Insomnia was Nolan’s first big studio project and was practically a work-for-hire job that would go on to ignite the fruitful relationship between Nolan and Warner Bros. Insomnia is a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name and while Nolan sticks pretty close to the original source material, it still feels like a hammy American take on an already fantastic picture. I can’t say that this is a bad film, because Nolan does introduce enough new things to the movie that it deserves being watched, but seeing as how this was the only film not written by Nolan, it just doesn’t feel like it’s his.
9. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES
Now, The Dark Knight Rises teeters back and forth from last and second to last for me in ranking Nolan’s films. Possibly the only reason it’s not last is because it’s still Batman and that’s better than no Batman right? The final film of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is by far the weakest. It is tough to follow up Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight, but the whole film shouldn’t feel like a competition with its predecessor. The Dark Knight Rises feels like nothing more than an attempt to out-do The Dark Knight and because of this conscious decision, that’s all this film feels like: an attempt at outdoing something perfect.
Interstellar is just goofy. From beginning to end, Interstellar is filled with moments that leave you scratching your head thinking “What the fuck?” Now, this isn’t because the film is so intensely convoluted, but because it makes you wonder what kind of human being would actually say or do the things these characters do. I appreciate that Nolan gave us a film that’s based on real science, but he needs to stop treating human beings as such, because his attempt at giving characters some real emotion leaves it feeling so forced and lame.
I’m fully prepared for the hate mail and comments for putting Inception this low, but just hear me out. While Inceptionis by far one of the best action movies of the 2010’s, it still leaves me cold. Leo gives an underwhelming performance and since we’re stuck watching the film from his perspective, I just can’t find myself rooting for him at all. Especially when he’s the cause of all the bad things the band of thieves are going through. Nolan’s concept for Inception is so dense and intriguing that it’s able to provide some shade over the stiff performances these characters bring. But, once you kind of unlock the structure of the film, the characters give you nothing to root for. Seeing as how this film acts as a parallel for the filmmaking process, it’s a shame Nolan left out such a key ingredient in the filmmaking process; heart.
6. THE PRESTIGE
The Prestige is a truly underrated film in Nolan’s filmography. Beyond being this highly interesting take on 19thcentury illusionists, it serves as a gripping metaphor for the ‘magic’ of filmmaking. The Prestige serves as Nolan’s proclamation as to why he makes movies and uses a brilliant, yet convoluted storyline to do so. While it may rely on a few gimmicks that can be ‘unlocked’ after one viewing, it’s still a load of fun to watch and re-watch! Classic Nolan.
Nolan had a bit of a slump in the 2010’s that gave some critics and fans second thoughts on if Nolan was still the fresh young filmmaker he proved himself to be in the first half of his career. However, any doubts should have been shed after his 2017 war film Dunkirk. This was Nolan’s first attempt at the war film and what is usually a pretty predictable genre, Nolan still found a way, nearly 20 years into his career, to present it in a fresh way. Taking three separate storylines and presenting them in three different lengths of time, Nolan weaves together an incredibly intricate idea but executes it with such grace that he gives Dunkirk a very minimalist feel that’s practically absent from any war film ever made.
4. BATMAN BEGINS
Nolan changed the game in terms of how superhero films ought to be made with his first take on what would end up being a Batman trilogy. Batman Begins did away with all the cheese that usually oozes out of superhero movies and instead takes a noir approach by using Batman as an isolated archetype that fights the dirty corruption of Gotham City. Batman Begins helped reign in a whole new era of filmmaking when it comes to comics and it gave the necessary support for what would end up being one of the best superhero movies ever made; The Dark Knight!
I know, I know. This is a real hot take putting Following this high up on this list, but I’m very partial to independent and early films in filmmaker’s careers. Following was Nolan’s debut introduced a lot of ideas that he would go on to perfect in his 2ndfilm Memento. However, the ambitious black and white, documentary style feel to Followinggives it a whole different type of charm. The non-linear storytelling, about a writer-turned-thief who slowly finds himself in moral descension, works to its advantage in slowly revealing the jaw dropping twists that make this film what it is. For a debut film, Nolan shows us all in Following that he will soon be a force to be reckoned with.
2. THE DARK KNIGHT
Nolan changed everything with his sequel to the 2005 film Batman Begins. While Batman Begins introduced a new realistic world for superhero movies, The Dark Knight executed it unlike any other. Heath Ledger’s performance is beyond legendary and he and Nolan bring The Joker to life unlike any other supervillain before or after. Not only is The Dark Knightthe quintessential superhero film, but it’s gritty realism makes it one of the most intense thriller noirs ever made that leaves you questioning just how much damage corruption can leave on innocent people.
While The Dark Knight is easily Nolan’s highest regarded film, it just doesn’t compare to the innovative genius that is Memento. Not only does Nolan give us one of the most interesting storylines of the 21stcentury, but he goes on to present it in such a hypnotic way that it’s non-linear format functions far beyond being a gimmick. Nolan’s forward and backward structure puts us right in the subjective eye of one of cinemas most complex characters in this film about memory and revenge.