Counting Down to Inception! Ranking Christopher Nolan’s Top 5 Movies

Woot woot! Three more days until my most-anticipated flick Inception finally arrives! I haven’t talked to any movie blogger so far who aren’t excited about this movie, and most of my friends are psyched about this as well. I for one am trying hard to keep my enthusiasm in check, by playing this ‘game’ coined by MadHatter from The Dark of the Matinee, of ‘Avoidception.’ Basically I refuse to read anything about the plot or watching any clips from the movie, I even avoid watching the latest trailer, which is usually something I do over and over again when it comes to movies I’m looking forward to, as to ensure a ‘fresh’ movie-going experience when I finally sit down at the theater and watch it unfold. For once I’m actually looking forward to a movie more for its director than of its stars!

I also avoid reading the reviews (which currently still stands at 96% Fresh at RottenTomatoes with 27 reviews by the time this post is published), though I did peek at this spoiler-free compilation of them @ Cinematical. WOW, with such lavish praises bestowed upon this enigmatic sci-fi thriller, no wonder this LA Times blog writer even pondered if this flick would suffer backlash from too-great expectations. I sure hope this one deserves all the enthusiastic buzz and be the Summer flick that lives up to the hype.

Well, in honor of the movie’s release, I thought I’d list my Top Five Favorite Nolan films. Granted the 40-year-old British auteur only has less than 10 feature films under his belt, but surely he’s made an indelible mark in the history of cinema.

  1. Batman Begins (2005)
    The ultimate origins story and my favorite Batman film ever! Nolan’s got a reputation for cajoling exceptional performances out of his actors, but when you already have a thespian like Christian Bale as the lead, it’s pretty much a given. Surrounded by a slew of top notch actors such as Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Gary Oldman, Tom Wilkinson and Cillian Murphy, etc., the movie also benefits from a fantastic script that rewards you with each repeated viewing. I’d even overlook the miscasting of Katie Holmes on this one, it’s THAT good!
  2. The Dark Knight (2008)
    It’s rare that a sequel lives up to the original, especially when one already sets the bar so high, but Nolan did just that! It’s nothing short of casting genius to have Heath Ledger play the Joker, though a lot of people were skeptical at first, the late Aussie actor’s iconic performance forever defined that character that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing that role (neither did Nolan as he recently said he won’t bring back the Joker character for Batman 3). The complex story and the level of character development in this film makes me forget this is a superhero film! Gone are the circus-y and frivolous-ness of the previous Batman flicks, as both Nolan’s versions become the quintessential thinking person’s superhero movie. This is definitely a welcome trend for this genre!
  3. Insomnia (2002)
    Did you ever notice Nolan’s really skimpy when it comes to his movie titles? His one-word-titled movie starting with an ‘i’ is a small film with a budget of less than $50 million. Under less capable hands, the story of  two Los Angeles homicide detectives set to investigate a methodical teenage murder in Alaska might’ve end up to be a run-of-the mill thriller. But the smart, twist-ridden script and excellent performances from the cast made this into something memorable and thrilling to watch. Al Pacino as the increasingly unhinged LA detective and Hilary Swank as the young cop who adore him work well together, but it’s Robin Williams’ as the creepy nutcase who’s the scene-stealer. I think comedians actually make for the eeriest villains. Despite the title, Nolan certainly kept the audience wide awake with this one.
  4. The Prestige (2006)

    Bale & Jackman as friends-turned-arch rivals

    Out of the five Nolan’s movies, this is my least favorite. Now, don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean I dislike it, an OK movie from him is still better than average. The story is a riveting one: a tale of two magicians who become friends as well as rival, which intensified when one of them the ultimate magic trick. It’s got the recipe for a movie I’d love, especially given the cast that include Christian Bale (one of my faves) and the eye candy that is Hugh Jackman, as well as Nolan’s regular, Sir Michael Caine. Fans of David Bowie would also got a kick out of seeing him in a small but important role.

    I wasn’t blown away by it initially but upon re-watch, I had a whole new appreciation for it and felt that I could connect to the characters more, especially with Borden (Bale). The whole twist and turns are utterly perplexing (in a good way) and that ending is just WOW! Set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century London, Nolan did a fine job in setting up a beautifully-shot period piece with gorgeous cinematography, costumes and wonderfully-rich atmosphere.

  5. Memento (2000)
    One of the most original story and most innovative narrative structure, it’s one that rewards with multiple viewings. Nominated for Best Editing and Best Original Screenplay, this is the first time mainstream audiences are introduced to Nolan’s genius work. A tale of a
    man who, suffering from short-term memory loss, uses notes and tattoos to hunt for the man he thinks killed his wife. Guy Pearce is astounding as Leonard, it’s a shame he was snubbed of any major acting nods! As #28 in IMDb’s Top 250 Movies(along with three other Nolan’s movies), this movie is etched in many people’s memories for years to come.

P.S. I will be revising this list now that I have seen Inception and watch The Dark Knight Rises. Stay tuned.

Ok, now your turn, everyone. How would you rank YOUR top five Nolan films?

42 thoughts on “Counting Down to Inception! Ranking Christopher Nolan’s Top 5 Movies

  1. I would say:

    The Dark Knight
    Batman Begins
    The Prestige

    All are 3.5/4 or better, for me. Never saw Following…

    BTW: I’m a new LAMB too, and I’ve never visited the site, but I dig it…great job!

    1. Hello fellow LAMB newbie, thanks for your comment!

      Yes, I’d rate his movies about the same… probably 4+ for Batman Begins 🙂

  2. Pretty much the exact opposite of yours. 🙂 No, that’s not true.
    1. Memento
    2. The Prestige
    3. Batman Begins
    4. Insomnia
    5. I’m going to assume that Inception will be about a thousand times the movie that TDK was and leave the #5 spot open. It might be better than Insomnia, too.

    1. Yeah, Inception will likely change this list. But it’ll probably knock The Prestige off the list. I’m just curious, what is it you dislike about TDK??

        1. You should, Sam. I think the critically-acclaimed movies tend to be a polarizing one. I couldn’t fathom what was so special about The Hurt Locker, either, but at least we didn’t waste our money seeing it at the theater.

          1. Yep. I’ve now seen Inception, and given some more thought to this list, so here’s the re-arrange.

            1. Inception. Dude. It was so good.
            2. The Prestige (more enjoyable as a whole, more accessible than…)
            3. Memento (Still amazing, though.)
            4. Batman Begins (Which I liked very much.)
            5. Insomnia. (Meh, but so much better than TDK)

            I think that I am more excited now, having seen Inception, than I was before I’d seen it. Weird.

  3. Very interesting topic with most people generally acknowledging that Christopher Nolan hasn’t made a bad movie yet. In fact, each and everyone of his films so far has been a modern masterpiece.

    Even more interestingly I’d put The Prestige at the top. I think it takes some of the genius from Memento (the narrative construction / plot twists) and puts into a brilliant adventure-mystery concept. Everything about it is enjoyable.

    Of the Batman films – I can’t split them. They’re both fantastic. Memento too.

    My top 5 would be:

    1. The Prestige
    2/3. Batman Begins / The Dark Knight
    4. Memento
    5. Insomnia

    1. ‘modern masterpiece’… some people might say it’s a hyperbole but I think you could say that about Nolan. I’m going to give The Prestige another go (it’s already on my Netflix queue), we’ll see if second viewing might change how I feel about it.

      Quality-wise, TDK is comparable to BB, but I enjoyed the first one a whole lot better, that’s why it’s the one I’m taking to the desert island 🙂

  4. Marc

    Maybe I have to give it another go, but Insomnia bored me to tears. I thought the film Insomnia would have been the perfect sleep aid for Pacino in the movie:P
    Pacino and Williams made this during their questionable role period (Williams: One Hour Photo, this, The Final Cut and Pacino: Simone, Gigli) and it looks like Nolan was the one to make the most of himself from this.

    But have you seen Nolan’s “Following”? It’s an impressive black and white twist film Nolan did before Memento shot him to fame.

    I like your listing, I really do and agree with putting Memento further down, especially in light of the fantastic Batman films. Prestige had an incredible ending but as is Nolan’s specialty, the beauty of the film is in the hidden twists and layered elements, not the big “ah-ha” ending.

    1. He..he.. right on about Pacino. Funny, that’s kinda how I felt about The Prestige, but yeah, I’m willing to give it another chance. I was just talking about Simone the other day, yeah that was like Willis’ Surrogates, terrible! Didn’t know Pacino was in Gigli??! My goodness, how the mighty have fallen…

      No I haven’t seen Following, but guess what I just added to the top of my Netflix list? 🙂 I heard great things about it and the subject matter is definitely a curious one.

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  6. You should check out Following, Nolan’s first movie (I believe) and already featuring his trademark twisted narrative.

    My top Nolan movies:
    1) Batman Begins
    2) The Prestige
    3) Memento
    4) The Dark Knight
    5) Following

    1. Yep, yep, see my response to Marc below. It’s on the top of my Netflix queue 🙂 It’ll be cool to see his early work and see a maestro in the making.

      I knew you’d agree with me putting BB #1, Castor. High five!

    1. This is great to see how varied people’s opinion is on his flicks, but we all have one thing in common, we love Nolan’s work!

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  8. Darren

    Yep, I think Insomnia would be at the bottom of my five (I just didn’t love it – best Pacino performance in years, and great story – but it was great, not mind-blowingly excellent – it’s like Nolan’s equivalent of Pixar’s Cars). The Prestige would probably be at my top, but I think I dug it a lot more than most.

    1. Looks like I’m in the minority about The Prestige, but like I said, I’m willing to give it another go and see if it’ll change my mind. Insomnia wasn’t mind-blowingly good, but it satisfied me more than The Prestige did.

  9. Mike B.

    The guy makes GREAT films:

    Inception (I’m sure it’s gonna ROCK)
    The Dark Knight
    Batman Begins (loved it)
    The Prestige

    Great post!

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  11. Insomnia is the only one I haven’t seen. I didn’t enjoy his Batman movies like the rest of the world. So the movie that would come up tops for me is The Prestige. Drama, mystery, thriller, great costumes and it gives us a little glimpse of the secret world of magicians…whats not to like.

    1. Yeah, that’s what I thought going into it… great cast, intriguing story, etc… alas, the experience kinda let me down a bit. I actually like The Illusionist better as far as magic-themed movies go.

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  13. Gahhhh!!!! I’m so glad that YOU agree with me that Batman Begins is better than The Dark Knight!!! It is such a great origins story and the themes of duality, fear and presentation are brilliant in the script.

    Also, I pretty much agree with the rest of your order, except Insomnia, I haven’t see that one yet. Thanks the for Inception count down.

    1. Yes, I LOVE BB. In fact, I just re-watched parts of it this weekend, it never gets old. I love TDK too but it’s not as ‘enjoyable’ to watch as the first one. You should check out Insomnia Luke, curious to see what you think of that.

  14. 1. The Prestige – I’ve seen it five or six times, and I still love it. It’s in my Top 10 movies. 10/10

    2. The Dark Knight – Great movie, and worth rewatching again and again. 8/10

    3 Batman Begins – 8/10

    4. Insomnia – 8/10

    5. Memento – 7/10

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  16. I might agree with you there Ruth, though having now seen Inception, I might put it at the top, though I think I’ll have to watch it again at least once before I decide. Batman Begins is great though.

    1. Now that I’ve seen Inception, it’s definitely going to be on my Top Five. Though I’m about to re-watch The Prestige again so that might switch things around also 🙂

  17. Just saw Memento…brilliant movie!! Nolan had stolen my heart completely. I need to see his other movies soon. I’m planning to post my review on memento this weekend.

    I rarely like Director, the only director I love was Stephen Spielberg…Now, Nolan has filled in the space that has been empty since Spielberg gone hiatus.

  18. vivek n hbk

    the dark knight is the best movie in the world .memento,batman begins or any other nolan film is nowhere near perfect as this one 10 out of 10

  19. fakescorpion

    1. Batman Begins (9/10)
    2. The Prestige (8/10)
    3. Inception (10/10)
    4. The Dark Knight (10/10)
    5. Memento (9/10)

    I think The Dark Knight and Inception are better movies but I like Begins and The Prestige more.

    1. Woo hoo! Glad to see another BB fan and putting it ahead of TDK. Yes I have the same reasoning as you, TDK is perhaps a more complex and brilliantly-executed, but BB is the more enjoyable for me as it’s more about the hero, not the nemesis. Thanks for your comment.

  20. Great list! I haven’t seen Insomnia, and I can’t remember of either Memento or Prestige, I will have to check them out soon again! I do love Dark Knight and Inception, both amazing films!

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