The Science Of Interstellar: How Accurate Is Christopher Nolan's Movie?


The Science Of Interstellar: How Accurate Is Christopher Nolan’s Movie?

Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic Interstellar delves deep into black holes and astrophysics, but how much of it is rooted in actual science?


  • Interstellar is a timeless, emotional space epic that combines science-heavy themes with a father-daughter narrative, earning its place among the finest works of philosophical sci-fi.
  • The film’s emphasis on scientific accuracy, guided by renowned physicist Kip Thorne, has garnered respect from both critics and the scientific community, including astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
  • Interstellar‘s depiction of black holes and their surrounding features closely resemble real photographs procured by the Event Horizon Telescope years later, although its color tone differs slightly from reality for aesthetic reasons.



Before Christopher Nolan dabbled in atomic physics for Oppenheimer, he tapped into the depths of black holes and astrophysics for Interstellar. Nolan’s timeless space epic delves into a space crew’s efforts at finding a new planet as Earth becomes uninhabitable. Interstellar doesn’t shy away from its science-heavy themes, but the narrative also makes room for a genuinely emotional tale between a father-daughter duo separated by the fabric of space and time. With Matthew McConaughey’s teary-eyed monologues and Hans Zimmer’s atmospheric score, Interstellar is rightly regarded among the finest works of philosophical sci-fi alongside classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris.

While a few critics were initially put off by the movie’s primary emphasis on scientific accuracy, Interstellar’s acclaim has only increased in the years since its 2014 release. The importance given to real-life theoretical physics doesn’t just stem from Nolan’s own fascination with the subject but also the educational qualifications of his collaborators, ranging from scientific consultant Kip Thorne and his brother and Interstellar co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan. The movie garnered such a respectable status among the scientific community that even physicist and television personality Neil deGrasse Tyson has been in total awe of Nolan’s vision. A space movie indeed never felt this realistic before.

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Theoretical Physicist Kip Thorne Consulted On The Science Of Interstellar

Considering how ominous black holes continue to be within the cosmos, a lot of Interstellar’s science is grounded in theoretical physics. Guiding Christopher Nolan was Caltech theoretical physicist Kip Thorne, who served as the filmmaker’s official science consultant and an executive producer on the movie. A longtime friend of fellow greats like the late Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan, Thorne is a respected voice of reason when it comes to astrophysics, having since earned the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics for his research on gravitational waves. According to Wired, Interstellar was actually conceived by Thorne and producer Lynda Obst in the 2000s long before Nolan got on board.

Considering how much Christopher Nolan is obsessed with time, he relied on Thorne’s research to figure out changes in the space-time continuum for Interstellar. Detailing his research for the movie in the book The Science of Interstellar, the physicist wrote about how his theories helped in visualizing the black holes depicted in the movie and explaining their time-changing abilities. In the movie, the spaceship Endurance heads out to a fictional black hole named Gargantua, which is depicted to be 100 million times larger than the Sun. A notable visual element of the dying star — the super-massive black hole — is a disc of matter that revolves around it.

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This accretion disk, as it is formally called, is formed due to the influence of high gravity. Thorne adds that Gargantua’s disc contains matter like gas and dust and ultimately offers light and heat to all the planets and entities within the dying star system. With the disc creating such a high gravitational field, it becomes apparent why the protagonist, Cooper’s aging slows down by the ending of Interstellar. It was Albert Einstein who, through his thorough equations on general relativity, suggested that time moves slower in higher gravity fields. With Endurance orbiting so close to the black hole, it is obvious that Cooper’s clock will tick slower.

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Interstellar Accurately Depicted Black Holes 5 Years Before The First Real Proof Of How They Look

Black hole and planet in Interstellar

Black holes and their high-gravity disks were mostly recreated through theoretical sketches up to the five years following Interstellar’s release. Instead of showcasing them as just two-dimensional holes, the distorted variations of a high gravitational field were achieved with a more three-dimensional spherical look. Visual effects supervisor Paul Franklin and his team pulled off their depiction of black holes so well that it resembled real photographs procured by the Event Horizon Telescope in 2019 — five years after the movie’s release. These photos rightly showed how close Christopher Nolan’s movie came to accurately visualizing a black hole and the surrounding boundary, aka event horizon.

Interstellar was lauded for presenting a picture of a black hole that came the closest to this photo, right from the black, empty center to the rotating accretion disk. However, as the Event Horizon Telescope’s official website points out, the science of Interstellar slightly falters away from reality for aesthetic reasons. The main difference was that the movie’s version of a black hole appears to have reversed the brightness in the approaching and receding side of the disks. While the approaching side appears brighter, the receding side is much dimmer. Interstellar, however, didn’t stick to this color tone even though it otherwise came very close to predicting the real thing.

Physicist Gerard O’Neill’s Theories Inspired The Movie’s Space Habitats

Humans walking through a field inside Cooper's Station in Interstellar

It was the late theoretical physicist Gerard O’Neill who came up with a kind of new-age Noah’s Ark to transport all of humanity to another planet, much like what the scientists and astronauts of Interstellar were planning to do. Aptly titled O’Neill cylinders, these conceptual space settlements were faithfully recreated by the Interstellar special effects team as a means of space colonization. The O’Neill cylinders are supposed to have two cylinders that rotate opposite to each other, a method to create artificial gravity in the planet to be inhabited. Interestingly, Amazon head honcho Jeff Bezos proposed building such gigantic O’Neill cylinders in 2019 (via Popular Mechanics).

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Interstellar Writer Jonathan Nolan Studied Relativity At The California Institute of Technology

Jonathan Nolan explaining something to Larry King

Jonathan Nolan has collaborated with his brother Christopher Nolan on several projects, going all the way back to Memento. While the 2000 neo-noir was based on Jonathan Nolan’s short story, Interstellar proved to be an equally personal project for him considering that he had spent four years at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to study relativity to come up with the science of Interstellar. He revealed this behind-the-scenes tidbit in an interview on Larry King Now. Caltech was, of course, beneficial to the making of the movie considering that Kip Thorne had also been a long-serving researcher and lecturer at the university.

Neil deGrasse Tyson Praises Interstellar Over 2001

Neil DeGrasse Tyson standing with planets in the background in Cosmos

Stanley Kubrick’s profound saga 2001: A Space Odyssey still holds up today for its prophetic commentary on space travel and artificial intelligence, among other concepts. Upon its release, Interstellar drew comparisons to 2001 for its philosophical approach to space colonization in the future and specific robotic technologies. Yet scientific thinker, author, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says the science of Interstellar holds up even more than 2001, particularly for its representation of black holes. On social media and in an interview with NBC, Tyson had words of praise for Interstellar’s accurate exploration of concepts like Einstein’s theories of relativity and the curvature of space.

What stood out for Tyson was the way Interstellar’s version of a black hole reflected the distorting space in its vicinity. With the surrounding imagery around the black hole being more distorted, the science of Interstellar only came out to look more realistic for the revered physicist. Tyson did agree that back when Kubrick worked on 2001 the mathematical calculations weren’t detailed enough to predict the exact surroundings of a black hole or a wormhole system. So, Kubrick couldn’t really tap into the nitty-gritty of space exploration as much as Christopher Nolan could achieve, despite Interstellar having been clearly influenced by 2001.

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