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While it’s still unclear when Americans will be able to watch Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” in theaters — and the director has put the kibosh on any sort of digital release — there are still plenty of ways to have the lush, mind-trippy experience of a Christopher Nolan film in your own home.
Before Nolan had the $200 million budget of “Tenet” — whatever it’s actually about (apparently not time travel) — he was an indie filmmaker stealing shots on the streets of London for his low-budget 16 mm debut, “Following.” Since then, though, he’s built massive set pieces, revived a beloved superhero franchise, and pioneered a new usage of IMAX technology for a realistic war movie.
Both Warner Bros. and the director himself have made it clear that a digital release is not an option for the mysterious “Tenet,” which, after two different postponements, is allegedly set to open in more than 70 countries worldwide on Aug. 26 (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Spain, and the United Kingdom among them) and in “select” U.S. cities over Labor Day weekend. But there’s one place you can watch his other work: the comfort of your own home.
Sure, you might have to wait longer to find out what, exactly, this line of dialogue means: “inversion is this idea of material that has had its entropy inverted, so it’s running backwards through time, relative to us.” Whatever you say, Christopher Nolan, but we can all have our minds thoroughly blown right now anyway. Plus, you’ll be well-versed in all things Nolan when the time for “Tenet” finally arrives. Until then, here’s where to watch the director’s first 10 films.
Nolan’s feature debut was this black-and-white neo-noir indie about a struggling writer who follows strangers through the streets of London in search of inspiration when a mysterious stranger leads him down a dark path.
In this 2014 talk, Nolan discussed the great lengths to which he and his cast and crew went in order to get the movie done — since everyone worked day jobs, “Following” was filmed as cheaply as possible in chunks on Saturdays over the course of a year. The black and white wasn’t necessarily an artistic choice, it was actually a practical one to eliminate different variables that could come up during filming.
Based on a short story by Nolan’s “Westworld” creator brother, Jonah, the director’s breakout film followed a man with amnesia and no short-term memory who is on a quest to find the people responsible for killing his wife. The time-twisting film earned both Nolan brothers an Oscar screenplay nomination, four Independent Spirit Awards (for the film, its screenplay, its direction, and costar Carrie-Anne Moss), and a host of other accolades.
Although Pearce got a heads up about the chronological liberties Nolan takes in the film, with his character’s investigation split across two timelines (chronological order in black and white, and reverse chronological in color), the script still didn’t make sense the first time he read it.
“On some level it felt like gobbledegook as I was reading it, because you got the sense that things were all over the place,” Pearce said in a 2020 interview with GQ, “what I really got and what was really clear was the emotional journey of the character. As the actor that’s the only thing I need to latch onto in order to do my job. The other stuff began to make sense the more as I worked with Chris Nolan and rehearsed with him.”
Robin Williams memorably starred in Nolan’s first studio film, a remake of the 1997 Norwegian thriller of the same name, in which two Los Angeles homicide detectives (played by Al Pacino and Martin Donovan) investigate the murder of a 17-year-old in the remote town of Nightmute, Alaska where they encounter a local detective (Hilary Swank) and a local crime writer (Robin Williams).
The dark character drama was a change of pace for the director, but one that proved his skill in delivering traditional thriller set pieces with his unique artistic vision. (Revisit the film’s brilliance here, in a 2020 appreciation of the underrated work.)
“Batman Begins” (2005)
Seven years after the Batman franchise fizzled out with the release of “Batman & Robin,” Nolan rebooted the caped crusader with Christian Bale as a grittier, darker take on the iconic DC Comics character. Inspired by the 1978 “Superman” and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” “Batman Begins” tells the origin story of Bruce Wayne as he becomes a vigilante hero and fights famous Batman villains Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul.
“I wanted to try to do it in a more realistic fashion than anyone had ever tried to a superhero film before,” Nolan told The Guardian ahead of the film’s release. “I talked a lot about films I liked, particularly the 1978 ‘Superman,’ which is the closest thing to what I proposed. Obviously, some of it is dated, but it’s an epic film, with a certain realistic texture. I wanted to make the Batman epic you expected to have been made in 1979.”
“The Prestige” (2006)
The brothers Nolan teamed up again to write this psychological thriller, based on the novel of the same name about two rival magicians in 19th century London. Calling on an all-star cast of Nolan’s Batman, Bale, along with Hugh Jackman, David Bowie, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Caine, and more, the film earned two Oscar nominations despite its reputation as one of the more underrated films in Nolan’s catalog.
“The Dark Knight” (2008)
This second installment of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy helped change the industry’s perception of the superhero genre, earning the first-ever above-the-line Oscar nomination for a comic book movie when Heath Ledger posthumously won a Best Supporting Oscar statue for his portrayal of legendary Batman villain The Joker. It was also the first time a feature film was shot using IMAX cameras (for select scenes), a format in which Nolan clearly believes. It’s also got a legion of celebrity fans, including Timothee Chalamet, Guillermo del Toro, Wes Anderson, and more.
Even star Leonardo DiCaprio isn’t quite sure what happened in Nolan’s film about a subconscious-secret-stealing thief who enters people’s dreams. “What happened? I have no idea,” DiCaprio joked during his press tour for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” “You’re just focused on your character, man. I do get involved [with the story], but when it came to Christopher Nolan and his mind and how [‘Inception’] was all pieced together, everyone was trying to constantly put that puzzle together.”
He’s not alone. Wrote Todd McCarthy in his 2010 IndieWire review of the film, “It’s possible that, to even come close to comprehending everything that goes on in the bracingly dense ‘Inception,’ one would need to imitate Leonard Shelby, the protagonist of Christopher Nolan’s second feature, ‘Memento,’ and write everything down.” (Insert “BRAMMM” here.)
“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012)
After dispensing with the Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul, and the Joker, it was time for Batman to face off against another comic book baddie — Bane, the face-obscuring terrorist memorably played by Tom Hardy. The conclusion to Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was “a spectacular noir epic that’s equal parts murky, bloated, flashy and triumphantly cinematic,” wrote IndieWire’s Eric Kohn in his review of the film, which he also called “unquestionably the strongest entry in the series.”
Nolan’s ambitious sci-fi epic featured Matthew McConaughey, Jessica Chastain, and Anne Hathaway as space-traveling astronauts on the hunt for a new home for humanity. It features exhaustingly researched science surrounding black holes and other phenomena, and even Nolan knows it requires a lot of time to parse.
“There are all kinds of complexities in ‘Interstellar’ that the audience is certainly not intended to analyze or parse on one viewing. But a lot of that relates to the science of it, and why things are happening,” he told Allocine about the reaction to the film.
The famous story of World War II’s Dunkirk evacuation, in which Allied troops were rescued in a massive, sure-to-fail operation after being trapped by German soldiers in Northern France, gets the Nolan treatment in a low-on-dialogue, high-on-action film that follows the soldiers escaping by land, sea, and air. And Nolan almost didn’t even want to use a script for it.
“I said, ‘I don’t want a script. Because I just want to show it,’ it’s almost like I want to just stage it. And film it,” he said in an interview included with “Dunkirk’s” published 76-page screenplay. “I got to a point where I understood the scope and movement and the history of what I wanted the film to address, because it’s very simple geography.”