7 Documentaries to Watch After "Oppenheimer" to Learn More About His Legacy

Christopher Nolan's "Oppenheimer" takes a deep dive into the life and work of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the influential figure behind the invention of nuclear weapons. The epic creatively explores Oppenheimer's collaboration with the nation's best scientists, Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, and Lewis Strauss in the Manhattan Project, which sought to get ahead of Nazi Germany's nuclear weapon development during WWII. According to History, The Manhattan Project, active from 1942 to 1946, was a research and development project that facilitated the creation of the first atomic bombs, which would later be detonated over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Oppenheimer's efforts have had an enduring and polarizing legacy in national and global nuclear proliferation and nuclear development, ranging from the arms race of the Cold War to the ever-looming current threat of nuclear warfare. The subject is complicated and controversial and even stirred up polarizing feelings among those in the Manhattan Project, including Oppenheimer himself.

Whether you've got plans to see "Oppenheimer" in theaters soon or you already saw it, here are some of the best documentaries to watch about the renowned physicist and the impact of atomic bombs in our society.

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"American Experience: The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer"

After aiding the United States in creating the most powerful weapon known to mankind, Oppenheimer was wary about what the future would look like and advocated against the development of the hydrogen bomb by 1950. This, combined with the people he was associated with being linked to the Communist Party, led to a harsh security hearing in 1954 that would eventually strip him of security clearance and any influence he had in the US government.

Watch "American Experience: The Trials of J. Robert Oppenheimer" ($4) on Apple TV+.

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"Oppenheimer: The Decision to Drop the Bomb"

Released in 1965, the NBC documentary "Oppenheimer: The Decision to Drop the Bomb" sits down with key figures in the development in the Manhattan Project and atomic bombs, including Oppenheimer himself, to examine the factors that led up to the 1945 bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The documentary is one of the only original works that include in-depth interviews with those involved in the historic event.

Watch "Oppenheimer: The Decision to Drop the Bomb" on YouTube.

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"The Atomic Café"

The 1982 documentary "The Atomic Café" is a compilation of newsreels, training videos, advertisements, and informative civil and military movies from the post-war era of the 1940s to 1960s. During this time period, the arms race and threat of a nuclear bombing on the United States was imminent, which led to an influx of visual guides, training, and advertisements to prepare the public for such a disaster. "The Atomic Café" is considered to be so influential that it was added to the National Film Registry in 2016.

Watch "The Atomic Café" on Youtube.

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"The Day After Trinity"

"The Day After Trinity" was released in 1980, and it examines the testing of the first atomic bomb at the Trinity site in New Mexico in July 1945 and the subsequent consequences of the weapon. It includes formerly declassified footage of the bomb's development, as well as interviews with key figures of the Manhattan Project, including Oppenheimer. The film was nominated for an Oscar for best documentary feature in 1980 and is part of The Criterion Collection.

Watch "The Day After Trinity" on The Criterion Channel's website.

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"Trinity and Beyond"

Narrated by William Shatner, the 1995 documentary "Trinity and Beyond" explores the development of the atomic bomb, from trial tests to the official Trinity detonation in July 1945. Unlike other documentaries, "Trinity and Beyond" also highlights the development of nuclear weapons in other countries, including Project 596, the first bomb test conducted by China in 1964.

Watch "Trinity and Beyond" ($3) on Prime Video.

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"Countdown to Zero"

Though not exclusively about Oppenheimer, the 2010 documentary "Countdown to Zero" discusses the physicist's contribution to nuclear proliferation and interviews a number of politicians and experts, like Tony Blair, Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Robert McNamara, to discuss the impact of atomic bombs on global terrorism and international politics.

Watch "Countdown to Zero" ($4) on Prime Video.

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"Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise"

Oppenheimer isn't at the center of Mark Cousins's 2015 documentary, but his legacy is explored in the several nuclear disasters throughout history. From the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster to the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island, "Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise" examines the good and bad aspects of atomic science and how our society has adapted to its existence.

Watch "Atomic: Living in Dread and Promise" ($4) on Prime Video.