Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Oppenheimer

‘Oppenheimer’ Is Littered With References To Nolan’s Filmography If You Look for Them

Oppenheimer could not exist without the work of Christopher Nolan’s entire filmography—partially because he took years of working on his craft to build up to the masterpiece that became Oppenheimer, but more than that, there are moments throughout the film that seem like nods to his other work.

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Whether this is intentional on Nolan’s part is something you’d have to ask the director yourself, but for me, they feel like connections to his filmography as a guide to everything that Christopher Nolan has built with his work where, without his previous films, he wouldn’t have been able to achieve certain elements of Oppenheimer. More than that, he does things in Oppenheimer that feel like he’s playing homage to his past work.

When you see Oppenheimer walking to check out the work being done in Chicago, that feels like a shot that was used in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. There are moments that do feel like references to Tenet or Inception, and whether that is intentional or just all part of me being a huge fan of Nolan’s work, the more I watch Oppenheimer, the more these little moments become more obvious to the viewer.

Again, this could simply just be Nolan doing something that feels comfortable to him as a filmmaker and not something he was seeking out to reference, but if you are someone who has watched all of Nolan’s work, you can spot things like moments that make you think about The Prestige or the way something is shot that makes you wonder if it is meant to be a reference to Dunkirk. The most obvious callback to his work, though, comes with Oppenheimer’s own “superhero” moment.

His literal superhero montage

Oppenheimer's hat and pipe in Oppenheimer
(Universal Pictures)

Christopher Nolan is not a director who turns his nose up at the superhero genre. He made a name for himself in the film industry with his Batman trilogy, starting with Batman Begins. A moment that has stuck out for me with Oppenheimer comes from his “suit up” moment. When Rabi (David Krumholtz) tells him to change out of the military uniform that Groves (Matt Damon) wants them to wear at Los Alamos, Oppenheimer puts on his suit jacket, hat, and pipe. It becomes something of his typical outfit but is shot like a superhero putting on his uniform.

The scene didn’t even need to be included in the film at all but is literally shot like Nolan’s Batman trilogy. If Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne suit reveal were shot in a similar way (which it almost was), it wouldn’t feel out of place, which is why, to me, this scene almost feels like Nolan’s way of telling us—consciously or not—that without all of his work and all of the movies he’s made, he wouldn’t have been able to make a movie like Oppenheimer. Or at least he’s giving us nods to his Batman trilogy within Oppenheimer, and that is really fascinating to unpack.

(featured image: Universal Pictures)


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Rachel Leishman
Rachel Leishman (She/Her) is an Assistant Editor at the Mary Sue. She's been a writer professionally since 2016 but was always obsessed with movies and television and writing about them growing up. A lover of Spider-Man and Wanda Maximoff's biggest defender, she has interests in all things nerdy and a cat named Benjamin Wyatt the cat. If you want to talk classic rock music or all things Harrison Ford, she's your girl but her interests span far and wide. Yes, she knows she looks like Florence Pugh. She has multiple podcasts, normally has opinions on any bit of pop culture, and can tell you can actors entire filmography off the top of her head. Her work at the Mary Sue often includes Star Wars, Marvel, DC, movie reviews, and interviews.