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Christopher Nolan’s atomic bomb movie Oppenheimer does science, explosions in new trailer

The epic is heading for a strange head-to-head with Barbie at the box office

Oli Welsh is senior editor, U.K., providing news, analysis, and criticism of film, TV, and games. He has been covering the business & culture of video games for two decades.

Universal has released the first full trailer for Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s film about J. Robert Oppenheimer, the scientist closely associated with the invention and detonation of the first atomic bomb in the 1940s.

The tone is epic and serious as we see a montage of the bomb being devised and prepared at the Manhattan Project site in New Mexico, while Cillian Murphy, as Oppenheimer, looks on, aghast at his creation.

“They won’t fear it until they understand it, and they won’t understand it until they’ve used it,” he says in voiceover. “I don’t know if we can be trusted with such a weapon.”

Many of Tenet and Inception director Nolan’s preoccupations are present and correct: science, explosions, awe at the mysteries of the universe, fear of the cost of progress. Notably not present in the trailer is most of the incredibly starry supporting cast Nolan has assembled for the film, which includes Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Benny Safdie, Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek, and Kenneth Branagh, as well as a reported one-scene cameo from Gary Oldman.

Nolan, who loves practical effects and shooting on film (Oppenheimer is shot on 65 mm IMAX film by regular Nolan collaborator Hoyte van Hoytema, including a world-first sequence of analogue IMAX black-and-white photography) claims to have recreated an atomic test “without the use of computer graphics” for the movie. Yikes.

Oppenheimer will be released on July 21, 2023, which is the very same day that Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie’s Barbie hits theaters. Barbie was recently the subject of a similarly epic, though much less serious, teaser trailer which riffs on 2001: A Space Odyssey by Nolan’s idol Stanley Kubrick.

Although the two films clearly have different tones, they both rank among the most anticipated of next year (even more so after these trailers), both boast starry casts and hot directors, and both have a reported budget of $100 million. It’s rare to see two big studio beasts such as these pitted directly against each other at the box office.

There’s an extra bit of spice to this rivalry: Oppenheimer will be distributed by Universal Pictures, in a departure for Nolan, who had stayed with Warner Bros. for 20 years before dramatically breaking with the studio over its shift toward streaming. Barbie’s distributor? Why, it’s Warner Bros.

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