Fact Check

No, 'Oppenheimer' Director Chris Nolan Didn't Detonate a Real Nuclear Bomb

The bombshell claim exploded on social media after Nolan said he would not rely on CGI.

Published Jul 25, 2023

Christopher Nolan speaks on stage about his movie "Oppenheimer" during Universal Pictures and Focus Features presentation at CinemaCon 2023, on April 26, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (VALERIE MACON / AFP via Getty Images)
Image Via VALERIE MACON / AFP via Getty Images
"Oppenheimer" director Christopher Nolan detonated a real nuclear bomb while filming.

The July 2023 release of "Oppenheimer," director and writer Christopher Nolan's explosive biopic on the physicist pioneering the atomic bomb, has been making waves at the box office and in the Twitterverse. 

Nolan raised eyebrows in 2022, long before the movie was released, when he announced he was ditching CGI (computer generated imagery) for more authentic non-digital visual effects, including for the scene in which the eponymous J. Robert Oppenheimer watches a nuclear bomb explode.

"Chris Nolan detonated a real nuke" memes have been circulating in one form or another ever since. When the entertainment blog Dexerto tweeted on July 7 that the film contained "no CGI shots ... at all," public speculation about the movie began to mushroom once again. So, too, did the memes — with many posts blurring the lines between sincere takes and trolling.



But there are ways to recreate a nuclear explosion for the big screen that don't require CGI or a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions. In the case of "Oppenheimer," the explosion sequence was a mix of aluminum powder, magnesium, and forced perspective, a photography trick using angles and distance that can make items seem bigger or smaller than they really are. Far from a technological miracle, it's among the most common tactics that crop up in fact checks performed by SnopesIt has been for years. 

Nolan told Empire that this kind of authenticity was the crux of his filmmaking process. "We have to find a way into this [Oppenheimer]'s head. We've gotta see the world the way he sees it," Nolan said. "[W]e have to feel the danger, feel the threat of all this somehow."

He did not, however, detonate a real nuclear bomb. 

For background, here is why we sometimes write about satire/humor.


"Christopher Nolan On Visualising Physics In Oppenheimer's Head: 'We've Gotta See The Atoms Moving' – Exclusive." Empire, 2023, https://www.empireonline.com/movies/news/christopher-nolan-represents-physics-visually-oppenheimer-exclusive/.

Forced Perspective Archives | Snopes.Com. https://www.snopes.com/tag/forced-perspective/. Accessed 24 July 2023.

Forget CGI. Did Christopher Nolan Set off a REAL Nuclear Bomb for Oppenheimer? 24 July 2023, http://web.archive.org/web/20230724180057/https://www.dailyo.in/entertainment/forget-cgi-did-christopher-nolan-set-off-a-real-nuclear-bomb-for-oppenheimer-38239.

"How Exactly Did Oppenheimer's Special Effects Team Recreate an Atomic Blast Without CGI?" SYFY Official Site, 26 May 2023, https://www.syfy.com/syfy-wire/how-oppenheimer-recreated-atomic-blast-without-using-cgi.

Shoard, Catherine. "Christopher Nolan Recreated Nuclear Explosion without CGI for New Film." The Guardian, 13 Dec. 2022. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/film/2022/dec/13/christopher-nolan-recreated-nuclear-explosion-without-cgi-for-new-film-oppenheimer.

Wrona, Aleksandra. "Examples of a Deceptive Photography Trick: Forced Perspective." Snopes, 22 May 2023, https://www.snopes.com/list/forced-perspective/.

Sarah Baum is a former reporting fellow for Snopes.

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