My personal ranking of all Christopher Nolan’s films

It’s a tricky job because every film from #7 onwards is excellent. But here’s my utterly subjective attempt to rank the master’s work.

*Light spoilers ahead*


#9 The Following (1998)

What’s the story?

An out of work writer seeks inspiration by following strangers. When one of them turns out to be a burglar, things become very complicated.

Why it’s #9?

They say to start as you mean to go on and Nolan did that. He began his first film by making shot of someone putting on a rubber glove into something very eery. But, the rest of the film doesn’t really live up to it.

The elements which makes Nolan’s work distinctive were all there: the visual panache, the twisty non-linear narratives, strong performances, themes of perspective and deception, and bucket loads of originality. However, for me at least they don’t quite gel into a satisfying whole. This feels like a prototype for what would come later rather than a successful project in its own right.

#8 Man of Steel (2013)

What’s the story?

A scientist on the doomed planet of krypton sends his son to earth where he is raised by Kansas farmers. As he grows up it becomes apparent he has superpowers. When as an adult he tries to uncover his origins, he brings earth to the attention of malicious forces from his homeworld.

Why it’s #8

This is a unique entry on this list because Nolan was its producer not its director. The result is that its director Zach Snyder has more of an impact on it. This is to its detriment. I doubt that Nolan would have made such overlong action sequences or written such a contrived plot.

That said, despite what you might hear, it’s still a good film. It has a strong cast (apart from Russell Crowe), some well done visuals and the sense that the action scenes do indeed reflect how nearly indestructible, superstrong aliens would fight. It’s a shame so many people were unprepared to forgive it for not being the Christopher Reeve films.

7# Inception (2010)

What’s the story?

Dominic Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his team have an unusual approach to corporate espionage: they steal people’s secrets by breaking into their dreams.

Why it’s #7

Having Inception in a relatively low position probably puts me at odds with most Nolan fans. And it’s easy to see why. If you like his work then you’re probably going to be drawn to the film in which his style is the most heightened. The way dreams are realised on screen certainly makes it his most visually impressive work. It also has the best of Hans Zimmer’s many scores for Nolan’s films. However, because non of the characters really engaged me, it is something I wound up admiring more than liking.

6# The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

What’s the story?

A physically and emotionally broken Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has to become Batman again for a final showdown with the League of Shadows.

Why it’s #6

It’s massively entertaining and franchise newcomers Bane (Tom Hardy) and Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) steal the show. However, it lacks its predecessors’ taught storytelling and black humour.

#5 Insomnia (2002)

What’s the story?

An LAPD cop (Al Pacino) is sent to Alaska to help a small town police department solve the murder of teenage girl. But rather than catching the killer (Robin Williams) he finds himself ensnared by him. Oh and it all happens during perpetual daylight.

Why it’s #5

When Williams died I saw a newspaper headline the story with “the man who made us laugh.” Insomnia shows that ‘the man who creeped us out’ would have been equally apt. His manipulative villain is the film’s greatest strength.

It’s also interesting to watch Nolan work with a much more conventional narrative than he normally does and yet still prosper.

#4 The Prestige (2006)

What’s the story?

Two magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) engage in a deadly feud.

Why it’s #4

Illusion is a recurring fascination for Nolan, so magic is natural territory for him. And it shows in the assurance and inventiveness of the Prestige. It also has David Bowie playing Nikola Tesla, which is a treat.

#3 Batman Begins (2005)

What’s the story?

How Bruce Wayne becomes Batman

Why it’s #3

Batman Begins was made in an era before it was a truth universally acknowledged that any financially successful franchise must be in want of a reboot. It must have seemed likely that Tim Burton’s Batman films were going to remain the definitive ones and that they would overshadow the work of a little known British director of cerebral indie films. In reality it was Nolan who eclipsed Burton.

This dark yet entertaining revival of the mythology was a huge success and made Nolan into a Holywood powerhouse.

#2 Memento (2000)

What’s the story?

A private investigator (Guy Ritchie) is the victim of a home invasion which leaves him brain damaged and his wife dead. His injuries leave him with no short term memory. Despite this he sets out to track down his wife’s killers.

Why it’s #2?

Because it’s so clever. The intricacy of the plotting must rival that of a Swiss watch. Yet – in contrast to Inception – it never feels self-consciously labyrinthine. It also has an effective human element running through it: as the mystery unravels that also reveals to us the extent of the tragedy we are watching.

#1 The Dark Knight (2008)

What’s the story?

Batman and the Joker (Heath Ledger) battle for the soul of Gotham.

Why it’s #1

I kept changing my mind about whether this or Memento should be top. It’s tough as they are both near flawless.

In the end I plumped for the Dark Knight because it is a more grandiose endeavour and had found a broader appeal. As a corollary of these reasons, it also had a greater cultural appeal. It’s also way more fun. It might be…well…dark but it still has some of the best action sequences ever put to celluloid. And one can’t ignore Heath Ledger’s Oscar Winning evocation of the Joker: a man with a reptilian demeanour who combines mania with almost superhumanly fiendesh plotting. Its success owes as much to the Nolan brothers writing as it does Ledger’s acting.

If I could only take a single film onto a desert island then it would very likely be the Dark Knight.