Physicists and other experts react to ‘Oppenheimer’

By François Diaz-Maurin | July 28, 2023

Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" (Universal Pictures)

On July 21, Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer hit theaters, in what was probably the most-anticipated release this summer—only matched by the toy-based satire Barbie to become the moment’s movie frenemies, storming the box office in a big box-office Barbenheimer weekend.

Nolan’s biographical film dramatizes the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the iconic physicist and wartime director of the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico, as he and his fellow atomic scientists and engineers rushed to develop the first atomic bomb in the early 1940s.

The movie’s first reviews have brought it much critical acclaim and focus on the fascinating story of a man whom Nolan considers “the most important person who ever lived.” But the film is also, according to Nolan, a means for “getting back to basics about the bomb, stripping away policy statements, philosophy, the geopolitical situation and just looking at raw power that’s about to be unleashed and what that means for the people involved and means for all of us.”

To assess Oppenheimer’s portrayal of the atomic bomb, its development, and its impacts, the Bulletin invited physicists, historians, and other experts to comment on what the movie gets right (or wrong), what it leaves out, and whether it cuts corners. Taking highly complex scientific concepts and associated battles for power about arguably the most consequential invention in human history and turning those into a piece of art and entertainment promised to be a daunting task. So, does Nolan’s Oppenheimer rise to the challenge?

A Manhattan Project historian comments on ‘Oppenheimer’

Although Nolan’s film is not technically accurate throughout, the adjustments in 'Oppenheimer' are made for understandable artistic reasons, writes an historian of the Manhattan Project.

Oppenheimer’s vision for arms control is still upon us

Oppenheimer's vision for arms control was incompatible with those drawing power from the bomb. We are still there today, a nuclear policy expert argues.

‘Oppenheimer’ is terrific. But it’s just a movie

'Oppenheimer' might not have a lasting impact because the world-ending potential of nuclear weapons is now essentially taken for granted in public discussions, a Princeton physicist argues.

Thought-provoked by ‘Oppenheimer’

Christopher Nolan’s "Oppenheimer" authentically conveys the contradictions of the man, some I discovered in a small way, a physicist writes.

‘Oppenheimer’, the bomb, and arms control, then and now

The viewers of 'Oppenheimer' might walk out of theaters with a lot of blind spots, an arms control expert writes.

‘Oppenheimer’ depicts a man becoming powerful—and irrelevant

Oppenheimer did not have the temperament and skills to confront the US political and military leadership on critical decisions about nuclear weapons, a nuclear policy expert writes.

Nuclear weapons since Oppenheimer: Who’s in control?

After Oppenheimer, policy makers of nuclear-armed countries have let the interests of their military and arms producers control these weapons, an MIT physicist argues.

What ‘Oppenheimer’ can teach today’s scientists

'Oppenheimer' shows scientists cannot turn back to a world in which research is pure and unencumbered with its consequences. They need to take part in the public arena, a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine argues.

Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’: an artistic visual tapestry of the bomb’s science and power intricacies

A nuclear non-proliferation expert explains how Nolan's artistic portrayal of Oppenheimer effectively connects the science of nuclear fission with technology, war, and power.

Widening the field of view on ‘Oppenheimer’

A Princeton physicist argues viewers of Christopher Nolan's 'Oppenheimer' must broaden their field of view to understand the issues that J. Robert Oppenheimer confronted for the first time in human history.

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11 months ago

Just saw the movie and it was serious, gut wrenching, star studded and hard to watch at points. Not a date movie or a feel good movie. Get ready

11 months ago
Reply to  Brad

It’s a fine date movie if you have an intelligent girlfriend who likes to discuss issues, science and history.

11 months ago

We saw this in IMAX 70mm, and although the explosion was spectacular, we felt the film could have used some original footage. The lack of a mushroom cloud detracted from the realism.

D Bray
D Bray
9 months ago

The movie did a poor job introducing the characters, and there were WAY too many of them who were irrelevant. I was also looking forward to seeing the great Richard Feynmann, but I apparently blinked and missed him. All the jumping back and forth in time made no sense whatsoever. I guess their budget came up short, because they shot some time in black and white, because that’s the only real explanation that makes sense there, as well. Very, very difficult to follow – and this from one who knows much of the story.