The best Christopher Nolan movies ranked, from worst to best

A close-up of Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, one of the best Christopher Nolan movies
Where does Oppenheimer rank among the best Christopher Nolan movies? (Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The best Christopher Nolan movies are some of the most slick, cerebral, and enjoyable films ever made. Ever since Memento told an entire crime story in reverse, the award-winning British director has been twisting our concept of time and constructing complex narratives that you’ll be thinking about long after the credits roll.

Nolan may still be most well-known for his incredible Batman movie trilogy, but he’s also one of the lucky few Hollywood filmmakers who gets big budgets to play with to tell original stories, like the dream-based espionage movie Inception or the hard science-fiction of Interstellar. He’s also brought his movie magic to some real-life films, including Dunkirk, and his more recent release (and multi-Oscar winner) Oppenheimer.

The best Christopher Nolan movies combine to form a film collection unlike any other. The good news is that many of them are available to stream on Max if you’re based in the US (you’ll find them on Sky in the UK and Foxtel in Australia). Several top Christopher Nolan films also feature in our guide to the best Max movies. But we digress – you want to know how we've ranked the auteur's flicks from worst to best, don't you? Well, read on!

12. Following

Release date: April 1998
Age rating: R (US) / 15 (UK)
Where to stream: AMC Plus, Mubi, Tubi (US); available to rent and/or buy on select platforms, including Apple TV, Amazon, and YouTube (UK); AMC Plus (Aus)

Nolan’s black-and-white 1998 debut is both his shortest movie – it’s just 69 minutes long – and a blueprint of sorts for the tropes that would go on to become the director's hallmarks in his later movies. Starring Jeremy Theobald as a young, unemployed writer who finds himself partnering with Alex Haw's slick thief, it features a fractured narrative, a big twist, and an intense score by David Julyan, Nolan’s go-to composer pre-Hans Zimmer. Along with an easy-to-spot Batman Easter egg, these were early signs that the fledgling filmmaker was destined for great things.

11. The Dark Knight Rises

Release date: July 2012
Age rating: PG-13 (US) / 12 (UK)
Where to stream: Max (US); Sky and NOW TV (UK); Binge, Foxtel Now, and Stan (Australia)

There's a lot to love in this movie – Tom Hardy's Bane is imperious ("Do you feel in control?"), Anne Hathaway's Catwoman is the perfect version of the character for these movies, and everything it does with Bruce Wayne and Alfred's relationship makes for a satisfying end to the story.

The story of Bane coming to Gotham City to tear it down by separating it from the world is… odd, though. It's perfectly fine to propel the action forward, but it lacks the spark and cohesive feeling of the other movies in Nolan's Batman movie trilogy.

10. Tenet

Release date: August 2020
Age rating: PG-13 (US) / 12A (UK)
Where to stream: DirecTV and TNT (US); available to rent and/or buy on Apple TV, Amazon, and YouTube (UK and Australia)

Nolan goes Bond for the second time (after Inception), with a time-bending concept – but this isn't meant to be a clockwork timeline puzzle that will come together in the final act, like movies further down up this list. Here, time goes backwards and forwards just because it's fun, and Nolan has a character specifically say, pretty much straight to the audience, that you shouldn't think about how backwards time works, you just need to feel it.

The plot involves John David Washington being recruited into a shadowy organization that has access to a machine that can "invert" the flow of time for a person or an object, meaning that it starts moving backwards through time. He's tasked with stopping Kenneth Branagh from putting together a doomsday device that was developed in the future, but hidden in the past… look, you gotta feel it. It's not about the plot, it's about super-charming Robert Pattinson cheekily crashing a plane into an art warehouse, or Aaron Taylor-Johnson getting you excited for a huge battle by yelling "temPORal pincer movement!". It's great fun, but it's slighter on substance than the best Christopher Nolan movies.

9. Insomnia

Release date: May 2002
Age rating: R (US) / 15 (UK)
Where to stream: Paramount Plus, Fubo TV, and Showtime (US); Amazon Freevee, ITVX, Rakuten TV, and Pluto TV (UK); Stan (Australia)

In most director's filmographies, a great thriller like Insomnia would be near the top. In Nolan's list, it's further down because there's a queue of modern classics in front of it. Al Pacino gets drafted in to solve a murder in a northern town where the sun doesn't set, while he's being investigated for faking evidence. 

The story dives through guilt and self-delusion, with great performances from Hilary Swank and Robin Williams. It's quite a by-the-numbers thriller, elevated by one of Pacino's best performances of the 21st century, and Nolan's determination to make everything as foggy as possible, both ethically and literally.

8. Batman Begins

Release date: June 2005
Age rating: PG-13 (US) / 12 (UK)
Where to stream: Max (US); Sky and NOW TV (UK); Foxtel Now and Stan (Australia)

It's funny to remember that this was the 'gritty, grounded' superhero movie of choice at one point, when you consider that it has ancient ninja societies, microwave-based superweapons, and everyone losing their mind because of fear gas. On top of all that, they have to deal with Batman and his army of literal bats appearing for the first time in the middle of it.

Nolan drew on the likes of Lawrence of Arabia for the Caped Crusader's origin story, following a globetrotting Bruce Wayne through his training and the creation of his tools, leading up to his first outing as Batman. Which goes… middlingly, which is fun. 

But Batman Begins is really the story of a man who rejects a nihilistic view of the world, and embraces the need to work to improve things where the system can't – as a result it's more heart-warming than you remember. It also leans into the idea of how strange and terrifying it would be for a criminal to run into a guy dressed as a giant bat. While you're here, find out how to watch the Batman movies in order.

7. Memento

Release date: October 2000
Age rating: R (US) / 15 (UK)
Where to stream: Peacock, Roku, Hoopla, Kanopy, Pluto TV, and Plex (US); Netflix, Shudder, and Sky (UK); Prime Video (Aus)

In some ways, Memento is the simplest in the "Christopher Nolan screws around with time" genre, but also the most complex because it's entirely dependent on its premise working – there's not a ton of ongoing character stuff here, partly because it's hard to have ongoing character development when the movie is running in reverse. 

It follows amnesiac Guy Pearce, who – as a result of a head injury – can't make new memories. As he tries to hunt down the man responsible, the film runs backwards, meaning each scene takes place before the scene you just watched, usually tying straight into the previous scene. Uh, we mean the next scene. We think? 

It's a twist movie that's full of mini-twists, where it usually turns out the premise of the scene you just watched is undermined by the discoveries of what's in the scene before. It's possibly the ultimate in unreliable narrator movies, since you quickly come to realize you can't be sure a single thing is how it appears, because when viewing it, you have no certainty over what happened in the movie's past… because you haven't experienced it yet.

6. Oppenheimer

Release date: July 2023
Age rating: R (US) / 15 (UK)
Where to stream: Peacock (US); available to rent and/or buy on Apple TV, Amazon, Microsoft, YouTube, and Rakuten TV (UK and Australia)

Nolan was never going to make a straightforward biopic. And as expected, Oppenheimer takes a defiantly non-linear approach to life and times of the eponymous director of the Manhattan Project, responsible for developing the first atomic weapons in the 1940s.

As two narratives unfold in tandem – one leading up to nuclear bombs being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the other in their aftermath – Nolan gets to the heart of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a physicist who became haunted by the legacy of his creation, and was subsequently hounded from public life. But for all the pitch-perfect performances (especially from Nolan regular Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer), Nolan's direction is the star, most notably in the powerful, near-silent recreation of the first atom bomb test in New Mexico.

5. The Prestige

Release date: October 2006
Age rating: PG-13 (US) / 12 (UK)
Where to stream: Paramount Plus (US); available to rent and/or buy on Apple TV, Amazon, Microsoft, Sky Store YouTube, and Rakuten TV (UK); Netflix and Binge (Australia)

For many, The Prestige is the connoisseur's choice among the best Christopher Nolan movies. While nominally the story of two rival magicians, this adaptation of Christopher Priest's novel is really about the lengths people will go to in their obsession – either for perfection, or to be seen as the best. Or both. 

It's got a big "the movie is about filmmaking" vibe, especially since Nolan takes such joy in quietly showing you how the movie will play out at the start, with a voiceover saying, "This is what's going on, but you don't really want to see it because you want to enjoy the ride", and then… well, that's how viewers experience this movie.

4. The Dark Knight

Release date: July 2008
Age rating: PG-13 (US) / 12 (UK)
Where to stream: Max (US); Sky and NOW TV (UK); Binge, Foxtel Now, and Stan (Australia)

Lots of people would say The Dark Knight is their best Christopher Nolan movie and they certainly have a case. A sprawling crime epic that happens to have Batman and a few Gotham City villains in it, it's as thrilling as it is ambitious.

It covers a period where Batman has established himself, and is starting to close down mob bosses successfully – so they turn to the Joker, who doesn't want anything other than to undo the order that Batman's bringing to the system. That means bringing chaos to any stabilizing influence in Gotham, from the mayor to judges to friendly District Attorney Harvey Dent. 

The late Heath Ledger's Joker is the pillar this movie is built on, and he's as electrifying today as he was in 2008. The Two-Face make-up and VFX are also wonderfully grotesque, while the film's use of IMAX is one of the most influential pieces of filmmaking in decades. However, we weren't lying when we called The Dark Knight 'sprawling', and the third act drags a bit on re-watch – especially when it introduces so many new elements. Still, it's one of the best Batman movies ever made, so we can forgive those slight issues.

3. Dunkirk

Release date: July 2017
Age rating: PG-13 (US) / 12 (UK)
Where to stream: Available to rent and/or buy on Apple TV, Amazon, and YouTube (US and UK); Binge and Foxtel (Australia)

The shortest movie here other than Following, and there's good reason for that: it's so intense that you really can't take any more than 100 minutes of it. It's about the evacuation of Dunkirk during World War 2, and it covers a week in the life of a soldier on the beach, a day in the life of a small boat crew heading to help save the soldiers, and an hour of a fighter pilot tasked to protect the action. And guess what, those different timelines interact in unusual and interesting ways! What a twist!

Really, it allows the movie to provide flashbacks and flashforwards without actually doing that, which could easily be cheesy. While following the fighter pilot, we see something happening with two stricken boats, then later in the movie we see our soldier getting on one of these boats. The movie uses this structure to build tension constantly – we can see someone getting out of a difficult situation, but we know that they're heading out of the frying pan and into an (oil) fire.

It's another movie that allows itself to go fully sentimental at the end, which it's earned – after putting us through the grinder of this nightmarish evacuation, a swelling score and some pride is the only way to start breathing again. We know a lot of people who consider this one of the best war movies ever made, let alone one of the best Christopher Nolan movies.

2. Inception

Release date: July 2010
Age rating: PG-13 (US) / 12 (UK)
Where to stream: Hulu (US); Sky and NOW TV (UK); Binge and Foxtel (Australia)

Inception is the movie that cemented Nolan's reputation as a director who's given big budgets to do whatever he wants. After a movie as successful as The Dark Knight, it's common for a filmmaker to be able to use their cachet to make something that's more their own vision. Most of those films don't also turn out to be mega-hits, but Inception did, and now Nolan's original ideas are all as big news as his Batman movies were.

Inception is a blend of a heist movie and a Bond movie, about a team of thieves who can enter your dreams to unlock the secrets of your subconscious. The problem is that they're led by Leonardo DiCaprio, who's barely in control of his own mind any more. They're hired to plant an idea into the mind of Cillian Murphy, rather than steal something, which means they'll have to go deeper into the dream world than is safe.

It's all a glorious excuse for some incredible scenes, such as a fight in a rotating hallway, or Paris being folded in on itself and manipulated. And with different planes of action taking place in different levels of the subconscious, with time running differently at each level (of course), it all builds towards one enormous finale, where the movie channels everything into the final fantastic moments of the heist – explosions, crashes, defibrillation and planes sync into one flow of catharsis, ending with an all-time great movie score and an infamous final shot.

1. Interstellar

Release date: November 2014
Age rating: PG-13 (US) / 12 (UK)
Where to stream: Prime Video, Paramount Plus, and MGM Plus (US); Sky and NOW TV (UK); Foxtel (Australia)

After its 2014 release, this was one of Nolan's more maligned movies – or at the least, more mixed in reception. Over nearly a decade, opinions at large have changed a lot, and it's gained the high reception it always should have, which is why it tops our list as the best Christopher Nolan movie. It manages to be Nolan's biggest-scale movie while also delivering the most personal and emotional stakes of his filmography. It also boasts some mind-bending time-related shenanigans, as is his tradition.

It stars Matthew McConaughey as a man who has to leave his family behind on a dying Earth while he investigates what happened to the explorers that NASA sent out to chart possible other worlds for humans to live on. It's quietly quite a classical epic of journeying to new places, with discoveries, disasters and betrayals on the way. At the same time, we follow the daughter he left behind on Earth, played by Jessica Chastain, and her work to save humanity in her own way, which will tie directly into her father's work.

It's an incredibly, openly sentimental film, fundamentally about the love a family has for each other, even when a parent has to leave and the relationship becomes full of sorrow and anger. This makes some people uncomfortable, and some find it overblown, but it's absolutely the movie's strength – in a film about trying to save humankind, Nolan always ties the stakes of each set piece back to what it means for the ability of a parent to see his children again. But it balances all that with two of the tensest scenes in any Nolan movie so far. 

Want more Max-based coverage? read our guides on all of the new Max movies, the best Max shows, and the best Max documentaries.

Matt Bolton
Managing Editor, Entertainment

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Entertainment, meaning he's in charge of persuading our team of writers and reviewers to watch the latest TV shows and movies on gorgeous TVs and listen to fantastic speakers and headphones. It's a tough task, as you can imagine. Matt has over a decade of experience in tech publishing, and previously ran the TV & audio coverage for our colleagues at, and before that he edited T3 magazine. During his career, he's also contributed to places as varied as Creative Bloq, PC Gamer, PetsRadar, MacLife, and Edge. TV and movie nerdism is his speciality, and he goes to the cinema three times a week. He's always happy to explain the virtues of Dolby Vision over a drink, but he might need to use props, like he's explaining the offside rule.

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