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Christopher Nolan Movies, Ranked: 10 of the Filmmaker’s Most Impressive Works

The Oscar-nominated director wows audiences with tales of dark knights and even darker days of war and destruction.

If you’re a fan of Christopher Nolan movies, you have his parents to thank. In fact, the London-born writer-director-producer thanked them first and foremost himself on Feb. 18 when he won Best Direction for Oppenheimer at the BAFTAS, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards.

“This is an incredible honor being back home, getting this from BAFTA in the [Royal] Festival Hall where my mum and dad used to drag me to make me have some culture — and some of it stuck,” he quipped to the audience while accepting his honors.

Man with awards; Christopher Nolan movies
Christopher Nolan at the BAFTA Awards (2024) JUSTIN TALLIS / Contributor / Getty

He of course went on to thank a list of people who worked on the Academy Award nominated film, including its star, Cillian Murphy, who’s been a frequent collaborator on Christopher Nolan movies.

It’s always paid off for me, you know, in every film that I worked with [Nolan] on,” Murphy recently told CBS News, and Oppenheimer proved no different: Murphy — the star of six other Christopher Nolan movies: Dunkirk, Inception, Transcendence, and his “Dark Night” Batman trilogy — has already scored Golden Globe and BAFTA awards for his lead role as Oppenheimer’s titular physicist, the man responsible for designing the atomic bomb.

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Co-star Emily Blunt, who plays the scientist’s wife, Kitty Oppenheimer, was equally as eager to team with Nolan on the project. “He speaks to you privately and intimately. His notes are really transforming and he never comes in before three takes. He understands actors,” she told Vanity Fair, adding, “Honestly, the most beautiful part about the way he directs is the environment he creates for you just has no chaos. At all. None.”

Man and woman holding awards
Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas holding their Golden Globe Awards (2024) Amy Sussman / Staff / Getty

While winning raves from his cast is nice, seeing — and feeling — the impact his film made on audiences has been even more rewarding for Nolan. “Emma [Thomas, his producer and wife] and I went into the back of Lincoln Square [theaters],” Nolan, a 53-year-old father of four, told Empire about sneaking into a few early screenings. “It was absolutely packed; every seat was filled,” he recalls of observing the Trinity test scene. “To be in the back of that theatre in that moment of silence, before the sound washes over the audience… you could hear a pin drop. It was a really remarkable experience. Quite overwhelming, really.”

“The audience’s desire to be surprised, to see something new, to see something they did not know they wanted, that’s always been the most powerful force in theatrical film,” he added about what drives him to make the visually and emotionally engaging movies he creates.

Until we see what new and exciting Christopher Nolan movies are coming in our future, let’s take a look back at his 10 best works to date.

10. Tenet (2020): Christopher Nolan Movies

This time-bending science-fiction adventure tracks a CIA secret agent’s (BlacKkKlansman’s John David Washington) desperate attempt to prevent the start of World War III. It features “breathtaking visions of backward birds, moonwalking soldiers and un-exploding buildings,” the Chicago Sun-Times notes, adding that it’s “the kind of film that reminds us of the magic of the moviegoing experience.”

Since its release was compromised by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nolan has announced that the film, which co-stars Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh, will be re-released in theaters in “the way it was intended to be seen, on the largest IMAX and large format screens.” 

9. Interstellar (2014)

Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain head up a stellar cast in this futuristic story about a NASA scientist (Michael Caine) who is trying to relocate humans to a new world after Earth starts to become uninhabitable.

I really wanted to look at this moment in time that may be coming one day, where mankind has to reckon with its place in the wider universe,” Nolan told NPR of the film, which boasts a more intimate, family-related drama element as well. “I love the idea of just looking over the shoulder of relatable characters. Just experiencing these first steps out into the universe with people that you could understand and emotionally respond to,” Nolan explains.

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8. The Prestige (2006): Christopher Nolan Movies

There are nifty tricks galore up the sumptuous sleeve of this offbeat and wildly entertaining thriller,” raved Rolling Stone of this film featuring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as two “turn-of-the-twentieth-century magicians out to beat the other at his own devious game.”

Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine also star, as does rocker David Bowie,  who plays inventor Nikola Tesla. “No one with any sense would say no to Christopher Nolan,” Jackman told ScreenSlam about eagerly accepting the role, noting that Nolan “manages to hit the holy grail of filmmaking every time” by creating unique works that are both mentally and emotionally engaging.

7. Dunkirk (2017)

This film about World War II’s Dunkirk invasion served as the big-screen debut of pop idol Harry Styles, who played a British soldier in an ensemble cast that included Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Michael Caine, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy.

The narrative of Dunkirk is relatively straightforward, but the way it’s put together recalls the simple joy of watching someone construct a puzzle box,” SlashFilm notes of Nolan’s distinct touch. “The visuals, the structure, the use of sound and music, and the simple presence of a beating heart — all come together in a whole that is truly breathtaking.”

6. The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Christopher Nolan Movies

The Dark Knight Rises is an ambitious, thoughtful, and potent action film that concludes Christopher Nolan’s [Batman] franchise in spectacular fashion,” notes Rotten Tomatoes. Christian Bale stepped into the batsuit for his final time here, and Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman.

I’m such a director nerd. I love just seeking out the best directors I can and then just watching them. Chris’ whole approach to filmmaking is one of my favorite ones,” Hathaway said during a Variety Actors on Actors series event, in which she also praised him for pushing her to do as much of her own stunt work as possible. Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Morgan Freeman and Marion Cotillard also star. 

5. Inception (2010)

Lead Leonardo DiCaprio said he and the ensemble cast worked very hard to “bring a multitude of layers to our characters’ relationships and our emotional journeys amidst this giant canvas of the dreamworld” that Christopher Nolan created for this winning film.

Ken Watanabe, Elliot Page, Dileep Rao and Tom Berenger co-star alongside DiCaprio, who plays a thief who can penetrate peoples’ dreams to steal their secrets. “This endlessly fascinating swirl of a film could have come only from Nolan,” Newsweek noted, citing its intoxicating mix of action, plot twists, heartfelt emotions and dazzling special effects. And no spoilers, but if you’re still confused about the much-talked-about ending, Nolan shares his insider take on it here.

4. Batman Begins (2005): Christopher Nolan Movies

I felt like doing the origins story of the character, which is a story that’s never been told before,” Nolan told Variety in the lead-up to this first Batman franchise film in his Dark Knight Christopher Nolan movies.

“Ours will be a recognizable, contemporary reality against which an extraordinary heroic figure arises,” he added, assuring that his take would offer plenty of humanity and realism with Christian Bale in the title role and Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine in the cast. The result? “Unlike so many superheroic summer spectacles, this one actually has a soul behind the special effects,” Newsweek praised.

3. Memento (2000)

Guy Pearce stars in this gripping thriller as a man with a rare form of memory loss who is on the hunt for his wife’s rapist and killer, and it all unfolds in an innovative and mesmerizing reverse narrative. “If you want to see the beginnings of how Nolan became such a big director, this is one to watch,” the BBC insists of one of the director’s early breakout projects, which co-starred Carrie-Ann Moss and Joe Pantoliano. “The way in which it’s told is twisted, it’s unconventional, but it also feels very emotional,” Pearce told Empire, adding, “I was completely intimidated, completely inspired, completely enamored.… I’ve worked with great people…but Chris is unique. A very special human being. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

2. Oppenheimer (2023): Christopher Nolan Movies

Oppenheimer’s story is so relevant,” Christopher Nolan told the Associated Press, stressing that it’s not just due to “the threat of nuclear weapons but also the burgeoning threat of AI and what it can do to our world.”

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As March 10’s Academy Awards ceremony approaches, the film — which earned a field-leading 13 nominations — could score the director his first Oscar. “We were really interested and excited, in particular, to see young people responding to a piece of history,” Nolan notes of the film’s success. “It encompasses so much that’s important and dramatic about our history. That gives audiences a lot to hang to, [and] when you get a great group of actors and incredible cast like we have, you can make this feel real and emotionally accessible.”

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1. The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger posthumously won an Oscar for his riveting performance in this middle film in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight/Batman trilogy. In the book 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, Ledger is quoted saying he knew the role of the Joker “was open for a fresh interpretation” with Nolan at the helm, and that he “instantly kind of had something up my sleeve, which happened to be exactly what Chris was kind of looking for.”

Famed critic Roger Ebert raved that The Dark Knight is “a haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy.” He also praised “the superlative technical quality of the entire production” adding, “This film… [redefines] the possibilities of the ‘comic-book movie.’”

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