Some people would kill for a resume this solid. A writer, director, and producer, Christopher Nolan has only eight films to his name so far, but all of them represent some of the best work of the last decade. Dark themes permeate Nolan’s works, giving us troubled protagonists and interesting philosophical ideas. He is the king of cinematic spectacle, shying away from CGI and favoring reality. With The Dark Knight Rises in theaters, we decided to count down our favorite Christopher Nolan films. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below!
5. Batman Begins
I hate to use such an overused term, but Batman Begins was a game changer in the comic book genre, both in origin stories and adding a level of seriousness. It’s one of the few films that I’ve seen more than once in a movie theater, and is the start of a remarkable series.
This is a film that I’ve seen many, many times, enjoying the conversations afterwards almost as much as the film itself. The ensemble that Nolan brought together for Inception is great, the world-building works really well, and the effects of all kinds are dazzling.
I watched this in college when I was first learning about video editing, so naturally it blew me away. At the time this was one of the most unique narratives that I’d ever seen. I’ve toyed around with the idea of re-editing the film in a more sequential manner, but have always erred on the side of not messing with the director’s vision. Guy Pearce is great in the lead role, resulting in one of my favorite funny moments (“I’m chasing someone”), and Stephen Tobolowsky shines in a smaller role. The ending still chills me every time I see it.
2. The Dark Knight
Nolan delivers a wonderful sequel to Batman Begins, with a remarkable performance by Heath Ledger as The Joker, and moral questions that permeate the film. I was worried about the film not living up to the high level of hype I had going into the film; it exceeded it. I’ve since heard that one of the films that the crew was required to watch before production started was Michael Mann’s Heat, a great action film. I can definitely see the influence in The Dark Knight.
1. The Prestige
The Prestige (aka “Not the one with Edward Norton”), is a fantastic film that shows the depths of human nature, starring Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. David Bowie also made an appearance as Nikola Tesla, which was one of the highlights of the film for me. The thing I love about The Prestige is the meta aspect of the film itself following the magic sequence that Michael Cain’s character refers to (The pledge, turn, and prestige), and filmmaking in general.
The audience knows the truth: the world is simple. It’s miserable, solid all the way through. But if you could fool them, even for a second, then you can make them wonder, and then you…then you got to see something really special…it was the look on their faces.
5. Batman Begins
Batman Begins is the Batman film everyone was longing for: a dark, gritty realistic take that was the polar opposite of what Joel Schumacher had brought to the table. Christopher Nolan takes his time developing his world and the characters who inhabit it. Instead of rushing Batman into battle, Nolan explores themes like fear, anger, and justice. In fact, it’s over an hour before we actually see Bruce Wayne in costume as the caped crusader. While the action scenes are by far the least impressive of the franchise, Batman Begins remains the best reboot/prequel in the comic book genre.
4. The Prestige
Arguably one of Nolan’s more personal films, The Prestige is an endlessly fascinating film that examines what one is willing to do when desperate to gain the upper hand in a rivalry. Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale star as two magicians whose friendship is shattered after a tragic accident, sending both on a journey to invent the best magic trick ever seen. Jackman delivers one of his best performances as a man pushed to breaking point, so desperate to outsmart Bale’s character that he is willing to do anything. An extremely dark film full of twists and turns, The Prestige may be one of Nolan’s more bleak film but it is also one of his most captivating.
In 2001, Nolan’s second feature film gained a healthy following and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. More importantly, it introduced Christopher Nolan to the world. Guy Pearce stars as Leonard Shelby, a man with short-term memory loss on the hunt for his wife’s murderer. Memento was Nolan’s successful experiment in playing with the way he told a story. Nolan often employs a nonlinear structure in his films, presenting events out of order instead of the traditional chronological narrative. There is almost no linear storytelling in Memento, so don’t go into this movie expecting it to be easy to follow. Instead, expect an exciting thriller that will leave you thinking about its story long after the credits have rolled.
2. The Dark Knight
What else can be said about The Dark Knight that hasn’t already been said? Nolan tackles some heavy stuff here, from anarchy and lost love to justified dishonesty. The use of IMAX cameras for a feature film was pretty much unheard of until this movie came along. Heath Ledger is fantastic as the Joker, but what makes the film truly compelling is the way in which his character pushes Batman to his limits. The best of the franchise and my pick for the best superhero movie of all time, The Dark Knight set a new standard not only for comic book movies but for movies in general.
A movie ten years in the making, this is Nolan’s masterpiece. With its heavy emphasis on architecture, a troubled protagonist, solid action sequences, and a commendable fashion sense, Inception has Christopher Nolan written all over it. Assembling an all-star cast and creating some of the most memorable sequences in recent memory, Nolan effortlessly blends genres to tell his story. Inception is a heist film, a compelling romance, an exciting action film, and is above all a high-octane thriller. It grabs hold of you and never lets go. Like all of Nolan’s films, it stays with you even after you’ve stopped watching it. Now that Christopher Nolan has concluded his Batman franchise, I’m very excited for him to return to his kind of intelligent, innovative filmmaking.