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The 10 best movies like ‘Oppenheimer’

These great movies are just as compelling as 'Oppenheimer' in terms of their stories, themes, and performances.

The Imitation Game
Image via StudioCanal

In its intriguing depiction of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s role in developing the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer has captivated audiences worldwide. The film, directed by Christopher Nolan and released in theaters on July 21, 2023, has already earned over $180 million worldwide and received critical acclaim, with particular praise for its cast, screenplay, and visuals. Of course, this success is partly owed to the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon on social media, which encouraged audiences to see both films as a double feature.

Still, the success of Oppenheimer as a whole is a tribute to Christopher Nolan’s skill as a director, as evidenced by the film’s gripping narrative, brilliant performances, and provocative ideas. It sheds light on the life of a mysterious historical figure and encourages contemplation of the moral weight of scientific advances and the consequence of personal decisions. You’re in luck if you liked or are curious about this biographical thriller and want to watch other films with comparable themes (such as science, history, and ethical quandaries). Here are 10 other great movies that are just as compelling as Oppenheimer.

10. Tesla (2020)

The biographical drama, Tesla, delves into the complicated life of the Serbian-American scientist Nikola Tesla, played by Ethan Hawke, who contributed significantly to advancing technologies that are now considered the backbone of contemporary electrical infrastructure. Tesla’s contributions to electromagnetism and wireless radio communications were enormous, although he is less well-known than his colleagues Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. 

Directed by Michael Almereyda, the film’s storyline is nontraditional, taking a more experimental route than a straightforward one. The story’s nonlinear progression, featuring fictional scenarios, modern allusions, and anachronistic occurrences, represents Tesla’s futuristic outlook and thoughts. The film is ostensibly a historical drama, although contemporary references exist. Scenes when characters employ technology that existed long after Tesla’s death are included. While unexpected, these choices ultimately support the film’s central notion of Tesla as a visionary. 

9. Arrival (2016)

Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, Arrival is a science fiction film based on the award-winning short story by Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life.” The plot revolves around 12 alien spaceships that land in various parts of the world. Professor of linguistics Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are hired by the United States military to decipher the aliens’ language and establish communication. Forest Whitaker plays the role of Colonel Weber, the military officer overseeing the operation.

When compared to other alien invasion films, Arrival stands out because it focuses less on fighting and more on listening and working together. Complex subjects like time, memory, and the meaning of human existence are explored with a reflective and philosophical narrative tone. The film focuses mainly on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a theory of linguistic relativity that posits that a language’s structure influences the worldview or cognition of its speakers. Dr. Banks’ view of time shifts as she studies the alien language, triggering a chain of dreams or visions of her daughter.

8. The Current War (2017)

The Current War is a historical drama film directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Thomas Edison, Michael Shannon as George Westinghouse, Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla, and Tom Holland as Samuel Insull. The film depicts the late 19th-century competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to develop and commercialize a sustainable electrical infrastructure in the United States. This struggle, known as the “War of the Currents,” was centered on the two opposing electrical current systems: Edison’s direct current (DC) and Westinghouse’s alternating current (AC). 

Edison, the brilliant inventor and self-promoter, is presented as devoted to his DC system and prepared to go to any length to secure its success, including a smear campaign against AC. Westinghouse is shown as a more reticent figure who believes in the supremacy and efficiency of his AC system. Tesla, who worked for Edison before joining Westinghouse, is essential in the AC/DC debate. The film follows these characters’ professional and personal lives, heated rivalry, technological advancements, and enormous impact on constructing the contemporary world. 

7. Radioactive (2019)

The film Radioactive, directed by Marjane Satrapi and written by Jack Thorne, is a biographical drama inspired by Lauren Redniss’ graphic novel Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout, published in 2010. Rosamund Pike plays the famous physicist and chemist, while Sam Riley plays her husband, Pierre Curie. The film provides an in-depth look at Marie Curie’s life and accomplishments, beginning with her innovative work in Paris at the turn of the 20th century. To this day, Curie is the only person to have earned Nobel Prizes in both Physics and Chemistry for her groundbreaking work that led to the discovery of polonium and radium and the formulation of the theory of radioactivity.

Beyond the traditional biography, Radioactive interweaves scenes that show the long-term effects of the Curies’ discoveries, such as the creation of medical remedies, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Chornobyl disaster. These instances highlight the beneficial and harmful consequences of their efforts. While Marie Curie’s scientific achievements are the primary emphasis of the film, the personal ties between Marie, Pierre, and their daughters, as well as her affair with physicist Paul Langevin following Pierre’s death and the subsequent scandal, are also explored.

6. The Theory of Everything (2014)

The Theory of Everything is a biographical romantic drama directed by James Marsh. The screenplay by Anthony McCarten is based on the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking. Beginning with his time as a Ph.D. student at Cambridge University in the 1960s, the film follows the life of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne). It explores his groundbreaking research and speculations on cosmology, black holes, and the big bang. 

However, the film is not only about Hawking’s scientific achievements; it also focuses on his personal life, particularly his relationship with his wife, Jane Wilde Hawking (Felicity Jones), and the challenges posed by his diagnosis with motor neuron disease (also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease), which gradually paralyzed him over the decades. The Theory of Everything is a love story and a biographical drama. It depicts Stephen and Jane’s relationship with warmth and sensitivity, from their early romance and marriage to the stresses of Stephen’s sickness and popularity, to their eventual separation.

5. The Man Who Knew Infinity (2015)

Adapted from Robert Kanigel’s 1991 non-fiction book of the same name, Matthew Brown’s The Man Who Knew Infinity is a biographical drama film about Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan (Dev Patel) and his instructor G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). The picture delves into the life of Ramanujan, a self-taught mathematical genius from Madras, India. Ramanujan, who had no academic experience in mathematics, devised innovative theories, many of which he claimed to have had in dreams.

In the film, Ramanujan accepts an invitation from the famous mathematician G.H. Hardy to work at Cambridge University in England during World War I, leaving behind his young wife Janaki (Devika Bhise). Hardy recognizes Ramanujan’s genius despite the latter’s unusual techniques and lack of formal schooling, becoming his mentor and passionate defender against the prevailing racial and cultural biases of the time. Ramanujan significantly contributed to mathematics, particularly in number theory and infinite series. 

4. Hidden Figures (2016)

Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, with Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons in supporting roles, Hidden Figures explores the enormous but largely underappreciated contributions of African-American women to NASA’s space program in the 1960s. It tells the real-life stories of three remarkable mathematicians: Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).

Directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, the film is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. ”Hidden Figures” is both an inspiring tribute to these women and a stark portrayal of the racial and gender discrimination they faced. Despite the adversities, they remained determined, making vital contributions to NASA and paving the way for future generations of women and people of color in science and technology.

3. The Imitation Game (2014)

Morten Tyldum and Graham Moore’s The Imitation Game is a drama film adapted from Andrew Hodges’ biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, a logician and cryptanalyst. The film centers on Turing’s crucial involvement in deciphering Nazi Germany’s Enigma code during World War II, an accomplishment that significantly boosted the Allies’ chances of victory. The Bombe machine was created by Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park, Britain’s top-secret code-breaking headquarters, to interpret the Enigma-encrypted transmissions.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Turing captures his intelligence and the social awkwardness, drive, and emotional suffering he endured as a closeted gay man when homosexuality was illegal in Britain. Keira Knightley stars as code-breaker Joan Clarke, who becomes Alan Turing’s closest friend and briefly engaged fiancée. She gives a fantastic portrayal that brings to life Clarke’s struggles with sexism in a male-dominated sector and her friendship with Alan Turing. At the 87th Academy Awards, the film received eight nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director (Tyldum), Best Actor (Cumberbatch), and Best Supporting Actress (Knightley). It won the award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

2. Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar is a science fiction film directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, Ellen Burstyn, and Michael Caine. Set in the near future, when Earth has been devastated by climate change and a global crop plague, humanity risks extinction. McConaughey plays Joseph Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned farmer recruited for a mission to explore beyond our solar system in the quest of a new home for humanity.

The film is notable for its accurate portrayal of astrophysical concepts like black holes and wormholes, thanks to the input of theoretical physicist and executive producer Kip Thorne. Despite its grand scope and advanced scientific ideas, Interstellar is fundamentally a human story that will touch your heart. Commercially and critically, Interstellar was a smashing success. It received multiple Oscar nominations and took home the trophy for Best Visual Effects.

1. A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman, A Beautiful Mind is a biographical drama based on Sylvia Nasar’s book. It follows the life of Nobel Prize-winning economist John Nash. Russell Crowe plays Nash, and Jennifer Connelly plays his wife Alicia. Nash’s great academic career and his battle with schizophrenia are both examined in the film. The story begins with Nash’s time as a student at Princeton University, where he created the Nash Equilibrium, a landmark mathematical notion. 

Russell Crowe delivers a compelling performance as Nash, capturing the character’s brilliance and the increasing complexity of his mental illness. Jennifer Connelly also provides a powerful performance as Nash’s wife, Alicia, who supports him through his struggles. A Beautiful Mind received widespread critical acclaim and was a commercial success. It won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director for Ron Howard, Best Adapted Screenplay for Akiva Goldsman, and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Connelly. 

Faith Katunga
About the author

Faith Katunga

Faith is a freelance writer with an insatiable curiosity for all aspects of current events, from the global economy and fashion to pop culture and travel. She watches an absurd number of cat videos on Instagram when not reading or writing about what is going on in the world.