5. Batman Begins
Batman & Robin essentially killed the franchise in 1997, and Warner Bros spent many years trying to find the right filmmaker to reboot the series. When Nolan was hired for Batman Begins he took the character back to his roots, exploring how Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) trauma pushes him to become Batman. This grounded, psychological take was somewhat groundbreaking for the genre, and Nolan populated the film with great actors – Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy – to sell the reality.
In truth, Batman Begins feels like a dry run for Nolan’s next Batman adventure, and his sloppy handling of action sequences is arguably at its worst here. That said, Begins brought a sense of humanity that had been lacking in the genre, and Bale’s portrayal would come to define Batman for a new generation.
4. The Prestige (2006)
The Prestige was something of a palette cleanser for Nolan following Batman Begins and cast Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival magicians. While the pair start out as friends, their devotion to the art form gradually destroys them both. The Prestige gave Nolan a chance to contrast magic tricks with filmmaking, allowing him to perform some deft sleights of hand with the story.
While The Prestige has plenty of shocking plot twists, the tragedy of the central relationship is what drives it. While some reviewers felt the film was somewhat gimmicky upon release, it’s since been re-evaluated as one of Nolan’s most complex and undervalued works. A late gear switch into sci-fi can be a deal breaker for some viewers, but The Prestige saw Nolan continue to evolve as a storyteller.
3. Memento (2000)
Memento is the film that first put Christopher Nolan on the map, and with good reason. This twisty thriller unravels in reverse order, with Guy Pearce’s lead character trying to solve his wife’s murder whilst dealing with a condition that prevents him from forming new memories. Memento provides Pearce with one of his best roles, allowing him to be funny, tragic and pathetic by turns, but the other star of the show is Nolan's script, based on the short story by his brother Jonathan.
The reverse construction of Memento is genius, with Nolan reinventing a classic noir story while putting his own flair on it. Memento is where Nolan found his inner auteur, and while his work would get more refined, there’s something to be said for the film's raw energy.
2. Inception (2010)
The runaway success of The Dark Knight bought Christopher Nolan a blank cheque with Warner Bros, which he enthusiastically cashed on Inception. Nolan originally conceived of the project as a horror film but decided a heist story allowed more possibilities. Not only did the concept give Nolan to play with the nature of dreams and reality, but it also allowed him to explore the relationship between filmmakers and the audience too.
Inception features all the exciting setpieces and special effects expected of a blockbuster, but its thematic underpinnings, and likable cast of characters are what make it discussed to this day. Inception is also a movie that rewards more than one viewing because like the multiple dream layers the character's descent into, there’s always more to explore.
Related: Inception Ending Explained
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight is not only Christopher Nolan’s best movie, but it was also a gamechanger for the entire superhero genre. While comic books movies had their share of success prior to 2008, both Iron Man and The Dark Knight would push the genre to new heights. Nolan’s sequel improved on Batman Begins in every way, exploring Bruce Wayne’s quest for a normal life while questioning the boundaries he’s willing to cross as Batman. The film also features Heath Ledger iconic Joker, who can switch between hilarious and terrifying in an instant.
While The Dark Knight’s story logic withers upon close inspection, everything from the performances to the setpieces are first class. Perhaps most importantly, in an age where blockbusters films can feel interchangeable, The Dark Knight is, first and foremost, a Christopher Nolan movie, and is filled with his unmistakable visual stylings, alongside his aesthetic and thematic concerns.