RANKING CHRISTOPHER NOLAN FILMS
Article By Abbey Archer
I have a shameless obsession with Christopher Nolan films. He has the silver medal of my Favorite Directors Ever (right after Spielberg, because, duh!), and his acclaim with critics and fans alike is much deserved. With Dunkirk officially in theaters, marking his tenth outing as director/writer, I thought it would be fun to rank his filmography. I went over this list repeatedly, making sure the ranks are where they deserve to be, and now I can confidently say that it is accurate and ready to be published. Disclaimer: these are not so much a ranking of his WORST to BEST films … think of it as his BEST to BESTEST rankings.
Sidenote…This is most important: This list is to go down in history as the definitive ranking of Nolan’s films, on par with the Biblical gospel. Because my opinion is best. Na na na-na na.
#10. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
I would be lying if I didn’t say that The Dark Knight Rises is the weakest entry of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy (as mentioned before in my “Best Trilogies” piece). But I actually still enjoy watching this, as there are some truly standout scenes throughout the 165-minute run-time. Tom Hardy‘s Bane may be unintelligible in some parts, but he is a truly intimidating force to be reckoned with, and as far-fetched as his plan to taking over and cutting off resources to Gotham is, it still fills me with dread because it could actually happen. Nolan’s interpretation of Selina Kyle is also something that is enjoyable to watch, not quite taking the mantle of Catwoman, per se but embodying her cynical view of black and white morality. All in all, Rises is a flawed but entertaining final chapter to Batman’s saga.
#9. Following (1998)
For Nolan’s first outing as director, on a budget of $6,000 and runtime of 69 minutes, you would think it wouldn’t be a very good start. You’d be so very wrong. The fact that Nolan filmed this with such minuscule resources only proves how natural he is as a filmmaker. Following introduced us to his now-signature nonlinear storytelling, weaving an engaging, albeit incredibly short, plot that sucks you in from the first scene — no surprise. I won’t give the story away; you’ll have to go discover this for yourself. But the fact that this was released a few years ago as part of the Criterion Collection only solidifies Nolan’s status as a prolific tour-de-force of a director.
#8. Insomnia (2002)
Frequently voted as Nolan’s most underrated film (for good reason), Insomnia is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. I find the amount of ‘meh-ness’ towards this film pretty unfair; it’s a masterfully shot film that features an “OH, CRAP” plot twist in the first twenty minutes that drives the rest of the film. Al Pacino and Robin Williams give some of the best performances of their careers — Pacino as a detective suffering from the titular condition in rural Alaska, and Williams as the (SPOILER ALERT) villain who riddles his way through Pacino’s psyche and makes his job more difficult. Give this one another chance, and I guarantee you’ll like it a bit more than your first viewing.
#7. The Prestige (2006)
On the surface, The Prestige is a magician film. The Prestige, at its core, may be the darkest turn in Nolan’s filmography. Adapted from the novel of the same name, Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale play rival magicians who do some truly screwed up things to each other that have severe consequences not just to themselves, but to the ones they love and cherish most. Nolan took some creative liberties from the original property to up the whammies, and it pays off: the repercussions kick in the teeth, not just to the characters onscreen, but to the audience. And kudos to the legendary David Bowie as Nikola Tesla, who brought a touch of class to this already stylish film.
#6. Inception (2010)
Who would have thought that a psychological heist film involving the architecture of dreams would be so entertaining? (That may be the most intelligent sentence I’ve ever written.) Inception features Nolan’s most star-studded cast, from Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Marion Cotillard and Tom Hardy; it has jaw-dropping visuals that mesh practical and CGI seamlessly, and the care that went into the script makes you stop and think, “That is exactly how my dreams go.” It’s actually incredible how Nolan was able to personify how dreams are structured, all in a way that is simple for the audience to understand. I will say, however, that the more I watch this, the more it makes me feel claustrophobic and get a headache … but perhaps that’s what Nolan wanted.
#5. Batman Begins (2005)
In 2005, a little-known Nolan released a new Batman to the cinemas. Many were skeptical that this would set the caped crusader in a right way, and thankfully, it took all the goopy taste of Joel Schumacher‘s Mr. Freeze: Or How George Clooney Almost Killed His Career With Latex Nipples out of our mouths. An origin story steeped in ninja culture and espionage, Batman Begins sucked the camp out of Batman and turned him into the superhero we deserved to see onscreen once again. Featuring two lesser-known staples of the Rogues Gallery — Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul — and giving a more realistic tone to crime-fighting, Nolan gave us the sigh of relief that Batman was back, and better than ever.
#4. Interstellar (2014)
I realize this may be controversial having this particular title so high on the list, but hear me out; Interstellar may be something of a knockoff of Kubrick‘s immortal 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it may be one of the more “schmaltzy” films in Nolan’s catalogue, but there’s something beautiful in this story of a family set against the vast expanse of space. Nolan had the renowned Kip Thorne on hand to give the most accurate depiction of black hole science, and it’s fascinating to watch how the concept of time plays out to both help and hinder the protagonists’ mission to find a new planet for humankind. At the film’s core, however, is love, and how love transcends time and space to motivate us in our cause … and that hits me on a very real, deep, personal level. Haters be damned: Interstellar is a great film that I believe will become more respected and revered as the years go on.
#3. Dunkirk (2017)
Nolan’s most recent endeavor is the least Nolan-esque film in his catalogue. The rescue at Dunkirk in 1940, in the middle of World War II, is an amazing story that many were anxious to finally see given the cinematic treatment — and it is a very different take on the war film subcategory. Dunkirk has characters that you rarely get to know, and that can be a turn-off for many, but here’s the thing: the film isn’t about them; it’s about the event. Dunkirk is more about the actions of the characters, rather than the personal lives; you are in the moment with these people, and you feel their fear, hopelessness, and triumph. By telling three stories — the mole, the sea, and the air — that interweave as the film progresses, you really get a sense of what the actual soldiers really experienced. Admittedly, I have a hard time judging this as a film, since it feels like so much more — it’s as if Nolan found a time capsule of history and gave it to us, no added frills or embellishments needed. It is, truly, an incredible film.
#2. The Dark Knight (2008)
It’s extremely difficult to make the second film in a planned trilogy better than the first. We all had our doubts when certain things were announced with this outing. And then the first trailer dropped for The Dark Knight … and everyone — and I mean everyone — forgot their fears. Taking everything we loved from Batman Begins and cranking it up to 11, The Dark Knight not only changed the way superhero films were made; it changed the way films were made, period. It’s a crime epic featuring everyone’s favorite superhero, featuring arguably the greatest iterations of Batman’s greatest super villains: Two Face, with a nightmare-inducing, revoltingly perfect character design; and the clown prince of crime, the Joker (RIP, Heath Ledger). The Dark Knight is a masterpiece that will stand the test of time in the years to come.
#1. Memento (2001)
Nolan is at his absolute best when his creativity is original — and his sophomore effort has yet to be beat. Memento is the story of Leonard Shelby, a man suffering from anterograde amnesia who is trying to solve the murder of his wife, tattooing clues onto his body so as not to completely forget. This is non-linear storytelling at its absolute confounding, and best, with the black and white narrative playing in chronological order, and the technicolor shots in reverse, all converging, in the end, to give you the full story — and the most Sixth Sense-level of a twist you will NOT see coming. Memento is Nolan’s most psychological work, weaving an intricate spiderweb of cerebral madness; you take the journey with Leonard, watching a 1,000-piece puzzle take its time to come together until you’re about ready to give up. Memento is Nolan’s greatest film, through and through, a true cinematic achievement that may be replicated, but never outdone.