“I didn’t get to make the film”: Christopher Nolan’s Canceled Script That Later Turned into Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-Winning Movie Played a Major Role in Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan still feels bitter about his shelved Howard Hughes script.

Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan and Martin Scorsese
Credits: Wikimedia Commons/Elena Ternovaja & Wikimedia Commons/Raph_PH


  • Christopher Nolan revealed the canceled script he wrote about Howard Hughes.
  • The director failed to bring it to the screen after Martin Scorsese started working on The Aviator.
  • Nolan still refuses to watch The Aviator, something he revealed to Leonardo DiCaprio.
Show More
Featured Video

Christopher Nolan’s biopic thriller Oppenheimer dominated the box office last year, and the film has been praised for its compelling storyline and incredible portrayal of the father of the atomic bomb. Fans should know that this is not Nolan’s first rodeo when it comes to adapting the life of a real person on the big screen.

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer christopher nolan
Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer / Universal Pictures

He has written a script long ago on the life of aviator Howard Hughes, but the project did not get off the ground because he was beaten to it by fellow veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese. The latter directed 2004’s The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Christopher Nolan Wrote A Howard Hughes Biopic Before Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan revealed he wrote Oppenheimer pretty quickly because he already had experience writing biographical films. He shared with Total Film magazine via Yahoo Entertainment:


When I wrote my Howard Hughes script, it was the first time I’d taken on a real-life figure, and I tried working from a book, and tried to find a structural approach that would give the experience of this guy’s life. I was very happy with that script. Obviously, I did not get to test the theories, because I didn’t get to make the film.

leonardo dicaprio in the aviator
Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator / Miramax

Nolan’s plan to bring the story to the big screen was busted when Martin Scorsese started working on The Aviator. He used a script penned by John Logan, and the studio didn’t want any more movies about Howard Hughes, so it was unfortunately shelved. Nolan further added:

I think having written the Howard Hughes script was very important to having the confidence to take this on, particularly structurally, and just knowing that if I could find the approach, then I would be able to just dive into the guy’s life.

In his interview with The New York Times, he admitted he “cracked the script to my satisfaction” which gave him a lot of insight for Oppenheimer. It taught him how to “distill a person’s life and how to view a person’s life in a thematic way.” The process, according to the director, was a “culmination of 20 years of thinking.”

His experience with the unmade Howard Hughes film helped sharpen his scriptwriting skills which later on became handy in helming his Oscar-winning movie that starred Cillian Murphy.


Christopher Nolan Refuses To Watch Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator

leonardo dicaprio and cate blanchett in the aviator
Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett in The Aviator / Miramax

Nolan could not hide the fact that he was hurt when his biopic script was placed on the back burner. To this day, he refuses to watch Scorsese’s The Aviator, something he confessed to Leonardo DiCaprio when they worked on Inception.

He told Variety, “It was very emotional to not get to make something I’d poured all that into.” The Aviator went on to earn Scorsese an Oscar nomination for Best Director and five more wins in various categories, such as Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett and Best Cinematography.

It remains to be seen whether Nolan will ever try to pick up this abandoned project again or it will stay shelved forever.


Oppenheimer is available to watch on Prime Video.


Written by Ariane Cruz

Articles Published: 2278

Ariane Cruz, Senior Writer. She has been contributing articles for FandomWire since 2021, mostly covering stories about the latest movies and series. With a degree in Communication Arts, she has an in-depth knowledge of print and broadcast journalism. Her other works can also be seen on Screen Rant and CBR.