Arguably the greatest director of his generation, Christopher Nolan is quite a shining gem in Hollywood. Influenced by legendary directors such as Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Ridley Scott, and Michael Mann to name a few, Nolan is now considered on par with such heavyweights. Within a few years after the release of his first big-budget movie, the filmmaker became a household name among countless moviegoers. Here are the best Christopher Nolan movies of all time ranked from weakest to strongest:
10. Following (1998)
At the tender age of just seven, young Christopher Nolan began making films with his action figures with his father’s Super 8 camera. After his amateur work and unreleased short films, the director’s very first film that crossed 60 minutes was Following.
The movie revolves around a young London-based writer who follows people with the aim of getting inspiration from their lives and incorporating interesting elements into his novel. However, his constant pursuit spirals out of control and he eventually becomes part of the criminal underworld.
Granted that Following is undoubtedly Nolan’s most forgettable film but let’s not forget that he was years away from the amazing reputation he has today. Following chronicles Nolan’s struggling days as a filmmaker. The movie was shot on a 16 mm film stock and man scenes were rehearsed so they could be shot in just a few takes. The director also had to rely on available light because he could not afford professional lighting equipment.
Nonetheless, Nolan made the most out of the limited resources he had. Behind the scenes, he was not only the director but also the writer, producer, and editor. Despite the limitations, Following still stands out as quite a decent film.
9. Insomnia (2002)
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, it was Christopher Nolan’s very first time working with a major Hollywood studio and he did not disappoint. Above all, Insomnia starred not one but three Academy Award-winning actors i.e. Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank.
Nolan was still a rookie by this point yet he made the bold move of casting beloved actor Robin Williams as the villain of the movie. As risky as the move was, it paid off despite the actor being well-known for comedic roles. Insomnia was well-received by critics and serves as one of the earliest stepping stones to Nolan’s status as one of the most unique directors in Hollywood.
8. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
As much as it pains to admit it, The Dark Knight Rises surely had a fair share of spectacular moments but overall, it was a major step backward. Bane deserved a much more memorable death, Anne Hathaway did not even live up to the Catwoman character, officer John Blake was able to deduce Batman’s identity by mere facial recognition (does that make Commissioner Gordon incompetent?) and the flaws keep piling up.
Worst of all, the plot of The Dark Knight Rises had eerie similarities with The Simpsons Movie! Both involve the city being ostracized by the government, plunging into chaos, and being separated from the rest of the world while the protagonist is in a distant land hoping for motivation. At the end of the day, he saves the city from a time bomb. That is not a mere coincidence! The possibility of Nolan being inspired by Homer Simpson certainly exists. Despite being the weakest installment of The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises is a fine movie. Not so surprisingly, it is the only film of the franchise that did not have even a single Academy Award nomination.
7. Memento (2000)
Starring Guy Pearce and The Matrix stars Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano, Memento takes the viewers into the deeply creative mind of Christopher Nolan. Back when unique ideas were considered a surefire way of avoiding viewership, the genius director took a huge gamble and did things his way. Keep in mind that this was Nolan’s second motion picture and even then he was bent on unleashing his creative vision with the entire world.
Based on the short story Memento Mori by Johnathan Nolan by fellow director and younger brother Johnathan Nolan, the movie showcases a man on the hunt for his wife’s murderer but due to a severe head injury, he cannot form new memories. Memento was only released in 11 theatres but its popularity quickly soared and in the eleventh week, it was shown in more than 500 theatres. Apart from critical and commercial success, Hollywood found an incredibly reliable director.
6. Dunkirk (2017)
Crime, mystery, superhero, thriller, and space – these are just a few of the genres Christopher Nolan has dealt with. Dunkirk marked the first time that the director made a war flick and that was unexplored territory for him yet expectations were off the roof.
Starring Fionn Whitehead, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, and Nolan’s frequent collaborators Cillian Murphy and Tom Hardy, Dunkirk is an epic masterpiece especially given the fact that despite being a war film the enemy soldiers (German soldiers) are never shown up until the very end of the film. Often hailed as one of Nolan’s greatest films and a great war film, it was a stunning yet frightening glimpse of the dreaded Battle of Dunkirk in World War II.
The war movie received eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and won three for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. Above all, Nolan received his very first Oscar nomination for Best Director but lost to Guillermo del Toro.
5. Batman Begins (2005)
Following the disastrous 1997 superhero movie Batman & Robin, the crime-fighting superhero had fallen from his pedestal, and the franchise had received a lethal blow. With Christopher Nolan in the director’s chair, Batman made his long-awaited return to the silver screen after 8 years and proved that the Caped Crusader was definitely here to stay.
Going back to the very foundations of the revered superhero, Batman Begins reveals how Bruce Wayne witnessed his dear parents being shot to death and employed the tragedy to fight against the tyranny of criminals roaming in Gotham City. Thanks to Nolan, Batman not only made a triumphant return but also redefined the superhero genre by incorporating a sense of realism.
4. The Prestige (2006)
Batman and Wolverine trying to one upon each other with magic? Shut up and take my money! Jokes apart, The Prestige is set in 1890s London and features rival magicians Robert Angier and Alfred Borden in a heated battle of supremacy.
As interesting as the plot seems, Nolan offers much more to the plate. Apart from giving superhero fans a treat by having Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman cast as rivals, the movie also has major stars such as Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Andy Serkis, and even the iconic David Bowie.
The sheer brilliance of the thriller flick can be judged by how the two musicians were bent on mystifying their audience. While Borden pulled off stage tricks with the help of his identical twin brother, Angier used his clones from a Nikola Tesla machine for his illusions and later killed them beneath the stage.
3. Interstellar (2014)
Now at the top of his game, Christopher Nolan truly is untouchable when it comes to leaving the audience astounded and wanting more. Just when people were wondering what kind of creativities is enriched in Nolan’s mind, the director presented one of the best sci-fi movies ever, Interstellar.
With Earth being a global crop blight and its future being at stake, NASA physicist John Brand is convinced that the only way to save the population is to transfer it to another planet by a wormhole. Starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, Interstellar does not fail in blowing you away! Often listed as one of the greatest space movies ever made, Interstellar was nominated for five Academy Awards and won one for Best Visual Effects.
2. Inception (2010)
When it comes to excellent movies having ambiguous endings, the discussion feels incomplete without Inception. Christopher Nolan beautifully displayed it in the aforementioned movies Memento and even The Dark Knight Rises to some extent but Inception definitely takes the cake.
As the movie ends, Dominick Cobb (played by Leonardo Dicaprio) spins his totem just before he meets his kids to make sure he is in a dream or not. As the camera pans closer to the totem, it keeps spinning and the film abruptly ends. To this very day, moviegoers engage themselves in a heated debate about whether or not Cobb was in a state of dream or not.
However, the ambiguous ending is not the only crucial substance that keeps Inception among one of the most through-provoking movies of all time. From magnificent cinematography to superb storytelling, the movie convinces the viewers that they are watching a Christopher Nolan movie instead of a Leonardo DiCaprio movie. Out of its eight nominations, Inception won four for Best Cinematography, Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Was there any doubt about the top spot? After resurrecting Batman to the silver screen and reinventing the superhero genre, Christopher Nolan turned up the voltage and came up with The Dark Knight. Though the movie initially received backlash once Australian actor Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker, the role exceeded expectations and moviegoers just could not get enough of it.
Apart from Heath Ledger’s iconic portrayal of the Joker, The Dark Knight was successfully able to convince the film industry that superheroes can be an integral part of cinema as long as they have a serious tone accompanied by a realistic approach. The Dark Knight truly is Christopher Nolan’s epic masterpiece but most importantly, it is not a solid Batman movie. It is a solid movie with Batman in it.
We can’t resist mentioning some other great titles that Christopher Nolan has been a major part of:
- Tenet (2020) – Director
- Transcendence (2014) – Executive Producer
- Man of Steel (2013) – Writer
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