From The Atomic Cafe (1982) to The Imitation Game (2014), here are 12 films to watch if you liked Oppenheimer.
Whether you’re a casual moviegoer or a cinephile, every new Christopher Nolan film brings great anticipation. In an era where it has become rare for a non-franchised Hollywood movie to become a huge blockbuster, Nolan has repeatedly delivered tremendous commercial and critical success while dealing with the most unique subjects.
Movies like Inception (2010) and Interstellar (2014) were considered too complex or mind-bending for a regular moviegoing audience. But they reaped millions of dollars at the worldwide box office. Now Christopher Nolan is back with yet another ambitious project, which has the potential to alter the course of blockbuster cinema.
Oppenheimer (2023), a historical drama starring Cillian Murphy, is Nolan’s long-term passion project. Known as the Father of the Atomic Bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer is one of the most indelible figures of the 20th century. Under his leadership in the Manhattan Project at the peak of World War II – a top-secret operation to make the atomic bomb before the Nazis – a destructive force was unleashed upon the world.
The brilliant theoretical physicist struggled with moral qualms while creating the bomb and after witnessing the proliferation of nuclear weapons during the post-world War II era and Cold War.
Now Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer does complete justice to such a complicated and fascinating scientific figure. And while Nolan’s version gives us a distinct interpretation of Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project, it’d be interesting to look at the subject from other perspectives. Below isn’t simply a list of “movies like Oppenheimer.” Narratives about troubled scientists are also included in the list, which might provide a glimpse into the uneven emotional landscape of ingenious minds. Quickly then, here are films to watch if you enjoyed Nolan’s Oppenheimer.
Movies Like Oppenheimer
12. Radioactive (2019)
Directed by Persepolis-fame Marjane Satrapi and based on Lauren Redniss’ graphic novel, Radioactive tells the incredible and tragic story of Marie Sklodowska-Curie. Like Robert Oppenheimer, one could say Pierre and Marie Curie changed the world, for good and bad.
Radioactive is a part love story and part scientist biopic as it traces down the single-mindedness of Curies, which indelibly transformed the field of medicine and atomic science. After her husband’s death, Marie continued handling the double-edged sword of radiation.
Radioactive doesn’t tell a strictly chronological tale of the Curies. This enables Satrapi to take a profoundly reflective character-centric approach. However, Jack Thorne’s screenplay has some dull dialogue writing. The tenacious Marie Curie was masterfully brought to the screen by Rosamund Pike’s extraordinary performance.
Where to watch: Prime Video
11. The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer (2008)
David Grubin’s Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer opens with a detailed account of the life and career of the gifted scientist. But as the title indicates, the focus shifts to Oppenheimer’s many political troubles in the 1950s, including the 1954 security hearing.
David Grubin relies on the transcripts of the 1954 hearing, where the scientist was accused of being a Soviet Spy and allegedly maintaining long-term associations with Communists.
After the four-week, closed-door hearing, the United States government humiliated Mr. Oppenheimer by revoking his security clearance.
His enemies exploited his weaknesses and flaws to assassinate his character. It was generally believed that Oppenheimer was simply being punished for his stance against the hydrogen bomb project and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
Where to watch: YouTube
10. Fatman and Little Boy (1989)
Named after the two atomic bombs that were detonated over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Roland Joffe’s Fatman and Little Boy dramatizes the various human experiences behind the Manhattan Project. Bruce Robinson’s screenplay revolves around two men, Oppenheimer (Dwight Schultz) and Gen. Leslie Groves (Paul Newman).
Groves is a military man who directed the top-secret Project. The clash of personalities between Groves and Oppenheimer is central to the narrative, although eventually, there’s a mutual understanding that both are essential to the project’s success.
The film also has a stellar ensemble cast, including John Cusack, Laura Dern, and Natasha Richardson. Cusack plays a young (fictional) Chicago physicist, Michael Merriman, who narrates a large part of the film, and is concerned about the bomb’s tremendous hazards.
Where to Watch: Apple TV+
9. The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)
Matt Brown’s The Man Who Knew Infinity tells the story of gifted South Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujam (Dev Patel). Though he had no formal training on the subject, he generated theorems that significantly contributed to the field of mathematics.
The great potential of Ramanujam was discovered by G.H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons), a leading mathematician at Cambridge, England. Ramanujam moved to England and became a protege of Mr. Hardy.
The Man Who Knew Infinity shows how Ramanujam struggled to balance his understanding of mathematics and the rigid expectations of the university. He was humiliated and scorned by the English academicians to boot. His workaholic nature wreaked havoc on his health. Ramanujam passed away at the young age of 33. The film elegantly captures the genius’ passion for mathematics even though we can never fully comprehend his triumphs.
Where to watch: Lionsgate Play
8. The Theory of Everything (2014)
Director James Marsh and writer Anthony McCarten’s biopic of the celebrated scientist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) in Theory of Everything focuses on the emotionally affecting relationship with the love of his life, Jane (Felicity Jones).
Hawking’s pioneering achievements are slightly sidelined in the narrative. Yet Theory of Everything offers a profound look at the powerful mind of a genius, his fierce human spirit, even while gradually losing his bodily functions.
During his charming courtship phase with Jane, Stephen discovers that he suffers from Motor Neurone disease and has only two years to live. But the couple proved the doctors wrong.
Even as his body deteriorated, with the unconditional support of Jane, Stephen Hawking made some revolutionary scientific discoveries in the field of physics, particularly in cosmology and the mechanics of black holes.
Where to watch: Prime Video
7. Trinity and Beyond (1995)
Peter Kuran’s incredible documentary Trinity and Beyond tracks the history of nuclear weapons and the geopolitical climate between 1945 and 1963. Narrated by Star Trek fame William Shatner, the documentary includes previously unclassified footage of the weapons’ development.
A visual effects artist, Kuran has worked in iconic films like Lucas’ Star Wars IV (1977), Robocop (1987), and Starship Troopers (1997). The man brings his artistry in the development of Trinity and Beyond, digitally restoring and color-correcting the fading footage.
The narrated history is terrifyingly accurate but the gloriously restored footage offers a visually compelling look at the design and testing of weapons of mass destruction.
If you watch the footage in Trinity and Beyond, you’d understand why Christopher Nolan opted for a ‘zero CGI’ look for Oppenheimer (2023).
Where to watch: YouTube
6. The Atomic Cafe (1982)
We frequently see Hollywood villains threatening the world with weapons of mass destruction. But the constant threat of nuclear war isn’t deeply felt by the public today, unlike the fear and paranoia experienced at the peak of the Cold War.
Atomic Cafe, an imaginative, spellbinding documentary, details how America was gripped by fear, hysteria, and misinformation while handling the nuclear warfare crisis.
Directed by Kevin Rafferty, Pierce Rafferty, and Jayne Loader, the documentary repurposes footage from public service films, declassified army training reels, and newsreels to show us how the American government and the general public perceived the Communist threat and atomic bomb.
The jaw-dropping absurdity found in the alleged educational films, in fact, becomes a source of black comedy in Atomic Cafe.
Where to watch: YouTube
5. The Day After Trinity (1981)
Jon Else’s The Day After Trinity is a historically significant and profoundly thoughtful documentary on how Robert J. Oppenheimer was recruited to build the world’s first atomic bomb in the desolate desert of Los Alamos, New Mexico.
Trinity Test was the first successful detonation of a nuclear bomb by the United States on July 16, 1945. The documentary was co-written by prominent screenwriters David Webb Peoples and Janet Peoples (Blade Runner, Twelve Monkeys).
Bolstered by fascinating and terrifying archival footage of Los Alamos tests, The Day After Trinity is a must-watch for anyone remotely interested in Manhattan Project or Nolan’s Oppenheimer.
Jon Else and Peoples also thoroughly chronicle the internal conflict and anguish the chief scientist felt while making the bomb and after witnessing the devastating real-world impact.
Where to watch: YouTube
4. The Imitation Game (2014)
Throughout the history of humankind, scientists and intellectuals have been persecuted for various reasons — for speaking the truth that challenges the establishment or for failing to uphold rigid social norms. Alan Turing, like Oppenheimer, is one such scientist who was well-known for his accomplishments and travails.
Based on the book by Andrew Hodges, screenwriter Graham Moore explores three phases in Turing’s life in The Imitation Game: adolescence, the great work he did during World War II, and the troubled final years of his life.
Alan Turing was a gifted mathematician and cryptologist who worked under the British government to break the German Enigma military code. His codebreaking activities saved millions of lives, but in the post-war period, Turing’s own government persecuted him for his homosexuality. The tragic events eventually led to his suicide.
Where to watch: Prime Video
3. A Beautiful Mind (2001)
In Nolan’s Oppenheimer, authors Kai Bird and Michael Sherwin serve as co-screenwriters. They wrote the all-encompassing biographical book on Oppenheimer, titled “American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.”
Though Nolan’s historical drama focuses more on Oppenheimer’s role in the development of the bomb and its aftermath, the book gives a very detailed account of the mercurial nature of the scientists from a very young age. Similarly, many films have concentrated on the inner turmoil of genius scientists.
Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind portrays one such extraordinary tale of the brilliant yet asocial mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe). Nash battled with schizophrenia for decades, and the narrative follows his harrowing journey of self-discovery.
Though the script was too dramatized, it was one of the rare films about scientists that looked at their mental health issues.
Where to watch: Apple TV+, Prime Video
2. Day One (1989)
The Emmy Award-winning TV movie Day One offers a more complicated and less dramatic take on the interpersonal dynamics between scientists Robert J. Oppenheimer (David Strathairn), Leo Szilard (Michael Tucker), and General Leslie Groves (Brian Dennehy).
The central conflict in the narrative – as it is in Nolan’s Oppenheimer – is capturing Oppenheimer’s inner torment as he strives to create the bomb while fully aware of its destructive power.
Director Joseph Sargent and writers Peter Wyden and David W. Rintels brilliantly capture the dispute between scientists and politicians/military men while arguing over the repercussions of creating and dropping such a bomb on the human population.
The movie’s stellar cast includes Hal Holbrook, Hume Cronyn, Tony Shalhoub, Richard Dysart, and David Ogden Stiers.
Where to Watch: N/A online
1. Interstellar (2014)
Oppenheimer (2023) is undoubtedly a unique film in director Christopher Nolan’s oeuvre. Yet, if there’s one movie in Nolan’s body of work that has a remote connection to this one, is Interstellar (2014). The sci-fi space blockbuster saw Nolan introducing us to real science elements, just like he’ll do in Oppenheimer.
Like Nolan’s imagery of a black hole in Interstellar (bolstered by his collaboration with physicist Kip Thorne), Oppenheimer also astounds with its nuanced imagery, particularly Nolan’s painstakingly tense and practical recreation of the Trinity test.
Interstellar chronicles the space adventures of a father tasked with finding a new home for humanity. The unpredictable forces in the infinite universe and the father’s love for his daughter – which transcend time and space – help him achieve his mission.
Where to watch: Netflix
Nolan’s tale on the theoretical physicist and father of the atomic bomb has set a new benchmark for movies on scientists and those that deal with the moral gray zone of any modern scientific discovery. Given Nolan’s frequent exploration of the complex male psyche, he proves to be the perfect filmmaker to perceive and depict Oppenheimer’s tumultuous life.
An ardent cinephile, who truly believes in the transformative power and shared-dream experience of cinema. He blogs at ‘Passion for Movies.’