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Christopher Nolan films ranked from 'Following' to 'Tenet'

Emily Murray
·6-min read
Christopher Nolan is one of the best filmmakers of his generation, but how to his films stack up against each other?
Christopher Nolan is one of the best filmmakers of his generation, but how to his films stack up against each other?

Tenet has finally arrived, Christopher Nolan’s latest movie which is set to once again blow our minds following a secret agent as he uses time to try to prevent World War III.

There are two questions on everyone’s lips: Has the acclaimed director done it again, and how does it compare to his other work? Well, luckily for you we have the answers to both of those questions, with this full ranking of all of Nolan’s feature films.

It was a challenge, as a massive Nolan fan (I run Nolan Me, Nolan You, a podcast dedicated to the director), so it was difficult to choose favourites, especially when he has only ever made fantastic movies.

It was tough, but here it is, all of Nolan’s films ranked.

11. Following

Although Nolan's feature debut is at the bottom of this list, it is still fantastic.

Cobbled together with friends on weekends, straight out of university with a miniscule $6,000 budget, it is an enthralling neo-noir thriller that features Nolan's trademarks, from non-linear storytelling to a fascination with crime.

Read more: Nolan’s breathing can be heard on the Tenet soundtrack

It's well worth seeking out not only because it is enjoyable, but Nolan's talent shines through so early on.

10. The Dark Knight Rises

<p>“WHERE’S THE TRIGGER?” The closer of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy is another winner, rated 8.4 at IMDb, with a 90% audience rating and 87% critics rating at Rotten Tomatoes. (Picture credit: Warner Bros) </p>
The closer of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy is another winner, rated 8.4 at IMDb, with a 90% audience rating and 87% critics rating at Rotten Tomatoes. (Picture credit: Warner Bros)

Rises may be the weakest of Nolan's Batman films being rather messy and uncertain at times, but it still concluded the trilogy with an almighty bang.

Spectacular set pieces (that opening plane scene in particular), Tom Hardy's brutish Bane, Anne Hathaway's alluring Selina Kyle and a story unafraid to break Batman make for a towering watch with Nolan going big after the success of The Dark Knight.

9. Insomnia

Robin Williams watches as Al Pacino sits on the side of the road in a scene from the film 'Insomnia', 2002. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Robin Williams watches as Al Pacino sits on the side of the road in a scene from the film 'Insomnia', 2002. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

While Insomnia somewhat lacks classic Nolan touches, it is a gripping and atmospheric movie that is arguably the most under-appreciated in his filmography.

An adaptation of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, it has everything you would want and more from a psychological thriller, including fantastic performances from Al Pacino and Robin Williams which alone make it worth the watch.

8. Tenet

John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in a still from Tenet. (Warner Bros.)
John David Washington and Robert Pattinson in a still from Tenet. (Warner Bros.)

Nolan's most complex and ambitious project to date, admittedly Tenet is at times too baffling with a messy last act, but it undoubtedly hits you with the power of the big screen experience.

Read more: Nolan says Spy Who Loved Me influenced much of his work

As a character says, 'don't try to understand it, feel it', being a remarkable movie that attacks all the senses. Nolan's love for Bond is also out in full force here, and is all the better for it.

7. The Prestige

Andy Serkis, David Bowie, and Hugh Jackman in a still from The Prestige. (Warner Bros.)
Andy Serkis, David Bowie, and Hugh Jackman in a still from The Prestige. (Warner Bros.)

We may be told in this mystery thriller 'the secret impresses no one' but that couldn't be less true as the secretive twists in The Prestige not only arrive unexpectedly causing our jaws to drop, but are completely enthralling.

The rivalry between Hugh Jackman's Angier and Christian Bale's Borden is as intoxicating for us as it is for them, as Nolan takes a deep dive into the theme of obsession.

6. Dunkirk

Nolan's venture into the war genre saw him make a survival movie that is simply heart-stopping, making us feel every piercing bullet and leaving us catching our breath as we are thrust underwater.

Read more: Best British films of the 2010s

Tackling the story from the three perspectives of land, sea and air allows audiences to be fully immersed in the battle, capturing the desperation of all involved.

5. Batman Begins

Batman Begins (Credit: Warner Bros)
Batman Begins (Credit: Warner Bros)

Kick-starting an incredible trilogy, Batman Begins was unlike any superhero movie before it, taking a mature approach to the character, grounding the world of Gotham in realism, and crucially analysing the psychology of not only Batman, but Bruce Wayne too.

Nolan built on these ideas in sequel The Dark Knight, but that journey started here and the impact of Begins on the superhero genre is undeniable.

4. Memento

Guy Pearce as Memento's Leonard (Image by Summit Entertainment)
Guy Pearce as Memento's Leonard (Image by Summit Entertainment)

In his debut Following Nolan played with non-linear storytelling with success, so he built on that and raised the game with his next movie Memento which tells a story both forwards and backwards.

Approaching the story in a way that mirrors Guy Pearce's Leonard's anterograde amnesia, we become disorientated, trying to figure out who to trust whilst scrambling for the truth.

Read more: Nolan bans phones from his sets

It is remarkable Nolan not only pulled off this unique way to tell a story, but he did it with elegance and flair whilst ensuring we are gripped throughout.

3. Interstellar

Anne Hathaway in Interstellar (Warner Bros.)
Anne Hathaway in Interstellar (Warner Bros.)

Despite being packed with hard science, Interstellar is Nolan's most emotional story following a dad as he ventures into deep space to try save the world for his daughter.

I start crying from about a third of the way in, and the tears don't stop until I have recovered about an hour after the credits have rolled. Beautiful cinema, the scene of Cooper watching old video messages alone ends criticisms of Nolan being a 'cold' filmmaker.

2. The Dark Knight

Ledger as Joker in The Dark Knight (Credit: Warner Bros)
Ledger as Joker in The Dark Knight (Credit: Warner Bros)

Undoubtedly one of the greatest superhero films ever made, Nolan applied the theme of 'escalation' to every element of The Dark Knight and the result is outstanding, a film that admittedly leaves me speechless.

There is a reason why the movie and Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker have been showered with praise, as both are truly remarkable. Cinema today wouldn't be the same without it.

1. Inception

Detail from a poster for Inception. (Warner Bros.)
Detail from a poster for Inception. (Warner Bros.)

Nolan's greatest accomplishment to date, Inception is the perfect blend of blockbuster and brains, wowing with its flawlessly layered story, incredible action, superb performances and jaw-dropping visuals.

But what makes Inception really effective is at the heart of that maze is a moving story of a dad trying to get home, and as we delve deeper into Cobb's subconscious uncovering his demons, we become increasingly absorbed.

Read more: Tom Hardy’s best films

That is the secret to Nolan's best work. Whilst we have ambitious visuals, complex ideas and intricate storytelling, the driving force is a simple emotional story that is deeply affecting, with Inception being the peak of this.

Tenet is in cinemas now.