Christopher Nolan is one of the most popular and well-known filmmakers in the world. He has risen to fame mainly because of his sci-fi movies and his weird and wacky take on his film, leaving the viewers mind blown. Interpreting the meaning behind his movies has become a major topic of conversation among cinephiles and casual viewers alike.
As good as his movies might be, they are not always straightforward and not that easy to understand. Most of those movies are hit, but a few leave you confused as those movies might have complicated plots. All of his works are better than a lot of movies out there and he is one of the most influential filmmakers today so, ranking his films is like the next thing to do. There is an article which talks about the concepts in his movies on our blog and now we are ranking every one of his movies from worst to best.
11. Following (1998)
Following is the first movie made by Christopher Nolan which he wrote, filmed, co-edited, co-produced and directed. Following is a movie about a writer who follows people to peeks into their lives in the hope that he could be inspired by their lives and write about it in his novel. With a budget of $6000 and no crew, it is impressive that he could pull off making a movie.
Christopher Nolan had no professional pieces of equipment and with a small budget in the hopes to keep the movie the cheapest it could be, storytelling had to be the driving force behind the film and that can be seen. It is impressive how he managed to make a movie with the help of his friends and family who acted in the film. They were employed full-time at the time of shooting which made it even harder and the shooting was possible only during the weekends.
The whole production took a year to complete. The reason Following is ranked 11th in this list is that the talent and innovation that Nolan is yet to unleash makes this a good movie but not his most impressive. The Following is for sure an amazing start to a glorious career ahead.
10. Insomnia (2002)
Insomnia follows two detectives from Los Angeles who are investigating a murder in Alaska. It is a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. Insomnia was Nolan’s 3rd film and had a stunning cast of Oscar winners Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank in the titular roles.
Robin Williams plays the antagonist in the film which is opposite from the comedic roles that he is known for playing. The riveting story and the cast work perfectly with each other. Insomnia, along with Following are the only two movies made by Nolan that follow linear storytelling. Both the movies are admirable but again the main reason they are at the bottom is that the mind-boggling ness of his later movies exceed expectation.
I don’t feel right putting these movies in the bottom as they are outstanding in their own way but when compared to his other movies, they had to be ranked somewhere.
9. Tenet (2020)
Tenet is the latest Nolan film to release and the first movie to release after the Covid-19 pandemic. Tenet’s plot follows an agent who finds out how to manipulate time in order to save the present world from a major catastrophe, this is the most basic way the premise can be described but it is so much more than that which cannot be explained in simple terms.
Tenet was Nolan most expensive original film with a budget of around $200 million. Tenet has a genre-defining storyline with a concept that is so distinctive that no other film has done something in the past and none might in the near future. Tenet is a groundbreaking film with its unique plot and approach towards storytelling but as compelling it might be, the movie lacks the emotional connection to its viewers.
Tenet is the most confusing movie by Nolan and the thing that I like about the movie is that it does not make the viewers feel stupid but at times it might be giving them too much credit. It is an ambitious movie and a little too ambitious at times which makes it underwhelming.
8. Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins was the first movie in the dark knight trilogy. Batman Begins stars Christian Bale in the shoes of Batman. The trilogy as a whole is one of the best representations of Batman’s story. The ranking of the movies in the trilogy is determined mainly due to the portrayal and impact that the respective villains had in each movie.
Batman Begins has Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul as the villains played by Cillian Murphy and Liam Neeson respectively. Batman Begins gave us a portrayal of Gotham which felt realized and realistic while at the same time, staying true to the vision of the DC comic books.
It introduced a Bruce Wayne who would act ignorant and flamboyant just to facilitate the greater good. Even when the antagonist isn’t as memorable as the two others we got in The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, this origin story of Batman was filled with vile villainy, corruption and ruthlessness.
It harnessed Christopher Nolan’s ability to make a full fledged big budget movie with nothing holding him down. And without the massive world building and overhaul that Batman Begins paved way to, the glorious set up The Dark Knight wouldn’t have been possible.
7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The Dark Knight Rises is the 3rd and final film in the dark knight trilogy and concludes the story of Christian Bale’s Batman. Considering the point of villains mentioned in the section of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises has Bane played by Tom Hardy in the villainous role.
With a movie like The Dark Knight preceding the ending of the trilogy, it becomes very difficult to balance expectations and do something which people don’t necessarily expect. Even Nolan, being the extraordinary visionary filmmaker that he is, couldn’t really outdo the bar he set with The Dark Knight. Is that a disappointing characteristics though? Not for a moment. The Dark Knight Rises was the Bittersweet send off to Batman that everyone needed.
Batman is old and incapable and retired, the events of The Dark Knight took a toll on him. He spent his entire energy defying the morals that Joker set and fighting against them in order to restore the stability if Gotham, but he soon realizes that stability is but a ticking clock to chaos.
A villain emerges from the shadows, a petty thief turns out to be an evasive warrior and amidst all of this, there’s Bruce Wayne with a void in his heart, walking the Wayne Mansion on cane. Christopher Nolan creates the best looking movie in the whole trilogy, with shots reaching high and far and the scope of Gotham doubled down on.
Bane as an antagonist is bulky and terrifying yet his inner humanity is truly revealed when the viewers are confronted with the actual villain of the movie. The entire ploy causes post apocalypse like scenario in the city with curfews and havoc spread out. This havoc isn’t the kind of morally uprooted chaos that Joker instilled but something more bleak and devoid of lustre.
With Joker the world was full of twisted colors but with Bane, it was just grey, and there’s beauty in both those ideas. The Dark Knight Rises is one of the movies which goes highly underappreciated for its technical finesse and sheer marvel, and it is hands down, one of the best send offs to , arguably, one of the most influential comic book characters ever.
6. Interstellar (2014)
Interstellar is another genre-defining film by Christopher Nolan. Interstellar is a science fiction movie and it’s as science fiction-esque as it gets. It stars Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathway, Jessica Chastain and Michael Caine in the main roles. Interstellar is set in a dystopian future where survival of humanity on earth is not possible anymore and Cooper played by Matthew McConaughey, who is an ex-NASA pilot is tasked with finding a new abode for humans.
Interstellar explores a completely different aspect of science fiction in movies that have never been dabbled by any other filmmaker. The concept of the 5th dimension and the black hole is interesting not just to an avid sci-fi fan but also to someone who is curious about science and space.
Interstellar takes the technical aspects used in a movie to the extreme and the standout factors are visual effects and score. The visual effects in Interstellar were the most important part as it drives the narrative of space and the unknown which can only be imagined until it is explored. His vision of the black hole which he interpreted through experts was such accurate as much so that when the first-ever image of a black hole was taken and released, it resembled very much the one in the movie.
The score in the movie is made by Hans Zimmer which builds an environment that allows for the experience of vast openness but still, there is an eerie sense of loneliness. Interstellar was considered a marvel at the time of its release and still is because of its out of the world (pun intended) idea and exploration of such theories.
As jaw-dropping, the movie is for its ideas and great at expressing the connection between the characters, I placed the movie in 6th place as the remaining movies display Nolan’s thought process and his talent to interpret the stories that develop in his brain.
5. Dunkirk (2017)
Dunkirk, released in 2017 is about the recuse of British soldiers from the shores of Dunkirk during World War II. Dunkirk stars many actors including Tom Hardy, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Harry Styles. Dunkirk is a war movie and when you imagine a war movie, you think of linear storytelling but even in that Nolan has his personal twist that he is known for.
One can say that he likes to complicate things but maybe it’s just his way of filmmaking. The film follows three timelines and three narratives at the same time being, the mole which takes place for one week, the sea which takes place for one day and the air which takes place for one hour.
The movie revolves around these three narratives. The best thing about Dunkirk is the score, by Hans Zimmer who is Nolan’s long time collaborator. The score is what makes the movie in my opinion, it gives life to the movie. The score and Nolan’s non-linear storytelling makes Dunkirk more than just a war film and it makes you look through a different perspective, through Nolan’s perspective.
4. The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight is the 2nd film in the dark knight trilogy and possibly one of the best superheroes movies and we all know the reason behind it. Heath Ledger plays Joker and even though there are other characters in the movie who have their story to tell including Batman himself and they are great in the film but The Dark Knight is a phenomenon only because of joker.
Heath Ledger’s portrayal of Joker is among the best villains ever and he drives the movie. Just as I mentioned in Batman begins section, the ranking of Nolan’s the dark knight trilogy among themselves is mainly done considering the villains and when the portrayal is so breathtaking which elevates the whole movie then it deserves a spot up there.
I don’t know if there anything else to say about the movie other than Joker but attention has to be given to the making of the movie from acting to storytelling as well. Batman movies in the 1990s became infamous for the poor portrayal but the dark knight trilogy revived the batman that we all love.
3. Memento (2000)
Memento was Christopher Nolan’s 2nd film, the movie that gave him acclaim and recognition throughout the industry. Memento is based on a short story, ‘Memento Mori’ by Nolan’s younger brother Jonathan Nolan. The film revolves around Leonard, who suffers from a type of amnesia as he finds a polaroid photo of a dead man and he tries to find answers.
Memento is an unusual and mysterious movie and similar to Nolan’s other movies, it does not follow linear storytelling. Memento is where Nolan’s non-linear fashion of films started and he never stopped. Memento tells the narrative where black and white sequences follow the chronology and coloured sequences follow the reserve-chronology which is opposite of what the viewer might perceive.
As you watch the movie, you understand that reserve-chronology is the correct way, the way Memento is meant to be seen and it really does a good work of putting everything in place in the end for the viewers to interpret. Memento is the definition of Christopher Nolan’s potential as a filmmaker, it shows the world what more is in the bag and what more can be expected from him.
2. Inception (2010)
Inception, the movie that gave Christopher Nolan worldwide recognition that he rightfully deserves and made him a worldwide phenomenon. Inception follows non-linear storytelling obviously and is a movie about dreams that can be controlled which you have to see to know the plot.
Nolan is known for sci-fi movies but out of his 11 movies, he has only made 4 sci-fi movies and Inception was his 2nd one. Inception dwells into the science fiction genre and takes it to another level which can also be said about his next two sci-fi movies, Interstellar and Tenet.
The unique plots of his films which is not for someone ordinary to imagine blows the audience’s mind away, Inception follows the same path and which might be where it all started. Inception takes advantage of not only the characters and the story but also the technical aspects of the films including cinematography, score, sound, visual effects and many more.
The score by Hans Zimmer plays a very important role in Inception building the anxiety-driven experience not only for the character but also for the audience. I am a sucker for ambiguous endings in a movie and Inception is the epitome of an ambiguous ending leaving you to wonder and keeps you thinking about it for a long a time.
1. The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige, the only Christopher Nolan movie that is a period piece and his 1st sci-fi movie. The Prestige is a Nolan movie that is entirely different from every one of his other movies. A movie that is about magic, science, a bitter rivalry and also has Nikola Tesla in it.
The Prestige is based on the 1995 novel of the same name by Christopher Priest. It follows two magicians who try to one-up each other by creating the best illusion and that becomes an obsession that results in shocking revelations. The film stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as the two magicians. The Prestige is in my opinion the most underrated Nolan movie and his best one to date.
Many might have not seen the movie and don’t even associate it as something made by Chris Nolan which makes it even greater than it is as it shows the capability of Nolan’s storytelling. The Prestige is the representation of the range that Nolan possesses.
A film where a simple story of two rival magicians is revealed to be a lot more than what one might believe it to be but in the end, everything leads to misery for both the protagonists. I did not want to give away much of the storyline as one has to experience it to understand why I believe it is the best Nolan movie. The revelation at the end of The Prestige is one of the most flabbergasting experiences in a movie, the plot is everything in this movie which is mainly the reason, The Prestige is ranked 1st on my list.
The Movie Culture Synopsis
Christopher Nolan’s films don’t only have a captivating storyline and impressive characters that emotionally affect the audience but his movies are technical marvels. His recent movies have a major emphasis on visual effects which also play a vital role in his movies like Inception, Interstellar and Tenet.
Christopher Nolan’s non-linear approach towards storytelling amplifies the editing in his movies which also has to be looked into through a different perspective. His irregular and disorderly-ness also affect the sound aspect in his movies where there are variations in the intensity which has to be taken into consideration for the viewers to build the immersive experience (which can also be said about other films too). The grand art direction can be seen on a massive level in his movie Tenet, where he crashes an actual Boeing 747 as it was more cost-effective.
Major credit should be given to Christopher Nolan’s younger brother, Jonathan Nolan who has been co-writer for many of Nolan’s films. Jonathan Nolan, who is also the creator of HBO’s Westworld, wrote the movies The Prestige, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar along with Christopher Nolan. He is also an uncredited writer for Batman begins. Memento was based on the short story ‘Memento Mori’ written by Jonathan.
One of the things that I like about Christopher Nolan is that he doesn’t feed the audience with the plot of his movies as compared to many films which explain the plot during the movie in some way or other. He lets the audience discover the nuances in his films and gives them credit even though it might not work every time as every one of his movies are not be easy to figure out for all the viewers like Tenet where I believe he just got too ambitious but still, Tenet is a good movie when one understands the consequences that lead to the actions and why and how they go about with the solution to stop the world from destruction.
But still, Christopher Nolan is among the most influential director of our times. His name is taken along with the great filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, etc. He is one of the directors that had a major impact on my life, even though Paul Thomas Anderson is one I like the most and is my favourite director who also had a major impact on me, my outlook towards movies and my love for them but Christopher Nolan is definitely up there at the top along with Wes Anderson and all other directors mentioned above.