OPPENHEIMER, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer (center), 2023. ph: Melinda Sue Gordon /© Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Film Everything you need to know to see Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ in 70mm IMAX

Everything you need to know to see Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ in 70mm IMAX

OPPENHEIMER, Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer (center), 2023. ph: Melinda Sue Gordon /© Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Christopher Nolan has been an analog guru and a proponent of large format IMAX since at least the days of “The Dark Knight.” After shooting substantial portions of “Interstellar,” “Dunkirk” and “Tenet” in IMAX 15-perf 70mm, he now brings the epic “Oppenheimer” to theaters in the format, which offers 10x the resolution of projection formats standard.

“IMAX film is the highest resolution film ever used, but it hadn’t been used in Hollywood movies until ‘Dark Knight,’” Nolan said. “I had seen IMAX movies in museums and was fascinated by them as a kid and used the fact that I was doing a sequel (to Batman) to negotiate with the studio about using it as a camera.”

With “Interstellar,” which began Nolan’s full-length collaboration with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, the director became increasingly experimental with the IMAX camera, culminating in its boldest use in “Oppenheimer,” the biographical thriller about physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), the “father of the atomic bomb”. Nolan and van Hoytema used the IMAX camera to explore the dual landscapes of Los Alamos (where the first atomic bomb was tested) and Oppenheimer’s face for a more intimate cinematic spectacle.

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“What large format photography gives you is clarity, first and foremost,” Nolan said in the “Oppenheimer” production notes. “It’s a format that allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in the story and reality that you’re taking them into. In the case of “Oppenheimer,” it’s a story of big, big, big. But I also wanted the audience to be in the rooms where it’s all happening, as if you were there, having a conversation with these scientists at these important moments.”

But not all cinemas are created equal, and the 70mm IMAX format isn’t available everywhere. Here, IndieWire explains how “Oppenheimer” manages to be in multiple formats and what you lose (or gain) by watching it in one versus the other.

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“Oppenheimer”Universal images

How “Oppenheimer” was filmed.

“Oppenheimer,” like “Dunkirk” and “Tenet,” was shot on IMAX and Panavision large format cameras, primarily due to audio issues with the noisy IMAX camera. The “Oppenheimer” film crew carried two to four IMAX film cameras, as needed, but did their best to use IMAX whenever possible. (Seventy percent of “Dunkirk” and 50 percent of “Tenet” were shot using IMAX cameras.) Panavision supplied Panavision System 65 Studio cameras for the non-IMAX portions of the film.

Kodak supplied 65mm film for both IMAX and Panavision cameras: 250D (5207) and 500T (5219) 65mm color negative and Double-X (5222) black and white negative. The large format black and white was at the request of Nolan and van Hoytema and was a first for Kodak – he had never finished 65mm black and white film for IMAX – and required a partnership between Kodak/FotoKem/IMAX and Panavision to support 65mm black and white workflow.

Simply put, shooting this way captures images with the highest resolution and clarity. Even if you’re making 35mm prints or creating DCPs, the better the source image, the better the various iterations will be. “That’s the exciting thing about making an IMAX film,” Nolan said The Associated Press. “When you scan it for digital format, you’re working with the absolute best possible image that you could capture, and that translates beautifully into newer projector formats like laser projectors.”

Starting with “The Dark Knight,” Nolan has developed a system they call “centering the action” so that nothing is lost. Van Hoytema is also always aware of “frame lines for different theaters” when he looks through the camera. In larger presentations, IMAX 1.43:1 (the huge square screen), the screen practically disappears for the audience. For formats such as 35mm, the top and bottom are cropped. But, Nolan said, “Creatively, what we’ve discovered over the years is that there are no compromises in composition.”

The 70mm IMAX print of
The 70mm IMAX print of “Oppenheimer”David Keighley/IMAX

What you lose or gain in different formats and technical specifications

Second IMAX extension, when presented in 70mm IMAX, “Oppenheimer” sequences shot on IMAX 15-perf are printed in full quality in their native format for the greatest visual presentation possible, filling the gigantic IMAX screen from top to bottom (ratio aspect ratio 1.43:1). The 65mm 5-perf sequences fill the IMAX screen from edge to edge (2.20:1 aspect ratio). The final image is completely analog and scales from 2.20:1 to 1.43:1 aspect ratio. This is combined with an uncompressed 16-bit/44.1kHz 5.0 IMAX digital audio mix.

Digital IMAX: IMAX first introduced digital projectors in 2008 and the first digital projectors had an innovative dual 2K design. Today’s projectors are 4K lasers. The IMAX digital presentation was created from 8k scans of the original film elements, graded specifically for high-contrast dual-projector IMAX digital projectors, before being scaled to 4K resolution and packaged with uncompressed 24-bit IMAX 5.0 audio mix /48kHz.

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70mm: When presented on regular 70mm film, sequences shot on 65mm 5-perf are presented in their native format, IMAX sequences have been optically reduced to 5-perf 70mm film to produce an ultra-high definition picture. resolution without grain, cropped top and bottom to fill the wider frame. This process is photochemical, preserving the original analog color of the images and presented in a 2.2:1 aspect ratio. The sound is transported to a separate DTS disc to produce state-of-the-art 6-track digital sound.

35mm: The 35mm prints were photochemically made, retaining all of the rich analog color of the original 65mm photograph and cropped top and bottom to create a seamless 2.35:1 anamorphic image. Sound is encoded on the pressings in Dolby SR, Dolby 5.1 and DTS for 6-track digital playback.

Sound: While a handful of sound mavens and purists might be able to discern slight differences between the various DCP and print formats – one projectionist IndieWire spoke to argued that regular 70mm prints might be slightly smaller because the audio DTS is compressed and the other formats are not – for 99 percent of the audience, the distinctions between presentations in terms of audio will be negligible. No matter what format you view “Oppenheimer” in, it should sound great; according to Universal, the sound was specially mixed to maximize the power of low-end frequencies in the main channels and subwoofer channel. This effect will be present in all available presentations of “Oppenheimer”, all designed to be played at the industry designated volume level at 7 on the Dolby Cinema Processor.

For Nolan, when it comes to seeing “Oppenheimer,” there is one clear choice above all others. In an interview with Associated press, said: “The sharpness, clarity and depth of the image are unmatched. The title, to me, is shooting on 70mm IMAX film, you’re really making the screen disappear. You’re getting a 3D feel without the glasses. You have a huge screen and fill the audience’s peripheral vision. You’re immersing them in the world of the film.”

Where to see ‘Oppenheimer’ in 70mm IMAX

With “Oppenheimer,” Nolan made his biggest push for IMAX exhibiting in 70mm, his favorite format at the highest resolution. Second IMAX extension, 30 of up to 50 theaters worldwide will show “Oppenheimer” in 70mm IMAX (including 19 in the US and six in Canada). In addition, more than 100 show the film in 70mm and almost 100 in 35mm.

As reported by IndieWire’s Jim Hemphill, Hollywood’s TCL IMAX Chinese Theater required a larger projection booth to accommodate the massive size of “Oppenheimer’s” 70mm IMAX theater plate. All 53 reels have been spliced ​​together (spanning 11 miles) with orange extension borders to fit the 3-hour running time.

Here is a list of the 70mm IMAX North American theaters listed on the IMAX site:


Harkins Arizona Mills 25 and IMAX – Tempe, Arizona


AMC Metreon 16 and IMAX – San Francisco, CA

Universal Cinema AMC at CityWalk Hollywood and IMAX – Universal City, CA

TCL Chinese Theater IMAX – Hollywood CA

Regal Edwards Ontario Palace and IMAX – Ontario, CA

Regal Irvine Spectrum 21 + IMAX – Irvine CA

Esquire IMAX – Sacramento, CA

Regal Hacienda Crossings and IMAX – Dublin, CA


AutoNation IMAX, Museum of Discovery and Science – Fort Lauderdale, FL


Regal Mall of Georgia and IMAX – Buford, GA


IMAX Theater at the Indiana State Museum – Indianapolis, IN


Chrysler IMAX Dome Theater, Michigan Science Center – Detroit, MI

Celebration! Grand Rapids North Cinemas and IMAX – Grand Rapids, MI

New York

AMC Lincoln Square 13 and IMAX – New York, New York


Regal UA King of Prussia and IMAX – King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

Rhode Island

Providence Place Cinema 16 and IMAX – Providence, RI


AMC Rivercenter 11 and IMAX – San Antonio, Texas

Cinemark 17 and IMAX – Dallas, Texas


Regal Opry Mills and IMAX – Nashville, TN


Scotiabank Chinook and IMAX – Calgary, AB

Scotiabank Edmonton and IMAX – Edmonton, AB

Cineplex Langley and IMAX theaters – Langley, BC

Cineplex Mississauga and IMAX movie theaters – Mississauga, ON

Cineplex Vaughan and IMAX theaters – Woodbridge, ON

Kramer IMAX, Saskatchewan Science Center – Regina, SK

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