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Oppenheimer Reviews: Christopher Nolan's "Stunning" Bomb Thriller Praised as Best Film of 2023

Let's just say that audiences were blown away.

By Adam Pockross & Josh Weiss
Cillian Murphy appears in Oppenheimer (2023)

Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer may be about the bomb, but it's probably safe to say it won't be a bomb, not after the effusive reception the film is receiving from critics ahead of its theatrical debut this coming Friday, July 21.

Adding to the early acclaim that came out of the film's Parisian premiere last week, reviewers are gushing over the epic historical drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project racing against the Nazis to develop the first atomic bomb, particularly the nuanced character study of the titular scientist played by Cillian Murphy, the dynamite ensemble cast, and just how damn gorgeous the movie looks in IMAX 70mm. There are even a few folks calling it the best movie of the year.

RELATED: Christopher Nolan Went So Method He Used Actual Scientists as Extras on Oppenheimer

Reviews of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer

"Nolan has conceived Oppenheimer as an act of cinematic fission. He fragments the story into parts that keep colliding, immersing us in the heat and energy that all gives off. It’s a style that owes a major debt to Oliver Stone’s Nixon." -Owen Gleiberman, Variety

"The major draw for hardcore film geeks will be the visuals. Shooting with large-format Panavision and IMAX 65mm cameras, DP Hoyte van Hoytema (in his fourth collaboration with Nolan) brings visceral intensity to the Trinity sequence and extraordinary texture and depth of field to the many dialogue-driven scenes." -David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter

"A biopic in constant free fall, Oppenheimer is Christopher Nolan’s most abstract yet most exacting work, with themes of guilt writ-large through apocalyptic IMAX nightmares that grow both more enormous and more intimate as time ticks on. A disturbing, mesmerizing vision of what humanity is capable of bringing upon itself, both through its innovation, and through its capacity to justify any atrocity." -Siddhant Adlakha, IGN

"Oppenheimer deserves the title of masterpiece. It’s Christopher Nolan’s best film so far, a step up to a new level for one of our finest filmmakers, and a movie that burns itself into your brain." -Matthew Jackson, The A.V. Club

"It was made on the biggest film stock possible and meant for the largest screens, but it isn’t mere summertime escapist entertainment like most of the movies these days in large formats. At the very least it is a necessary reminder that we are still sitting on the powder keg Oppenheimer and team created and we still need to heed his warnings, maybe now more than ever. Oppenheimer is the most important motion picture of 2023, and maybe far beyond." -Peter Hammond, Deadline

"At the film’s pulsing nucleus is Murphy as Oppenheimer, and he is compelling throughout. Given the movie’s hefty import, you’d have expected him to infuse every ounce of his talent into this performance, and that is certainly evident from his every moment on screen — often with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema’s IMAX lens focused squarely and unsparingly on his face, as he conjures the conflicting emotions that rage beneath Oppenheimer’s surface." -Dan Jolin, Empire

"Oppenheimer is a towering achievement not just for Nolan, but for everyone involved. It is the kind of film that makes you appreciative of every aspect of filmmaking, blowing you away with how it all comes together in such a fitting fashion. Even though Nolan is honing in on talents that have brought him to where he is today, this film takes this to a whole new level of which we've never seen him before. With Oppenheimer, Nolan is more mature as a filmmaker than ever before, and it feels like we may just now be beginning to see what incredible work he’s truly capable of making." -Ross Bonaime, Collider

First reactions from Oppenheimer's world premiere in Paris

Praise for Cillian Murphy

After five previous roles in Nolan-directed projects, Murphy finally gets his chance to shine in the lead. And judging from the first reactions, he nailed it. Matt Maytum calls the film a "character study on the grandest scale, with a sublime central performance by Cillian Murphy." Ben Mekler notes that Murphy "transforms into the destroyer of worlds."


Praise for Oppenheimer's ensemble cast

There's also abundant praise the for the ensemble, which features A-list talent all around, including Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Benny Safdie, Michael Angarano, Josh Hartnett, Rami Malek, Matthew Modine, Kenneth Branagh, and more. Lindsey Bahr raved about the "nuanced performances" from the cast, even "some just for a scene." Sean O'Connell says "The entire cast is outstanding, and while the history is DENSE, it’s Nolan’s most streamlined and accessible."

Praise for Oppenheimer's cinematography

First reactions are also taking note of how gorgeous the film looks, particularly in IMAX 70mm. There's even some callouts to Nolan's longtime cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema. Steven Weintraub calls the film "incredible," while noting "every aspect of the film is worth talking about from the brilliant performances, to #HoytevanHoytema's amazing work behind the camera, to the way Nolan tells the story. The 3 hour run time flies by. See it in 
@IMAX 70mm if you can." Simon Thomson says "Hoyte van Hoytema‘s execution of [Nolan's] vision is breathtaking."

RELATED: Oppenheimer: Christopher Nolan Reveals IMAX Secrets in New Featurette As Tickets Go on Sale

Oppenheimer, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, drops with a bang this Friday, July 21. Click here to pick up tickets!