From New Mexico’s Santa Fe to New Jersey’s Princeton University, here are some prominent filming locations of ‘Oppenheimer’ you can visit in real life.
Helmed by veteran filmmaker Christopher Nolan, the biopic revisits World War II to uncover the truth behind one of history’s most important inventors. Starring Cillian Murphy from Peaky Blinders fame, the film depicts J. Robert Oppenheimer’s genius that led to a catastrophic event of such magnitude that the world remembers it even today.
The screenplay is based on the Pulitzer-winning book, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J Sherwin. Marking the 12th film of Nolan’s career, it is also his longest-running movie with a runtime of three hours.
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The cast and plot of Oppenheimer
Besides Murphy, who steps into the shoes of American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the inventor of the atomic bomb, the film also stars Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr and Florence Pugh.
Oppenheimer depicts the life and works of the enigmatic scientist who spearheaded the Manhattan Project — the effort undertaken by the American-led Allied Forces during the war to build a nuclear arsenal.
Where did the Oppenheimer filming mainly take place?
In his quest for an authentic depiction of real-life events, the master director used high-resolution IMAX cameras and even filmed portions in both colour and monochrome for different timelines. In fact, the nuclear bomb test scene was recreated with minimal CGI. Keeping such minutiae of the era in mind, scouting for the most appropriate filming locations became a major task.
Trust Nolan and his impeccable eye for detail to turn every filming spot into a scene straight out of history. Commencing in 2022, filming mainly took place in the US state of New Mexico and its surrounding areas. Los Alamos, Santa Fe, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Berkeley are some of the prominent locations where the team shot extensively.
Add these real-life Oppenheimer filming locations to your travel list
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Several buildings from the Manhattan Project era were utilised in the movie to give it a realistic touch. Los Alamos, codenamed Site Y, served as the location for the scientist’s house and office as well as the site for all his experiments.
In this quaint town in northern New Mexico, the production team erected custom sets to create a vintage setting. The crew shot in and around Los Alamos to capture the raw essence of the location, which is, to date, considered iconic for its fascinating history. Oppenheimer’s house, where the scientist resided along with his wife Kitty (Blunt) and children Toni and Peter between 1943 and 1945, is one of the primary filming spots. As per the film’s website, this house stands in the Bathtub Row neighbourhood.
Interestingly, the Oppenheimer house once served as the Los Alamos Ranch School before the Manhattan Project took over. It was powered by a generator located in the Power House at the end of Bathtub Row.
Other places to visit in Los Alamos: Many other historical gems around this area also appear in the movie that are worth a visit. This includes Los Alamos National Laboratory, Civilian Women’s Dormitory, Lamy Train Station and Fuller Lodge. They offer great insights into the horrors of WWII and the dark days of the Cold War.
The Manhattan Project National Park is a must-visit place to decode what went behind the Manhattan Project and trace the journeys of the minds behind it. The exhibits at the Los Alamos History Museum are sure to transport you to the bygone era as well.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Neighbouring Los Alamos, Santa Fe is a desert city in New Mexico that served as Nolan’s set for the Trinity Test Site. The location where the world’s first atom bomb was tested holds an important place in US history, and Oppenheimer leaves no stone unturned to nearly depict all that went on at the site.
Since the Inception (2010) director did not want to use much CGI, the sandy landscapes located centrally in the Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico provided the perfect backdrop for the nuclear bomb detonation scene. The arid Los Alamos border was Nolan’s choice for reimagining the crucial step in the development of nuclear weaponry. However, the real test site is in Jornada del Muerto, located in the west-central part of New Mexico.
— Oppenheimer – A Film by Christopher Nolan (@OppenheimerATOM) July 10, 2023
Other places to visit around Santa Fe: Filming stretched to neighbouring areas, including Abiquiu, Santa Clarita and Sierra Madre. While in Santa Fe and Los Alamos, visit Bandelier National Monument and Bradbury Science Museum. Experience rugged nature at Ashley Pond Park and go for a serene trek through the Jemez Mountain trail. Those seeking some adrenaline rush can visit Pajarito Mountain, a luxury ski resort, and stroll through Santa Fe National Forest for a blissful escape.
How to reach: The Santa Fe airport allows a few select airlines and private jets. Hence, taking a train or shuttle from Albuquerque or Taos might be more convenient. Santa Fe is well connected to surrounding cities by road; so you can drive down as well. From Santa Fe, you can reach Los Alamos in under an hour via a bus or by driving.
University of California (UC), Berkeley, California
Oppenheimer had an illustrious career as an academician during his time as a professor at the University of Cambridge in Berkley between 1929 and 1943. This was before he was appointed to head the Manhattan Project.
Nolan and his team went to great lengths to transform the 21st-century facade of the prestigious university to mimic the times when the physicist walked its corridors. According to SFGate, Murphy was seen filming in front of Wheeler Hall and the main library, both of which were redesigned with vintage lampposts. Whether it is the LeConte Hall, which housed his office, or the Campanile Way, the university became a major filming location for this biopic.
According to Sceen It, the Edwards Stadium is another noted Oppenheimer filming location which appears in the trailer as well. It is located at Fulton Street, on the Southwest corner of the UC Berkley campus.
How to visit the campus: The university offers guided campus tours throughout the year, except on certain holidays. The 90-minute walk is conducted by student ambassadors and is the perfect window to the heritage institution for a tourist or anyone who wishes to apply. Click here for more information.
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), California
In an attempt to depict every aspect and milestone achievement of the American genius, Nolan’s crew travelled to the University of California Los Angeles campus where Oppenheimer once taught.
Both Murphy and Pugh, who plays Jean Tatlock, a physics professor at UCLA and Oppenheimer’s love interest, were spotted filming on the college grounds. Greater Los Angeles also became a pivotal filming location as Murphy and Damon were spotted exiting the Millennium Baltimore Hotel in military attire. The latter portrays Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, the engineer, who was one of the architects of the Manhattan Project.
Matt Damon spotted while filming a scene at Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles for Christopher Nolan’s new film #Oppenheimer. Damon is set to play US Army Corps of Engineers Officer and Director of the Manhattan Project – Gen Leslie Groves@OppenheimerATOM #OppenheimerCast pic.twitter.com/rtmyBYxuAo
— Oppenheimer – A Film by Christopher Nolan (@OppenheimerATOM) October 7, 2022
Additionally, Blunt was also spotted around Los Angeles during the filming.
How to visit the campus: The Los Angeles campus also offers guided tours both virtually and in person. These give a glimpse of the high academic tradition and the vibrant student body. Those who plan on applying can also get a housing tour. For more information and to register, visit their website.
Other places to visit in California: When in California, don’t forget to visit the acclaimed Yosemite National Park, Lake Tahoe and Joshua Tree National Park to witness some of nature’s wonders. If you are looking for some urban connection, Santa Monica, San Francisco and Universal Studios Hollywood are some places to be. Needless to say, Los Angeles’ nightlife is something that you cannot miss.
How to reach: San Francisco and Los Angles airports in California are very well connected with all other major national and international airports and have multiple flight options. Here, you can get cabs, buses or hire a car to go around the city and even drive to nearby areas for sightseeing. Train journeys around the Californian countryside offer mesmerising views, too.
Princeton University, New Jersey
Another globally known university, where the physicist served as a director between 1947 and 1966, became a filming location for Oppenheimer. According to the movie’s website, this is also the place where Oppenheimer met Albert Einstein (played by Tom Conti in the film) who was his colleague at the time.
Murphy, Damon and Downey Jr., who plays Lewis Straus — a Jewish naval officer who became the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, were seen shooting in front of the university’s East Pyne library building. The team also took to the streets of New Jersey to film additional post-war scenes.
How to visit the campus: The admission department holds information sessions and guided campus tours on weekdays for those willing to apply. A 360-degree virtual tour is also available that holds a mirror to what campus life entails. Click here for more information.
Other places to visit in New Jersey: When in New Jersey, plan a trip to Cape May Beach and Lighthouse and Lakota Wolf Preserve. You can also soak in the dazzling lights and high-energy life of Jersey City.
How to reach: New Jersey is easily accessible via flights to Newark, Philadelphia and Trenton Mercer airports. The US state offers public transportation via buses, cabs and subways connecting major parts. You can drive down to sightseeing spots as well.
The best time to visit the USA: America offers an array of experiences and things to do depending on the season. June to August is the peak time for tourism. It is most suitable for trekking and camping too, as the skies are clear and the parks are free of snow.
Spring, between March and May, is a relative shoulder season. Visit the States to witness cherry blossoms and feel the nip in the air. Autumn or Fall, between September and November, is ideal for yellow-brown foliage sightings. While winters can be a bit harsh, if you are eager for snowy adventures, then this is the ideal time.
Hero and feature image: Courtesy Oppenheimer/IMDb
This story first appeared on Travel+Leisure Global.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: ‘Oppenheimer’ releases in all major theatres across the world on 21 July 2023.
Answer: ‘Oppenheimer’ traces the life and works of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bombs during World War II. The biopic releases on 21 July 2023, but there is no information about a sequel.