Ranked: Christopher Nolan Movies

Nolanposter

We are a little less than three months away from a new Christopher Nolan movie. Well, that is unless the current global pandemic has its way. But let’s think positive. “Tenet” will be Nolan’s 11th feature film and easily my most anticipated movie of the year. Readers of this site probably know he is near the top when it comes to my favorite filmmakers. In fact (and this is a little crazy) his last FIVE MOVIES ended up being my favorite film for the year they came out!

So with “Tenet” (hopefully) only a few weeks away, I thought what better time than now to rank the ten movies Nolan has given us so far. Now it should be said, I don’t think Christopher Nolan has made a bad film. I like them all. But such is the nature of ranking so here we go.

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#10 – “Following” Christopher Nolan’s debut film is still a movie many people don’t know anything about. The low budget crime thriller was made for a tiny $6,000 and has a lean 69 minute running time. “Following” is dripping with noir flavor and sports a crafty structure, something Nolan would employ in several of his later films. And shooting on black-and-white 16mm film stock was a great choice. Despite its many limitations, “Following” remains a great introduction to a phenomenal young filmmaker.

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#9 – “Insomnia” This is one of the more unique films on Christopher Nolan’s resume. “Insomnia” is a movie that doesn’t tinker with time or have mind-bending special effects. It’s very much a riveting crime thriller driven by its characters, great direction, and a wonderful script. “Insomnia” has the distinct honor of being Nolan’s only film that he didn’t write or co-write. But you see his fingerprints all over the place. Still, despite great performances from big names like Al Pacino and Robin Williams, “Insomnia” is probably the mainstream Nolan film that gets overlooked the most.

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#8 – “The Prestige” Think about it, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale playing dueling magicians in the late 1800’s. Then throw in David Bowie as Nikola Tesla. How can you not love that? Nolan’s period thriller features a fascinating script with as much sleight of hand as the illusionists use themselves. I’ve always loved “The Prestige” and it’s one of those movies that seems to get better with each fresh viewing. Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, Rebecca Hall, and Andy Serkis are icing on the cake.

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#7 – “Batman Begins” Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy kicked off with the appropriately titled “Batman Begins”. It was a genre film that immediately showed Nolan had something original up his sleeve. It’s dark, moody, and takes a more realistic approach. It was a gutsy movie simply because of its willingness to put much of its focus on Bruce Wayne and the psychology behind Batman. Ultimately Nolan took a familiar origin story and injected it with humanity and pathos all while capturing the essential superhero elements you look for in these movies.

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#6 – “Memento” Christopher Nolan and Guy Pearce – one of my favorite filmmakers and one of my favorite actors. Any hesitations about either of these great talents should have died with “Memento”, a gripping neo-noir thriller that features one of Nolan’s most innovative story structures to date. It challenges viewers to stay locked in, leaving clues for us to ponder and puzzle pieces to fit together. It’s a masterclass in non-linear storytelling and the film is blessed with a game lead actor in Pearce who pulls it off brilliantly.

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#5 – “The Dark Knight Rises” Nolan’s third and final installment to his Dark Knight trilogy is probably the most divisive, but I love its sprawling story, amazing set pieces, and perfect ending. Sure, Tom Hardy’s Bane isn’t nearly the villain as Ledger’s iconic Joker, but comparing the two is a bit unfair. Hardy brings a much different type of menace and it’s very effective. Nolan’s signatures can be seen from start to finish and the final ten minutes are some of the best in the entire trilogy.

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#4 – “Interstellar” I still contend that Nolan’s ninth film “Interstellar” is his most underrated. There were several critics who criticized its length, its sentimentality, even the science behind its story. I still find it to be an audacious and thought-provoking experience with perhaps the strongest emotional pull of any Nolan movie. As the director himself said, it’s essentially a movie about human nature influenced by numerous sci-fi classics. Most of all it’s a unique slice of science-fiction, personal and spectacular.

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#3 – “Dunkirk” The idea of Christopher Nolan doing a World War II film was exciting. The results turned out to be utterly mind-blowing. “Dunkirk” tells an inspirational true story of heroism and sacrifice within the structure of one of Nolan’s favorite devices – time. The story is told from three perspectives: land, sea, and air while focusing more on immersing the audience in the experience rather than spelling it out through dialogue. The performances are superb, the cinematography sublime, and the emotional punch at the end gets me every time.

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#2 – “The Dark Knight” Leave it to Nolan to give us the best superhero movie ever made. Sure that’s a debatable claim, but for me it’s an easy case to make. “The Dark Knight” has everything you want from a superhero movie but it isn’t limited by its genre. It’s also a crime thriller and a neo-noir among other things. And of course there is Heath Ledger as the Joker, a truly unforgettable performance that sees him taking a well-known villain and giving a mesmerizing and fresh interpretation. It’s a key ingredient this visionary masterpiece.

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#1 – “Inception” As much as I love the other films on this list, my favorite Christopher Nolan movie was never in question. “Inception” is firmly planted as one of my favorite movies of all-time. It’s essentially a heist film set within the subconscious, unfolding through a meticulously detailed narrative. It’s a film that highlights all of the things that make Nolan such a fascinating filmmaker. An incredible mix of visual and sound. A fascinating, mind-bending story. A cool genre blend anchored by a superb cast. For my money, it is his very best movie.

So now you have my rankings. What is your favorite Nolan movie? How would your list look? Let me know in the comments section below.

70 thoughts on “Ranked: Christopher Nolan Movies

  1. Spectacular job! I really love the ranking that you put forth. I have to say I could not have ranked them any better nor different! Thanks for sharing.

    • Great to hear and thanks for reading. Nolan is a rare filmmaker who (so far) has yet to make a bad movie in my opinion. Some of the rankings were tough. Still, I love his whole body of work.

  2. I have never really warmed up to the guy, although I like him well enough to have seen most of the movies on your list. But they just don’t grab me in any personal way. I’m way in the minority on this I know. I have gone through his movies at IMDB to check the ratings, and practically all of them land in their top 250, so he definitely works for most people. I think Interstellar is the one I liked best, and I was really buying into it until the ending, which to me just got too odd, too lacking in any plausible explanation for what was going on. All that said, I know I’ll end up watching whatever he has coming out. They’ve kept the story under wraps very well, unless I’ve missed some chatter about it.

    • Completely fair points. In fact my wife isn’t nearly as big a fan as me. I have to say though, I love the Coens, Malick, Wes Anderson, Haneke, etc. But I do think Nolan is my favorite working filmmaker. Everything he has done has resonated with me and I love the crazy mix of genre and setting that he explores. But I do respect your take on him. I have some highly regarded filmmakers who I haven’t connected with either.

      • Probably Michael Mann for me. I even like the ones no one else does, like “Blackhat”. I think he’s about retired now though.

      • Oh I’ll always respect Michael Mann. “The Last of the Mohicans” is one of my all-time favorites. And I could watch “Heat” anytime.

  3. Great list! I think mine would be
    1) The Dark Knight
    2) Inception
    3) The Prestige
    4) Dunkirk
    5) The Dark Knight Rises
    6) Batman Begins
    7) Interstellar
    8) Memento
    9) Insomnia
    10) The Following.

    I’m always happy to see love for Inception, That was who I wanted to win Best Picture that year.

    • OH ME TOO!!! I was rooting hard for Inception. And I love seeing The Dark Knight as your #1. Now here’s the big question, how do you rank it when put up next to the MCU films? Also, are there any of his films you dislike?

      • As big of an MCU fan as I am, I think TDK is the best comic book movie ever made. That hasn’t budged from my #1 since I’ve seen it. I just love everything about it.

        For Nolan, I can’t say I’m a fan of Insomnia or The Following. I don’t straight up hate them but once is enough for both. I just wasn’t as invested.

  4. Great idea for a list. It’s not many directors who could make a film that has a genuine case for being better than The Dark Knight. I’d still have Dark Knight top but Inception is mind-blowing brilliant. I’ve not seen Following but didn’t like Insomnia as much as you did. Would have The Prestige far higher too. He’ s one of the few directors I could easily get into a long debate about haha.

  5. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES – 6/10

    THE PRESTIGE – 7/10

    INCEPTION – 8/!0

    BATMAN BEGINS; THE DARK KNIGHT; INTERSTELLAR – 9/10

    MEMENTO; DUNKIRK – 10/10

    INSOMNIA – Best bad movie

    FOLLOWING – Worst good movie

    • I know a lot of people land in the same place as you when it comes to The Dark Knight Rises. I really love it though. I think Bane worked a lot better for me than he did for others. Love seeing that Dunkirk 10/10.

  6. Not seen Insomnia but am putting it on my list, not seen The Following either. The rest I really like, (Inception particularly is amazing), but for Dunkirk, (sorry) it was one of the rare times we went to the actual cinema and wish we hadn’t bothered. More Hype than substance and the filming of the beach scene was poor in comparison to Atonement, Joe Wright did it so much better.

    • Oh bummer. Hate to hear Dunkirk didn’t work for you. I admit, I was so immersed in the experience. As for Insomnia, I really think you’ll like it.

  7. Great list! Ranking Nolan’s films is an almost impossible task, I’ve tried to do it myself but my list changes every time I look at it. I do know however that (rather controversially) TDK is my least favourite of the Batman trilogy!!

      • Don’t get me wrong, I really like TDK and I can definitely appreciate why it ranks so highly with many people but I just found the other two to be more enjoyable.
        I think I’m one of those people who just likes bright lights and loud noises 🙂

      • HA! No I completely understand. I’m kind of that way about this whole list. When it comes down to it he’s pretty much my favorite filmmaker so I love them all to varying degrees. And I like hearing from other people who enjoy his movies. I don’t know how I’ll react when/if he finally makes a bad movie. 😆

      • I think I would consider him my favourite director too. You’re right, he can’t seem to do any wrong. Fingers crossed we won’t have to wait too long for Tenet, and it delivers.

      • Fingers crossed indeed. I did read an article today where Tenet was holding on to its July release spot. At least for now.

  8. Interesting! My list…
    1. The Prestige
    2. Memento
    3. Dunkirk
    4. The Following
    5. Batman Begins
    6. The Dark Knight
    7. Inception
    8. Interstellar
    9. Insomnia
    10. The Dark Kmight Rises

    • VERY intriguing list. Love the love The Prestige. Obviously I really like it but it’s interesting to see it at the top of your list. So to you not like Dark Knight Rises or just lesser than the others?

      • I find The Dark Knight Rises a mess, a bit like The Dark Knight, but the latter is elevated by the Joker. To me, The Prestige is flawless, such a fine tuned screenplay! I cannot say the same for Inception, or Interstellar (or as Iblike to call it, 2001 A Space Odyssey with a commentary track on)! :–)

  9. I agree with you, he has yet to make a bad film as I like everything he’s done. I read that we might have to wait a little longer for Tenet due to this awful pandemic we’re in (hope you and your family are OK). Here’s my list of the 11 films I’ve seen since I counted his short film Doodlebug which I liked a lot as I noticed based on your list is that we have a similar ranking of sorts. I would like to see that short film he did on the Quay Brothers in 2015. It would complete the list of films he’s made not counting the 2 early short films he did before Doodlebug.

    • I hope we don’t have to wait. I did read some thing that came out a few hours ago stating that Warner Bros. was keeping the July 17 release date. At least for now. Of course, that could change if this virus decides to linger.

  10. It’s really hard to argue against your top 3 here. My goodness Inception is genius. It’s also incredibly fun!

    I can’t wait to get my hands on Following and Insomnia. I’m really eager to see early Christopher Nolan. And yes, fingers crossed that Tenet arrives on schedule.

    • You’re not alone with Interstellar. I know others who couldn’t go with it. It really landed with me and the father angle hit me hard. As for Tenet….fingers crossed!!!!

  11. You and I both ♥ Nolan. He has managed to build himself a fine filmography, yes? I don’t understand why people don’t like him, honestly. He brings exciting, thought-provoking films to our conscience and allows us to think about our past, present, and future. Not many directors can say that! The only one I haven’t seen (why??) is Insomnia.
    thanks for reminding me. I’ve been spending my time watching blindspots. This is one I’ll put on my list!

    • I just finished a review of “Insomnia” after a rewatch. For some reason it is the one film of his that has often gone overlooked. I think you’ll enjoy it.

      I like how you described Nolan’s work. I would also add that he captures what’s great about cinema, technically and narratively. For me personally his movies are events. Bring on Tenet!

    • I’m hearing a lot of love for “Memento” and “The Prestige” which is great. Both movies show one of the things I like most about Nolan’s work – variety.

  12. Great list! Inception is also my favorite Nolan film, followed very closely by The Dark Knight. I think The Prestige would rank higher on my list though. Love that movie.

    • Thanks. Inception is incredible on every level and The Dark Knight is right there with it. I do love The Prestige and it’s great to hear from so many others who would rank it higher. My kids still haven’t seen it so I’m planning to show it to them this weekend.

  13. Pingback: Ranked: Christopher Nolan Movies — Keith & the Movies | Los Angeles feedback film festival

  14. Pingback: Ranked: Christopher Nolan Movies — Keith & the Movies | Fantasy/Sci-Fi FILM & WRITING FESTIVAL

  15. Memento is my favorite. The visceral storytelling really hits home. It’s confusing and you’re not sure who to trust, which is the entire point. Dunkirk is on my list, though.

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