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Christopher Nolan Talking to Several Studios About WWII Film About J. Robert Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan
Vianney Le Caer/Invision/AP

Christopher Nolan has had discussions with several major studios about his next film, revolving around J. Robert Oppenheimer and his involvement developing the atom bomb during World War II.

While Nolan’s last few films were all at Warner Bros., the director was not pleased when WarnerMedia made the decision to put its entire 2021 slate on HBOMax. Nolan’s most recent film, “Tenet,” was not part of that move — it received an exclusive theatrical run.

His new film would be a return to the history of the second World War after “Dunkirk,” but set in America this time. “Tenet,” was released in theaters in the middle of the pandemic when moviegoers were still cautious and the vaccine was not available. It grossed a solid $363 million, but the feeling was that it would normally have been a much higher result in non-pandemic times. After “Tenet,” Nolan had been in discussions with several studios about a possible first-look deal, but this project would not be part of that, according to sources. In those discussions, Nolan made it clear that he was interested in some degree of theatrical exclusivity on his films.

Bidders assume that a deal for the Oppenheimer project would also carry that requirement. That might not exclude streaming services, however. Netflix, for instance, is giving exclusive theatrical runs to upcoming movies such as “The Hand of God” and “Don’t Look Up” and the streamer’s movie chief Scott Stuber told Variety in July that he wanted to make movies with Nolan.

“If and when he comes up with his new movie, it’s about can we be a home for it and what would we need to do to make that happen,” Stuber said. “He’s an incredible filmmaker. I’m going to do everything I can.”

According to Deadline, which first reported news of the project, “Dunkirk” and “Inception” actor Cillian Murphy might make a return for the Oppenheimer project. The Irish actor also appeared in Nolan’s  “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight.” One source said that Murphy was expected to be involved, but it was unclear what role he would play.

Oppenheimer is among those known as the father of the atom bomb and headed Los Alamos Laboratory where the bomb that ended WWII was developed. His work on the bomb was dramatized in the 1989 drama “Fat Man and Little Boy” with Dwight Schultz playing Oppenheimer and Paul Newman playing Gen. Leslie Groves. That film was a box office dud and received poor reviews. Oppenheimer came to have complex feelings about his involvement and opposed the H-bomb, which cost him his job.

Nolan’s film would carry a substantial budget, believed to be over $100 million, which could make it less attractive for some studios given that it’s a drama aimed at adults. Nolan’s agent, Dan Aloni of WME, has been handling negotiations. Most, if not all of the major studios are said to have been in discussions. That includes Warner Bros., despite the tension between the filmmaker and the company over the HBO Max move.