Is Oppenheimer based on a true story? Christopher Nolan movie explained

Chris Tilly
Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy in OppenheimerUniversal Pictures

With cinemas filling seats with Christopher Nolan fans amid the release of his historical epic Oppenheimer, here’s what you need to know about whether the movie is is based on a true story.

Christopher Nolan has worked in fiction throughout his career. He started out making tense thrillers like Following, Memento, and Insomnia. Before trying his hand at superhero movies via Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises.

The next phase of his career concerned sci-fi, and while they are grounded in real-world science, the likes of Inception, Interstellar and Tenet are also works of fiction.

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But more recently, he’s made a movie based on true events in the shape of Dunkirk. And he’s sticking with that WWII setting for his next film, Oppenheimer.

Is Oppenheimer based on a true story?

Yes, Oppenheimer is based on a true story. The film revolves around J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his efforts to create the first atomic bomb.

That makes the movie Christopher Nolan’s first biopic, though he did come close to making a Howard Hughes film with Jim Carrey in the early 2000s.

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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 cast all play real-life characters, with the main players as follows:

  • Cillian Murphy is J. Robert Oppenheimer
  • Emily Blunt is Kitty Oppenheimer
  • Matt Damon is General Leslie Groves Jr.
  • Robert Downey Jr. is Lewis Strauss
  • Florence Pugh is Jean Tatlock
  • Benny Safdie is Edward Teller
  • Michael Angarano is Robert Serber
  • Josh Hartnett is Ernest Lawrence

How Christopher Nolan wrote Oppenheimer

As well as directing Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan wrote the script, and took an unusual approach to that process.

“I actually wrote in the first-person, which I’ve never done before,” Nolan revealed to Empire. “I don’t know if anyone’s ever done it before. But the point of it is, with the colour sequences, which is the bulk of the film, everything is told from Oppenheimer’s point of view — you’re literally kind of looking through his eyes.”

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Nolan adds: “I wanted to really go through this story with Oppenheimer; I didn’t want to sit by him and judge him. That seemed a pointless exercise. That’s more the stuff of documentary, or political theory, or history of science. This is a story that you experience with him – you don’t judge him. You are faced with these irreconcilable ethical dilemmas with him.”

Oppenheimer is in cinemas now, and you can find more coverage below:

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Oppenheimer review | Ending explained | Epic runtime revealed | R-rating explained | Best way to watch Oppenheimer | Christopher Nolan on sex scenes | Cast and characters | Filming locations | True story explained | Is Oppenheimer streaming? | Nolan ranked by Rotten Tomato scores | Is it based on a book? | Age-gap controversy explained Robert Pattinson’s influence | How Oppenheimer died | Christopher Nolan explains strange script | Did Japan ban Oppenheimer? | Review roundup | Does Oppenheimer have a post-credits scene? | Box office | Was Jean Tatlock murdered? | What happened to Kitty? | Why did Lewis Strauss hate Oppenheimer? | Did Oppenheimer win a Nobel Prize? | Why you struggle to hear Nolan’s movies | Oppenheimer’s improvised line

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About The Author

Chris Tilly is the TV and Movies Editor at Dexerto. He has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Newspaper Journalism, and over the last 20 years, he's worked for the likes of Time Out, IGN, and Fandom. Chris loves Star Wars, Marvel, DC, sci-fi, and especially horror, while he knows maybe too much about Alan Partridge. You can email him here: chris.tilly@dexerto.com.