- We took on the daunting task of ranking all Christopher Nolan’s movies from worst to best.
- “Insomnia” was his worst film.
- His new movie, “Tenet,” is somewhere in the middle.
- “Inception” and “Memento” both vied for the top spot.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Christopher Nolan has done everything from making imaginatively complex dramas about the heights people will go after losing a loved one (“Memento” and “The Prestige”), to resurrecting a comic book franchise for the big screen with sophistication (“The Dark Knight” movies), to doing an intense war epic (“Dunkirk”).
Now with his latest movie out in theatres, “Tenet,” this is a good time to celebrate his 11-movie filmography up to this point.
Insider looks back at feature film work of Nolan, and in the process, try to rank them all from worst to best.
11. “Insomnia” (2002)
Following the success of his breakthrough hit, “Memento,” Nolan was quickly snatched up by Hollywood. Steven Soderbergh pulled him into Warner Bros. and that led to Nolan directing this thriller, starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams.
Seeing Williams in the rare bad-guy role was intriguing, but Pacino looked tired the entire movie. Pacino played a cop trying to solve a murder in an Alaskan town with perpetual daylight, which didn’t help an already slow-burn story. It’s the rare Nolan movie that doesn’t feel like the auteur had full control.
But we highly recommend the original Norwegian movie it’s based on.
10. “Following” (1998)
Nolan’s feature debut is unique right out of the gate: A writer who gets his material by following strangers around. Of course, things get more complex when he is taken under the wing of a thief.
This black-and-white movie shows hints of Nolan’s greatness from the surprise reveals in the story to the perfect use of music.
9. “Interstellar” (2014)
It’s hard to say which Nolan movie is his most ambitious because it seems he always turns things up a notch for his next one. But “Interstellar” is certainly up there.
His “2001”-like space epic may have confused even the most hardcore of Nolan fans, but that’s part of its appeal. This is one of those titles that will gain more acclaim as new generations come across it.
8. “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
The final chapter in Nolan’s Batman franchise might have hit a little franchise fatigue, and the trouble people had understanding Tom Hardy’s words as Bane didn’t help things, either.
But, like with most Nolan movies, it has one heck of an ending.
7. “Tenet” (2020)
This is by far the most complex film I have ever seen, but that’s part of the beauty of the movie. It’s one you have to be completely locked in for and if you do that, then the payoff is how satisfying the finale is.
Basically Nolan makes a spy movie but with a time travel element that only he can pull off. John David Washington is fantastic as the guy who is trying to figure it all out, and then there’s the magnificent score by Ludwig Göransson that adds to the power of not just this movie, but the legacy of moving music that has been featured throughout Nolan’s filmography.
6. “Batman Begins” (2005)
Nolan reboots the Batman franchise with an impressive origin story that rides on the talents of its lead, Christian Bale.
Though we had to deal with the lame Scarecrow as the villain (sorry, Cillian Murphy), the movie gave us a lot to be excited about going forward.
5. “The Prestige” (2006)
Made between “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” this movie doesn’t get the respect it deserves in Nolan’s filmography.
When it came out, “The Prestige” was talked about in reference to another magician movie that came out the same year, “The Illusionist” starring Edward Norton. But through time, Nolan’s movie, starring Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman as competing magicians, has finally begun to get some respect.
4. “Dunkirk” (2017)
Intimately telling the evacuation of Allied forces at Dunkirk, France, during World War II, Nolan shows the heroics and fortitude of those involved in the event.
With a stirring score by Hans Zimmer and storytelling that builds up to a thrilling conclusion, Nolan proves in this one he is the modern-day master of suspense.
3. “The Dark Knight” (2008)
Creating arguably the greatest superhero movie ever made, everything clicks right for Nolan in this one – from the high stakes Bruce Wayne is up against to the action, and, of course, Heath Ledger’s incredible performance as The Joker.
2. “Inception” (2010)
In Nolan’s grandest riddle to date, he explores the power of dreams and the result is an incredibly complex thriller where reality is only in the eye of the beholder. Exploring his usual theme of love and loss, Nolan uses visual effects beyond anything he’d done up to that point in his career. And the score by Zimmer is a standout in the duo’s constant collaboration.
This is a movie that still amazes after multiple viewings.
1. “Memento” (2000)
Nolan caught everyone by surprise when this unique who-done-it hit the festival circuit.
But by the time the movie had its theatrical release, Nolan was already considered a future star. The movie has a great performance by Guy Pearce as a man looking for the killer of his wife while suffering from short-term memory loss, but it’s the story being told in reverse order that is its standout.
The complexity to pull that off proved Nolan was a filmmaker few had ever seen. And 20 years after its debut, you can still discover things within the story that you never caught before.
There’s really no better compliment you can give a movie or its filmmaker other than that.
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