Christopher Nolan has come to be known as a mind-bending movie genius due to his ambitious storytelling and unique ideas while occupying the director’s chair. Since the age of 7 — when he created his own short films on his father’s Super 8 camera — Nolan has been fascinated with cinema.
His life is dedicated to creating worlds within worlds and keeping audiences guessing. Nolan seems to pour his heart and soul into every one of his films, which are somewhat miraculously released within two to three years of each other. What he’s best known for, though, is his dense plotting, which he infuses with scientific theories, twisting them in ways that viewers have to pay close attention to understand.
Nolan’s upcoming film Oppenheimer looks to be yet another chapter in that legacy. This movie about the development of the atomic bomb during World War II is set to release in July of 2023.
This list includes the best Christopher Nolan movies that he has directed. What’s more, as we delve into the creative process and beauty of Nolan’s films, spoilers will definitely be involved, so you’ve been warned.
Quay is unlike most of the other films on this list in that it’s a documentary short. Using Nolan’s love of nonfiction and history, the director gives a small, yet powerful summary of the Quay Brothers’ journey as animators and filmmakers. Nolan makes this short film stand out with restored footage of the Quays’ films In Absentia, The Comb, and Street of Crocodiles. This documentary is essential for any fan of Nolan, and for those who just have an interest in the history of animated cinema — but unfortunately, it’s not always available online.
Nolan’s third movie may be his most straightforward, in part because it was adapted from a Norwegian film. Thanks to great performances from Hilary Swank, Al Pacino, and Robin Williams, though, Insomnia proved that Nolan could also make straight-up, down-the-middle thrillers. The movie tells the story of an L.A. cop who is sent to a town in Alaska where the sun never sets to investigate a homicide. When he’s forced into a tête-à-tête with the murderer, he begins to question his own sanity and finds that he has more than a little trouble sleeping.
The first highly successful movie in Nolan’s caped crusader trilogy, Batman Begins is undoubtedly original and arguably the best origin story Batman has gotten. A young Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) loses his parents and blames himself, but his attempt at revenge years later is thwarted. Shamed by his closest friend Rachel Dawes (Katie Holmes) for choosing violence, Wayne banishes himself to the Far East, where he learns how to fight and protect himself without having to kill, and attracts the attention of the mysterious Ducard (Liam Neeson), aka Ra’s al Ghul, who hones Wayne’s fighting and stealth. Batman Begins differs from all other iterations of the character, as Nolan’s adaptation focuses on the character’s fallibility. Of course, we see Batman’s start, but we also witness conflicts within the caped crusader that he’ll battle throughout Nolan’s trilogy. Notably, as he defeats Ra’s in this film’s climax, Batman tells him: “I won’t kill you… but I don’t have to save you.” This is a complication of one of Batman’s core rules, but one that ultimately serves to make the character even more compelling.
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