Every Christopher Nolan Film Ranked

Christopher Nolan Films Ranked
Christopher Nolan Films Ranked
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Usurpingly, Oppenheimer is expected to win big at the 2024 Academy Awards in March. Christopher Nolan released his twelfth feature-film against Greta Gerwig’s Barbie, launching “Barbenheimer” into the stratosphere and creating a pop-culture phenomenon in the process. But how good is his newest film really? Does the dark and difficult tale of a the man responsible for the atomic bomb really deserve all of the hype it’s created? Let’s examine that question by taking a definitive (definitive in my mind, at least) ranking of the fan-favorite filmmakers filmography. Phew… that was a mouth full.

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12. Following

Christopher Nolan Feature Film Debut, 'Following.'
‘Following’ (1998)

Now let’s not be too harsh on Following. Afterall, this was Nolan’s feature-debut and boasted a minuscule budget of only six-thousand-dollars. It’s a micro-budgeted independent film that follows a young, unemployed man who begins to follow strangers on a daily bases. It’s a character driven neo-noir thriller that showcased Nolan’s natural talents behind the camera and offered an early glimpse of visionary style. The film was restored and released by the Criterion Collection in 2012.

11. The Dark Knight Rises

Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises
Tom Hardy as Bane in The Dark Knight Rises

The Dark Knight is among Christopher Nolan’s most highly regarded and lauded films. So, fans were more than excited for its follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises, which acted as a conclusion to the filmmaker’s Batman trilogy. Rises has its high-points, primarily in the first-half of the film; however, a villain that audiences can’t understand, a facepalm-inducing reference to Robin and some nonsensical plot choices left fans feeling disappointed.

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10. Tenet

Robert Pattinson
Robert Pattinson and John David Washington in Tenet

Tenet released at a time that theaters were struggling. The COVID-19 pandemic had put cinemas in a corner, but Christopher Nolan came to the rescue, releasing Tenet to a worldwide box office of over $363 million. That may not seem huge by Nolan’s standards, but as the first major release following nationwide theater shutdowns, it was important. Still, audiences didn’t quite connect with Tenet, referencing it’s confusing plot and overreliance on time manipulation. Perhaps the film’s biggest critic was Christopher Nolan’s peloton instructor who went viral after bashing the film during a class. Yikes.

9. Interstellar

Interstellar
Interstellar

Contributing to “The McConaissance” Interstellar released at a time that the Academy Award winning actor was rocketing to the forefront of pop-culture and was finally being taken seriously as a dramatic actor. The film explores the depths of space, time and the love between a parent and their children. In recent years, Interstellar has seen a bit of pushback from viewers pointing out its confusing and convoluted story.

8. Insomnia

Al Pacino and Robin Williams starred together in Insomnia
Al Pacino (right) and Robin Williams (Left) in Insomnia

Insomnia is perhaps Nolan’s most underappreciated film. A remake of the 1997 Norwegian thriller starring Stellan Skarsgård, Insomnia released in 2002, just prior to Nolan making himself a household name with Batman Begins. It’s a dark, gripping suspense-thriller featuring a chilling performance from Robin Williams as a serial killer. Seriously, if you missed this one, seek it out and watch it.

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7. Memento

Guy Pearce in a still from Memento
Guy Pearce in a still from Memento

Christopher Nolan is known for his use of nonlinear storytelling and time manipulation in his films. It’s one of his hallmark traits and he first showcased it with Memento, his sophomore-feature starring Guy Peirce as a man struggling from memory loss. The film unfolds in reverse order. It’s a dizzying spiral to the film’s conclusion that works better than it should thanks to the sharply precise filmmaking of Nolan.

6. The Prestige

Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in The Prestige
Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale in The Prestige

Batman and Wolverine as dueling magicians? That’s not quite the plot of The Prestige, but that’s how audiences viewed it. It wasn’t the only period-piece film about stage magicians to release in 2006 either. While the Edward Norton starring The Illusionist is a fine film in its own right, The Prestige has stood the test of time. It’s a smart, compelling and perfectly acted thriller that explores the darkest sides of ambition and is fondly remembered as one of Nolan’s most entertaining films.

5. Batman Begins

Liam Neeson and Christian Bale in Batman Begins (2005)
Liam Neeson and Christian Bale in Batman Begins (2005)

By the time Batman Begins came around in 2005 audiences had a soured taste in their mouths when it came to the caped crusader. The last two Batman films we’d received were the Joel Schumacher directed Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. While those consisted of neon lights and puns, Nolan’s vision for for the vigilante centered on a more grounded and serious hero. Audiences instantly connected with his vision and The Dark Knight Trilogy was born.

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4. Inception

A concept art for Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan
A concept art for Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan

Given Nolan’s affinity for time distortion, setting a film in the realm of dreams is a match made in filmmaking heaven. Featuring an all star cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception utilizes the freedoms of the dream-world to defy physics and gravity while delivering some of the best action of his filmmaking career. Does it entirely make sense? Maybe, maybe not. But who cares when its this epic.

3. Dunkirk

Soldiers on the Dunkirk beach

Prior to OppenheimerDunkirk was arguably Nolan’s most sincere and straightforward story. Telling the harrowing tale of the Dunkirk evacuation in World War 2 told from the the viewpoints of land, sea and air. Of course, in standard Nolan fashion, the story isn’t told in chronological order, which rubbed some viewers the wrong way. Still, it’s among the most gripping and beautifully-tragic war films in recent memory.

2. The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight
Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight

With what is widely considered to be the greatest Batman film ever made, Christopher Nolan showcased just how great comic book adaptations could be. Heath Ledger delivers a memorable Academy Award winning performance as the Joker, the clown prince of Gotham. The cinematography, the score and the screenplay elevate what could have been a run of the mill entry in the long history of Batman to something truly exceptional.

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1. Oppenheimer

Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan
Cillian Murphy in Oppenheimer, directed by Christopher Nolan

Also Read: Oppenheimer Review: Christopher Nolan’s Magnum Opus

Is it recency bias? Maybe, but I don’t think so. It seems that Christopher Nolan has truly delivered his magnum opus with Oppenheimer. Featuring long-time collaborator Cillian Murphy in the lead role, Nolan delivers what is arguably the greatest film of his career. Telling the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer and his creation of the atomic bomb, Nolan avoids the typical pitfalls and cliches traditionally association with biographical films to deliver a poignant and beautiful examination of a complex man and a complicated time in our nation’s history.

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The Distinct Style of Christopher Nolan | FandomWire Video Essay

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Written by Joshua Ryan

Articles Published: 242

Joshua Ryan is the Creative Coordinator and Head Film & TV Critic for FandomWire. He's a member of the Critics Choice Association and spokesperson for the Critics Association of Central Florida. Joshua is also one of the hosts of the podcast, The Movie Divide.