ScreenAge Wasteland Ranks the Films of Christopher Nolan

ScreenAge Wasteland is proud to present our community’s ranking of Christopher Nolan’s filmography.

Fifteen people (whether is was staff, commenters, or social media followers) took part in sending us their personal rankings of the 11 films Christopher Nolan has directed (so far). We then assigned them points (top spot got 11, last spot got 1) and tallied the scores. In the event that someone hadn’t seen a Nolan film, a multiplier was added to bump that film’s score up to what it would have been if all eight people had seen it.

So pull out some pen and paper and follow along as we unpack the many twists and turns in the films of Christopher Nolan. And feel free to agree or disagree with where a film ranked in the comments below!

11. Following (1998) | 29 points

  • Following is a mesmerizing neo-noir drama that’s a must for aspiring filmmakers and lovers of film as well as for Christopher Nolan fans. It’s one of the least expensive films in cinema history yet the experience it provides is much more fulfilling than many big-budget productions. You may have seen the breathtaking wonders of Nolan’s cinematic vision in his later films, but this is where it all started. – Vincent Kane
  • Maybe I need to give this another shot, but back in the day I saw it after Memento came out and I just didn’t like it one bit. I was bored by it more than anything. But honestly, I doubt I will ever watch it again. – K. Alvarez
  • Made for a paltry 6,000 dollars, Following is but a morsel compared to the elaborate four course meals that comprise the rest of Nolan’s filmography. But compared to every other no budget debut? It’s a masterpiece. It blows Within the Woods (Raimi’s first movie) and My Best Friend’s Birthday (Tarantino’s first movie, unofficially) out of the water and while it’s not as impressive as their real real debuts, it also does as good a job of announcing him as a new talent. The movie is about the story of a young writer, Bill, who follows strangers around the streets of London to find inspiration for his first novel but is drawn toward the crime of breaking into people’s houses. The more houses he breaks into with his newfound partner, the tighter the noose gets, until he’s he’s standing on his tippy toes in order to survive. While watching this movie, one sees how practical Nolan can be even with an ultra-low budget because the product is not from someone who was trying to be a filmmaker, but rather someone born with a gift of filmmaking intelligence. A gift that he uses to tell the most compelling version of this story possible. The narrative is told out of order, to get the audience on the hook and there’s about a billion filmmaker techniques (extreme close-ups shots, non-linear storyline and cross-cutting scenes) to keep them there. If you’re a fan of Nolan, dig a bit deeper within his filmography to find this one. It’s a true hidden treasure. – Sailor Monsoon

10. Tenet (2020) | 41 points

  • I double hated this double pretentious movie. What? I need to watch it multiple times to understand its complexity? No thanks. I am not a masochist. Writing was bad. Acting super bad. Dialogue is dull. I don’t care if Nolan spent 10 years writing this dud. It was a horrible experience on all levels. – Tarek
  • I couldn’t watch at all, amazingly. I tried twice and ended up walking out both times. We get to see Nolan trying to thrill us by showing us Kenneth Branagh as some hypermacho Russki brute who likes beating his wife. How charming. – Zak1
  • A convoluted mess. You shouldn’t have to work so hard to try to understand what is happening in a movie. – Alex Gizelbach
  • Tenet may not be one of Nolan’s best films, but this could be one of his most ambitious considering the structure and innovative way he played with timelines. Incredible set pieces and a solid performance by Robert Pattinson make this worth a watch, but sadly it’s not top-tier Nolan. – Vincent Kane
  • First watch I was super confused and wasn’t sure I really liked it much, but the movie lingered with me after and I realized I liked it, but was still confused. So second viewing really solidified things for me. I wasn’t confused by it and I enjoyed the hell out of it even more. May need to give it a third viewing soon. – K. Alvarez

9. The Dark Knight Returns (2012) | 44 points

  • A disappointing ending to the first two movies. You could tell Nolan wasn’t really interested in doing another Batman after The Dark Knight. I’m sure Heath Ledger’s tragic death had a lot to do with it. Either way Bane and Selina Kyle are fun here but it’s just add up to a great finale. – MichaelAndTheArgonauts
  • The Dark Knight Rises probably should not have been made though it’s entertaining enough. I think Nolan may have been really thrown off balance by the death of Heath Ledger (understandably, just from a human standpoint). This film feels like it’s going through the motions. It doesn’t feel like it’s tackling some compelling question about life the way the previous films did. Bane is compelling, but he really doesn’t represent anything in the real world, the way Joker and Dent did, and the way Ducard, Scarecrow, and Falconi, and Thomas Wayne did very clearly in the first film. Nolan just doesn’t know what he wants to say with this film – Zak1
  • Okay, what could have been the GREATEST superhero trilogy every had a little misstep with this one. But Hardy is great as Bane and that kinda makes up for the rest being a bit of a mess. – K. Alvarez
  • I don’t care what anyone says, The Dark Knight Rises is a top 5 Batflick. Sinister Marion Cotillard is a flex. – Mitch Roush

8. Interstellar (2014) | 46 points

  • Yes the F/X are amazing but it confused the hell out of me. Not in a good 2001:
    Space Odyssey sort of way either. Its still a good movie but just not what I wanted from a Nolan space epic. Probably my most disappointing Nolan release besides The Dark Knight Rises. – MichaelAndTheArgonauts
  • This movie is hard to love, for many aspects that are hard to describe in one sentence. But I admire the daring thematic and stellar filming. (see what i did here?) – Tarek
  • Interstellar has a nice epic scale and some great visual setpieces. The whole film is interesting, but it’s cold, and the emotions increasingly feel forced (and it was a big mistake to suddenly shift actors and have Ellen Burstyn play the old daughter instead of Jessica Chastain, who had established the connection between her character and the audience – this disconnect deflated a reunion that should have been powerful). Why should the universe be helping this astronaut to connect with his daughter while floating in space? For all its gestures towards scientific plausibility, the film’s resolution turns out to be just another tired version of “love conquers all.” – Zak1
  • Overly long and I never felt the emotional connection between the dad and daughter which is what the movie is built upon. – Alex Gizelbach
  • I wanted to like this one more than I did. It’s really well done, acted supremely, but in the end I was just kinda underwhelmed. – K. Alvarez
  • Look, this movie isn’t bad. It’s pretty good actually. But I can’t shake the feeling that perhaps big budget Christopher Nolan movies don’t hold up as well once you discover Denis Villeneuve’s work. – Mitch Roush

7. Insomnia (2002) | 59 points

  • I dug this movie the one time I saw it. It was suspenseful and Pacino is always great. The log foot chase was cool. That’s all I remember. – MichaelAndTheArgonauts
  • I love film noir drama. This movie is beautifully directed. And when you have Al Pacino starring in it, you double the gains. – Tarek
  • Nobody portrays psychological exhaustion like Al Pacino. This movie is one of the best examples using the climate very effectively to complement his inner state, a kind of womb-like white blankness that he wants to dissolve into (“… and miles to go before I sleep”). – Zak1
  • A solid story with good acting but nothing makes it rise above pretty good. It does get slow at some points. – Alex Gizelbach
  • Flat out the worst movie he’s done so far. I saw the original first and enjoyed it, but Nolan’s version did absolutely nothing for me. – K. Alvarez
  • Low-key incredible remake. Nolan’s always at his best when his stories are more grounded and rooted in more static concepts. Insomnia is a grade-A mid-level thriller and we don’t have enough of those anymore. Not to mention an underrated Robin Williams performance. But most of all, Nolan’s greatest directing achievement may be casting Al Pacino and convincing him not to tell thru the whole thing. – Mitch Roush

6. Dunkirk (2017) | 83 points

  • A really incredible war movie about a pivotal moment in early World War II. It definitely felt like the classic WWII movies with amazing modern F/X. The flying scenes with Tom Hardy were particularly thrilling for me. – MichaelAndTheArgonauts
  • I hated this movie. It was a too pretentious war movie that was more focused on visuals than on intimate drama. Visually, it was stunning as usual, but it lacked the restrain that would have make it an emotional journey. And the score sucked hard. – Tarek
  •  Dunkirk was a cinematic exercise that was engaging enough from moment to moment, and quickly forgotten — almost literally just one long setpiece — except we see how much Nolan likes to cover Tom Hardy’s face. – Zak1
  • Perhaps Nolan’s most tension-filled project and a definitive war film. Through story structure and editing, Nolan gives us an epic war story that still feels intimate and personal when it’s needed. There is a ticking clock that makes you feel the same pressure the characters do that is accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s incredible score that compliments everything we see on screen. – Vincent Kane
  • This movie is fantastic. I need to watch it again soon. – K. Alvarez
  • This just might be a masterpiece. Full stop. – Mitch Roush

5. Batman Begins (2005) | 89 points

  • Just remember that the last Batman film prior to this was Batman and Robin. Nolan made Batman cool again and put out one of the best origin stories ever. The first MCU movies owe a lot to Batman Begins. Also Cillian Murphy was great as the Scarecrow. – MichaelAndTheArgonauts
  • The first half is the best, subverting the genre with the philosophical moral doubt of his early work. After that he succumbed to genre mechanics. – Zak1
  • Solid origin story with the right amount of humor and good action. How Katie Holmes was cast with all the great actors in this movie is baffling but at least they corrected the issue in The Dark Knight. – Alex Gizelbach
  • Whodathunk Nolan would do a superhero adaptation. But man does he bring his A-game to this one. It’s a great reboot no one thought they needed but were damn sure glad they got it after. – K. Alvarez
  • Meh. – Mitch Roush

4. Inception (2010) | 108 points

  • Just inventive AF. Nolan had his way and made an action sci-fi masterpiece. Great ensemble cast, groundbreaking F/X (practical ones too!), gorgeous action scenes, trippy concepts, and a banger ending. – MichaelAndTheArgonauts
  • Inception is interesting and looks cool, but this is not REMOTELY the way people’s dreams look or function visually. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a genuinely great film that does a fine job of representing the dreaming process. – Zak1
  • Easily Nolan’s best effort at large scale filmmaking. Visually impressive with an original concept that isn’t overly convoluted. Love the final scene. – Alex Gizelbach
  • Inception isn’t Nolan’s best film, that goes to The Prestige, but this is easily my favorite of his and the one I have rewatched more than any of his other films. From the opening scene, I was hooked and it still has a vice-like grip on a certain part of my movie brain. The world-building Nolan did on these different intricate levels is something not many, if any, will ever touch. The score alone puts it ahead of most movies already. It’s a movie that gets better with every single watch and one I will never get tired of revisiting. – Vincent Kane
  • This one is . . . fine? Entertaining enough and a solid cast of stars. But it still feels hollow all the way thru. – Mitch Roush
  • This might be my favorite Nolan film. I love seeing DiCaprio give a performance that, while excellent, you know he’s not giving because it might net him that Oscar. The multiple levels of dreaming and its grand endgame is brilliant to watch play out on the screen. – Marmaduke Karlston

3. The Prestige (2006) | 112 points

  • This one took me a bit to really appreciate. It stands alone from the rest of his CV
    in my opinion. Jackman and Bale are amazing and the conceit is really great. This came out during the weird year Hollywood competed period magician films (The Illusionist, also great, and The Prestige). Its essentially a con movie and a great one. – MichaelAndTheArgonauts
  • Nolan shows his talent of storyteller with this simple story in a way that makes you want to revisit it every now a then. Shyamalan can learn few things from it to renew his boring style. – Tarek
  • The Prestige played nicely with the intricacies of illusion-making and period detail, and it raised some interesting questions about what kinds of personalities end up drawn to this field, and how it impacts them. It used its actors very well (as Nolan usually does), but, again, I just didn’t see what there was overall to connect with. I found it very difficult to care about what was going on in this film. – Zak1
  • A great movie of obsession and ego with a twist ending I didn’t see coming. – Alex Gizelbach
  • Seems like this one falls through the cracks a bit when we dish on Nolan. But, to be honest, it still holds up beautifully. Again, his best work tends to be the most grounded in nuclear storytelling. Give me the Bake vs. Jackman magician showdown over any “time manipulation” smoke and mirrors any day. The Prestige deserves to be appreciated. – Mitch Roush
  • I have no clue why I have only seen this film once because it absolutely blew me away. The twist at the end is something I did not see coming! (especially after what we find out about Jackman’s character.) – Marmaduke Karlston

2. Memento (2000) | 115 points

  • A brilliant screenplay for a low budget movie that needs at least a second viewing to grasp all its strings. – Tarek
  • One of the best American films of this century. – Zak1
  • Excellent film. I dream someday Nolan will make another small scale, character driven story. – Alex Gizelbach
  • Still holds up all these years later. Just all around great performances and an intriguing story. – K. Alvarez
  • This one is going to be taught in film schools for generations.  A case study in high concept screenwriting. – Mitch Roush
  • I love Memento. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to see it. Great idea. Constantly keeps your mind engaged as it tries to keep up and piece the movie together in the correct chronological order. – Marmaduke Karlston

1. The Dark Knight (2008) | 120 points

  • Still the greatest comic book movie ever full stop. Just one of those perfect
    intersections of acting, directing, cinematography, F/X, everything. I still remember watching it for the first time in theaters and during the Joker interrogation scene feeling actually helpless. Just like Batman did. This probably still holds the record for most times I went to a theater to see a movie. I think I saw this five times before it left cinemas. Everything in this film was so electric and charged you just had to see it again. – MichaelAndTheArgonauts
  • The ultimate masterclass in making a comic book movie. Every person and piece are fleshed out perfectly. Not a single dull second. It is the golden standard of comic book movies. – Tarek
  • This film is elevated by Heath Ledger, but also by its daring in making Aaron Eckhart a full fledged romantic hero who vies with Christian Bale for the center of the film. This is what makes the film so moving. It also does a fantastic job of filtering Batman through the lens of Michael Mann’s Heat. However, after a soaring second act that straddles the film, it sags in its final third act, retreating from the implications it raises into safe certainty. – Zak1
  • Heath Ledger gives easily a top five all-time performance. The film has a great score and great pacing. The boat scene is the only average part of an overall amazing film. – Alex Gizelbach
  • This one changed the game. And Act III issues notwithstanding, you can’t deny The Dark Knight is brilliant. The best crime flick of the 21st Century and a rare, zeitgeist defining moment. – Mitch Roush
  • I think this movie might be the one I quote the most often (especially “Why so serious?”) after Back to the Future. Just so many iconic lines from Joker, Harvey Dent, and Alfred. – Marmaduke Karlston

What a top six! These are all some of the best films of their release years. The Dark Knight, Memento, and The Prestige are three films that any director (or actor) would be proud to have represented on their filmography.

The Dark Knight at #1 shouldn’t come as a surprise to many. It’s constantly referred to as Nolan’s masterpiece and has managed to remain one of the best DC Comics adaptations to this day. (It also took the top spot when we ranked the theatrically released Batman films back in 2019.)

Thank you to everyone who participated in SAW’s sixth community ranking!

Do you agree with our ranking? How does your ranking of the Nolan films look? Share your thoughts down in the comments!