Ranking Everything Christopher Nolan Made Before Oppenheimer

Ranking Everything Christopher Nolan Made Before Oppenheimer

These days, if you’re talking about movies, you’re probably talking about Christopher Nolan. The director has made hit after hit, and since we first put this list together, Christopher Nolan’s mind-twisting Tenet debuted. Now, Nolan’s second history-heavy film is about to arrive: Oppenheimer.

Basically, there’s a lot of Nolan talk out there right now, especially now that The Dark Knight has reached its 15th anniversary. We’re taking the occasion to revisit Nolan’s entire filmography. Without further ado, here’s Gizmodo Australia’s ranking of the films of Christopher Nolan, pre-Oppenheimer.

11. The Dark Knight Rises

The first time I saw The Dark Knight Rises, I loved it. Coming after the first two out-of-this-world Batman movies, expectations going into this finale were so high. Yet the film was all hype and no payoff; the story is muddled and weird, just like Bane’s voice, Catwoman doesn’t get nearly enough to do, Bruce isn’t Batman that much, we could go on and on and on. (And have). The fact of the matter is, The Dark Knight Rises simply doesn’t feel like Nolan’s heart is in it. Nothing comes together in quite as grand a fashion as his other movies. And while surely there are fans, for my money, it’s his worst movie. But still, the worst Christopher Nolan movie still isn’t half bad.

You can watch The Dark Knight Rises on Binge, Netflix, or Stan.

10. Following

For a debut feature, Following is impressive. The confidence Nolan shows in telling this partially original, partially familiar tale of “underworld crime and double-crossing characters” screams of a filmmaker with great potential. It’s a solid film that keeps you guessing and interested. Ultimately, though, that’s all it is: a little film with a handful of moments that lodge it in your memory. Its most distinguishing characteristics are that it’s Nolan’s first film, and how much of it (the plot devices, character names) he’d use again later in his career. Nevertheless, despite its ranking on this list, Following is still pretty great.

You can watch Following on Amazon Prime Video with an AMC+ subscription.

9. Insomnia

Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank for Nolan’s third film really upped the ante in terms of star power. The resulting film is a chilling, slow burn of a murder mystery, as detectives from Los Angeles go to Alaska and get into all kinds of shit. The film works, there’s no question about it, it’s just that in comparison to the epic and original films that would follow, Insomnia was basically a stepping stone for Nolan to prove he could make a good movie with bigger stakes. He did and his next film was Batman Begins.

You can stream Insomnia on Stan.

8. Tenet

Christopher Nolan is obsessed with time. Most of the films on this list play with time at some level – Inception with its multi-layered perceptions of reality, Inception with its exploration of space-time dilation, and Dunkirk with its three-prong plotline across different parts of the Dunkirk evacuation. Tenet is possibly Nolan’s greatest exploration into the concept, with the film warping time by inverting scenes based on how characters enter them and how they’re shot. It’s very well done, but it’s also a little hard to follow.

You can watch Tenet on Binge.

7. Dunkirk

When Nolan makes a war movie, he doesn’t just “make a war movie.” He tries to do it like no one else ever has before him. In this case, he picked one specific battle and told the story from multiple points of view, giving audiences a broader understanding of heroism and struggle. Dunkirk does that exceedingly well and may be one of Nolan’s most beautiful, and impressive, technical achievements. But… is Dunkirk a movie you ever want to revisit? Do you ever sit down and say “Let’s watch Dunkirk tonight?”. Certainly, some people might, but that lack of palpable excitement or cultural permanence knocks it down a few pegs.

You can watch Dunkirk on Binge, Paramount+, or Stan.

6. Batman Begins

By the time The Dark Knight came out, audiences had a slightly better understanding of what a gritty, grounded, Nolan Batman movie could be. The director also knew that formula could be a success. With Batman Begins, though, there was no such roadmap. The idea of a new kind of believable Batman origin story was almost shocking in its simplicity and audacity. Take that, add in the execution, pitch-perfect casting, and excellent design, and you’ve got a filmmaker taking huge risks with a very well-known, popular character ” and it all paid off.

You can watch Batman Begins on Netflix, Paramount+, or Stan.

5. The Prestige

The Prestige is either your favourite Nolan movie or you don’t remember the last time you saw it. I, sadly, fall into the second group. Which is not to say the film is bad in any way. On the contrary. It’s just that, when I think of Nolan movies, it doesn’t immediately jump to mind. Much like his other films, the grand scale and original ideas are there. The casting, of course, is top-notch (Batman vs. Wolverine!) and the twist ending is a revelatory gut punch. If only… he hadn’t done something similarly shocking in Memento, and if only it wasn’t one of three movies released about magic in 2006. The Prestige is the best of that bunch, without question, and still wildly entertaining. This is just a tough list to crack.

You can watch The Prestige on Disney+.

4. Memento

Nolan’s best work manifests with original ideas. And such is the case with Memento, Nolan’s (somehow only) second feature, where he takes the idea of short term memory loss, and tells the whole story backward. It’s shocking, riveting, and unforgettable. Though the film is considerably smaller in scale than his later works, the grandiose, original ideas were already there.

You can watch Memento on Amazon Prime Video.

3. Interstellar

Like The Prestige before it, Interstellar is one of those Nolan films that is more polarising than not. The story of a man who goes into space to save humanity and ends up missing his daughter’s childhood, while also impacting it in metaphysical, spiritual ways, is ambitious to say the least. It’s filled with emotion, tension, and stunning visuals, and yet it might all be a little too much for its own good. Interstellar almost feels like a movie where Nolan had not just one good idea, but several, and stuffed them together. The result is a solid, watchable film with one of the best musical scores on the list.

You can watch Interstellar on Binge, Netflix, Paramount+, or Stan.

2. Inception

If this list proves anything, it’s that Christopher Nolan has made some amazing movies. The one where it all came together, arguably, was 2010’s Inception. The film is a spectacle among spectacles, featuring production design and visual effects to rival any movie of its time. Most important, though, is its originality. Almost nothing about Inception is like anything you’ve seen before. The idea of going into someone’s dreams, being able to manipulate time and space because you are there, the mechanics of going in and out, all of it is mindblowing. Then, the story does to its audience what the characters are doing to themselves, and leaves you questioning everything you thought you knew about the movie. Huge scope, original storytelling, fascinating ideas, it’s all here in Inception.

You can watch Inception on Binge, Paramount+, or Stan.

1. The Dark Knight

There’s much debate around if the best film in Nolan’s filmography is The Dark Knight, or the mind-bending film we’ve put in at number two on this list. For me, it’s easily The Dark Knight – the best live-action superhero film ever made, with a very well-crafted Batman portrayed, an incredible, thrill-filled plot, and the best version of The Joker ever created, played by Heath Ledger, who gave an absolutely incredible performance. The Dark Knight is a rollercoaster all the way through, and transcends the superhero genre as a, simply, brilliant movie.

You can watch The Dark Knight on Binge, Netflix, Paramount+, and Stan.

This article has been updated since it was originally published.

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