Christopher Nolan’s Ten Movies Ranked Top to Bottom

Nolan has just hit the big One Zero. Ten movies, with the launch of Dunkirk. And since I have made a cottage industry exclusively around Christopher Nolan’s movies, I owe it to the man to give him his own best of page finally. And for some reason, the interwebs adores, absolutely LOVES lists. Personally don’t understand. But hey, gotta feed the beast every now and again. And heck, I haven’t done a list post in a while. So hey, let’s think back through the Christopher Nolan’s movies and consider them each one by one.

So that’s what we’ll do here. I will give you the movies he has made in chronological order – and discuss each one for a paragraph or two. And I will also point you to any posts that might help you dive even deeper. And then, in the comments, I want to see your top ten Nolan movies. (Or however many you have seen so far.) I’m not doing this on my own here.

I will try my best to avoid spoilers throughout – but every single one of these films is in the top 10% of all movies ever made. So they are worth watching. I promise. They each come with surprises. Each with their own hooks. They are all fantastic.

THE CANDIDATES

1998 – Following 

Imdb description: “A young writer who follows strangers for material meets a thief who takes him under his wing.”

THinc. Take: Ultra clever premise made on Nolan’s own dime. He rehearsed extensively in order to save money on 16mm film that he paid for out of his own salary. The story is about a man that takes to following people possibly to get material for his book. But one person he follows – a serial burglar – notices, and draws our hero into a twisting and turning plot of surprises.

This film shows the cleverness of what Nolan is all about and where he would be going. Even with no lighting, no enormous crew, Nolan’s brilliance shines through. But it is his ideas and his scripts that form the basis for everything else. Not the other way around.

memento explained2000 – Memento

Imdb description: “A man juggles searching for his wife’s murderer and keeping his short-term memory loss from being an obstacle.

THinc. Take: Memento is an ultra clever mind blowing cinematic experience that incorporates some of the best movie editing, writing, and plot twists you will ever see. More info here. The story follows a man with retrograde amnesia as he tries to track down his wife’s (two?) killer. But when you suffer from this debilitating mental issue, how can you ever really know anything? Heck, how can WE ever know anything really?

2002 – Insomnia 

Imdb description: “Two Los Angeles homicide detectives are dispatched to a northern town where the sun doesn’t set to investigate the methodical murder of a local teen.”

THinc. Take: The only movie in this list that wasn’t written by Nolan… and it shows. Yes, this material works as a complex story that Nolan does great work with. But it is ultimately forgettable. It has Al Pacino and Robin Williams in it for heaven’s sake, and it is literally the least known movie in this list! hahah. Ok, maybe not quite. But you get my point.

2005 – Batman Begins 

Imdb description: “After training with his mentor, Batman begins his fight to free crime-ridden Gotham City from the corruption that Scarecrow and the League of Shadows have cast upon it.”

THinc. Take: Only the start of the single best comic book franchise in movie history. Yes. I just went there. The clever tricks played here by Nolan are only even better when you look at the entire story arc of all three movies. More info here. Suffice it to say, it is a fitting send off to the marriage between Christopher Nolan and The Bat.

2006 – The Prestige

Imdb description: “Two stage magicians engage in competitive one-upmanship in an attempt to create the ultimate stage illusion.”

THinc. Take: Oh wow. This site you are on right now is the site that The Prestige built. You don’t know it, but it is this single movie that put this site on the map. How? Well, I pitched a crazy theory on sites like Reddit and other movie sites. Nope. Roundly ridiculed. I stand this site up, pitch the same idea, and we are off to the raises. The Prestige is so clever, and so involved, I can’t even begin to tell you really anything about it or I’ll tip my hand. So read more here.

2008 – The Dark Knight

Imdb description: “When the menace known as the Joker emerges from his mysterious past, he wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, the Dark Knight must accept one of the greatest psychological and physical tests of his ability to fight injustice.”

THinc. Take: Two Words. Heath Ledger. Who received an Oscar for his role in the movie and was awarded posthumously. When I think about this movie, it doesn’t even sit in a super hero category in my mind. Just such a fantastic film. More info here.

2010 – Inception

Imdb description – “A thief, who steals corporate secrets through use of dream-sharing technology, is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a CEO.”

THinc. Take: Inception is an inside out question about what if reality is really real, and how real is a truly awake dream state? What is reality really? And what happens when you invert reality layer after layer after layer? It is a mind blowing ride. More info here.

2012 – The Dark Knight Rises

Imdb description – “Eight years after the Joker’s reign of anarchy, the Dark Knight, with the help of the enigmatic Selina, is forced from his exile to save Gotham City, now on the edge of total annihilation, from the brutal guerrilla terrorist Bane.”

THinc. Take  – I thought that it was impossible for Nolan to go bigger than he did in the previous movie, The Dark Knight. I really thought that it would just be impossible. The Joker was so much larger than life. And the game play between the Joker and the Bat was so perfect. But then Nolan brought Tom Hardy and Bane to the party. And then he broke Batman. What an amazing ending to such an amazing trilogy. More info here.

2014 – Interstellar

Imdb description – “A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in space in an attempt to ensure humanity’s survival.”

THinc. Take – Memento crossed with Inception in space? On steroids? To a factor? Yeah, this is an intense movie with some really crazy time and space implications to family dynamics. But it is such a beautifully grounded movie that we will buy anything that Nolan chooses to throw at us. It is a fantastic movie, even if a bit to smart for its own good. More info here.

2017 – Dunkirk

Imdb description – “Allied soldiers from Belgium, the British Empire and France are surrounded by the German army and evacuated during a fierce battle in World War II.”

THinc. Take – A riveting take on an inspirational moment of World War II. The beauty of the analog touch and feel of this movie is fantastic. It is a truly well crafted film. But will the editing high jinks help or hurt this film in the long run? That is really the big question that we are left with at the end of the day. More info here.

———–

So those are the contenders. I would argue that pretty much any other director on the planet would like to have ONE of these movies in their corner. Any one of them. It’s a really really great list of movies. And, if you’ve accidentally missed any of them I just made your week because voila, insta-perfect-movie night for you! Sort of envy you.

Right. Now that we have reminded ourselves of the contenders… and what’s at stake, what is THinc.’s formal approved top to bottom ranking?

#10 – Insomnia

#9 – The Follower

#8 – Batman Begins

#7 – Interstellar

#6 – Dark Knight Rises

#5 – Dunkirk

#4 – Dark Knight

#3 – Inception

#2 – The Prestige

#1 – Memento

Yeah. That is a really really hard exercise. And I promised myself I would justify it. But I sort of have to justify it a bit to myself. I mean. You have, in the top four positions, Memento, Prestige, Inception and Dark Knight?!? That is rough!

But I went with Memento as my number one mainly because of the fact that the movie works front to back in a perfectly interlocked puzzle that is air tight. It’s the same reason why Interstellar finds itself down in the #7 spot. It is anything but an airtight story. It’s leaking out of everywhere in fact. But The Prestige? That is a perfect movie. Imperfect narrators in the diaries that they leave for each other to steal? Whoops. No spoilers. That’s right. Sorry. Redact that from your memory. To be honest, the most difficult pick was definitely between slot 1 and slot 2. Wow.

What’s interesting is that many people online are ranking Dunkirk in their number one slot amongst his movies. And yes. It is very very good. But really? Better than Inception? No. Better than Memento? Are you smoking crack? Absolutely not.

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10 Responses

  1. Brian LaLonde

    Lists! Fun! Here’s mine:
    #8 – Dark Knight (too dark for me)
    #7 – Dark Knight Rises
    #6 – Batman Begins (the best of the three Batmans as I like origin stories)
    #5 – Memento
    #4 – Dunkirk
    #3 – Interstellar (close tie between #3-5 but Interstellar has stuck with me more – especially the music)
    #2 – The Prestige (clearly above #3-5, but second to #1)
    #1 – Inception (I’ve “gotten the most miles” out of this one)
    Haven’t seen: Insomnia, The Follower

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      The only double take I took here (ie all other justifications made sense to me) was Memento. But if you thought Dark Knight was too dark, then the same would go for Memento. But holy cow! #5?!?!? Gah. Hahahaha. But think of it, to have a list this good, that his #8 movie on your list is the Dark Knight? Wow. Just wow. Great list Brian. Thanks for throwing that down.

      Tay

      Reply
  2. Dominik Miller

    Here’s my try to list Christopher Nolan’s movies:

    #8 Insomnia
    #7 The Prestige
    #6 Dark Knight Rises
    #5 Batman Begins
    #4 Dark Knight
    #3 Interstellar
    #2 Memento
    #1 Inception

    (Haven’t seen Dunkirk and The Follower)

    Inception and Memento are actually two of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen! Just amazing! The most “controversial” number is obviously #7, The Prestige. I have to admit that it feels very strange to place such a great movie on number 7, but I personally like Nolan’s other movies more. I actually can’t explain exactly why (because it’s obviously an amazing movie!).

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Dominik OUT! No no no. You can’t seven the Prestige!!! What are you thinking man??!!? Hahahah. Let me ask you this (if you’ve read my Prestige review, just ignore me and move along.) does the machine in the Prestige work? Tessa’s machine. Does it duplicate people? If you said yes, go read my review and then come back and relate the movie after you have your eyes opened to the real mind job that is the Prestige (insert magicians flourish here)!!!! Hahahah. I’m totally laughing at myself, out loud.

      Great list amigo, definitely can’t recommend Dunkirk enough. You’d dig it. If you can see it in 70mm IMAX it’s a must.

      Reply
  3. Joshua Tan

    My List: (I have not watched “The Following”, “Insomnia” or “Dunkirk”)

    #7 Batman Begins
    #6 Interstellar
    #5 Batman: The Dark Knight Rises
    #4 The Prestige
    #3 Batman: The Dark Knight (because Heath Ledger that’s why)
    #2 Memento
    #1 Inception (my favourite movie since its release, had watched it multiple times)

    I think that the story telling in memento and inception are equally compelling and convoluted. Christopher Nolan is just a celebrated film maker that keeps on giving.

    By the way, I enjoyed reading your movie reviews. They are pretty insightful.

    Reply
    • Taylor

      Hey Joshua – thanks for the list! They are pretty insightful as well!

      Number 3 is my favorite #becauseheathledger – blam!

      Reply
  4. Shelby

    I’m so happy that this is on your site. Nolan is my favorite writer/director to date.

    #1 will (probably) always be Interstellar- it’s also in my top 3 works of all time (along with Lost and Arrival). Interstellar is beautiful. I listen to the score regularly and that alone is powerful and moving. Hans Zimmer and Christopher Nolan are a FANTASTIC team.

    Tied for #2 is The Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, Inception, and the Prestige. They all provoke different emotions, but one of my favorite themes that Nolan discusses in most of his work is loss- and he does it in such a beautiful and tragic way but also showcases it differently each time. Cobb’s loss is different than Leonard Shelby’s. Assuming we have all lost someone, Nolan’s movies can speak to anyone.

    Insomnia and Following are tied for #3 because I barely remember them – I should probably rewatch. I do know I would remember if I didn’t like them!

    Haven’t seen Dunkirk yet. Waiting for it to come out on DVD so I can rent it from the library!

    Do you have a Tarantino list?

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Do I have a Tarantino list? Hahaha. I don’t know! hahah. I should, if I don’t!

      Just checked, nope. I don’t. I’ll get on it. I was just searching for movies for someone that emailed who adored Time Lapse, and discovered my top 20 Time Travel movies post (https://taylorholmes.com/2015/10/05/the-20-best-time-travel-movies-ever/) and was thinking that that list was pretty good – but could be updated even. But yeah, Tarantino would be a worthy list to pull together.

      I do have to say that you cheated extensively! What is this tied for 1 2 and 3 is… And tied for the REST is… Bah. If you were blogging this your site wouldn’t be WIDE ENOUGH TO HANDLE IT! hahahaha. Thanks for the comment Shelby. I’ll think about pulling together some Tarantino goodness.

      Reply
      • Shelby

        Oh, I totally cheated lol. If I break it down you won’t like that the Prestige is lower than the others! I wrote them in order (Dark Knight trilogy, Memento, Inception, Prestige) but I’m not breaking up the trilogy!

      • Taylor Holmes

        Ok ok hahahah fair enough! Good reasoning anyway.

        And yes…that’s about as offensive as you can be to me. My developers will regularly pick fights with me by saying, “too bad the cloning machine in the Prestige was real……” 3 – 2 – 1 – BOOM! Hahahah.

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