Christopher Nolan‘s Oppenheimer – his biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who developed the nuclear bomb during World War II – was already a very big deal, but it’s just added two huge names to a cast that already included Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt; Robert Downey Jr. and Matt Damon.
Damon previously worked with Nolan on Interstellar and is less of a surprise casting, but Downey Jr. has only made one film outside of the MCU in years, and that was the much-maligned Dolittle.
While he’s signed on to a few other projects, this is easily his biggest non-MCU role (or at least non-franchise if you count Sherlock Holmes) since before he was even cast as Iron Man.
Downey Jr. will play Lewis Strauss, a member and then chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), while Damon will portray Leslie Groves, a United States Army Corps of Engineers officer who oversaw the construction of the Pentagon and directed the Manhattan Project itself.
This will be Nolan’s first film away from Warner Bros. after disapproving of the studio’s distribution methods during the pandemic, namely that they decided to release big movies directly to HBO Max, which made him fear for the cinematic experience.
So this film is now in development at Universal, who won a bidding war by guaranteeing Nolan a lengthy theatrical window of 100 days, plus a six-week blackout period surrounding the release of the film where no other Universal film can be released. Strict, but when you’re a director of Nolan’s stature on essentially the open market, it’s easy to dictate terms.
Nolan is writing the Oppenheimer screenplay himself, which is based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph & Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer.
Nolan’s wife Emma Thomas is producing, and he’s also brought along some other old friends, including Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and Tenet editor Jennifer Lame.
While Downey Jr. has been stuck in franchise world for over a decade, Damon is used to original projects from acclaimed directors like this.
He recently starred in Tom McCarthy‘s Stillwater and Ridley Scott‘s The Last Duel. The only other major role Downey Jr. currently has in the works is in A24’s limited series adaptation of Viet Thanh Nguyen‘s novel The Sympathizer.
All Nolan films are big, but Oppenheimer and its stacked cast is going to keep people talking right up until the film arrives on July 21, 2023.