(Cybertech) – Christopher Nolan’s movies have been beguiling audiences worldwide for decades now, and he’s increasingly cementing his place as one of the world’s foremost directors.
His films manage to marry mainstream appeal and action with complexities in form and editing, without alienating his audiences, and that’s seen him go from success to success. Now, his latest movie is hitting cinemas at long last, depending on where you live. Tenet has been eagerly awaited and much-delayed, and is as baffling and exciting as you’d expect.
Whether you’ve seen Tenet and want to do a refresher course, or want to prep yourself ahead of the big new release, we’ve done some digging and some thinking about the best possible order to watch Nolan’s films in, and have a couple of options for you to consider. First up, we’ll hit you with our preferred order, then we’ll lay out a more typical alternative.
The best order in which to watch Christopher Nolan’s films
1. Tenet (2020)
Trust us on this one – while there are some funky ways in which Tenet may or may not tie into other films Nolan’s made, it’s a standalone experience, and one you don’t really need to prepare for. If you’re thinking about seeing the movie, do it, and don’t worry about how much of Nolan’s others you’ve managed so far.
As you’ll soon find out, there’s a cyclical puzzle at Tenet’s core that means any sense of discombobulation you feel watching it for the first time is entirely intended, make sure you check out what a SATOR square is after watching it. We’re not saying it’s the best Nolan film, but we think it’s a genuinely great place to start.
2. Memento (2000)
There are a whole bunch of people who think Memento is Nolan’s best film, perhaps because of how it shows his predilection for trickery without being obscured behind huge action set-pieces and mind-bending visuals.
It’s a much simpler mystery story with amnesia at its heart, and is a great palate cleanser after the world-saving antics of Tenet’s storyline. That contrast is why we think it’s a great chaser for Nolan’s newest film.
3. Batman Begins (2004)
Here’s where we hit the meat – Nolan’s name was becoming known before he teamed up with DC and Warner Bros on the Batman franchise, but it’s fair to say that there’s definitely a pre- and post-Batman feel to his career.
Batman Begins isn’t the best Batman film he’s made, but it was a pretty clear and immediate demonstration that he could be trusted with a big budget and with more action-packed film-making. It also tied Batman to a more realistic setting and tone that would be doubled down upon later.
4. The Prestige (2005)
Here we’re in a section of the order where we’ll mirror Nolan’s own chronology – just like him, we don’t think you should tackle the Batman trilogy one after the other, or you’ll risk burnout. Instead, follow his lead and move to The Prestige.
This thrilling tale of rival magicians is twisty and unpredictable, and extremely satisfying to watch in the knowledge of what’s to come. It’s got a gorgeous period setting and is up there with Nolan’s best work.
5. The Dark Knight (2008)
Over a decade later, and for all Marvel’s box office-conquering efforts, this is still the superhero movie apex predator – a hugely successful film that has memorable set-pieces and performances to spare.
We think it acts as a perfect midway point for a Nolan watchthrough, and gives a nice tonal break from the mystery of The Prestige. It’s one to sit back and enjoy no matter how many times you’ve seen it.
6. Insomnia (2002)
It might not feel like it in your memory, but The Dark Knight has a whole bunch of police work in it – Gordon’s part in the plot is significant, and in the early stages there’s plenty for him and Batman to try to work out.
That’s why we think it leads nicely into one of Nolan’s earlier films, Insomnia, in which Al Pacino tries to unravel a ghastly crime. It’s got a setting unlike many of Nolan’s other movies, and has been seen far less widely, too.
7. Interstellar (2014)
You might notice a theme in how we’ve built this order – we think the best way to enjoy Nolan is to avoid spectacle-fatigue by bouncing from his smaller films to his bigger pictures. That’s why Insomnia’s more tied-down plot is a good springboard for the broad-brush universal scale of Interstellar.
Some people love it, others think it’s Nolan coming as close as he dare to schmaltz, but there’s no denying the visual power of Interstellar’s stunning vistas, or indeed the stirring quality of its score.
8. Following (1998)
Following the logic we’ve established, we’re diving back into Nolan’s origins with this, his first full release. It’s a micro-budget black and white number that’s noticeably more British than most of his work.
You’ll be able to trace the beginnings of his twisty, unpredictable predilections when it comes to story beats, making Following another really useful break from the blockbusters.
9. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Nolan’s monumental conclusion to his Batman trilogy takes a step back from the relentless grittiness of The Dark Knight but still manages a dose and a half of spectacle.
It nicely juggles a new villain in Tom Hardy’s Bane, the well-managed introduction of Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, and a conclusion that satisfied emotionally.
10. Dunkirk (2017)
Say it quietly, because people get mighty heated about these things, but we think Dunkirk is Nolan’s masterpiece, which is why we’ve saved it for a late slot. It’s got his puzzle-box chronology, but in a way that serves the plotting and editing magnificently.
The nail-gripping action is relentless, but the entire cast are directed with subtlety to make for a timeless, borderline elegant tone that we can’t get enough of. It’s also our last period piece in the order, prepping us for more modern entries.
11. Inception (2010)
Inception felt like a game-changer – a massive film that provoked massive discussion given its complicated plotting and pseudo-cliffhanger ending, this is a wild ride that closes out Nolan’s oeuvre for now very nicely.
It’s got all of his hallmarks – great action, a massively influential Hans Zimmer score, a ruddy impressive cast and a sense of momentum that’s impossible to resist. It’s not quite our last pick, though.
12. Tenet (2020)
Once you’ve seen it for the first time, you’ll understand why we’ve put Tenet at both the top and bottom of this order – and by the time you’ve worked your way through Nolan’s back catalogue, we think you’ll be ready for another go at the latest stuff.
It makes a great follow-up to Inception, too, given that one of the main theories floating around about it right now is that its opening line, which we won’t spoil, might mean it’s set in the same universe. We’re not totally convinced, but with all of Nolan’s filmography to call on, you’ll be well-placed to judge for yourself the second time around. For a truly novel experience, watch it on rewind, why not?
That’s our order, then, but if you want a different way to approach it, you could go for the more prosaic alternative below.
Nolan movies in order of release
- Following (1998)
- Memento (2000)
- Insomnia (2002)
- Batman Begins (2005)
- The Prestige (2006)
- The Dark Knight (2008)
- Inception (2010)
- The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
- Interstellar (2014)
- Dunkirk (2017)
- Tenet (2020)
Did you like this?
Then maybe you’ll like our other movie order viewing guides:
We also have these rumour round-ups on upcoming movies:
Writing by Max Freeman-Mills. Editing by Adrian Willings.