playing in the project are being kept under wraps.”
Such casting would bring together Downey Jr. and Nolan for the first time, but it would mark a reunion for Nolan and Damon after the latter’s brief supporting role in “Interstellar.” Damon later told SiriusXM, “I would do any movie Christopher Nolan directed.”
Emily Blunt Is Reportedly Playing Oppenheimer’s Wife
According to Deadline: “Sources say Emily Blunt is in talks to join Cillian Murphy in the Universal tentpole that Christopher Nolan will direct. Sources say she will play the wife of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist who ran the Manhattan Project that led to the invention of the atomic bomb.” The casting gives Blunt her first Christopher Nolan movie, though she is no stranger to studio tentpoles as the star of “Mary Poppins Returns,” “Jungle Cruise,” and Paramount’s “A Quiet Place” horror franchise. Deadline reports that Nolan is assembling an “all-star” cast for “Oppenheimer.”
Nolan Always Wanted to Make a Biographical Drama
“Oppenheimer” will mark Nolan’s follow-up to “Tenet” and his 12th feature film. Notably, “Oppenheimer” will be the director’s first biographical drama. We’re hesitant to call it a biopic, as nothing Nolan ever does is traditional. The director has flirted with real-world figures in the past (see David Bowie as Tesla in “The Prestige”), but never before has the life of a historical figure been the main narrative drive behind a Nolan project. And yet, the biographical drama genre has been on Nolan’s radar before. After successfully transitioning to studio filmmaking with “Insomnia” in 2002, Nolan began writing a movie about the billionaire tycoon Howard Hughes. Years later, Nolan would tell The Daily Beast that the screenplay was the best script he had ever written.
So what happened? Martin Scorsese, of course. Nolan’s movie found a home at Castle Rock in 2002 with Jim Carrey attached to star as Howard Hughes, but Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio’s similarly themed “The Aviator” got a head start on production and a release date, leaving Nolan’s take on Hughes dead in the water. It’s a shame given how excited the filmmaker was about the project; he even called the role of Hughes the part Carrey was “born to play.” Nolan ended up making “Batman Begins” instead. Consider “Oppenheimer” Nolan’s long-intended biographical debut.
Leaving Warner Bros. for Universal
The biggest news surrounding “Oppenheimer” is that it marks Nolan’s first movie made outside of Warner Bros. since “Insomnia” in 2002. Nolan called Warner Bros. his home studio for nearly two decades, but the relationship between the two soured during the pandemic with the contentious theatrical release of “Tenet” and the studio’s decision to move its entire 2021 film slate to a hybrid release model. All Warner Bros. films this year have opened in theaters on the same day they become available to stream on HBO Max for 31 days. Nolan publicly spoke out against Warner Bros. for its decision, opening the door for another studio to begin a relationship with him.
“There’s such controversy around it, because they didn’t tell anyone,” Nolan told Entertainment Tonight about the shift. “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 the fledgling streaming service — without any consultation. So, there’s a lot of controversy.”
Universal Promises an Extended Theatrical Window
With a jump to Universal comes a guaranteed exclusive theatrical window. It’s been reported that Nolan’s “Oppenheimer” will have a theatrical window of around 100 days, up from the pre-pandemic standard of 90 days and far longer than the new 45-day window that’s becoming the new industry standard. Universal has its own theatrical window agreement with top chains such as AMC and Regal, in which films that gross $50 million or more over opening weekend receive a 31-day window, while films below that threshold get a 17-day window. Universal has also opted to go day-and-date in theaters and on streamer Peacock with films such as “The Boss Baby: Family Business” and “Halloween Kills.” None of these releases will apply to Nolan.
“Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas’ films have shattered the limits of what cinematic storytelling can achieve,” Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Donna Langley said in a statement accompanying the release date for “Oppenheimer.” “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.”
Cillian Murphy’s Sixth Nolan Movie Will Be His First Nolan Lead
Cillian Murphy has been one of Christopher Nolan’s more recurring supporting actors, which is why his move into the lead role for “Oppenheimer” marks such an exciting narrative for fans. Murphy starred as Scarecrow in Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” trilogy (a main role in “Batman Begins” followed by cameo appearances in “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises”) and had important supporting roles in “Inception” and “Dunkirk.” “Oppenheimer” will mark the sixth collaboration between Nolan and Murphy.
“Chris has specific approaches to the work,” Murphy told The Independent about working with Nolan. “Every director is different, but I’ve had the pleasure of working with Chris a few times so you get insight to how he does it. He’s very rigorous and demanding on himself and his crew and his cast. He’s incredibly focused. His vision is so clear and so strong that you feel confident in being part of that. When he pushes it, it feels like a good place to be.”
Hoyte Van Hoytema Returns for His Fourth Nolan Movie
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema is joining Nolan for a fourth time following “Interstellar,” “Dunkirk,” and “Tenet.” Only “Dunkirk” has earned the acclaimed DP an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. Hoytema took over for Wally Pfster after “The Dark Knight Rises” as Nolan’s go-to cinematography. The DP first gained international recognition by working on “Let the Right One In,” “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” and “Her.”
“Making films with him is real filmmaking to me,” Hoytema previously told Deadline about working with Nolan. “It’s very hands-on and it’s a lot of engineering, always. It’s really switching your mind on to a very classic, visceral way of filmmaking. Nobody makes film like him. I think it’s healthy for me as a cinematographer to try to sometimes do some different things in between projects, as well, so I don’t expect people to be like him. Our relationship is unique, but there’s a lot of opportunity, you know?”
Jennifer Lame Editing Her Second Nolan Movie
“Tenet” marked the first Christopher Nolan movie not edited by Lee Smith since “Insomnia,” as Nolan brought the great “Hereditary” and “Midsommar” editor Jennifer Lame onto his post-production team. Smith was Oscar nominated for Best Film Editing with “The Dark Knight” and won the Academy Award for “Dunkirk.” Lame, whose credits also include “Frances Ha,” “Manchester by the Sea,” and “Marriage Story,” had the unenviable task of making her Nolan debut with the time-crossing narrative of “Tenet.” Now Lame will be back for “Oppenheimer.” Nolan spoke to ICG Magazine about why he brought Lame into the editing room.
“For me, hiring is about looking at the work people have done in the past, but not necessarily in relation to what you’re looking to do,” Nolan said. “I look for excellence and judgment. When meeting, it’s more about discovering if there’s a common creative language, which is exactly what turned out to be the case.”
Nolan continued, “Working for the first time with editor Jen Lame was a real pleasure. I joked with her when she first came on that this might be the hardest movie any editor has ever had to cut — and I’m not sure she would dispute that right now [laughs]. Working out all the aspects of portraying time running in different directions meant going beyond what was down on the page, as the execution lay with a successful translation of the visual.”
Ludwig Göransson to Score His Second Nolan Movie
Christopher Nolan and Hans Zimmer became one of the most beloved director-composer duos in Hollywood after Zimmer composed the original score to every Nolan movie since 2005’s “Batman Begins,” earning three Oscar nominations for Best Original Score with his work on “Inception,” “Interstellar,” and “Dunkirk.”
Zimmer took a Nolan break with “Tenet” to score the music for Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune,” leaving the door open for Nolan to recruit Oscar and Grammy winner Ludwig Göransson. The Swedish composer won the Oscar for “Black Panther” and took home Grammys for his work on Childish Gambino’s record “This Is America.” Göransson’s film credits include “Creed,” “Slice,” and “Venom.” His work on “Tenet” was largely acclaimed, and now he’ll rejoin Nolan for “Oppenheimer” will continuing with his original score work on “Star Wars” series such as “The Mandalorian” and “The Book of Boba Fett.”
The Source Material
Nolan’s 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. Nolan is handling the adaptation by himself. “American Prometheus” was published in 2005 and was awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. It also won the 2008 Duff Cooper Prize. Authors Bird and Sherwin spent two decades researching Oppenheimer’s life for the book.
The book’s official synopsis from Amazon reads: “J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, a brilliant physicist who led the effort to build the atomic bomb for his country in a time of war, and who later found himself confronting the moral consequences of scientific progress. In this magisterial, acclaimed biography twenty-five years in the making, Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin capture Oppenheimer’s life and times, from his early career to his central role in the Cold War. This is biography and history at its finest, riveting and deeply informative.”
Variety reports the budget for “Oppenheimer” will be in the $100 million range, which represents quite a big scaleback for Nolan. The estimated budget for “Tenet” was in the $225 million ballpark, a massive number that remains one of the biggest price points of Nolan’s career so far. Only “The Dark Knight Rises” exceeded the $200 million production budget mark for Nolan prior to “Tenet,” with other directorial efforts like “The Dark Knight,” “Inception,” and “Interstellar” falling in the $150-$180 million range. “Dunkirk” was made in the mid-to-low $100 million range. It sounds like “Oppenheimer” will return Nolan to “Dunkirk” territory.
Universal Pictures confirms “Oppenheimer” will begin production in early 2022. The studio added: “’Oppenheimer’ will be shot on a combination of IMAX 65mm and 65mm large-format film for the highest image quality.” These details should come as no surprise, as Nolan shot “Tenet” and “Dunkirk” in the exact same formats. There is no word yet from Nolan’s team or Universal where “Oppenheimer” will film. Keep an eye on this slide in the future for updates.
Universal Pictures is set to release “Oppenheimer” in theaters July 21, 2023. The mid-July summer release has became a staple for Nolan. “The Dark Knight,” “Inception,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” and “Dunkirk” were all released on the same July weekend to massive box office hauls. Warner Bros. mixed things up with “Interstellar,” which opened at the start of November, but the fall box office is often overcrowded and the movie was not as big a domestic performer as the studio had hoped (although $188 million in the U.S. is no small feat). All of Nolan’s July releases have dominated the box office and earned enough critical praise to hold on well into the fall awards season. “Dunkirk” made $526 million worldwide in summer 2017 and went on to land eight Academy Award nominations the following year, including Best Picture and Nolan’s first bid for Best Director. “Tenet” was originally set for July 2020 but got delayed into September because of the pandemic.
The release date is roughly two weeks before the anniversary of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima.
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