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The Filmography of Christopher Nolan

Reviewing and ranking every film from director Christopher Nolan.

With Oppenheimer‘s recent release, I felt a strong desire to rewatch every Christopher Nolan film. I’ve always been a fan of his, but I wasn’t a die-hard like many others until the past couple months. With most of his films, I find myself enjoying them the first time through, but truly understanding why they are so beloved upon rewatch. I’ve revisited almost every single Christopher Nolan movie over the past couple weeks, and wanted to discuss them. It’s very understandable why he’s so popular- some of the biggest (and best) blockbusters of all time have come from him, and he doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. I think the most admirable thing about Nolan’s films is how he’s able to take concepts so abstract and make them into something that anybody could enjoy. When you sit down and think about the plot of Inception, it really is very clever, and it’s neat how many films such as that are beloved because Nolan was able to work his magic. I think it’s fair to say that he’s one of the most respectable directors of this generation, if not of all time; even if you’re not a fan, you have to recognize the impact many of his films have left on the industry. So, in an attempt to make a follow-up to my article discussing Edgar Wright’s filmography earlier this year, I figured there was no better choice than Christopher Nolan.


Following (1998)

Nolan’s first film, Following, is a bit of an outlier among his filmography, being a completely different type of movie than anything else he has made. It’s a black and white indie film about manipulation, lies, and distrust, and it’s not even seventy minutes long. It’s obviously not going to be as good as many of his later works, but Following is still a solid first effort. The short runtime keeps it from dragging on, and the story is interesting enough to be worthwhile. This is definitely his most obscure film, but I appreciate it for what it is.


Memento (2000)

Nolan’s first real hit, Memento, is still one of his best, over twenty years later. This is probably one of the smartest scripts I’ve ever seen; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a story play out in the way Memento‘s does. I wouldn’t exactly call it a ‘confusing’ movie like many do, but it will definitely make you question yourself. It keeps giving you more and more bits of information until you think you have it figured out, and then reveals something completely different that makes you rethink everything. This isn’t one of his more unknown films like Following or Insomnia, but it’s definitely less popular than the Dark Knight trilogy or something like Interstellar. So, if you’ve never seen it but have enjoyed other Nolan films, you really can’t go wrong with Memento. There’s a reason that it put Nolan on the map for many.


Insomnia (2002)

I think it’s fair to call this Nolan’s most ‘normal’ film. It’s a perfectly fine cop mystery, but it’s missing any kind of Nolan flare. I do enjoy it- Robin Williams’ character is intriguing, and the movie keeps you interested enough to see it through until the end, but it’s completely void of Nolan’s style. I thought that maybe the film’s R rating would allow him to make something a bit more unsettling than he usually would, since it’s a murder mystery that revolves around a detective who can’t sleep in a town that never gets dark. I assumed that it would have a few scenes that make you wonder what’s going on, and if you’re seeing what’s actually happening or if it’s some sort of hallucination. While it never reaches its full potential, Insomnia is still a decent film- but it’s not my favorite, knowing it could have been so much more.


Batman Begins (2005)

His first commercial success, Batman Begins is still a worthy Batman film eighteen years later. It tackles a couple of characters that have never been portrayed in a live action Batman film before, such as Ra’s Al Guhl and Scarecrow. This is a very solid origin story- at this point, we had only seen one other Batman origin, so it was a pretty fresh take, especially after the disasters that were Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. At the time, I think it would be fair to consider this one of if not the best superhero films due to how different it was from most other things that existed at the time. I love the ’89 Batman and Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy as much as the next guy, but nothing like Batman Begins really existed. A more grounded take on a classic story was very unique at the time, and I think that this still holds up as a great adaptation of one of Batman’s many different origin stories.


The Prestige (2006)

The first time I watched The Prestige, I wasn’t overly impressed. I liked it, but I just didn’t get nearly as into it as many do. Why did I think this? Who knows. I started it around midnight on Christmas Eve and stayed up late, which was probably a contributing factor. However, I am happy to report that I was completely wrong about this film the first time, and now believe it to be a near-masterpiece. The constant twists and turns it takes you through never get old. You’re left to question if what you’re seeing is really happening; it’s a very grounded story until around halfway through, when some mild supernatural elements start to show themselves. However, you’re not sure if there really is something weird really going on, or if the movie is playing a trick on you, just like the characters are constantly doing to each other. This is the type of movie that Insomnia should be- a disorienting thriller that bounces between the perspectives of two characters, and introduces a semi-supernatural element that leaves you wondering if what you’re seeing is real. The only problem I can find with The Prestige is that Hugh Jackman isn’t doing an accent like Christian Bale.


The Dark Knight (2008)

This is my absolute favorite Nolan film, and one of my favorite films in general. Unique, I know, but whenever it’s on, it’s just so hard to take your eyes off of. I enjoy Christian Bale’s Batman, and I quite like Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Harvey Dent. But, of course, Heath Ledger is the real star of the standout. Probably the most praised performance of all time, Ledger’s Joker is, of course, absolutely perfect. The Joker was already one of the most recognizable villains ever created, but I’d say it’s Ledger that boosted him to the status of a character like Darth Vader. I think that some minor nitpicks could be made, like how Gotham just looks like Chicago, but none of those criticisms really matter when you consider how well written and paced the script is. I wouldn’t even say that this is the best story or character arc Batman has ever had, but it’s presented in such a way that makes it feel like it is. When I think about it, I like the character of Batman more in something like The Long Halloween comic or the Arkham games, but Nolan’s script is so well written that I still like this more than any other piece of Batman media. This is one of those movies that I could watch weekly and still be entertained, and I know I’m definitely not alone. It is a very easy and common choice for many, but there’s a reason why The Dark Knight is almost universally recognized as one of the best superhero films of all time.


Inception (2010)

What can I even try to say about Inception? It’s Inception. Not only is this probably Nolan’s most popular film, it’s probably one of the most well-known and recognizable movies ever made. And yes, this obviously lives up to the hype. Like I said before, I think it’s really incredible that Nolan was able to take a concept as complex as it is and make it into an action blockbuster that anybody could enjoy. One thing I’m always impressed with by Nolan’s films is how he makes every second of a long runtime feel important. There’s never a single moment where you feel like you’re watching something unnecessary, or that it’s wasting your time. Almost everything he makes is pretty lengthy, but it always flies by. Inception is no exclusion- in fact, I’d say it’s probably the best example of it. This movie does not feel nearly as long its runtime of around two and a half hours.  The final act of Inception is one of my favorites of any film; the crew is split up between five levels of dreams, and they all have to execute the plan at the exact right moment. The tension mixed with surprisingly good action and a phenomenal soundtrack makes for a truly incredible finale, especially with how well it lands the ending. The frequently debated ending shot seems to have a definitive explanation to me, but it’s almost more fun to theorize about whether or not it doesn’t. Not only is it one of Nolan’s most rewatchable films to date, but it’s easily one of his best.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

While The Dark Knight Rises is by far the most divisive of the Dark Knight Trilogy, I still find it to be pretty solid. It has been a few years, but I remember enjoying most of it, and liking Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s not perfect by any means, but this is still a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. The ending is done very well, even if a few parts of the film are a little goofy. It ties up some loose ends from the other two, while introducing a few new characters to keep things fresh. This is one of two films I didn’t rewatch after Oppenheimer, so I can’t give a full opinion, but I still think that this is likely the best superhero trilogy of all time. It’s hard to think of another one with quality as consistent as this- the only one that really comes to mind is Guardians of the Galaxy, but I find the third entry to be somewhat lacking. Of course, both will likely be beaten by the Spider-Verse trilogy, but Beyond the Spider-Verse has been indefinitely delayed, so Nolan still gets the crown.


Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar is the single best film Christopher Nolan has ever made (that doesn’t involve Batman). . This is an essential watch for almost anybody. Do you want to get into film? Watch Interstellar. Do you like Sci-Fi or films about space? Watch Interstellar. Are you a casual filmgoer who just enjoys well made films with tight scripts? Watch Interstellar. It’s so easy to love this movie. Only Christopher Nolan could create a film with some of the most fascinating science fiction concepts I’ve ever seen and mix it with such a personal story about a father trying to save Earth for his children, even if it means abandoning them. The final twenty minutes of this Interstellar floored me in a way that few science fiction films have. There’s really nothing to criticize here- the characters are lovable, it’s well paced, the long runtime is utilized perfectly, and everything ties together very nicely in the end. This is a truly special film, and completely deserves every bit of praise it gets.


Dunkirk (2017)

There is no doubt in my mind when I say Dunkirk is easily my least favorite of Nolan’s filmography. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I find the execution to be very flawed. I’ve seen it twice, and both times I’ve really tried to understand why some love it so much. I don’t find it nearly as tense as many make it out to be, outside of a few scenes. The idea of making this movie play out of order is interesting, but I think it’s a little unnecessary. It ends up just feeling disjointed and confused as opposed to how neat it could be. The biggest compliment I can give Dunkirk is that it’s very technically impressive. I’d probably like it a bit more if I was given the opportunity to see it in IMAX. It’s filmed very well and the sound design is quite good. Aside from that, this movie really just doesn’t do much for me. I usually like war films, but I have always found Dunkirk to be far less interesting than my favorites, such as Full Metal Jacket and Saving Private Ryan. I think that most Nolan movies would make sense as being someone’s favorite, but this one just never grabbed me all that much. Again, it’s not bad, but it is not nearly as unique or special as the rest of his filmography.


Tenet (2020)

By far Nolan’s most polarizing film, I was not a fan of Tenet the first time I watched it. The premise is very confusing to think about, many scenes don’t make any sense if you haven’t been giving it 100% of your attention, and you can’t hear a single thing the characters say since the score is constantly blaring over it. But, despite its flaws, I found Tenet quite brilliant the second time around. Once you can understand what’s actually happening, everything just clicks together so well. When people say that movies like Memento or Inception are confusing, I tend to disagree, since they explain pretty much everything to you. However, I completely understand why Tenet baffled most; I had no clue what was happening the first time through. This is one of those movies that almost requires a second viewing. You need a first watch to even understand how the rules of this world work, and a second to understand what’s happening in the story. I get why many aren’t fans of this one, and view it as the blemish on Nolan’s filmography. I used to have a very similar view of it. If you didn’t like Tenet, I encourage you to revisit it- you might find yourself enjoying one of the most interesting film concepts written in recent years.


Oppenheimer (2023)

Doing the ‘Barbenheimer’ double feature was an absolute treat for an avid moviegoer such as myself- seeing the theater that packed for weeks on end made me very happy. Sitting down next to my friend in a theater filled to the brim to watch a three hour long biopic composed almost entirely of dialogue was an experience I didn’t think I would ever have. There have been a few big successes in theaters since Covid, but none are as impressive as that of Barbie and Oppenheimer. The fact that this movie has made $718 million worldwide so far and is still in doing consistently well is mind-blowing. It’s a great example of what word of mouth can do for a film, and I hope that similar upcoming films like Killers of the Flower Moon can have a fraction of the success Oppenheimer has received.

I found Oppenheimer to be overall quite good. It kept me interested throughout, and went by very quickly. There are many moments that could be considered disturbing, but my favorite moment of the entire thing was when Oppie gave a speech to a small room of people, explaining that the bomb had been dropped. I won’t spoil it, but if you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s easily the most disturbing scene Nolan has ever made, and just proved my theory that Nolan could make an effective horror movie. However, this film isn’t without its flaws. Despite its lengthy runtime, I found the first third to be weirdly impatient; you’re constantly being fed new information in scenes that begin and end very abruptly. I think the first hour or so could have definitely benefited by slowing down a bit. Not to say I didn’t enjoy the first third, I just think it was paced a little weirdly. There were also several characters that were weirdly underdeveloped- Jean and Kitty are the biggest examples. They’re fine characters, but they really don’t have much screen time. I can think of a good few scenes off the top of my head that would have hit a lot harder if they were more developed. Those are really my only complaints, though. I’m sure I’ll see it again before the end of the year and like it even more. If you’re one of the few people that haven’t yet seen this, it’s definitely worth your time.

Final Ranking:

12. Dunkirk (6/10)

11. Insomnia (6.5/10)

10. Following (7/10)

9. The Dark Knight Rises (7/10)

8. Tenet (8/10)

7. Batman Begins (8/10)

6. Oppenheimer (9/10)

5. The Prestige (9/10)

4. Memento (9/10)

3. Inception (9/10)

2. Interstellar (10/10)

 1. The Dark Knight (10/10)

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