Ranking Christopher Nolan’s filmography

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British filmmaker Christopher Nolan has been churning out films at a remarkably efficient rate since his debut Following in 1998. Since then, he’s emerged as a major Hollywood player, releasing his latest box office hit, Interstellar, this month. Keep reading for a countdown of his films from worst to best.

9. Following (1998)

Famously shot for just $6,000, this is a far cry from the grand-scale epics Nolan makes nowadays, but thematically it’s a prototype for a lot of his later filmmaking.  Like more polished follow-up Memento, it’s a black and white noir mystery, but despite some intricate plotting, the low budget means it doesn’t hold up well compared to his other work. For Nolan completionists only, who want to see his raw, pre-Hollywood style.

8. Insomnia (2002)

Nolan’s first major studio film, Insomnia features subtle late-career performances from both Al Pacino and Robin Williams. It’s a remake of an acclaimed 1997 Scandinavian thriller (before The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo made those all the rage in Hollywood). As with many westernised remakes, the exercise feels a little redudant, but Nolan’s knack for crafting a dramatic thriller shines through.

7. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The conclusion to the greatest superhero trilogy of all time doesn’t let the side down – it’s as epic and emotional as any fan could hope. After The Dark Knight showcased the franchise’s finest villains, the focus returns to Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne here, wearied and broken down, but forced to make one final stand against Tom Hardy’s imposing Bane. The set-pieces are jaw-dropping, with Nolan consciously trying to top the action of the previous film – hence we get a collapsing NFL stadium, and a breathtaking chase in the Batwing. The Dark Knight Rises is a little slower to start with than previous entries, and there are some notable plotholes that spoil what could have been a real classic. However, the film is ultimately greater than the sum of its sometimes dodgier parts.

6. The Prestige (2006)

Nolan famously used the success of his Dark Knight films as a bargaining chip so that Warner Bros would allow him to pursue more personal projects. The Prestige is one of those, and stands today as his perhaps most underrated picture. It follows the deadly rivalry of two magicians played with typical intensity by Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale, and like most of Nolan’s films, the story’s a mind-bender, structured like a magic trick itself – each successive act functions as ‘The Pledge’, ‘The Turn’, and finally ‘The Prestige’. The Victorian setting is stunningly recreated, and the film is a lot more fun than some of the director’s moodier efforts – it also features a great cameo, which can never hurt a movie. The Prestige only suffers because of a dubious twist ending, leaving audiences just a little unsatisfied.

5. Interstellar (2014)

It may not be Nolan’s greatest work, but Interstellar is without a doubt his most ambitious, (literally) reaching for the stars. The dystopian future, where Earth has become a giant dustbowl, is one of the most original committed to screen, and the scenes set in space, as the heroes journey to other galaxies, are like 2001: A Space Odyssey re-envisioned with today’s cutting edge special effects. See this on the biggest screen you can and prepare to be blown away by wormholes, multi-dimensional travel, and tidal surges the size of mountains. In between the spectacle there are some wonderful performances from Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain and Anne Hathaway – the father-daughter relationship between the former two constitutes the heart and soul of the film, injecting some much-needed  emotion into an otherwise fairly cerebral work. As with The Dark Knight Rises, the film is hampered by occasionally patchy storytelling, but the ending, as the meaning of every inexplicable event becomes clear, is incredibly satisfying.

4. Batman Begins (2005)

Rescuing the Batman franchise from a camp, rubber-nippled abyss, this was the film that spawned a thousand brooding imitations. However, regardless of how uninteresting and dour the films that tried to copy its formula have turned out (here’s looking at you, Man of Steel), the realistic tone works perfectly. Nolan creates an excellent crime thriller that transcends its comic-book origins, with grounded versions of classic villains Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul making long overdue big-screen appearances. The action is also great, with the scene where Batman picks off gangsters in a shipyard a terrifying highlight, whilst a chase in the Batmobile nostalgically recreates cop-movie thrills.

3. Memento (2000)

Nolan’s breakout hit is a gripping neo-noir trip through the psyche. Told backwards, but in a way that never feels gimmicky, this is complex, intriguing and highly original. Guy Pearce has never been better as the amnesiac protagonist with a potentially sinister past, about which the film keeps you guessing the whole way through. Memento snakes its way through ingenious twists and turns, before providing Nolan’s best last-act revelation. This is a film to be watched again and again, revealing more of its layered genius on each viewing.

2. Inception (2010)

Dreams within dreams, gravity-defying action sequences, and the introduction of the ‘braaaam’ noise to the blockbuster (courtesy of Hans Zimmer’s memorable soundscaping). The criticism could be levelled that none of the dream layers actually look or feel like actual dreams, but the explosive action sequences and innovative visual design more than compensate for the lack of trippy psychic exploration. This was the greatest action movie since The Matrix, and its critical and commercial success cemented Nolan’s status as one of the best living directors.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

Form the opening bank heist to the final moments as Batman flees into the shadows, Nolan’s magnum opus grabs onto the viewer and never lets go for its two-and-a-half hour runtime. Electrifying performances from the cast, particularly an unnerving Heath Ledger in the now iconic iteration of the Joker, elevate the film to a whole new level. The Dark Knight‘s plotting also shows a daring unpredictability that is yet to be matched in a genre that seems mightily afraid to kill anyone (so far). This is not just the best superhero movie ever, but one of the finest films ever made.

2 thoughts on “Ranking Christopher Nolan’s filmography

  • The Dark Knight Rises is much better than Batman Begins.

    Reply
  • Why is Inception always ranked so high. I think it’s his worst. Here’s my list
    9) Inception
    8) The Dark Knight Rises
    7) Insomnia
    6) Interstellar
    5) Following
    4) Batman Begins
    3) The Prestige
    2) Memento
    1) The Dark Knight

    Reply

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