Every Christopher Nolan Movie, Ranked

Best-known for his cerebral, often nonlinear, storytelling, acclaimed writer-director Christopher Nolan is undoubtedly one of the most influential filmmakers of all time. Over two decades of filmmaking, Nolan has gone from low-budget independent films to working on some of the biggest blockbusters ever made.

Today, the esteemed filmmaker is one of the rare directors working who can sell a movie based solely on name recognition alone. Often regarded as cinema’s most experimental blockbuster auteur, Nolan’s work has been intensely embraced and analysed by ordinary filmgoers as well as critics and film academics.

In anticipation of Oppenheimer’s release, we at The Cultured rank every Christopher Nolan film from worst to best.

11. Insomnia

Insomnia is not a bad movie, just a disappointing one. Nolan’s third outing is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. Starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, the film tells the story of two Los Angeles homicide detectives investigating a murder in Nightmute, Alaska.

As opposed to the other films in Nolan’s filmography, Insomnia is driven by the performances of the actors more so than the direction’s vision. While it’s certainly not Nolan’s best, Insomnia demonstrates that Nolan is more than capable in handling A-list ensembles while never losing focus of his vision.

10. Following

Filmed entirely in black and white, Following takes plenty of inspiration from some of the greatest noir films. By coupling noir filmmaking with his original story, Following is one hell of a debut feature that demonstrates Nolan’s talent as a director.

Showcasing a penchant for fast-paced storytelling and flashback structure, Following sets the tone for what is to come in Nolan’s filmography. Narratively, we see Following exploring themes of deception and the luxury that comes with it, something that is carried forward in films like MementoThe Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Inception.

Due to financial and production constraints, Nolan’s directorial debut feels hindered at times, never quite reaching its full potential. Nevertheless, it is a remarkable showcase of the beginning of one of today’s most acclaimed filmmakers.

9. Dunkirk

Put your pitchforks down! There is no denying that Dunkirk is a technical masterpiece. In many ways, Nolan’s tenth directorial outing represents the art of filmmaking at its finest and most innovative.  Depicting the Dunkirk evacuation of World War II, Nolan’s war film masterfully portrays the chaos and fear of war.

Sadly, Dunkirk underwhelms in its lack of characterisation. The choice of minimal dialogue is an interesting way to create tension and build suspense, however that atmosphere is built at the expense of the characters. The central problem of Dunkirk is that it doesn’t have enough of a dramatic foundation upon which to overlay Nolan’s ambitious vision where three stories intersect at different narrative points.

Nolan’s war epicis not so much a movie, but a visceral experience. It is an experience that is built on intensity, shuddering fear and blunt-force impact. Unfortunately, while Dunkirk delivers in its spectacle and scale, it neglects to deliver the most crucial element of a film—drama.

8. Tenet

Slipping between espionage and science fiction, Tenet is the most ambitious film of Nolan’s career – which is saying something considering the renowned filmmaker’s impressive portfolio. Without giving too much away, Tenet is a cinematic palindrome, moving backwards and forwards in more ways than one. In the film, Nolan challenges the audience’s preconceptions of time, implying that there might be more than one way of looking at it beyond linear progression.

Narratively, such an undertaking runs the risk of being bogged down by exposition dialogue and pacing issues. Thankfully, Nolan manages to manoeuvre around the hurdles. Though the film can be extremely difficult to grasp at times, everything comes together about mid-way through the film. Easily Nolan’s most challenging film, Tenet is a puzzle more than it’s a movie. Demanding that the audience work for it, the film holds back more answers than it provides.

7. The Dark Knight Rises

Let’s face it, The Dark Knight Rises was always going to struggle to reach the unreachable bar set by its predecessor, The Dark Knight. As the concluding chapter of Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Risesis an ambitious, thoughtful, and efficient action film that concludes Christopher Nolan’s franchise satisfyingly, although not without its flaws.

While the film hit a lot of the right notes, the trilogy-capper is hurt by its pacing. It’s a weird thing to say given the film’s 165-minute runtime, but The Dark Knight Rises could have benefited with a longer runtime. For instance, it takes about an hour and a half to show us Gotham’s weeklong tumble over the precipice before speeding through the events of five months in a series of montages.

Despite its flaws, The Dark Knight Rises concludes the trilogy in glorious fashion and gives us a thought provoking and suitably satisfying conclusion to an epic saga.

6. Interstellar

Fresh off completing The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan aimed to expand his horizons further with a genuine sci-fi epic, Interstellar. Pushing himself in bold and creative ways, Interstellar is a grand space adventure augmented by high-fidelity visual effects and a soul-stirring score.

On top of being a technical marvel, Interstellar is also Nolan’s most personal film to date. The film delves deep into human connections, and the tragedy of being at the forefront of humanity’s greatness can remove us from our own humanity. Unfortunately, Interstellar’s ambition is a little too big for its own good.

Even with a nearly three-hour runtime, many ideas are presented that the film rarely has time to focus on one over another. The result is a technical marvel with a powerful narrative that ends up feeling a tad empty.

5. The Prestige

(L-R) Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Hugh Jackman

The Prestige tells the story of two rival illusionists who commit themselves to topping and sabotaging each other in turn-of-the-last-century London.

Nolan’s The Prestigeis one of those movies that works very well on repeat viewings; the film is a complex maze filled with countless twists and turns. Exploring the themes of obsession and deception, The Prestige delivers a complex story on how dangerous it is to play God and how it can often make someone disconnected from their own fragile reality.

Dazzling, engaging, and at times unpredictable, The Prestige is something of a magic trick in and of itself.

4. Batman Begins

Although Batman Begins is the fifth live-action instalment in the film series, it is the first to understand the essence of the caped crusader. In the reboot, the filmmaker allows Bruce Wayne, the man, to develop before becoming Batman, the legend. Nolan demonstrates that the character of Bruce Wayne is as important as the character of Batman, and one cannot exist without the other. Bolstered by an all-star cast, Batman Begins is a story about humanity and redemption, as well as a story about an extraordinary heroic figure emerging from a world of pain and suffering. Truly, Batman does begin again.

The success of Batman Begins led to a trend of gritty reboots, essentially creating an entire subgenre. The first instalment in the Dark Knight trilogy paved the way for grittier retellings such as Casino RoyaleStar TrekSherlock HolmesRise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Amazing Spider-Man, to name a few.

3. Inception

A psychological sci-fi action film based on Nolan’s own original screenplay, Inception is undoubtedly one of the most acclaimed films of the 2010s. Essentially a heist film, Nolan masterfully balances between concept and spectacle, delivering a dream heist film that is hard to imagine coming from any filmmaker other than Christopher Nolan.

Like 1999’s The MatrixInception combines a brilliant concept, incredible direction, and outstanding effects, delivering a surreal experience not often seen in mainstream blockbuster entertainment. Navigating the audience through the enveloping sheets of reality and dream, reality within dreams, dreams without reality, Inception implants one man’s vision in the mind of a vast audience.

2. Memento

Memento tells the story of a man looking for the killer of his wife while suffering from short-term memory loss. Sounds generic? There is a catch. The story is being told in reverse order.

Flipping the concept of distorted reality on its head, Memento’s fractured structure is more than just a gimmick. Memorable from the first frame, Nolan masterfully navigates the film backwards, delivering one of the most original and confounding puzzle films of all time. Memento constantly leaves you in a state of suspense, ending with an astonishing payoff that brings the film to another level entirely.

In 2017, the United States Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

1. The Dark Knight

Not only is The Dark Knight the greatest superhero film, it is one of the greatest films ever made. The sophomore entry in The Dark Knighttrilogy transcends its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy. Even in this age of superhero blockbusters, none has come close to matching The Dark Knight’s long-lasting impact on cinema.

There are many things to love about The Dark Knight. Whether it’s the late Heath Ledger’s Academy Award winning performance as the Joker, Hans Zimmer’s iconic score, or the film’s complex interpretation of good and evil, the film’s lightning in a bottle combination is still a shock to the system 12 years on.

Underneath its comic book film exterior, Christopher Nolan’s magnum opusincorporates classic noir tropes and reflects the paranoia, bleakness, and disillusionment of the post 9-11 world. To some film commentators, The Dark Knight is the first real examination of the American psyche following the events of 9/11. The moral questions that The Dark Knight raised are timeless even to this day, which makes it an evocative superhero film that surpasses its genre, allowing it to become an instant classic.