Christopher Nolan turns 51 today. The British-American filmmaker is known for his ambitious, visually impressive films that are both crowd-pleasing and cerebral. He has one of the most enviable careers, and is behind a few of the best films of 21st century.
Nolan went from low-budget independent cinema — his first film was made for $6000 — to prestige studio assignments, which are are events in themselves today. He has won the audience trust and is one of the most distinct voices in cinema today.
Here is a definitive ranking of every Christopher Nolan film ever made.
Christopher Nolan’s 1998 debut feature was a shoestring-budgeted ($6000, reportedly) British indie film called The Following. It was a great exploration of a complex character and had dominant themes of time and identity.
10. The Dark Knight Rises
The conclusion to Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises brought a terrifying villain Bane (Tom Hardy) before a rusty Batman. Despite its flaws, The Dark Knight Rises was a fairly satisfying conclusion to a great trilogy.
Insomnia was Nolan’s 2002 remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. With some great performances by actors like Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank, the film was a gripping noir drama.
Inspiration for Aamir Khan’s Ghajini (which was honestly a pale imitation), Memento was a great achievement for the then 30-year-old filmmaker still trying to make his place in the film industry. It was this film that established Christopher Nolan in the indie scene. With Guy Pearce and Carrie-Anne Moss in the lead roles, the film was widely praised for its narrative structure and its themes of memory and self-deception.
A war film made by Nolan, in Dunkirk he did not delve deep into the usual war movie tropes like excessive violence, non-stop machine-gun fire, and character arcs. Instead, he chose the Dunkirk evacuation itself as a character, and humans were simply minor players combining to make a big whole. The film also had some of the best cinematography in any movie.
6. Batman Begins
The film which began easily the greatest superhero trilogy, Batman Begins explored the theme of fear. With Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne struggling to overcome his childhood fear of bats to Cilian Murphy’s Scarecrow using drugs to invoke the deepest fears of people who were not keen on his plans, Batman Begins was all about recognising your inner demons and then overcoming them. It also marked the grand reentry of the Caped Crusader whose last two big-screen appearances had been disastrous.
The latest film by Nolan, released in 2020, was surrounded by release controversies as many said it was irresponsible to release a film amid a global pandemic. But as far as the quality of the movie is concerned, Tenet is not lacking. It is a perfectly-paced, smartly crafted thriller with stunning special effects and a thumping soundtrack. And yet, if you want to be emotionally involved with this story and its characters, you are going to be disappointed.
Inception was a film that was mind-bogglingly complex with its time-jumps, unreliable protagonist and, well, dreams. Not just dreams, sharing of dreams. The idea of stealing other people’s ideas from their minds and also planting foreign ideas into their minds and translating it to cinema was a great feat. The high concept ideas were well-complemented by Hans Zimmer’s beautiful score.
Interstellar was the first time Nolan went into outer space. With his tight hold on the narrative and visual aspects of the film, Nolan was able to create a film that was set in the outer reaches of our solar system and even parallel worlds, but essentially, it was about a father and daughter.
2. The Prestige
With actors like Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman playing rival magicians in the film, The Prestige was a thrill ride. Nolan’s obsession with twists at the end of his movies may have begun with this film.
1. The Dark Knight
Still the uncrowned queen of all superhero movies, The Dark Knight was released in 2008 and is yet to be bettered. What was unique about it was that although it was a superhero movie, it did not have large scale CGI third act. Its antagonist was a great, twisted mind, and not actually a great fighter. Played by late actor Heath Ledger, The Joker, as he himself put it, was an agent of chaos. Pure and simple. The Joker was a man impossible to understand. He wanted Batman to kill him? Why? Because he wanted Batman to break his rule: that he will not kill anybody.