The question: “Who is the greatest film director of all time?” is wildly subjective, and answers undoubtedly vary from person to person. Many would say Martin Scorsese while some might prefer Alfred Hitchcock, or you might even hear Quentin Tarantino‘s name thrown in. However, if you watch some of the best Christopher Nolan movies, it’s hard not to put his name up at the top as well.
Nolan has accomplished almost everything any director could ever dream of. He has a rapport with many of the biggest stars in Hollywood, and his movies draw hype at the box office like few others. Although he doesn’t have any Best Picture or Best Director awards from the Academy, which is a crime in itself, his movies are universally regarded as monumental filmmaking achievements. With the director’s latest film now available for purchase on all digital platforms, we felt it prudent to rank the top five Christopher Nolan movies.
5. ‘The Prestige’ (2006)
Directors like James Gunn catch a lot of flack for working with the same people in many projects, but in truth, it’s what all great directors do. After Nolan worked with stars Christian Bale and Michael Caine the year before in Batman Begins, the trio reunited for a twisted tale of illusions and betrayal in The Prestige. Bale and Hugh Jackman star as two magicians fixated on one-upping the other with no boundaries.
Their conflict escalates as they continuously prove there are no limits to how far they’ll go to surpass each other, which forces both the characters and audiences to question morality and the drawbacks of competition. The film, which also stars Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, and Andy Serkis, was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction and is easily one of the best Christopher Nolan movies.
4. ‘Inception’ (2010)
In the midst of what might be the most critically successful run in filmmaking history, Nolan teamed up with Leonardo DiCaprio for their first, and to this day, only film together. Inception is a mind-bending heist movie that follows Dom Cobb (DiCaprio) who is an expert at entering people’s dreams to steal their most intimate secrets. The film boasts a cast with many Nolan regulars including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, and Michael Caine.
Arguably Nolan’s most acclaimed picture, Inception was nominated for eight Academy Awards and brought home four wins, including Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Visual Effects. Although none of these awards credit the director, it’s still one of the best Christopher Nolan movies and one of the best movies ever made.
3. ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
Three movies in three vastly different genres kicking off the list showcase the skill and diversity in Nolan’s filmography. Often there’s one, maybe two things you can point to in a movie that make it great, the performances, score, cinematography, or even action. Once in a blue moon, a movie comes around that is flawless in every respect, and The Dark Knight is one of those movies.
Reuniting with Christian Bale and Michael Caine for the third straight film in five years, the Batman Begins sequel added the legendary Heath Ledger as The Joker. Ledger won a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and gave one of the most iconic and menacing performances in movie history. The film also received an Oscar for Sound Editing and six nominations in other categories. It has a strong case for the greatest comic book movie ever made and is one of the best Christopher Nolan movies.
2. ‘Interstellar’ (2014)
It’s not uncommon for Christopher Nolan movies to challenge your thoughts and everything you think you know, and Interstellar does that on the most grand scale possible. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, and Jessica Chastain, this Nolan drama follows Cooper (McConaughey), an ex-NASA pilot turned farmer who must find a new planet for humans when the Earth becomes uninhabitable. Cooper’s journey takes him through space and time, allowing him to alter the events of his life, and give humans another chance to survive.
While Nolan often casts the same groups of people in his movies, DiCaprio in Inception and McConaughey in Interstellar serve as examples that he’s capable of building chemistry quickly. Interstellar rightfully claimed the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects but was a major snub in other categories such as Best Score, Best Cinematography, and Sound Mixing and Editing. Nolan’s ninth directorial feature is one of the premiere cinematic accomplishments of the 21st century and will be studied for its masterful and emotional storytelling elements for years to come.
1. ‘Oppenheimer’ (2023)
No, this is most definitely not recency bias. After years of Nolan offering Cillian Murphy smaller roles in his Batman trilogy and other films like Inception and Dunkirk, there was no better choice for the leading role in this historical biopic. Oppenheimer details the life story of the American physicist of the same name and his part in the creation of the atomic bomb. With anyone else in the lead role, this film would likely be usurped by another on this list, but Cillian Murphy’s intensely devastating performance elevates this film to a tier of its own.
Nolan brought together one of the most extensive casts ever assembled, including Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Kenneth Branagh, and so many more. Oppenheimer dares to be uniquely brilliant with its subjective and objective approach to storytelling, and its instantly iconic score from the legendary Ludwig Göransson (The Mandalorian, Black Panther). There isn’t a second in the three-hour runtime that isn’t acutely captivating. This film is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication to his craft; it is his magnum opus, and the best Christopher Nolan movie ever made.
All Christopher Nolan Movies are Unique and Enthralling
Every great director has their style — Christopher Nolan sucks audiences in with the first few minutes and doesn’t let go until the end credits. He never asks his audience to buy into something without giving them plenty of reasons to. After mixed reactions to his 2020 film, Tenet, which opened at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic to mixed audience and critics reviews, many wondered if the director had lost a step. His recent work being his best yet proves Christopher Nolan is only getting better with age.
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