Christopher Nolan movies: director’s top 10 films ranked, from Memento to Tenet, ahead of Oppenheimer release

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All 10 of Christopher Nolan’s feature films ranked as historical biopic Oppenheimer lands in cinemas

Despite its themes, Oppenheimer is unlikely to bomb at the box office. The epic upcoming Christopher Nolan drama, starring Cilian Murphy, follows the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb.

Perversely, the internet has gone into meltdown over Oppenheimer and it's unlikely bedfellow, Barbie, with viewers supposedly planning to watch the two contrasting films as a double feature.

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Five time Oscar-nominee Christopher Nolan has an impressive back catalogue of 10 iconic movies, which have grossed around $5 billion (£3.9 billion) at the box office.

Nolan is one of the most respected blockbuster directors alive today, up there with the likes of Ridley Scott, J.J. Abrams, and James Cameron (and wiping the floor with Michael Bay). Ahead of the cinematic release of Oppenheimer, we rank all of his previous feature films.

Christopher Nolan's directorial credits include The Dark Knight trilogy and InterstellarChristopher Nolan's directorial credits include The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar
Christopher Nolan's directorial credits include The Dark Knight trilogy and Interstellar

10) Tenet (2020)

With his latest film, Nolan out-Nolaned himself, and not in a good way. Tenet was interesting to watch, for the first 20 minutes, but it soon became clear that the movie wouldn’t explain itself and instead it became a 150 minute headache. 

It’s hard to give a plot synopsis for Tenet, but essentially it follows an unnamed protagonist who becomes involved in an act of international espionage which sees him fight across two timelines, one moving forward, the other back into the past. Thematically it’s similar to Memento, but far less captivating and even more confusing. It was almost as if Nolan was daring you to admit that you didn’t understand his unnecessarily complicated narrative.

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9) Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk proved very popular when it landed in cinemas - and it is a unique retelling of a well trodden story, the evacuation of British and French soldiers from Dunkirk to England during the Second World War. Told from three perspectives, land, sea, and air, Nolan once again messes with time.

The film follows the soldiers’ on the beach over the course of a week, whilst the civilians’ actions in rescue boats take place over one day, and a pilot’s dogfight is over in one hour. It’s an interesting way to tell this story, but ultimately the typical Nolan tension wasn’t as thick, and the film felt stretched even at a relatively short 106 minutes runtime.

The story of Dunkirk was told from the perspective of land, sea, and airThe story of Dunkirk was told from the perspective of land, sea, and air
The story of Dunkirk was told from the perspective of land, sea, and air

8) Insomnia (2002)

Insomnia is perhaps Nolan’s least well-known film, despite the fact that it stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank. The movie follows two LA homicide detectives who investigate the disturbing murder of a teenage girl. It is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian movie starring Stellan Skarsgård, and both films are worth your time.

Once you get over the fact that Williams is playing a serious role and learn to stop waiting for a gag, Insomnia is a tight noir-thriller that doesn’t give audiences anywhere to hide. Set in a town in Alaska where the sun doesn’t set, the lack of darkness becomes creepier than the night. Perhaps if Insomnia was available on a UK streaming service it would get the respect it deserves, but alas, it is currently unavailable to watch online.

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7) Batman Begins (2005)

The first of Nolan’s Batman trilogy is underappreciated now due to its two undoubtedly superior sequels, but that’s not to say that Bale’s first outing as the damaged hero isn’t still a great watch. After a somewhat prolonged origin story, Batman eventually returns to Gotham where he must stop a secret society from destroying the city by drugging the water supply.

Cilian Murphy is a terrifying Scarecrow, and actually had small cameos in the following two instalments - if Ledger hasn’t stolen the show in The Dark Knight, Murphy would have some claim to being the best on screen Batman villain.

6) Memento (2000)

Where it all began, Nolan’s first feature-length film features the director’s most iconic theme - time. The film is told in two timelines, and flits between the two. One timeline runs chronologically whilst the other is told in reverse.

The film stars Guy Pearce as a man with short term memory loss who is trying desperately to track down his wife’s murderer. The unique story structure was a brave choice for Nolan’s directorial debut, but it paid off, as Memento is now a cult classic. And for those who have tried and failed to get their head around the film's structure, a special release in chronological order is also available.

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Guy Pearce in MementoGuy Pearce in Memento
Guy Pearce in Memento

5) Inception (2010)

Another Nolan mind-boggler, Inception sees a thief who uses dream-sharing technology to steal corporate secrets tasked with planting an idea into a CEO. However, his traumatic past could derail the entire enterprise.

The film that launched a thousand memes, Inception remains an impressive movie, both visually and narratively. Whilst a little messier than his other brainteasers, The Prestige, and Interstellar, the film will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, even if you don’t know why.

4) The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Third instalments are always tricky, and although The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t quite measure up to its predecessor, it is still an awesome blockbuster. This time, Batman faces off against a terrorist who threatens to destroy Gotham with a nuclear bomb - so the stakes are pretty high. 

Ledger’s Joker was always going to be a tough act to follow, but Tom Hardy’s Bane was nonetheless an impressive villain. With excellent supporting roles from Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Marion Cotillard, The Dark Knight Rises might just be the second-greatest superhero movie of all time. 

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3) The Dark Knight (2008) 

Often celebrated as the greatest superhero movie of all time (Marvel could never), it also features one of the most respected screen performances ever - Heath Ledger as The Joker, for which he won a posthumous Oscar.

The second instalment of Nolan’s Batman trilogy sees Christian Bale’s caped crusader do battle with The Joker and Harvey Dent. It is gritty, harrowing, and intense, and remains the marker by which all other dark superhero films are measured. The film also features one of the best openings with The Joker’s devious bank robbery. 

2) The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige follows the bitter rivalry between two stage magicians who used to work together before a fatal accident caused a rift. Each seeking to outdo the other, they embark on ever-more dangerous acts, and are pulled into a moral quagmire in search of the ultimate act.

With an all-star cast (Christian Bale, Hugh Jackman, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Andy Serkis, and even David Bowie), The Prestige is one of Nolan’s most rewatchable films - and with some incredibly constructed twists, it’s worth at least a second viewing to truly appreciate the intelligence behind the film. 

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Interstellar is Christopher Nolan's magnum opusInterstellar is Christopher Nolan's magnum opus
Interstellar is Christopher Nolan's magnum opus

1) Interstellar (2014) 

In this critic’s humble opinion, Interstellar is far and away Nolan’s greatest achievement to date. With a captivating storyline, epic visuals, and a brilliant cast, this is the definitive modern sci-fi epic.

Interstellar sees Matthew McConaughey’s Cooper sent off on a deep space mission to save humanity as the Earth is ravaged by a blight on all major food sources. Leaving behind his two children, he encounters the effects of interstellar travel, ageing far slower than those he is left behind. A fantastic watch throughout, it is the heartbreaking final act that makes Interstellar Nolan’s magnum opus. 

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