Christopher Nolan’s World War II film about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the development of the atomic bomb will be made by Universal Studios, marking the first time in nearly two decades that the director has not filmed a movie for Warner Bros.
The director had been talking to several studios in recent weeks about the possibility of backing his drama, which carries a $100 million budget. Sony and MGM Studios were also in the mix, and Nolan did have talks with Warner Bros., but the relationship with his former studio home has grown strained. The director was upset by Warner’s decision to release its entire 2021 slate concurrently on HBO Max and the studio was unhappy with his public comments expressing his displeasure. Nolan dubbed HBO Max “the worst streaming service,” a blunt assessment unlikely to make it into the company’s marketing materials.
With the exception of the 2014 film “Interstellar” (which was filmed for Paramount Pictures, and distributed by Warner Bros. internationally), all of his recent movies were set up at Warner Bros. Nolan’s last film “Tenet” was released by Warner Bros. in the middle of the pandemic and was a box office disappointment, but his track record of making hits like “Dunkirk” and “The Dark Knight” is strong enough that his new outing drew interest from several backers, including streaming services. Nolan was insistent that the film have an exclusive theatrical release. “Tenet” wasn’t impacted by Warner Bros.’ decision to debut its films on HBO Max, his latest sci-fi epic received a traditional theatrical rollout because it predated the studio’s 2021 distribution strategy.
Filming on the Oppenheimer picture is expected to begin in the first quarter of 2022. Cillian Murphy has been mentioned as a possible member of the ensemble, but casting has yet to take place. Nolan wrote the screenplay for the picture and top executives at the studios were allowed to read his script at the offices of his production company Syncopy Inc. Donna Langley played a critical role in landing the project for Universal, while Nolan’s agent Dan Aloni led the negotiations on the director’s behalf.
The film will presumably focus on Oppenheimer’s work on the bomb on Manhattan Project, including his role in the Trinity test in New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was successfully detonated. That’s the moment where Oppenheimer is said to have remembered words from the Bhagavad Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Sadly prophetic. He’d later go on to argue for international control of nuclear weapons and opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb.
Oppenheimer was the subject of another drama, the 1989 box office dud “Fat Man and Little Boy,” which starred Paul Newman, was directed by Roland Joffé, and enjoyed by very few.
Deadline first reported that Universal had won the rights to Nolan’s new film.