Oppenheimer: Christopher Nolan actually recreated a nuke without CGI

Lucy-Jo Finnighan
Oppenheimer poster

Practical effects are a forgotten art to some directors, but not Christopher Nolan, who set off an actual nuke for upcoming film Oppenheimer.

Three years after Christopher Nolan last took the cinematic world by storm with Tenet, he’s back with Oppenheimer. And this time, it’s gonna be explosive, literally.

The official plot of the upcoming film is as thus, “Physicist J Robert Oppenheimer works with a team of scientists during the Manhattan Project, leading to the development of the atomic bomb.”

Nolan has always been an impressive director fully committed to his craft, but even recent news shocked people about what he was willing to do for a film. Which includes recreating an actual nuke.

Christopher Nolan recreated a Nuke for Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer, Nolan’s 12th film, has been generating a lot of buzz as of late. With a famous and acclaimed director, a stellar cast, a great teaser trailer – that you can watch below – and even a Live Stream that is counting down to “impact,” which has been going on since last July.


Now, Nolan has done something extra to draw hype, which is recreating a nuclear weapon detonation in a New Mexico desert without CGI effects. Nolan has always favored practical effects over VFX – he previously blew up a real Boeing 747 for Tenet – so it’s not surprising that he went for practical effects for Oppenheimer. But recreating a nuclear explosion is perhaps pushing it.

Nolan recently discussed the process with Total Film, stating that “I think recreating the Trinity test [the first nuclear weapon detonation] without the use of computer graphics was a huge challenge to take on.”

“Andrew Jackson – my visual effects supervisor, I got him on board early on – was looking at how we could do a lot of the visual elements of the film practically, from representing quantum dynamics and quantum physics to the Trinity test itself, to recreating, with my team, Los Alamos up on a mesa in New Mexico in extraordinary weather, a lot of which was needed for the film, in terms of the very harsh conditions out there – there were huge practical challenges.”

Nolan continued about his vision for the film, which was that it had to be a “story of immense scope and scale.”

“It’s one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on in terms of the scale of it, and in terms of encountering the breadth of Oppenheimer’s story. There were big, logistical challenges, big practical challenges. But I had an extraordinary crew, and they really stepped up.

“It will be a while before we’re finished. But certainly as I watch the results come in, and as I’m putting the film together, I’m thrilled with what my team has been able to achieve.”

Oppenheimer premieres in cinemas on July 21, 2023.