Filming of some of the most critical parts of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer (2023) took place in and around Los Alamos and Santa Fe in New Mexico, USA. The film featured Cillian Murphy as the renowned physicist J Robert Oppenheimer who led the Manhattan Project, resulting in the creation of the world’s first nuclear weapon. With the film’s backdrop being a major part of history, the locations of the movie served crucially not only in getting the narrative forward, but also as discovery of potential locales.
“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. He also likes films to feel hand-made, not made in a studio or generated with computer generated imagery. You feel that throughout the movie, particularly in the area of practical effects, whether it’s putting snow on the ground, or creating ripples in a pond, which is a recurring motif in the movie, or how he approached the first atomic bomb explosion,” producer Charles Roven said during an interview.
The majority of Oppenheimer takes place in New Mexico, which is home to Los Alamos, a key nuclear laboratory of the United States Military and also the site of the Trinity test site, and other educational institutions where the physicist had actually carried out his studies.
Los Alamos, New Mexico is bustling with ancient village sites, spectacular scenery, diverse wildlife, uncommon high-altitude recreational opportunities, small-town friendliness, world-class cultural activities, fascinating history and world-changing technology development. The film aimed to capture the haunting emptiness of Los Alamos in the 1940s, which it did, with parts of the interiors filmed at the real Los Alamos, allowing actors Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt to perform in the home where their characters had lived.
The landscape of Ghost Ranch, made famous by painter Georgia O’Keeffe, encompasses 21,000 acres of towering rock walls, vivid colours and vast skies. The exteriors shootings of the film were constructed and shot at Ghost Ranch, while the majority of the interior scenes were shot at Los Alamos. The crew chose to create a detailed reproduction of the real Los Alamos because it had become too modernised. This drawing was subsequently turned into a physical 3D model at the pre-production facility. Ghost Ranch is well-known for its astounding fossil concentration. Chief among these is the fossilised remains of the theropod dinosaur Coelophysis, of which an estimated nine hundred specimens remain preserved in a quarry on the property.
Santa Fe is a colourful, artistic city, bursting with a rich history and plenty of festivals that celebrate it all. With a culture based on a variety of unusual ingredients, including Gothic cathedrals, a love for the great outdoors, chilli-infused cuisine and a profound emphasis on the arts. Santa Fe also preserves a historic feel, with Spanish-influenced architecture and buildings that date back to the 16th century, but one of the main reasons people visit is for its art. Nolan and the Oppenheimer team were granted permission to film at White Sands Proving Ground, the New Mexico military base where the Trinity test was conducted. A replica of the Trinity test site was constructed and filmed in Santa Fe and it bore similarities to the exteriors of Los Alamos that director Christopher Nolan chose. The bunker where Oppenheimer witnessed the world’s first atomic weapon explode was one of the main attractions, along with a 30-m steel tower.