Christopher Nolan’s latest cinematic masterpiece, Oppenheimer (2023), has taken the world by storm. The film centers around the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the renowned physicist who led the Manhattan Project and played a crucial role in the development of the world’s first nuclear weapon. Since its release, the movie has captivated audiences worldwide with its stunning visuals and historically significant locations. For those curious about the filming locations of Oppenheimer, Students Fare is here to provide you with the exciting details for your next vacation!
Where was Oppenheimer Filmed?
In Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” several key locations such as Los Alamos, the Trinity testing site, and various educational institutions where the scientist conducted research were filmed in New Mexico. Taking on the herculean task of creating the movie’s setting and faithfully replicating the historical timeframe of the actual events was production designer Ruth De Jong. Producer Charles Roven also shed light on Nolan’s vision, emphasizing the director’s commitment to authenticity, saying: “Chris wants everything to feel authentic, whether shooting in the actual places where the people in the Manhattan Project lived or building things from scratch.”
The Manhattan Project
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Oppenheimer was almost filmed at the actual Los Alamos site, where parts of the Manhattan Project facilities are still standing, but there were too many modern structures nearby. Nolan is very strict about maintaining the authenticity of his sets, which made removing them using digital technology very difficult and expensive, as well as changing the authenticity of the set. However, a handful of the scenes were shot here, giving Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt the opportunity to perform in the house where their characters had resided.
The team used a variety of locations for the Manhattan Project, such as the Fuller Lodge, which acted as the dining room of the Los Alamos Ranch School, in addition to the Oppenheimer’s home. Additionally, they recorded in the United Church and Lamy Train Station, all of which were once used by residents of Los Alamos, as well as the Women’s Dormitory, which provided housing for female citizens or non-military workers who worked on the Manhattan Project.
Abiquiú, New Mexico
In “Oppenheimer,” the majority of interior scenes were filmed on the actual site of Los Alamos. On the other hand, the exterior shots depicting the historical site were meticulously constructed and filmed at Ghost Ranch, a vast 21,000-acre retreat located in Northern New Mexico. This blend of locations allowed them to strike a balance between authenticity and practicality while capturing the essence of Oppenheimer’s story.
The crew opted to bring to life a detailed reconstruction because, as mentioned earlier, the real site had become overly modernized. This reconstruction was transformed into a tangible 3D model during the pre-production phase. However, it grew to an impractical size, prompting the realization that building a full-scale reproduction with both exteriors and interiors would be wildly expensive.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Nolan and the Oppenheimer team were granted permission to shoot some scenes at the military installation in New Mexico’s White Sands Proving Ground, where the historic Trinity Test occurred. However, due to the site’s active status, the military’s daily usage, which can extend up to eight hours, made filming there impossible.
To maintain the authenticity he sought for the film, Nolan decided to construct his own replica of the Trinity testing site in Santa Fe, much like he did with the exteriors of Los Alamos. The recreated set featured a 100-foot steel tower and a bunker, mirroring the location where Oppenheimer himself had witnessed the explosion of the first atomic bomb. This pivotal moment in history was brought to life on the big screen in a truly remarkable and captivating manner.
Institute for Advanced Study (IAS)
Princeton, New Jersey
The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), located close to Princeton University in New Jersey, served as another important Oppenheimer filming location. On the premises of the IAS, where the latter served as director from 1947 to 1966, the actual J. Robert Oppenheimer and his spouse, Katherine Oppenheimer, once resided. After World War II, Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein both worked here for a while.
For Nolan’s masterwork, this fascinating historical location served as a film set. Although Oppenheimer’s former office had been renovated and appeared too contemporary for the movie, the production was permitted to use Einstein’s former office in its place. Oppenheimer and Kitty lived in the director’s home while they attended IAS, and Nolan also took interior and outdoor shots there, along with the pond and surrounding lands.
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These sites not only provided an authentic backdrop for the film, but offer a unique opportunity for students to experience firsthand the places where pivotal moments in science and history unfolded. Whether it’s exploring the hallowed halls of the Institute for Advanced Study or standing in awe at the recreated Trinity testing site, these locations offer an unforgettable journey into the past, providing an even deeper appreciation for the incredible story told in “Oppenheimer.” Contact Students Fare for assistance booking flight tickets, hotel rooms, customized tours, transportation, and so much more to New Mexico!