With Christopher Nolan’s latest film Tenet finally out now, it’s time for me to rank all his 11 movies.
Nolan has cemented himself as one of the most distinct and visionary filmmakers of the past couple decades. His filmography ranges from low budget indies to big budget blockbusters, and he’s known for making original, ambitious and challenging movies, with creative and high concepts, while experimenting and testing the limits of what a movie can be. Popular with both audiences and critics, his name practically sells his movies at this point.
It’s incredibly difficult to rank most of his movies. Aside from one movie, his movies range from great to excellent, so some of the movies’ rankings are interchangeable.
Following is the first film that Christopher Nolan made, and it’s by far his worst, not that it’s bad by any means however. It’s a straightforward, low budget, black and white neo noir thriller, with some twists and turns, and it’s only about an hour long. It also doesn’t contain a whole lot resembling Nolan’s work outside of some twists in the story. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, and isn’t as intriguing or interesting as you would think given his later movies.
Indeed, you do sort of need to go into it looking at it as a student film, and as that it actually does work. From that angle, Christopher Nolan directed Following really well, the black and white and 16mm film stock really added to the mystery noir feel throughout, and the plot was interesting enough to keep your interest right to the very end. It’s quite an effective debut for a first time director, and I’m glad that I saw it. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to everyone, but for those who are fans of Nolan, I’d highly recommend checking it out, even to see how far he’s come as a filmmaker since 1997.
It really says a lot about Christopher Nolan that Insomnia is his worst movie (excluding Following of course), most directors would dream to have their worst movie be the level of this one. Sure, it’s nothing special, and Nolan has made way more impressive films, but as a crime thriller and murder mystery, it really works well.
Insomnia is a pretty standard crime thriller and doesn’t do too much that’s unexpected, but you’re engaged throughout. As the movie goes on you found out that it’s a character study to a degree that only appears as just a murder mystery. Christopher Nolan’s direction was good as expected, it’s not as stylish or overtly impressive as say Inception or Interstellar, but he captured the isolated and haunting environment effectively, and the atmospheric and psychological elements are handled well. Performances were also great, with Al Pacino as a morally grey and conflicted anti hero, and Robin Williams in a rare villain role as the killer, the two of them are impressive on their own and particularly shine when they are on screen together. Insomnia is definitely worth seeking out if you haven’t seen it already, one of Nolan’s more underrated movies.
9. Batman Begins
Batman Begins brought back Batman to the big screen after the last attempt at a Batman film (Batman and Robin), and it was a very fresh take that added a lot of well needed energy to the character. It had a more dark and gritty take on the character, and on the whole it was incredibly well made. With a compelling and entertaining take, Batman Begins succeeds incredibly well, and Nolan was the perfect person to helm this movie, and it made him a household name.
Batman Begins seemed to make the idea of a billionaire dressing up like a bat to fight crime actually work in a serious way. It’s an origin story, and while it doesn’t really break the mold or anything, it’s all set up really well, and I love the choices that Christopher Nolan made to create his version of Batman’s universe. While it does follow the template for superhero origin stories, it’s deeper and more thematically complex than you’d initially expect it to. The cast from Gary Oldman, Michael Caine all the way to Liam Neeson play their parts very well, and Christian Bale absolutely works in his part as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Although I like most consider The Dark Knight to be the best of Nolan’s Batman movies, there are parts of Batman Begins which do stand out among the trilogy. The biggest example of this is Gotham itself, in The Dark Knight it felt like Chicago and in The Dark Knight Rises it felt like New York City, but in Batman Begins it really felt like a realistic Gotham City that felt like no other city, and stood out quite a bit. Now the third act does fall into typical climaxes that you’d expect from some comic book movies, and some of the aspects of the action aren’t quite as polished as the two sequels, even though they are still entertaining. On the whole though, it’s still a really good comic book movie, and gets better the more I watch it.
8. The Dark Knight Rises
It was honestly hard choosing between this and Batman Begins for which non Dark Knight movie in the trilogy should be higher on the list. The Dark Knight Rises edges it out just a little bit, it is by far the most divisive movie in the series, but I truly love it, and it really gets better with every subsequent viewing.
After The Dark Knight, a sequel just seemed like it would be too hard and overwhelming, especially with all the success and acclaim that the movie received. With the follow up, they don’t copy the previous movie, and instead they go in a completely different direction. First of all, it is sombre in tone right from the beginning, and is an emotionally charged epic of a movie. It is a slower paced and contemplative movie compared to the other movies in the trilogy. It is also more of a Bruce Wayne movie, he doesn’t even wear the Batman costume all that often, and the story is great, suspenseful and truly compelling. At the same time it is an epic conclusion with some impressive action set pieces. It’s a spectacle for sure, especially at the end. The cast all performed very well as expected, Christian Bale gives his best performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the whole trilogy, and the rest of the cast with the likes of Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and others as usual perform exceptionally. The new additions to the cast were also great, especially Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Tom Hardy as Bane. The latter of whom had a daunting task of following up on Heath Ledger’s Joker, but he really proved to be a memorable antagonist and a threatening presence, and at this point is almost as iconic. Honestly the only problems I had with the movie is that occasionally the stuntwork in the action scenes doesn’t always work. All in all, The Dark Knight Rises was an emotionally satisfying and great conclusion to the trilogy, and a great movie in itself.
Dunkirk was a masterpiece in visual storytelling, and one of Christopher Nolan’s most distinct movies in his filmography. A tense war movie taking place from three different perspectives, it is a pure cinematic experience that is exhilarating even upon repeat viewings.
As expected, Christopher Nolan’s direction is outstanding and is the main standout from the movie. It feels incredibly real, and Nolan’s use of practical effects played a large part in that. It is incredibly tense and suspenseful from beginning to end, and it is exhilarating and epic. Dunkirk is pretty much perfect on a technical level. The cinematography is outstanding, the editing is tight and Hans Zimmer’s score is outstanding, really raising the tension and immersing you even more into the movie. It’s not an R rated movie but it really conveys the horrors of war more than effectively. While the characters aren’t anything special and don’t really have much to them, it’s very clear that Dunkirk isn’t supposed to be a character driven movie. Not to mention that despite that, the cast are quite good, with the likes of Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Kenneth Branagh giving effective performances. Dunkirk is yet another excellent film from Nolan, and for sure ranks amongst the best movies from the war film genre, especially in recent years.
Christopher Nolan’s second feature film Memento was the movie that really showed him off to be a talent to be watched. A film that famously plays its scenes in reverse order could’ve easily fallen into just being a gimmick movie, but by the end it’s clear that it is so cleverly put together, and on the whole is an outstanding film.
This neo-noir has a very intimate and engaging story, the script is probably its strongest aspect. On the first viewing you are really trying to piece everything together before it all comes together at the end, and it’s pretty intriguing. And of course, it is even better on a second viewing when you know what’s going on, and you can really see that Nolan has put together the story excellently. Although there may be some versions of the movie placing all the scenes in chronological order, it’s pretty clear it wouldn’t work nearly as well compared to the film as it currently is. Nolan’s direction ties everything together, making it a mix between a mind-bending psychological thriller and gritty revenge flick. The acting was also great all around, especially Guy Pearce in the lead role, giving a layered and great performance. Memento is a fantastic movie, impressive on all fronts and definitely a film that is worth watching multiple times.
5. The Prestige
I’m not sure where The Prestige ranks for most people in Nolan’s filmography, but is really great. A highly original movie about magicians, it is engaging to watch from beginning to end, and even better on repeat viewings.
A movie about a rivalry between two magicians could’ve been silly (it certainly sounds silly on paper), but Nolan really pulled it off. I really liked it the first time I saw it, but a second viewing only made me realise how exceptionally well made it was. The story and ideas I appreciated a lot more, and this made it shoot up higher on my list of favourite Nolan movies. There are so many twists and turns, and it’s intelligently written and complex. There are multiple layers to the movie that you begin to notice long after watching the movie. It’s directed masterfully too, as expected from Christopher Nolan, the visuals are outstanding and I really liked the portrayal of ‘magic’. Performances were really great, especially those from Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman, some of their most underrated work. If you’ve only seen The Prestige once, I implore you to see it again, it’s a completely different experience.
Christopher Nolan’s latest film manages to position itself into the top 5 of this list. While I do need to watch it again for sure, I do feel fairly confident in it being at least number 4 or 5 slots. Tenet is another engaging and spectacular movie from Nolan, it was an incredible experience for sure, and I can’t wait to see it again.
Nolan spins a creative and twisty story that is his most complex, which is saying a lot. A time inversion espionage thriller, it’s his most ambitious film for sure, with so many big ideas and things happening. However he pulled it off. It’s entertaining to watch too, it’s an absolutely riveting movie, with barely a chance to breathe across its 2 hours and 30 minute runtime. It’s directed incredibly well as to be expected, so excellently put together. There are some spectacular set pieces too, and possibly some of the best action that Christopher Nolan has ever directed. All of this is accompanied by a flat out perfect score from Ludwig Goransson. The cast all brought their A game, especially John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh. As of this time, the only slight issue I had was with the sound mixing drowning out some important dialogue, but on the whole I loved it, and I can only see it getting better upon further viewings.
This movie definitely divided viewers upon its release, some viewers loved it, some viewers hated it. I personally really liked it when I saw it, however half a decade later with a few more viewings, and I love it now, becoming one of my all time favourite movies.
It really did require multiple viewings to get a firm grasp of what was going on, but once I knew what was happening, I loved it. A large scale and ambitious space epic, yet with an intimate and truly emotional story, it’s truly something special. Nolan’s direction was excellent too as to be expected, his handle of everything was great. On a technical level it’s pretty much perfect, the visuals are outstanding, with amazing cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema, and Hans Zimmer’s euphoric score here is among his best work. The acting from everyone is commendable, especially from a spectacular Matthew McConaughey. It is also by far the most emotional of Nolan’s movies, I’m not really sure how some people call Nolan’s movies ‘cold’, when Interstellar is literally about the power of love. If there’s any problems I might have, it’s that most of the characters aside from Matthew McConaughey’s weren’t that developed and some of the dialogue can be a little too on the nose and heavy handed with its themes, but that wasn’t a big problem for me. Even though I have some small problems with the movie, I love pretty much every other aspect. All in all, Interstellar is a spectacular experience of a film.
These next two are interchangeable, I went back and forth on these two for a while and now even I’m not certain about my placing of these.
2. The Dark Knight
One of the all time best comic book movies ever made and known as among the most acclaimed movies of the 21st century, Christopher Nolan took what he did with Batman Begins and brought it to a new level with the sequel. I’ve seen this countless times, it gets better with every viewing and every time I’m just blown away at how fantastic it is.
Pretty much everything that can be said about The Dark Knight has been said already, it really pushed the envelope on what a comic book movie could be. A bleak crime thriller that takes influence from films like Heat, the script is so perfectly put together and constructed. It’s also a lot more complex than the previous movie, layered with so many themes about chaos, anarchy and morality, and is truly a compelling story with interesting ideas. At the same time, it really works as a Batman movie. Of course, it would be wrong not to mention Heath Ledger’s Joker when talking about this movie, which on top of surprising everyone, was just a genius character and performance in itself. Ledger and Nolan crafted a truly compelling and memorable character that instantly became iconic. As fantastic as the rest of the movie is already, he really makes the film. That’s not to say the rest of the performances from the other cast members weren’t great because they were; the likes of Christian Bale, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, and especially Aaron Eckhart all played their parts well. Nolan’s work behind the camera is also excellent as expected, along with the entertaining set pieces starting off with one of the best opening sequences to a movie ever, it is tightly and efficiently directed. There’s a very good reason why The Dark Knight is known as one of the best comic book movies of all time.
It was incredibly difficult picking a number one movie among Nolan’s entire filmography, but in the end I had to go with Inception. Revolutionary, bold, innovative, layered, intelligent and very complex, it’s a very special movie.
Inception has a great cast, everyone fits their characters, from Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt through to Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, and they all have great chemistry together. The story is just so great, it is such a high concept story, with some original and thought provoking ideas. All the rules about dreams are clearly written and told, and the exposition is actually handled well and not heavy handed. Inception also has an emotional backbone, especially with regards to main character Cobb (played by DiCaprio), and this character study was quite interesting to watch. It’s also got an entertaining and engaging story, with some twists. But of course it’s Christopher Nolan’s fantastic direction that stands out the most, the effects were ground-breaking and are still impressive to watch to this day, and there are some truly gripping set pieces. It’s tightly edited, absolutely stunning to watch, and Hans Zimmer’s score is iconic and pretty much perfect. This movie is working at such a high level at all fronts, every time I watch it I’m still blown away by it. 10 years later it remains a truly impressive piece of cinema.
How would you rank Christopher Nolan’s filmography?