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Where Was Oppenheimer Filmed? Discover Christopher Nolan's Authentic Shoot Locations

Where was Oppenheimer filmed? Audiences get a peek inside the real-life Los Alamos home of J. Robert Oppenheimer and more.

By Grace Jidoun
"It Feels Very Intimate:" Cillian Murphy on Working with Christopher Nolan and His Prep for Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan’s ability to immerse viewers in J. Robert Oppenheimer’s world is now legendary. There’s the breathtaking crispness of the IMAX format and the astonishingly accurate portrayal of the visionary scientist by Cillian Murphy. But there’s another unique way Nolan brought Oppenheimer to life: many of the scenes at the Los Alamos National Laboratory played out in the house where the Oppenheimers actually lived.

At first, the idea of shooting in Los Alamos, New Mexico — the real-life location of The Manhattan Project — was scratched by Nolan. “Chris and his son took a road trip out there, and the present-day Los Alamos is very modernized,” production designer Ruth De Jong told IndieWire. “We wanted an overwhelmingly epic location that would help the audience understand what it meant for Oppenheimer to have taken his team to the middle of nowhere with nothing around,” she added.

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De Jong and Nolan set out on scouting trips through New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado in search of filming locations that would capture the haunting emptiness of Los Alamos in the 1940s. They settled on the aptly named Ghost Ranch (where Silverado and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull were filmed, among other films).

De Jong originally planned to rebuild the sprawling secret laboratory from the ground up, filming both exterior and interior scenes on one massive set. But she quickly realized the cost of such an endeavor would skyrocket out of control. “I mean, you hear Matt Damon say in the movie that they spend two years and $2 billion dollars on the real Los Alamos, and that’s 1942 dollars. The government gave them massive resources –– my resources were a little different,” she said.

Where was Oppenheimer filmed? 

A light bulb went off, and De Jong proposed filming the exterior scenes at Ghost Ranch and the interior scenes at the real Los Alamos. While the surrounding area is filled with contemporary homes and strip malls, there are still many vintage buildings with preserved-in-time interiors. Luckily, the Oppenheimers' 1929 ranch-style house is one of those buildings. The pristine interior provided an extra layer of authenticity to Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt’s scenes. “It really impacted them and put them in a great mindset,” De Jong said. “We wanted to transport them back in time.” 

Other Manhattan Project-era buildings popped up in the movie. “There was a women’s dormitory from the ’40s that housed a lot of the women that worked there, and we used that for the lab with the bowls of marbles,” De Jong said. The Lamy Train Station – a Spanish Mission-style structure that was the first stop for workers at Los Alamos — also appeared, as well as Fuller Lodge, which served as the community hub for the Manhattan Project and is now an art center. All of these locations are managed by the National Park Service and are available for self-guided tours.

Taking the same combined approach to the Berkeley scenes (J. Robert Oppenheimer’s stomping grounds from 1929 to 1943), De Jong and Nolan used Craftsman homes in Pasadena woven in with shots of the U.C. Berkeley campus. An area leading to the famous Campanile landmark was outfitted with old light posts and vintage cars. Down to the smallest details, Oppenheimer gives audiences a magnificent and shocking dose of realism.

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