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All 12 Christopher Nolan Movies, Ranked

12

Following (1998)

christopher nolan movies ranked

Syncopy

His debut film (and a low-budget bootstrap production) Following appears high on this list only because it represents a young and less polished entry in Nolan’s filmography. (Our #1 is what we take to be the most complete and polished of Nolan’s work.) By no means does that ranking make the film bad or not good or unwatchable. In fact, one can see in Nolan’s debut just the sort of thematics, techniques, and storylines he will perfect over the next two decades. — Josh St. Clair

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11

Insomnia (2002)

christopher nolan movies, ranked

Warner Brothers

There’s nothing wrong with Insomnia. This is a solid crime thriller mystery. In fact, it’s about as solid a crime thriller mystery as there can be. Al Pacino is, predictably, great as the crooked cop at the story’s center. Robin Williams does what we all knew he could do: turn his creep-o-meter all the way up and knock it out of the park.

It falls here on our list because when you hear about a crime thriller mystery directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams… you kind of expect more from the movie itself than solid. This is a good movie, but far from the mind-blowing affair that Mr. Nolan has become known for. — Evan Romano

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10

Tenet (2020)

christopher nolan movies ranked

Warner Brothers

With Tenet, we find Christopher Nolan at his most ambitious. I saw Tenet not long after it came out, and I’m not sure I could explain what this movie is about if I had 10 hours. But, at its core, this is a film that plays with, you guessed it: time. How we move through it. How we look to the past. Oh, and there’s lots of action and stunts and fighting and secret agent stuff.

Tenet has a tremendous central relationship between stars John David Washington and Robert Pattinson, and the rest of the cast is game. It may not totally connect, but at a time when just about every major studio release is a sequel/reboot/adaptation, can you ask for much more? —ER

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9

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

christopher nolan movies, ranked

Warner Brothers

There’s no debating the effect of the Dark Knight franchise on cinema—though, arguably, the franchise had already left that mark by the time its third installment dutifully reported to theaters. Judged alongside this era’s other superhero films, TDKR is by no means a low-soaring film. However, its action set pieces and franchise legacy can’t disguise the film’s bloated narrative, which makes it the least successful installment in the trilogy. Great ending, though. Makes us tear up every time. — JSC

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8

Batman Begins (2005)

christopher nolan movies ranked

Warner Brothers

A fitting start to a groundbreaking trilogy, Batman Begins lays the foundation for Nolan’s The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, and has since set a high bar for superhero origins. After the failed Batman & Robin, Nolan’s Batman Begins offered a fresh start for the caped crusader, and Nolan gave the character and his backstory emotional weight, taking the comic book adaptation as serious as any other cinematic endeavor he’d previously done. Batman Begins may not be his best film, but it’s proof that great directors can make inspired films, no matter the source material. —Milan Polk

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7

Memento (2000)

christopher nolan movies ranked

Newmarket Films

Memento is a psychological mystery with a mind-bending plot that has since become part of the Nolan directorial identity. The film follows Leonard, who suffers from short-term memory loss, but is determined to find his wife’s killer. The Oscar-nominated film keeps viewers on the edge of their seats the entire film, as we see the world through Leonard’s eyes, and learn about the fragility of memory through his various interactions. The non-linear narrative is both fascinating and emotionally moving. Throughout the film, each layer of Leonard’s history is pulled back and examined, providing an intense look at who he was before his memory loss. Memento is an essential viewing for any Nolan fan.—MP

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6

Interstellar (2014)

christopher nolan movies ranked

Warner Brothers

Is Interstellar a perfect movie? No, it most certainly is not. At nearly 3 hours, it’s a tough one to find time to rewatch. Its themes can get a little corny, sure, and there are times when it turns into one of those Galaxy Brain memes you’ve seen online. But this is a nuanced situation, because we can acknowledge all of that, and still acknowledge something else: Interstellar rips.

Every second of this movie is visually stunning, and while the entire cast comes to play (including a young Timothee Chalamet and surprise Matt Damon!), Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain bring such an emotional throughline that at the end of the day this is one of the best father-daughter stories around. Ellen Burstyn is in this movie for about 20 seconds, and it’s 20 of the best-acted seconds you’ll ever see. Would we prefer this to be a little tighter and more succinct? Sure. Is this perfect? No. Is it freaking great? Yes. —ER

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5

Oppenheimer (2023)

oppenheimer nolan movies ranked

Universal

Honestly? Recency bias might be the only thing keeping Oppenheimer this low on the list. The movie is, and I don’t use this term lightly, masterful. Nolan’s portrait of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father” of the atomic bomb, is as illuminating and visually stunning as it is haunting.

Cillian Murphy anchors the movie with the ability that Nolan has always trusted him to have, but the movie’s supporting cast, which includes turns from Robert Downey Jr., Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Josh Hartnett, and Rami Malek, among countless others, allow the film to round into what is without a doubt one of the greatest biopics ever made. It’s hard for us to put anything ahead of the likes of Inception and The Dark Knight just because those are movies that feel like they anchor the modern film canon. But Oppenheimer could end up #1 on this list in the future.

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4

Inception (2010)

christopher nolan movies ranked

Warner Brothers

Leonardo DiCaprio stars in Nolan’s Inception as Cobb, a man with the ability to extract information from people through their dreams. On the surface, the thriller is a fast-paced espionage with a star-studded cast. But look deeper, and the film also boasts a devastating romance and tale of heart-wrenching trauma (with Nolan favorite Cillian Murphy playing the film’s gullible mark).

Inception serves action with a slice of drama, and does it without reneging on either genre. It’s an impressive feat to make the emotional aspects of an action film believable and impactful while not taking away from the more high-energy parts of a movie. But Nolan succeeds in that respect, offering enough depth to each of the film’s characters that you sympathize with all of them and walk away with the sense that even the minor characters possess more than just a useful skill set for the sake of the plot. Inception is Nolan at his best, and it’s a film still worth watching even years later. —MP

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3

The Dark Knight (2008)

christopher nolan movies ranked

Warner Brothers

It’s not anywhere near a hot take to say that The Dark Knight, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary, is the greatest superhero film of all time. So we’ll go a step further: while others rank higher on our list, The Dark Knight is easily Christopher Nolan’s most influential film, and can be directly credited with ushering in the era of superhero oversaturation.

For years, movies tried, like a see-saw, to match this movie’s darkness and grittiness (see: Man of Steel) or go entirely the other way (see: most MCU films). But part of the reason that The Dark Knight is so singular is because while many have attempted, this is not an effort that can be replicated. Much has been said and will continue to be said about Heath Ledger’s Joker (one of cinema’s great villains), but the movie around him is just as perfect. The pacing is spot on, the cast is all locked in, and the action holds up. This is one of those movies where people of a certain age can all remember seeing it for the first time—and that doesn’t happen by accident. —ER

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2

Dunkirk (2014)

christopher nolan movies ranked

Warner Brothers

Disjointed storytelling is perhaps Nolan’s most signature trait. As is the intended effect of such storytelling: to capture the subjective experience of time. If Tenet represents a step too far in this formalistic dilation, Dunkirk represents the moment in Nolan’s post-Memento career that he gets everything right. Stacking three narratives—each taking place over three distinct time windows— Nolan collapses each onto the others, making a week feel like a day feel like a couple of hours, and capturing the subjectivism of time, all while simultaneously using these tricks in the service of suspense and story. Form and content marry here in the perfect union of art and spectacle. —JSC

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1

The Prestige (2006)

christopher nolan movies, ranked

Warner Brothers

We’re gonna be contentious for this final pick. While many might want The Dark Knight here, we find it hard calling Batman Nolan’s best work, since it’s so atypical of his wider catalogue. No, the best Christopher Nolan movie is the movie that does best what Nolan does best: disjointed plotting, deception, and combining high concepts with blockbuster theatrics. Nolan’s first period drama, The Prestige, accomplishes each, and in a much tighter and character-driven way than some of the above works. For Nolan, cinema is a magic trick, and no other film best proves this point—best captures, diverts, and manipulates our attention—than a film about actual magic. There’s no fat on this bone, and for that, we see The Prestige as Christopher Nolan’s best Christopher Nolan movie. —JSC

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Headshot of Joshua St. Clair

Joshua St. Clair

Assistant Editor

Joshua St Clair is an Assistant Editor at Men’s Health Magazine. 

Headshot of Evan Romano

Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.

Headshot of Milan Polk

Milan Polk is an Editorial Assistant for Men’s Health who specializes in entertainment and lifestyle reporting, and has worked for New York Magazine’s Vulture and Chicago Tribune.

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