Christopher Nolan is one of the most successful and highest grossing film directors working in Hollywood today. His films have made over $4 billion at the worldwide box office and been nominated for a total of 26 Academy Awards. He has carved out a career making intelligent, thought-provoking films that are also crowd-pleasing entertainments.
Nolan is best known as the man who made the world take Batman seriously again. His Dark Knight Trilogy restored the character to the very top of the comic book movie mountain, making tonnes of money and receiving endless critical plaudits along the way.
But, Nolan also has six other directorial efforts under his belt.
So we're going to rank them, worst to best. Enjoy!
9. Following (1998)
Following is not a bad film. It's well worth a watch. It is, however, the weakest of Nolan's impressive oeuvre, which is why it has to be placed at the bottom of this list.
If anything, Following is an interesting project to analyze. It will be especially interesting to young filmmakers out there who are trying to make their first attempts at putting together a movie. The budget for this unsettling neo-noir was extremely low. So low, in fact, that Nolan only filmed on Saturdays (due to his cast having to work their regular jobs during the week). All scenes were intensively rehearsed in order to use the least amount of the 16mm black and white film stock that Nolan was using in his camera. The film is lit almost entirely with natural light, because Nolan simply couldn't afford lighting equipment. The locations used were the homes of his family and friends.
All in all, Following is an exercise in filmmaking efficiency, and it certainly accomplished it's task of getting Nolan's foot in the door in Hollywood.
8. Interstellar (2014)
Following the release of The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, Nolan's concluding chapter in his Dark Knight Trilogy, the director was possibly the hottest directorial commodity in movies. His last three movies had all been huge critical and commercial hits, a roll which he tried to continue into Interstellar.
Released in 2014 and starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain, the movie was divisive. Some viewers found it beautiful; an audacious and visually stunning science fiction epic. It appeared on many critics Top Ten of 2014 lists, and it did well at the box office, grossing over $675 million worldwide.
Some observers found it pretentious and over-reaching however, with clunky dialogue and an over reliance on sentimentality. In our opinion, though, the film committed the worst sin: it was dull. Criminally dull. Couple that with the butt-numbing almost-three hour runtime and we have to admit, Nolan lost us on this one.
7. Insomnia (2002)
Nolan's second wide-release film, Insomnia was a remake of a 1997 Norwegian thriller. It stars Al Pacino as an LAPD detective investigating a murder in a small Alaskan fishing village. In the opening scenes of the movie, Pacino accidentally shoots his partner, and then spends the rest of the film suffering with the guilt of this. This guilt is exacerbated by the perpetual daylight in Alaska, which makes it impossible for him to sleep.
Insomnia is a taut, bleak and harrowing drama, with an intelligent plot and top notch direction from Nolan. He coaxes a great performance from Pacino, who is superb as a man hollowed out by his misdeeds, but also an unnerving and creepy performance from the late Robin Williams as the killer Pacino is investigating. Hilary Swank does good work as the local cop assisting Pacino, but also investigating him as well.
6. The Prestige (2006)
Sandwiched in between two mega-budget Batman films, Nolan squeezed in this mystery drama about two warring magicians at the turn of the century. The Prestige starred Christian Bale and Michael Caine, re-teaming with Nolan after Batman Begins, as well as Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson. Bale and Jackman play Alfred Borden and Robert Angier respectively, two stage magicians who become engaged in a deadly game of one-upsmanship. Both are excellent. Bale plays Borden as an obsessed and deadly serious man, a working class magician who may be more talented than Angier, though he lacks the showmanship of his rival.
The film uses many of the stylistic flourishes that audience's know Nolan for these days. The most obvious of these in it's non-linear structure. The movie is a puzzle, with the story incorporating flashbacks in order to keep the audience guessing as to what is really going on. The film uses the notion of the three act structure that stage magicians would've employed in these days: the set-up, the performance and the prestige (the reveal). Nolan makes sure never to tip his hand too early, making the twist at the end a complete surprise.
5. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
There are some fans who consider The Dark Knight Rises to be a disappointment. We, respectfully, disagree. While this final chapter of the trilogy does indeed have the most flaws of any of the three films, we reckon it's still a cut above most other blockbuster movies.
Picking up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Christian Bale's Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. Gotham City's streets have become free from crime and there has seemingly been no need for Batman. That is, until the terrorist Bane and a returning League Of Shadows set their sights on the city, forcing Bruce to suit up once again.
Once the plot kicks in and the real fun starts, the movie is a thrillingly large scale endeavor. Tom Hardy is a revelation as Bane, all intimidating brawn and bizarrely incongruous accent. Anne Hathaway shines as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, and the filmmakers perfectly capture the character's fluid morals. She is neither villain nor hero, but rather something in between.
4. Memento (2000)
Memento is the movie that really announced Christopher Nolan to the film world. It took the indie scene by storm, and crossed over into mainstream popularity. This is despite it's nature as a puzzle box, designed intentionally to force the audience to think and to always keep them off-kilter. The narrative techniques Nolan uses in the film, by conventional standards, shouldn't work. But somehow, they do.
He presents two different sequences of scenes that are interspersed throughout. There are black and white scenes that are shown in chronological order. But these are juxtaposed with color scenes that are shown in reverse order. This is all to simulate the feeling of anterograde amnesia that the protagonist Leonard Shelby, played by Guy Pearce, is experiencing.
3. Batman Begins (2005)
Batman Begins is a masterpiece, in our oh-so-humble opinion. It is responsible for rescuing Batman from the ignominy of Joel Schumacher's day-glo nightmare world. Nolan, then an unknown quantity when it came to blockbusters, had a true vision for the character and executed it nigh-on perfectly. This was a Batman movie that focused almost entirely on Bruce Wayne/Batman. The audience really gets into Bruce's psyche, and Nolan goes to great pains to really help us understand why this billionaire would dress up like a bat and beat-up criminals in the dead of night. We see, in intricate detail, how Bruce gets all his 'wonderful toys': from the tumbler (Batmobile) to the pointy ears for his costume, we see him assemble all these things over the course of the film.
Nolan also surrounded Christian Bale with a supporting cast almost unheard of in the realm of comic book movies in 2005. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Tom Wilkinson and Cillian Murphy are uniformly superb. They help flesh out the world of Gotham City so well. This is no longer an overly Gothic wonderland a la Tim Burton, or a garish cartoon a la Schumacher. This Gotham feels like a real city, corrupt and dirty to it's core, but worth saving. Nolan even takes Bruce out of Gotham for much of the first hour. This makes it the first Batman film to feel like it wasn't shot entirely on a soundstage.
It's grand. It'd epic. It's spectacular.
2. Inception (2010)
Inception is a rarity in modern day Hollywood. It's a mega blockbuster movie that is as intelligent as it is spectacular. It made $825 million at the worldwide box office, but is not based on any existing property. It didn't originate as a comic book, or a novel, or a video game. Rather, it's an original concept that sprung completely from the wonderful mind of Christopher Nolan. Coming hot on the heels of The Dark Knight, it was Inception that really solidified Nolan as one of the premier auteurs working today.
Nolan's cast was amazing in this movie. You had the likes of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Tom Hardy, two young actors poised to break out into stardom. You had Ellen Page and Marion Cotillard, who brought class and sophistication to proceedings. Leading them all was Leonardo DiCaprio, who many believe is the best actor of his generation. Their performances are pitch perfect. When combined with the mind-bending plot and visually astounding images Nolan creates, Inception becomes a true modern classic.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Number one on our list is The Dark Knight.
Surprised? No, we didn't think so.
The middle film of the trilogy, The Dark Knight was an honest-to-goodness cultural phenomenon. Not since Tim Burton's Batman in 1989 had the world experienced anything approaching 'Batmania', but in the summer of 2008 we all went a little bat-crazy. The movie made over $1 billion at the box office and was nominated for eight Academy Awards (!). It won two: Best Sound Editing, as well as a richly deserved Best Supporting Actor nod for Heath Ledger's transcendent performance as The Joker.
The cast, which added Ledger, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, is uniformly excellent. Much praise obviously goes to Ledger, who is impossible to take your eyes off in the film. His Joker is anarchic and terrifying, but also quotable and funny. It's truly a performance for the ages. However, Eckhart is also great as Harvey Dent and then tragically horrifying as Two-Face in the final act of the film.
Nolan really improved his handling of action scenes in this film. The bravura set-piece involving the batpod and a flipped semi-truck was a real highlight. The film is scintillatingly intense at all times; a rip-roaring action movie that also functions as a hold-your-breath thriller.
So, yeah, if you somehow haven't seen it? Do it. Do it right now. You won't regret it.