In a recent, now-viral interview, Matt Damon talked about how he told his wife that he would cut down on the amount of work he does and give her more time than before, but he would make an exception if Chris Nolan called. Damon, a Hollywood A-lister who first worked with Nolan on Interstellar (2015), where he had a very impactful cameo, has always been a vocal admirer of the director. He would probably take on any role if it was a Nolan project. Because a role in a Christopher Nolan film is sacred—at least, that’s how so many people in the business perceive it. And it makes sense, too, considering how Nolan uses his actors.
Nolan’s latest, Oppenheimer, is no exception, as the man has successfully lined up a huge supporting cast around the titular role of the controversial physicist, played by Cillian Murphy. Coincidentally, this is the first time Murphy has had a leading role in a Nolan movie, and the actor has worked with the director five times before. Clearly, this is a dream come true for Murphy, but it is no less true for every other actor who got to be a part of the film.
And thanks to a sharply written, inventive screenplay written by Nolan himself, every single actor had something important to do, irrespective of the amount of screen time they got. In this article, we are going to rank all the supporting characters of Oppenheimer on the basis of the impact they managed to make. We are going to start with the least impactful and ascend to the most, but it should be mentioned that even the least impactful character was important enough to be here and get a whole paragraph.
15. Various Artists as Various Supporting Characters
Oppenheimer has more than thirty supporting characters, all of whom are based on real people. To make this list feasible, we are doing it this way. While I initially thought about an “honorable mention” segment, the way we’ve done it here seems more appropriate, as the final thought is that these characters deserve to be on this list as much as the rest. The ones who particularly stand out from this group are Alden Ehrenreich as Lewis Strauss’s Senate Aide, who, despite being on the darker side, seems to have a conscience; Jack Quaid as physicist Richard Feyman, who plays the bongo adhering his real life counterpart who got famous for the same, and also refuses to wear a welder’s glass during the Trinity Test; and Kenneth Branagh as Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who pretty much acts as Oppenheimer’s mentor in the movie.
14. Josh Harnett as Ernest Lawrence
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ernest Lawrence was one of Oppenheimer’s closest friends and, of course, a key figure in the Manhattan Project. Josh Harnett, who was recently seen in the spectacular Netflix’s Black Mirror episode Beyond The Sea just last month, plays the part with enough warmth and a lot of conviction. With a lot of screen time and his acting skills, Harnett makes a lot of impact as Lawrence. The character has a lot of dialogue, but his most memorable scene is the silent one where he walks away without giving testimony against his friend, Oppenheimer, at the very end of the movie.
13. David Krumholtz as isidor Isaac Rabi
Another Nobel-winning physicist and Oppenheimer’s close friend, Isidor Isaac Rabi’s most important moment in the movie comes when he tries to stop Oppenheimer from moving forward with the infamous Manhattan Project. As history would have it otherwise, Rabi ends up joining his friend and stays loyal to Oppenheimer until the end. Especially in his most tumultuous time, Oppenheimer finds much-needed support in Rabi’s. Seasoned actor David Krumholtz plays the part brilliantly and justifies the casting.
12. Jason Clarke as Roger Robb
Roger Robb, the attorney who had Oppenheimer under the microscope, which eventually led to the revocation of the physicist’s security clearance, is played by actor Jason Clarke in the movie. Clarke has experience playing both good guys and bad guys in his career, and with Oppenheimer, he finally gets to be an important part of a Christopher Nolan film. And he grasps the opportunity with both hands by playing Robb in sublime fashion, where he holds his composure in the beginning until launching a scathing attack on Oppenheimer during the trial. Robb’s pivotal scene comes when he interrogates Kitty Oppenheimer, where Clarke successfully matches the brilliance of Emily Blunt, who gets to be the star of the show.
11. Dane DeHaan as Kenneth Nichols
I kid you not; the more I saw Dane DeHaan, the more I felt like crushing the guy’s head. That is not an ideal reaction when it comes to a movie like this, but it also works as a testament to Dane DeHaan’s magnificent performance as Major Kenneth Nichols. Initially appearing as a mere sidekick of Manhattan Project director Leslie Groves, Nichols eventually shows his true color as someone who stands in Oppenheimer’s path in every possible way and eventually testifies against him. DeHaan has an intriguingly cold face, and the actor utilizes it very effectively in bringing Kenneth Nichols to life.
10. Tom Conti as Albert Einstein
When Einstein was first shown in the trailer of Oppenheimer, despite the fact that the path of one of the greatest scientists in the world and that of the father of the atomic bomb did cross, there was a smell of gimmick. But Christopher Nolan never really does things like that. Einstein in this movie is not just Tom Conti looking almost identical to his real-life counterpart, but also a huge deal when it comes to the narrative. Conti, an Academy Award-winning Scottish actor who previously worked with Nolan in “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012), takes on the most talked-about role and does a fantastic job in the limited screentime. He manages to make a lasting impact in all but two scenes, which only shows how brilliant Nolan’s writing is.
9. Dylan Arnold as Frank Oppenheimer
Before Oppenheimer, Dylan Arnold’s most memorable role was playing the troubled teenager Theo in the third season of Netflix’s smash-hit series You. The young actor takes the biggest leap of his career so far and pretty much lives and breathes the assignment. Playing the brother of the titular character, Arnold’s Frank was also many things, including a physicist, just like his brother. The movie wonderfully explores the character’s time as a communist, his relationship with his brother, and his involvement in the Manhattan Project. Given that he is the one who actually pushes the button during the most important scene of the movie, the Trinity Test, Frank automatically qualifies as a very impactful character, and Arnold’s nuanced portrayal of the man only adds value to it.
8. Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock
It is fascinating how Nolan manages to infuse the essential political angle into Oppenheimer by putting Florence Pugh’s Jean Tatlock right in the middle of it. Given the woman’s communist influence on Oppenheimer as well as the on-and-off romantic relationship the two had, a lot depended on how the character was portrayed on the screen. Pugh, who is arguably one of the best young actors of our generation, proves why she was trusted by Nolan with the role of such an important character. Her take on the troubled woman, who would eventually decide to end her life, is intimate and evocative, which is no less than the character deserves.
7. Gary Oldman as Harry S. Truman
In years to come, Gary Oldman’s Harry S. Truman offering his handkerchief to Cillian Murphy’s Oppenheimer when the latter is talking about his grief and the blood on his hands post-the bombing in of two Japanese cities will probably find its place in lists like “most iconic movie scenes.” There is nothing to be said about someone like Oldman, who is already a living legend and, most certainly, one of the greatest actors of our time. It is expected that wherever he goes and whatever he does, the man is bound to leave a mark. Naturally, his chilling portrayal of the US president, who was actually responsible for making the decision to drop the bombs, is absolutely phenomenal and should qualify as one of the greatest cameos ever.
6. Benny Safdie as Edward Teller
Benny Safdie, who is a director himself, is known for taking his acting process extremely seriously. He takes a very hands-on approach when it comes to playing a character. You would find stories like Safdie eating as many as thirty tiramisu to get one scene right while he was shooting for Paul Thomas Anderson’s Licorice Pizza (2021).
Safdie is blessed with a very interesting face and an extremely haunting pair of big eyes, which he pairs up with a heavy Hungarian accent while playing Edward Teller, who is known as the father of the hydrogen bomb. Teller and Oppenheimer have a very strange relationship where Oppenheimer strongly opposes Teller’s bomb while also encouraging him to pursue his project when everyone makes fun of Teller for even thinking about it. Among all the scientific minds involved in the Manhattan Project, Edward Teller has to be the most impactful, which could only happen because of the way Safdie played the part. Of course, Teller goes against Oppenheimer in the trial, and despite the physicist forgiving him, he receives lifelong loathing from Kitty Oppenheimer, who sees this as a betrayal, understandably.
5. Casey Affleck as Boris Pash
Ideally, it is not right to label someone as a “villain” in a movie based on real incidents and featuring dramatic portrayals of real-life characters. But Casey Affleck’s anti-communist, then-military intelligence officer Borish Pash has to be one of the scariest movie characters that I have witnessed in a while. Just like Oldman, the younger Affleck is also a powerhouse actor. In just one scene where he grills Oppenheimer, who tries to dodge the questioners, Affleck manages to crawl under your skin with his nightmare-inducing performance, and I am not even exaggerating.
4. Rami Malek as David Hill
Rami Malek has less than ten minutes of screen time in Oppenheimer. Eighty percent of the time, he doesn’t speak. His character happens to be one of those few in the movie which is not a dramatic representation of a real person. David Hill is a character based on an associate physicist who was involved in the Manhattan Project and was very much against the idea of dropping atom bombs on innocent people. However, Hill did manage to see through Oppenheimer’s guilt and suffering and speak against Lewis Strauss at a very crucial juncture of the movie. Malek’s character has a very important rule when it comes to deciding Strauss’s fate, which justifies his position on the list.
3. Matt Damon as Leslie Groves
We are finally back to Matt Damon, who, as we already know, would always be available for a Christopher Nolan movie. As a matter of fact, Oppenheimer is the second time Damon has worked with the auteur, and after a scintillating guest appearance in Interstellar (2015), the actor has a full-fledged supporting role here. Damon plays the part of Leslie Groves, the appointed director of the Manhattan Project, who recruits Oppenheimer. Groves is not necessarily a bad man, as he keeps giving Oppenheimer anything the latter asks for, even saving the physicist from a lot of bureaucratic trouble. As a protocol-following man whose loyalty only lies with the American Government, Groves shows a lot of resilience and even comes to Oppenheimer’s support when he gets questioned by Roger Robb.
2. Emily Blunt as Kitty Oppenheimer
For most of the film, Emily Blunt’s Kitty either stays blurry in the background or in scenes where the focus is always on her husband. Kitty never takes the focus away from the man. Blunt, who usually has a very strong screen presence, does extremely well playing second fiddle here. Of course, she gets her shining moment during the trial when Roger Robb fires every arrow in his quiver at her, and she shields them all so well. Blunt deserves all the appreciation and awards for that one single scene, such is its impact.
1. Robert Downey Jr. as Lewis Strauss
To put things into perspective, Robert Downey Jr.’s Lewis Strauss is not exactly a supporting character but the parallel lead in the film. The movie could have even been called “Oppenheimer vs. Strauss.” Naturally, Downey’s Strauss is as important as Murphy’s Oppenheimer, as they both get to have their own narratives, which culminate into one at the end.
Without Strauss trying to get revenge on Oppenheimer because of the physicist’s humiliation of him, this would have been a rather generic biopic. Of course, Nolan had history on his side, and the very reason he picked the subject was the complexity of it. And casting someone as great as Downey Jr. was like the icing on the cake. Downey has always been a fantastic actor, but for the past fifteen years or so, the character of Iron Man has pretty much come to define his identity. But with Lewis Strauss, the actor not only gets to break out of that mold but also re-establish himself as an actor. Oppenheimer belongs to him as much as it does to Murphy.