Ranking the Films of Christopher Nolan

best Christoper Nolan movies
Reading Time ~ 10 minutes

 

There are few actors that can open a movie on the strength of their star power these days and even fewer directors. As streaming options continue to gain momentum and the quality gap between the big and small screen lessens, seemingly by the month, it’s a relief to know there is still going to be a demand for a theatrical experience in a post-pandemic world.

2020 has seen many of its movies fall victim to the current climate as release dates are constantly being pushed into 2021 or theatrical runs are being skipped in favour of a streaming release. One movie that bucked the trend and decided to give it a go was Christopher Nolan’s Sci-Fi epic Tenet. While the box office returns of only $53 million in the United States (on the low end of what the film usually would have expected to bring in opening weekend) might seem a bit disastrous I actually believe it is a positive sign that despite the pandemic and no theatres open in New York & Los Angeles this movie still managed to find an audience. Had this been Black Widow or Wonder Woman 1984 I could see the concern as they are tent poles for franchises that have a set audience already.

Tenet is an original, high-concept, sci-fi thriller without a big movie star so the fact that it has still pulled in $300million worldwide on the brand of its director is impressive. With that being said let’s take a deeper dive into the filmography of Christopher Nolan and rank them along the way!

 

FOLLOWING (1998)

Unlike some director’s that light the world on fire with their debut, Nolan did not. This film, which barely qualifies for feature-length, focuses on a journalist that follows people at random hoping for inspiration before being confronted by a thief who takes him under his wing and encourages him to further his forays into criminal territory. The finished product plays out similarly to a student film with the B&W presentation detracting from instead of enhancing the story. That being said it’s incredibly watchable for a first effort and there are even some early Nolan staples such as a fixation on time as part of the plot.

 

DUNKIRK (2017)

Well, we’re already done with the average section of this list! Despite the low ranking, Dunkirk is a gorgeous and unique war film. The main complaints about Dunkirk revolve around the lack of any real central characters, but I think that is exactly what makes it amongst the most realistic war movies made.

The lack of a main character is a device used to make you feel the same level of concern for every man that’s trapped there trying to survive through the slice of Hell they’re facing opposed to telling a personal story. The main attraction here is the visual representation of war though, Nolan’s use of IMAX cameras and distinct style make for the most immersive experience of its kind since Saving Private Ryan.

 

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Nolan’s final entry in his Dark Knight Trilogy is certainly the weakest of the three and yet it still stands as one of the better superhero movies of all time. There are some glaring plot holes and that eye-roll inducing death scene that lead to the lower ranking. What works really works though; Tom Hardy is an intimidating force of a villain as Bane, Anne Hathaway was great as Catwoman and Joseph Gordon Levitt was a welcomed addition to the good side of the fight for Gotham. This also has Bales strongest performance as his Bruce Wayne has far more screen time than Batman in this entry. The pulse-pounding score incorporates and elevates the scores from the previous movies is a standout along with the opening plane sequence that is still attention-grabbing after multiple viewings.

 

Memento (2000)

1999 saw The Blair Witch Project be the first movie to really use the internet as an advertising instrument for a movie, in 2000 Memento became the first movie I remember developing a real reputation online amongst the cinephile set. Telling a story in reverse is a tricky prospect and even harder in execution when there’s a massive twist involved as is the case with Memento. Strong lead performances from Guy Pearce and Carrie-Ann Moss (in her best non-Matrix role to date) and a sharp, albeit slightly confusing, story make for a movie that is highly original and entertaining. If there is any knock on Memento it’s that the exhausting and anxiety-inducing story doesn’t scream for many rewatches, but it is a must-see for movie lovers.

 

Tenet (2020)

Nolan’s latest movie is a bit of bottled insanity mixed with a sense of hyper-intelligence and is certainly more palatable for those with a base understanding of physics. Unlike Inception, Tenet spends very little time explaining the environment, it’s much more of a ‘get on board or get out of the way’ kind of flick; in reality there are only a handful of directors that could get a movie like this launched with a superhero sized budget. This is also a movie that begs for multiple viewings so the overall ranking may slide up or down a notch over time but for now it’s a highly entertaining highly confusing entry that keeps the audience locked in. John David Washington & Robert Pattinson cement themselves as legitimate movie stars as they really own their screen time is this world bending environment. The action is all top-notch as well, with some exciting and unique sequences that will hold up regardless of whether you’re totally following the plot.

 

Insomnia (2002)

Al Pacino has become a bit of a screaming parody of his former self over the past 25 years but every once in a while he settles down and turns in a performance that reminds you why he’s been one of the biggest stars on the planet since the mid-70s, Insomnia is one of those performances. His haunted, corrupt detective spends the length of the film fighting himself, a serial killer (played in a delightfully twisted way by the late, great Robin Williams) and an Alaska climate in which the sun never sets. It’s a fun, intense thriller that’s been one of my go to rewatches since coming out. The only thing really keeping it on the lower half of the list is that this is probably the only Nolan film that could have been directed by someone else and looked similar since the narrative doesn’t really call for the kind of visual flare he is known for.

 

Batman Begins (2005)

In the 8 years between Batman & Robin and Batman Begins the comic book movie went from being risky business to the hottest commodities in Hollywood. X-Men and Spider-Man already had multiple successful entries by the time Batman Begins released but this was something different. Nolan spun an origin story that was concerned with being a good movie first and a good Batman movie second. So while it’s entirely too dialogue-heavy and brooding for kids, it was a true delight for adult fans looking for something different than the bright CGI heavy worlds being featured in Marvel films. All the actors are at the top of their game beyond a miscast Katie Holmes (in all fairness the role isn’t particularly well developed either) Bale does a great job in making Bruce Wayne and Batman feel like totally separate entities while Liam Neeson brings a chilling presence as Ra’s Al Ghul and Cillian Murphy eats up scenes as The Scarecrow rounding out the villain department.

 

Interstellar (2014)

While Interstellar falls just short of the top 3 it is still in my opinion the quintessential Christopher Nolan movie. A science-driven, special effects-filled race against time for the survival of all mankind led by one of my favorite Matthew McConaughey performances Interstellar takes a little bit to get going but once it does I consider it to be amongst the top space exploration films of all time. The viewer is truly run through the gamut from the despair of a beaten Earth, to the excitement and wonder of space, from the unknown horrors of being on a totally unexplored world to the familiar feelings of love of family. The narrative and visual effects are in perfect harmony throughout which is what truly sets this apart from other space movies where the strong stories are usually condensed or it’s a bunch of CGI surrounding underdeveloped characters, Interstellar has a bit of a bloated runtime but in doing so it manages to cover all bases.

 

The Prestige (2006)

Are you watching closely? This modern classic of magicians at odds with each other is a spellbinding journey with a twist that is still a bit jarring even after multiple viewings. Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman are both excellent in the lead roles while the supporting cast made up of Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Michael Caine, Andy Serkis and David Bowie (chewing it up as Tesla) enrich the world of late nineteenth-century London. The storytelling isn’t overly keen on explaining itself but unlike Tenet, The Prestige doesn’t leave the audience behind at any point, you just have to give in to the fact that you’re being led on a journey by a capable guide and if you’re truly tuned in you’ll be well rewarded. Even though it’s a bit older I won’t get into anything spoiler related because this is just one of those movies that needs to be experienced on as blank a slate as possible.

 

Inception (2010)

Inception is start to finish one of the best movies of the 2010s. In what might be the worlds least conventional heist film Inception sees corporate espionage meet mind-bending visuals as a team of thieves tries to plant an idea into a subjects’ heavily guarded subconscious. The journey is full of intense action across several gorgeous environments and some characters genuinely interesting enough that even a decade later I want to see more from them; the fact that the cast is an ensemble of Hollywood’s best doesn’t hurt that at all either. The ending is still a topic of discussion and controversy amongst cinephiles worldwide and while I find it pretty straight forward I am open to the fact that I could be totally wrong as well. Inception is endlessly rewatchable as well as being the kind of finished product every kid that’s ever dreamed of making a movie aspires to have in their resume.

 

The Dark Knight (2008)

And… Here… We… GO! I can’t imagine this is much a surprise for anybody as The Dark Knight is considered by many as the apex comic book movie. The world first established in Batman Begins is expanded upon brilliantly as Gotham feels like a city on the mend opposed to the bleak landscape first established only to have that progress kicked in the teeth by the Joker (brilliantly played by the late Heath Ledger); repeatedly pushing both Batman and the city dangerously close to the breaking point. From the opening bank robbery to the beautiful ending monologue The Dark Knight is damn close to perfection and in a genre that generally doesn’t welcome such precision it is a truly rare treat. Any nit-picks generally revolve around the transformation of Harvey Dent to Two-Face, which admittedly would have been better as a two-movie arch, but they are few and far between, even the recasting of Maggie Gyllenhaal for the Katie Holmes character works beautifully. Heath’s posthumous Oscar was well deserved and the internet outrage over the lack of a best picture nomination partially pushed the Academy’s decision to expand the field to 10 movies a year later.

 

Well, there you have it! From the magician’s stage to the streets of Gotham and to the furthest reaches of space the filmography of Christopher Nolan is a visual playground like no other. I for one can’t wait to see what comes next!

 

Article by Donnie – @CantScareDonnie

Johnny Silverhand

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