Ranking Nolan’s Legacy

Christopher Nolan has so many fanboys out there who go crazy over any project that he is attached to.  They always talk about how his films dive into the human psyche or have strong themes based on real life issues…and still manage to be incredibly entertaining.  They say his films are blockbusters for Oscar suckers…truly pretentious snobs.  It is so nauseating to see all these people blush over Nolan to the point where they would drink his bath water.  But hey, as one of those pretentious douchebags I figured I’d rank his movies from “worst” to best!

This list was hard to rank because they are all pretty different (except those dark knight trilogy movies might be related).  Each have their strong points.  But as a disclaimer, I have not seen The Following yet (yeah I know, some fan I am) so that will not be on the list.


insomnia 2
Image via Warner Bros.

First up is Nolan’s movie with Al Pacino and the late Robin Williams.  To be honest, this is the only Nolan film that I’ll never watch again.  Not that it was bad, but it was just good.  I thought the symbolism of Al Pacino’s unpatchable window effectively conveyed how past transgressions can drive people mad…how the more you try to cover something up the more it shines through.  Also, the great comedian Robin Williams managed to bring humanity to a sick and twisted pedophile murderer.  Ok, now I want to watch this film again to pick up on what the “protagonist” and antagonist have in common.


Image via Warner Bros.

My favorite film of the 90s was Batman and Robin, because without that atrocious toy commercial we never would have received the Dark Knight trilogy.  I can’t imagine any other way that a studio would green-light a multi-million dollar Batman movie set in the realistically complex world.  Batman Begins abandoned the comic book silliness of its predecessors and gave us a shockingly grounded Batman.  This was a strong entrance to the Dark Knight trilogy, but I think it lacked the gravity that Nolan’s other films provided.  There are absolutely great moments in this film (i.e. Alfred’s elevator speech, the Tumbler rooftop chase, and the 45 minute emotional backstory to Batman’s beginning), but they don’t stick with me the way all of Nolan’s other films do.


Image via New Market

This is where the list really starts getting difficult.  It feels wrong to put Memento 6th on any list, but sorry buddy, that’s where you’re going.  Memento’s storytelling is bold and unique.  The narrative unfolds backwards and forwards at the same time.  The backwards narrative made the film hard to follow, but that is exactly what made it so memorable.  Nolan deliberately drew attention to the human brain’s unreliability, which was a major theme in the film.  Nolan basically showed that memory and written facts are both unreliable in their own rights.  These themes culminate in the end (or beginning) in such an awesome finale!  I’ve never seen a film that made me look inward and really take a long look at my perception of the world the way the Memento did.


Image via Touchstone and Warner Bros.

The Prestige takes a strong gaze into what the costs of obsession and rivalry truly are…and this is just the surface level of the film.  There is a whole layer underneath that delves into why people love film.  It dives into how entertainment takes us out of the murky reality of life and places us in a magical land where worries cease to exist…where there is wonder and beauty.  The Prestige held up a magnifying glass to humanity’s flaws.  Even more impressive, Nolan managed to convey these ideas while using two main characters that are both antagonists.  There is no protagonist to root for.  Seriously, you would never invite either character to your party because they would steal the show and generally be a self-absorbed douche.  Honestly, I’m surprised anyone in Hollywood would hear the Prestige’s pitch and put a cent towards the film but wow am I glad someone did!


Image via Warner Bros.

I almost fainted when I heard that Nolan was going to be directing a film about interstellar travel.  My favorite director was going to take on space…you know, that thing that has fascinated me most since I was a kid.  Then, I found out Kip Thorne, a highly esteemed physicist, was brought on to make sure the film accurately addressed scientific principles.  I’m in Nolan!  Take my money!  When the film finally came out, I couldn’t believe how amazing the visuals were and how accurately the science was depicted (well, except for the end but at least there was a decent scientific logic behind that departure).  The true standout in the film though is the powerful connection between Cooper and his daughter.  The feels really kick in because it is a film about a father struggling with being separated from his children.  As a military brat, I know what it is like to be separated from my father for extended periods of time. I have seen its effects on the children and the parents alike.  This movie hit home emotionally and managed to throw some awesome space travel and time travel (kinda) into the mix as well.  Can’t get much better than that!


Image via Warner Bros.

Inception is one of those films that took everyone by surprise…probably because nobody knew exactly what it was about when it hit theaters.  All people knew was that it was about dreams.  Nobody could have guessed that the film was going to be an incredibly complex, intense mind-bending thriller with the most debated endings of the century.  This film worked on so many levels, pun intended.  The three intertwined dream levels gave an urgency and intensity throughout the entire second and third acts that never let up.  The acting was incredible all around and the story worked perfectly.  Further, Nolan worked in themes about escapism, guilt, reality, and even managed to sneak in drug addiction.  It’s funny that a film that was only funded as a thank you for the Walter White-like piles of money that Warner Bros. made on the Dark Knight ended up being one of the best films of the century.  This is one that will go down as a classic.


dark knight
Image via Warner Bros

We all knew this was coming!  The film that changed the game in superhero flicks and arguably forced the Academy to increase the best picture nominee count from five to ten.  Everything in this film was awesome.  The directing, action, themes, and oh my god was Heath Ledger’s joker amazing!  I’ve never seen a villain steal the screen (from other Oscar winning actors no less) the way that Ledger did.  Not only was he terrifying, but the realism in the film made you actually believe there are people as twisted as this Joker (and I’m sure there are).  Most importantly, this film’s ending stands out because it was the first superhero movie to strike a conversation about morality in governmental affairs.  The hero “wins” by lying to the public in order to save their spirits from breaking, from losing faith in the system.  Remember, the torture issue was prevalent in the Bush administration at this time.  It’s crazy that a superhero film was the one to raise questions like 1) “what is the ethical line in the sand when it comes to combatting monsters like terrorism?” and 2) “is it better for the government to hide information from the people in order to protect them?”  This film seamlessly integrated these themes with the narrative of a compelling and true-to-character Batman story…Hell yeah!


Image via Warner Bros.

I went back and forth about 30 times between my number 1 and 2 choices.  It is impossible to figure out if TDKR is in and of itself the best film in the trilogy or if it is so good only because of how awesome the first two film are.  The answer is “yes.”  TDKR is great on its own because, just like its predecessor, it creates a political dialogue about relevant social issues (the 99% movement anyone?) all while telling a compelling Batman story.  I will admit that at points in the film the Batman story takes a back seat to theme development but that isn’t really a negative, to me at least.  The themes of hope, poverty, and wealth are so well done that this film takes Nolan’s top spot.  In addition, TDKR calls into question all of the themes from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight.  Themes like “lying for the greater good” or “fear” are completely questioned.  In Batman Begins, fear (especially in regards to terrorism) is considered a horrible emotion that should be eliminated.  It is portrayed as an emotion that makes one weak and vulnerable.  In TDKR it is portrayed as an emotion that can inspire hope and give strength.  TDKR takes the momentum from the previous films and raises more questions about the themes and builds on Bruce Wayne’s character arc.  Let’s be honest, we never would have cared if Bruce lived or died without the compelling arcs he went through in the first two films.

So there you have it.  Christopher Nolan’s films ranked from “worst” to best.  Now let’s see where Dunkirk lands on this when it comes out on July 21st.  I’ll be in the theatre ready to drink that thought-provoking Nolan bathwater!…figuratively of course.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s