Ranking all of Christopher Nolan’s movies

Before he was the man who restored Batman to glory (and before Zack Snyder ruined him again), Christopher Nolan was best known as the auteur behind some of the most innovative and mind bending movies in Hollywood. But never one to follow a traditional path, Nolan has decided that his latest directorial effort will be a relatively straightforward retelling of the Miracle at Dunkirk, the famous story of fishing vessels crossing the English Channel to rescue allied troops during World War II. Ahead of the release of his new movie, Dunkirk, here is the definitive ranking of all of Nolan’s films. After nine major releases, you’d think that Nolan would have a dud or two in there. But as the following list shows, Nolan really can’t make a bad film.

9. The Dark Knight Rises

To be clear, The Dark Knight Rises is not a bad movie. But the bar that Nolan has to clear with his movies is so high, that even an average film feels like a letdown. After hitting his creative peak with The Dark Knight, Nolan released this relatively vanilla follow up that had some excellent visuals(football stadium explosions, anyone?), but a somewhat convoluted plot and a mishmash of characters that weren’t fully developed. But put it this way, if this is Nolan’s “worst” film, the man has had a fine career indeed.

8. Dunkirk

Yes, it’s atmospheric and tense, with a truly harrowing score that helps to sell the intensity of war, but at the end of the day, the film feels a bit like a lot of flash, but very little substance. Nolan does an excellent job conveying the nerve wracking anxiety that goes with being a soldier, and the scenes with soldiers struggling to get off sinking shops are absolutely spellbinding, but ultimately, the material is a bit thin, resulting in a film that is a lot of style, but little substance.

7. Interstellar

An excellent sci-fi film that actually feels both epic and personal at the same time, Interstellar is the thinking man’s science fiction movie. A top flight cast led by Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are aided by a truly innovative story of the realities of interstellar travel. Relativistic time, tesseracts, and black holes all make an appearance in this story that is somehow believable in spite of its sometimes unbelievable premise.

6. Insomnia

Probably the most overlooked film of Nolan’s career, Insomnia features an incredible performance by Robin Williams, playing against type as a potential murder suspect, living in a small town in Alaska. The big twist, this town is so far north that the sun is out, even in the dead of night. Al Pacino plays the corrupt detective sent to investigate a small town murder, who is seeking out the murderer of a young teenager, only to get caught up in a web of lies spun by Williams. It’s an indelible performance for Williams, who plays against type as the intense and conniving Walter Finch.

5. Batman Begins

This film should get bonus points for reviving a franchise that Joel Schumacher all but threw gas on and lit on fire. But on its own merits, it sits just outside the truly best of Nolan’s directorial efforts. Batman Begins introduces us to the darkest and grittiest incarnation of Batman yet in Christian Bale, and brings a more visceral intensity to the Caped Crusader. The fights in this film are rough and raw, and the quick cutting camera work helps bring the audience closer the fray.

4. Inception

Nolan may have better films, but this film is Nolan at his visual storytelling best. This sci-fi action film about a shady group of characters who can enter other peoples dreams is the veritable definition of mind bending storytelling. It features Leonardo DiCaprio as the mysterious fixer, Cobb. He and his team traverse through multiple layers of subconscious to try and accomplish the ultimate goal: incepting an idea into someone’s head. And for what it’s worth, he’s dreaming in the last scene. End of story.

3. The Prestige

Some may disagree with The Prestige being #3 on this list. But for me, this film is the most fun of all of Nolan’s films. Telling the story of competing stage magicians (played by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale) as they seek to outdo each other with their illusions, this film shows how obsession and competition can ultimately lead to each other’s downfall. It’s a mystery, a love story, and a tale of tragic brinksmanship, highlighted with the sheen of turn of the century magic. It’s not the most famous of Nolan’s works, and it’s rarely considered the best, but on my personal list, The Prestige is a Nolan movie that I always look forward to rewatching.

2. Memento

Nolan’s first major film put him squarely on the map as a director to watch. What would be gimmicky and confusing in anyone else’s hands becomes an absolutely mesmerizing tale of memory, love, and revenge. The hook is that the entire story is being told entirely in reverse. Which, by all accounts should make no sense whatsoever. And yet, Nolan somehow manages to create a story that is truly unique in both its plotting and storytelling. Memento is a film that has us wondering how the film will “end”, even though we’ve seen how it ends right at the start. And if that sentence is confusing, just imagine how you feel the first time you watch this incredible film.

1. The Dark Knight

It really couldn’t have been anything else. From the awe inspiring camera work right from the opening credits, to an unforgettable villain in Heath Ledger’s Joker, this Nolan at his best. The bank heist in the opening scene remains one of the best intros in movie history and the interplay between Bale’s Batman and Ledger’s Joker is a joy to behold. The Dark Knight once again proves that old saw about the second film in trilogies being the best (See The Empire Strikes Back). The film earned Ledger a well deserved posthumous Oscar and it helped to remind us that Superhero movies don’t have to be quip filled, florescent affairs. The Dark Knight remains one of the greatest superhero films of all time.

Facebook Comments

About author

Brian Chu
Brian Chu 221 posts

Brian Chu is a Staff Writer for Nerd Reactor and aspiring Jeopardy contestant. He thinks Picard is the best captain, Cumberbatch is the best Holmes, Bale is the best Batman, and Tennant is the best Doctor. Follow him @chumeister