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Christopher Nolan Ranked

July 14, 2023
Hunter Friesen
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As quite possibly the most famous director working today, Christopher Nolan has repeatedly pushed the boundaries of cinema, captivating audiences with his thought-provoking themes, mind-bending concepts, and stunning visual spectacles.

His filmography is a tapestry of iconic movies that have left an indelible mark on popular culture. From the mind-bending puzzles of Memento to the gripping exploration of dreams in Inception and the epic superhero saga of The Dark Knight trilogy, each film offers a unique cinematic experience.

Whether you are a long-time fan or a newcomer to his works, this ranking will provide a comprehensive exploration of Nolan's filmography, celebrating his unparalleled creativity and his lasting impact on the world of cinema.

11. Following

Whether you're Martin Scorsese, Damien Chazelle, Barry Jenkins, or Christopher Nolan, everyone starts their career with a small black-and-white movie they crafted with the tools available to them: sweat and determination.

Like most Nolan movies, this can be overcomplicated just for the sake of it. But there are some impressive things going on, especially when you consider how Nolan was able to continue his ambitions within the studio system.

10. Batman Begins

On paper, this is just another well-known origin story that we’ve seen before. Nolan doesn’t totally transcend that pitfall, but he skillfully elevates the comic book genre into the real world. He immerses the audience in the griminess of Gotham City, a place that can only be saved by a man willing to meet the criminals on their terms. It remains an important stepping stone that would be used to fulfill the much grander scope of its sequels.

9. Insomnia

Truth and guilt come crashing together in Nolan’s first foray into studio filmmaking. While it’s the only film that he didn’t have a hand in writing (at least officially), Nolan still is able to instill psychological depth into the material through his atmospheric cinematography and heightened editing. Al Pacino applies his mid-2000s sleepiness to a role that suits it, and Robin Williams skillfully transforms into a role against type.

8. Tenet

Tenet is a full-on assault of the senses that contains unparalleled moments of spectacle and ambition. It surely takes multiple rewatches to comprehend, with the lack of interesting characters and convoluted stakes making that a bit of a tall order. But if you are brave enough to take on that mission, make sure to pack some ibuprofen and prepare to have your mind twisted in ways you never thought possible. Full Review

7. Interstellar

Nolan has always claimed 2001: A Space Odyssey to be his favorite movie, and 2014’s Interstellar seems to be the clearest illustration of its influence. The accuracy and scientific detail are unparalleled compared to most blockbusters, with visually stunning sequences that demand the biggest screen possible. Its ambitious narrative can be a bit of a challenge to follow, but the emotional payoff (not something Nolan is known for), makes the difficulty all the more worth it.

6. The Dark Knight Rises

Each entry in Nolan’s Batman trilogy is bigger than the last, with this finale seeing The Dark Knight going out on the epic stage he deserves. Batman is at his most vulnerable here as he battles a broken body and spirit at the hands of Tom Hardy’s Bane. No sequel would have been able to match the heights of 2008’s The Dark Knight, but this one has its moments and still flies high above most of the entries within the superhero genre.

5. Memento

Serving as the beginning of his trademarked enthralling bewilderment, Memento captivates with its unique narrative structure, thought-provoking themes, and exceptional performance by Guy Pearce. You piece together the past and present with Leonard, never sure what’s reality and what’s all in your head. The stripped-down scale (at least compared to other Nolan mind-benders) makes it all the more impressive and makes it easy to see why studios were falling head over heels to hire him for their blockbusters.

4. Inception

Inception is Nolan’s magnum opus in terms of visual ingenuity, made clear by the film winning the Oscars for both Best Cinematography and Best Visual Effects. The seamless shifting between the dream levels creates a sense of unease and uncertainty that complements the film's psychological undertones. Hans Zimmer delivers probably his most signature score to date, with Leonardo DiCaprio in peak movie star form as our guide through this maze of the mind.

3. Dunkirk

Dunkirk is an immersive, visceral experience that conveys the horrors of war without relying on excessive violence and gore (or even showing the enemy). Instead, it focuses on the psychological toll of the events, capturing the fear, desperation, and camaraderie among the soldiers as they face impossible odds. Hans Zimmer's haunting and relentless score serves as an additional character within this large ensemble, intensifying the sense of urgency and heightening the emotional impact of each ticking moment.

2. The Prestige

Cinema is a form of magic by itself, and Nolan is one of its greatest magicians. The Prestige is probably his most rewatchable movie, not just because of the theatrical twists and turns, but because it's such a well-put-together production that keeps you on your toes as Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale’s obsessive war of one-upmanship progressively gets more dangerous as it goes along.

1. The Dark Knight

Being able to deliver top-notch entertainment while still touching on interesting ideas is what separates the legends from the lepers during the busy summer movie season. Nolan’s masterful direction has the movie fly at a breakneck pace while still savoring all the details. No further words need to be said to honor Heath Ledger’s towering performance, with Aaron Eckhart’s portrayal of Harvey Dent being a standout second-fiddle. There’s been nothing like it since, and likely won’t for a very long time.

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