Christopher Nolan Ranked: 'Tenet' And His Other Movies From Best to Worst

Christopher Nolan is one of the most divisive blockbuster directors working today. Millions around the world love his time-twisting, puzzle box movies, and IMDB voters have voted seven of his films into their top 250 (The Dark Knight, Inception, Interstellar, The Prestige, Memento, The Dark Knight Rises and Batman Begins.)

For others, however, Christopher Nolan's movies, including the newly-released Tenet, are cold, and prize complicated plots over human emotions and feature no human-feeling characters (with women particularly underserved.)

With these two schools in mind, here is one writer's totally subjective ranking of his best and worst of his eleven movies, from his first, 1998's Following to Tenet. Mild spoilers ahead.

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Robert Pattinson and John David Washington in 'Tenet' Warner Bros

Christopher Nolan's movies ranked from worst to best

11. The Prestige

Nolan's story of two competing magicians shows that he could be an interesting period director, and he does a good job of bringing to life a Houdini-era Victorian world. Plus, David Bowie is goofy fun as Nikolai Tesla. People who praise Nolan for his great twists, however, clearly have not seen the ending of The Prestige, which relies on the reveal that (SPOILERS) the protagonist is a twin, a twist-up there with "it was all a dream" in the hall of fame of dumb twists too cliched to appear in films anymore.

10. Insomnia

Insomnia feels like a glimpse into a world where Nolan never found his own voice and is known as a solid but unremarkable director in the mold of David Fincher. The film, which sees Al Pacino as a cop who heads to small-town Alaska to solve a murder and avoid an internal affairs investigation against him, is a strong early '00s thriller, and features a great creepy turn from Robin Williams as the antagonist, but feels like a Hollywood assignment rather than a Nolan film proper.

9. Following

The director's first film contains everything that would make his name in the future, and at one hour 10 minutes, it is much less butt-numbing than his later epics. The story of a man whose life spirals out of control after he follows a thief has a complicated plot full of twists and turns, and the scenes are shown out of order, prefiguring his next movie Memento. It also features a thief named Cobb and a prominent Batman symbol.

However, it is clearly a first film, with all the scrappiness that entails. The acting ranges from competent to awful, and having the scenes out of order adds nothing to the film.

8. Batman Begins

At the time, Nolan's gritty take on the start of Bruce Wayne's crime-fighting days felt revolutionary, but 15 years later the start of the "Dark Knight" has two major problems. One, the movie feels like it has one villain too many (a problem his trilogy has again), and second the film is responsible for a legion of imitators trying to make "dark" superhero films, leading to some of the worst movies made in the genre.

True, it is not Batman Begins' fault that it is responsible for Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice and Fantastic Four, but it does sour a 2020 watch, especially when the other two Dark Knight films improved on the first.

7. The Dark Knight Rises

If Batman Begins felt a little overstuffed, then The Dark Knight Rises feels bursting to the seams. At moments, it feels like they had a bunch of famous Batman friends and foes ready to use for the trilogy, but then forgot about them so had to put them all into the last film. As such, we have to juggle between Tom Hardy's Bane, Anne Hathaway's Catwoman, Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a future Robin, setting up a spin-off that never happened.

However, the film gets the edge over Begins for successfully bringing the trilogy to an end and for achieving the near-impossible: Being a "threequel" that is actually worth watching. Take that, Godfather III.

6. Tenet

It may be too early to compare Tenet to Nolan's other work, but in many ways, it feels like his Lost Highway or Kill Bill, the movie where the director has been given true free rein to create exactly the kind of film he wants to make. As such, and like the other two films mentioned, Tenet amplifies both everything that is great about Nolan (his desire to make "intelligent blockbusters", his mind-bending visuals), but also everything frustrating about his work (no emotional stakes, thinly-drawn characters, over-complication for the sake of it.)

5. Interstellar

Interstellar is the worst-reviewed movie Nolan has ever made, with many critics finding it over-ambitious, cold and hating the berserk bookcase ending.

However, these critics are (mostly wrong). Though it is too long, Interstellar sees the director manage to tie together his hard sci-fi concepts with an emotional punch, as Matthew McConaughey's space travels mean he has to watch his family grow old. That ending is also the closest Nolan will ever get to the psychedelic majesty of Kubrick's (another director whose films are often accused of being cold) 2001: A Space Odyssey.

4. The Dark Knight

The second of Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is currently sitting solidly in the top five films ever made according to IMDB users and is the film that turned Nolan from an interesting director to a household name beloved of film fanboys. It is also the only film of Nolan's that has won one of its actors an Oscar—and as his films since have focused more and more on spectacle over emotion, probably the last.

The late Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker is what makes The Dark Knight, giving the movie's theme of chaos theory an (in)human face. However, it is only at four on this list because it lacks some signature Nolanisms—there is no messing around with time, for example, with the movie playing out in a fairly chronological order.

3. Inception

Nolan's first best picture nomination at the Oscars, Inception is hands-down Nolan's most fun film, with its visually stunning dreams-within-dreams endlessly rewatchable popcorn entertainment, with new details being revealed every time you sit down and watch.

Though it lacks the sophistication of some of Nolan's other work, this is what makes it so fun. Even some of the cheesy elements (the fact the main character's first initials spell "DREAMS," the fact the film's sort-of antagonist is a French person called "Mal") are something Nolan's films rarely are: Goofily enjoyable.

2. Memento

In many ways, Memento is Nolan's calling card, the movie which made him the director he is. In the movie, he builds on the form and themes he experimented with on Following, and has in the main role his most interesting protagonist in Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce), an amnesiac covered in tattoos of things he needs to remember. By having the scenes play out in reverse chronological order, he has us guessing right alongside the characters, making for a unique cinematic experience that saw Nolan put his own stamp on the world of late '90s stylized crime movies.

1. Dunkirk

His second best picture nomination, Dunkirk is Nolan's masterpiece. Tense, clever, and genuinely emotionally affecting—a rarity in his filmography. In his story of the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War II using civilian sailboats, Nolan interweaves three-time frames: A week at sea, a day on land, an hour in the air. While in some of his other films the messing with time frames has just felt like an unnecessary complication, here it is used to give us a whole picture of the historical event in the most gripping way possible.

Tenet is in cinemas in the US on September 3 and around the world now.