As a working director today, Christopher Nolan is easily one of the most talented, sought out, in demand directors in Hollywood. And for good measure too – his filmography doesn’t shy away from genre nor does the director play it safe with any of his 11 feature films. When Nolan tackles a certain genre however, the result is arguably one of the best in said genre. Nolan’s talent knows no boundaries. Once his name is attached to a new project, ears perk up, eyes wide open and waiting with bated breath on who will lead his next technical masterpiece.
If it involves time manipulation, crime, physics and logic bending, Nolan is your man. Creating some of the most breathtaking films that need to be seen to be believed. And seen more than once – several films in his filmography are full of complexities that are confusing to the viewer that require 2-3 viewings each to fully grasp the simplest idea behind the films plot. That undertaking of time isn’t necessarily a bad thing either, Nolan crafts visually stunning films that deserve the repeat viewings well beyond the initial viewings with the skill of one of his long-time collaborators behind the camera – Wally Pfister.
The pair collaborated on 7 films together starting with Memento and going till The Dark Knight Rises. Post TDKR, the cinematography is credited to Hoyte van Hoytema who keeps Nolan’s vison on the same level as Pfister. Both cinematographers have brought these unique worlds created by Nolan’s mind to life from close shots full of emotion to wider shots that capture an entire landscape. Interstellar stands out the most – Matthew McConaughey’s emotional performance (among the ensemble cast) paired with the landscape of alien planets – Nolan is the most comfortable when the scale must be seen to be believed.
To date Nolan’s 11 films have earned 36 Academy Award nominations winning 11. His track record speaks for itself. Completely rhetorical but what does a director with a distinct style and fascination of time manipulation know about Batman? Ending the 1990’s, live action Batman was silly, cartoonish, not taken seriously, a vessel for toy production and shallow. Nolan brought The Dark Knight back down to earth and put him in a more realistic Gotham that knows exactly where he fits in. Highly regarded and arguably one of the greatest trilogies of all time, Nolan tells a complete and thought-out story of the Batman with Christian Bale leading the way as the dual persona Bruce Wayne and Batman.
Speaking of, Nolan as a director is always able to get the best performance out of his stars and cast. From Guy Pearce to Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy and Michael Caine to Kenneth Branagh and Robert Pattinson, Nolan attracts top talent and they all have delivered. But one stands out the most – Heath Ledger. In just one scene in The Dark Knight Ledger becomes an icon, a legend. He became the blueprint all other Joker actors will model themselves after. Nothing against Jack Nicholson’s Joker in 1989’s Batman but Ledger is unreal as Joker. Tragic as his choice was to isolate himself in his methodical take on the Clown Prince, the final product is one of the best acting performances on screen.
Whatever genre Nolan tackles, his ambition and track record make it a film worthy of his style of storytelling. Whether it’s a sci-fi epic like Interstellar, a war film like Dunkirk, a murder mystery like Insomnia, a comic book film like Batman Begins, a crime film like Memento and time manipulation films like Inception and Tenet and everything in-between, Nolan is a technical master at bringing his films to life. Every aspect from production design to hair and makeup powerfully compliment the direction and cinematography. And what better composer to give the films their voice than Hans Zimmer. Zimmer scored 6 of Nolan’s films including The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, Interstellar and Dunkirk while Ludwig Goransson scored Tenet and David Julyan scored Memento, Insomnia & The Prestige.
Nolan’s distinct style for storytelling has catapulted him to the top of his discipline. While Warner Brothers shot themselves in the foot with their handling of Tenet and their entire 2021 slate, Nolan’s next film, Oppenheimermade him a free agent, getting snatched up by Universal. I don’t know about you all but the hype surrounding Oppenheimer is palpable. A story of the father of the Atomic Bomb is shaping up to be one of the best films of 2023. sure to feature another strong and talented ensemble, I can’t wait for next year. Hope to see Goransson score that film, he crushed Tenet as one of the best working composers today.
But for now, for his current filmography, this is my rank of Christopher Nolan’s films. I honestly don’t believe he can put out a bad film, nor is there a bad film on this list but some had to be ranked toward the bottom, it is what it is.