Director Christopher Nolan works on "Oppenheimer," filmed in IMAX. (Universal Studios)

Trying to see “Oppenheimer” this weekend on the *really* big screen?

You’ve got exactly one option within Philadelphia proper to view it in an IMAX theater, and it’s not exactly central: the AMC at Philadelphia Mills in the Far Northeast, right near the Bucks County border. 

The dearth of IMAX-equipped movie theaters in the city wasn’t the case pre-COVID, when Philly had three options for big big-screen films. Since then, the Regal UA Riverview Plaza in South Philly has shuttered permanently — and the future of the Tuttleman IMAX Theater at the Franklin Institute remains unclear.

The Tuttleman closed along with the rest of the Ben Franklin Parkway science museum when the pandemic hit in March 2020, per museum spokesperson Stefanie Santo.

The museum opened back up in July 2020, closed again for the 2020 holiday season along with some other big Philly institutions, and reopened once more in January 2021. The Tuttleman, however, did not open with it, and still remains closed.

At this point, Santo told Billy Penn, “future plans for the theater are still undetermined.”

What’s keeping the theater from reopening? Does it need repairs? Was it losing money? Santo declined to elaborate, instead saying her previous response was “all of the information we have available at this time.”

Franklin Institute lobby with Benjamin Franklin statue. (Mark Henninger/Imagic Digital)

Directed by Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer” is one of the most hyped movies of the summer, alongside Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie,” which releases the same day.

The 3-hour thriller revolves around the life and work of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist who played a key role in producing the first nuclear weapons. It features visually striking sequences, like a portrayal of the Trinity Test, the first time a nuclear weapon was detonated.

In interviews, Nolan has made it clear that the movie — shot on IMAX 65mm film — was created to be watched on large screens, particularly IMAX screens, for the full experience. 

The ideal situation, he said, is to view it projected in 70mm IMAX format, which he’s called “the highest quality imaging form ever devised.” Because the largeness of the screen means it fills the viewer’s peripheral vision, Nolan explained, IMAX gives viewers “an incredible sense of immersion.”

Actor Cillian Murphy in “Oppenheimer.” (Universal Studios)

Theaters that can show that 70mm IMAX format are pretty rare, though. Per USA Today, there are only 19 theaters in the whole country where you can go for a 70mm showing. Luckily for local cinephiles, one of those is pretty close to Philly: the Regal UA King of Prussia.

What most IMAX viewers are likely to see is a digital (not film) projection that’s still very large and higher-resolution compared to a traditional movie screen. In the Philly area, you can see the movie in that format at the AMC Philadelphia Mills, AMC Cherry Hill, AMC Neshaminy, Regal Warrington Crossing, Regal Downingtown, and Penn Cinema Riverfront in Wilmington.

First opened in spring 1990, the Tuttleman IMAX Theater at the Franklin Institute, wasn’t your typical set-up. It featured a tilted, domed screen over 70 feet wide and four and a half stories tall, according to an archived version of the museum’s website, and had 50+ speakers for immersive sound to match the visuals. 

The Tuttleman has shown some films in the 70mm IMAX format, per past press coverage. It mostly showed educational, science-oriented films, but it also displayed the occasional Hollywood blockbuster — it offered viewings of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) and Nolan’s “Dunkirk” (2017) when those movies premiered.

Asha Prihar is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She has previously written for several daily newspapers across the Midwest, and she covered Pennsylvania state government and politics for The...