Poll: Christopher Nolan – Brilliant Director or Overrated?

With the blockbuster success of his ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, ‘Inception’ and (presumably) this week’s new sci-fi epic ‘Interstellar’, Christopher Nolan is one of the most powerful filmmakers in Hollywood. He’s also often regarded as one of the smartest and best. But do his movies really live up to their acclaim, or is Christopher Nolan more hype than substance?

As a reminder, the following are the movies that Christopher Nolan has directed. In most cases, he has also written or co-written the screenplays for his films.

I honestly think that ‘Memento’ is one of the best movies from the past 20 years. In my opinion, it’s a perfectly written and directed masterpiece. I also thought that ‘Insomnia’ was a quality effort, if not quite on the same level. While I’m still not sure how I feel about the plot twist at the end of ‘The Prestige’, I find it to be an interesting movie with a lot of merits.

I enjoyed ‘Batman Begins’ and ‘The Dark Knight’ a lot, though I think that the plot to the latter was far too overcrowded with storylines and characters. It would have been better served to focus only on the Joker and to save Harvey Dent’s story for a sequel.

‘Inception’ is a very frustrating movie. It’s overly-expository nature, with characters explaining, explaining, explaining, explaining and explaining everything that happens, really wore me down, despite the inventive action sequences. I was also annoyed at how little the film’s depiction of dreaming resembles the way dreams actually work.

‘The Dark Knight Rises’ is a disaster – just a dull, sloppy and incoherently plotted movie that’s no fun at all.

My overall impression is that Nolan is a smart guy who started his career brilliantly, but the more movies he makes, the worse they get. Perhaps he really only had one great movie in him, and everything else has been an attempt to live up to that.

I haven’t seen ‘Interstellar’ at the time of this writing, but the very mixed things I’ve heard about it suggest that it won’t change my opinion any.

What Do You Think of Christopher Nolan's Movies?

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35 comments

  1. The only Nolan movies I’ve loved are THE DARK KNIGHT and MEMENTO (haven’t seen INTERSTELLAR yet). The rest of them average from good (BATMAN BEGINS, INSOMNIA) to fair (THE PRESTIGE, INCEPTION, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES). I’ve never seen FOLLOWING.

    But Nolan hasn’t made a truly awful movie yet, and he seems to always make something interesting, regardless of whether it works or not – so I’m a fan of his in the sense that his name on a movie is going to get me into the theater.

    Nolan’s BIGGEST problem right now (a trend since THE DARK KNIGHT) is that his movies REALLY need to be edited down. He needs someone to tell him that, no, that doesn’t need to be in the movie. Sounds like it happened again with the nearly 3-hour INTERSTELLAR.

  2. Mark

    So far I have loved every one of his movies, but I’m not denying that they are wihtout fault. It took me several viewings of Inception to truly appreciate it. Insomnia was an accidental expsosure to Nolan. I admittedly only watched it because of Pacino and Williams, and at the time had no idea who Nolan was. And I’m probably one of the few people that enjoy watching Dark Knight Rises. I don’t know when I’ll see Interstellar, but it’s more because of time than problems with the director.

  3. NJScorpio

    Nolan, like Tarantino, hit the scene with a style that was a much needed jolt to the main stream cinematic landscape.

    But, like Tarantino, Nolan spawned countless copy cat film makers who often only succeed in whittling down the emulated director’s style into a formula that is repeated until the public is burnt out on what made the original director so special to begin with.

    How sick did we all get with Tarantino-style dialog with witty criminals splashed with bright primary colors? How sick are we getting with the Nolan formula of brooding main character, requisite playing with perspective, and the almost grey scale color palette?

  4. frankie

    I’ll take The Prestige over all of his other films. I liked everything he has done except Inception and Momento. I feel the Batman movies are overrated and went downhill after Batman Begins. Can’t imagine Insomnia being called “brilliant”. That is all. Carry on.

  5. J

    Following & Momento are your textbook innovative entries from a young & gifted director.

    I’ve only seen Insomnia & Prestige once each; both viewings were long ago & before I knew they were efforts from the same director (let along director of Momento). Oddly, I remember what I felt afterward more than some of the actual details of each: disappointment. Again, I didn’t have ‘Nolan’-expectations tied to them at the time, but did think they had a lot of potential, only to never quite live up to the build. With some tweaking (to dialogue, storyboard, pacing, ending, etc.?) or maybe even just a second viewing (?), they could be much better.

    The Batman trilogy is where I have a hard time staying objective. I LOVED Batman as a kid. He was the hero without super powers… anyone could be him (12 yr old logic…) given the determination, intellect & money. So it killed me when Clooney & Kilmer versions were made, turning the gritty, conflicted man into a cartoony joke. Then came Begins. Though far from perfect, I will be eternally grateful that Nolan restored an important moral compass to my childhood. Batman was always meant to be dark. I truly believe Begins paved the way for everything that followed in the Marvel universe (more from an acceptance perspective, public & production company. Dark Knight is simply the best superhero movie of all time. Hands down. Period. I don’t know what percentage to give to Nolan since Ledger’s Joker is what cinches it for me — truly an all-time great performance. I wasn’t a fan of the Two Face CGI or of Eckart’s portrayal post transformation but couldn’t disagree with the above review more – the Two Face thread remains essential to the theme of an incredible film. Rises on the other hand… left me feeling more like Insomnia & Prestige, disappointed & wishing I could find the tweaks needed to make it great (though Bane’s voice would be a nice start).

    Inception is where I don’t think Nolan gets enough credit. This is a seriously awesome movie. Does it hold up to repeated viewings? Not really, but the first two are a hell of a ride. After that, the returns do start to dwindle. I do agree that it can over explain a little much & never liked the main character much after the first viewing. Again though, the first time through was GREAT.

    All of this is to say, I have very high hopes for Interstellar & anything else Nolan does – though I do temper my expectations just a tad, periodically, he can fall just short of remarkable.

  6. I voted the third option. I would kind of like to see him do something smaller scale again. I enjoy his movies for the most part, but right now he’s a bit overhyped. I wish I was as excited to see Interstellar as the majority of readers are, but none of the trailers have really done anything to get me excited. When the bluray comes out, I hope I eat my words. There’s a lot of great directors out there with plenty of misfires under their belt. Nolan is no different. Nobody’s perfect. He tends to be a bit pretentious at times and it sucks the entertainment value out of his movies. All that being said, I think he is quite gifted.

    • C.C. 95

      Nolan is one of the last of a breed (along with Ridley Scott) that makes movies movies bigger than life that DEMAND to be seen on a BIG SCREEN. Give him $8 and 3 hours for his effort. If you see a movie on a phone or a tablet you don’t get to say you saw it. You didn’t. Large home vidoe- better, but geez…
      2 or 3 directors do these kind of events. Do yourself a favor and see it before the old school ‘Let’s-put-on-a-show’ movie epics like this are gone for good…

      • Clemery

        Strange… I went and saw Interstellar on “the big screen” and was presented with a 2.35:1 movie on a 1.85:1 landscape, with matte bars above and below the actual movie. The curtains were fully drawn to reveal the entire 2.35:1 cinema screen, so I am not sure why the movie was so small on screen. At first I thought perhaps it was to accommodate some IMAX scenes, but there was never any shift in aspect ratio, so I remain baffled why the film itself took up such little real estate on the actual screen.

        I also take issue with his use of sporadic IMAX sequences. While we no longer have an IMAX theatre in my city, I did enjoy seeing films in the IMAX theatre, and appreciate what IMAX can bring to the table. But it should be left as an IMAX experience… bringing an alternating aspect ratio to home video makes for a frustrating experience and is an ass-move by any egotistical director. It still kills me to see the would-be money-shot of the hospital explosion in The Dark Knight, already ruined in the theatre by an insert of kids getting on a schoolbus, made even more horrendous by shifting aspect ratios during this sequence.

          • Clemery

            And it was… however, it was like watching a 2.35 film on a 16:9 TV, with matte bars at the top and bottom. The cinema screen itself was the full 2.35 (with curtains fully open, with empty space on each side of the projected image) so I am not sure why it took up such little space on the actual screen. I am positive this is a projection error and not a stylistic choice.

        • Drew

          The use of IMAX in ‘Interstellar’ is anything but sporadic. Don’t just assume that Nolan only uses IMAX sporadically, because that was the case with ‘The Dark Knight’. I would wager that roughly 65% of ‘Interstellar’ uses IMAX.

          • William Henley

            I would actually take it futher – the use of 35mm sequences in Interstellar is sporadic. The 35mm sequences are few. Drew is correct, although I would wager that 65% is a very conservative estimate. Pretty much, the only 35mm shots are those that seem to be shot in confined spaces.

            I am actually surprised that, with as much of the film that is shot in Imax, that Nolan chose 2.35:1 as the aspect ratio of choice for mainstream distribution, as this would mean really cropping those Imax shots, and a few seem like they wouldn’t do well being cropped

          • Clemery

            65% IMAX : 35% Regular or 75% Regular : 25% IMAX still results in 100% annoyance with shifting ratios on home video.

          • William Henley

            This is true, although so little of Interstellar is in 2:35:1, I (truthfully, I would say 5-10% if I had to guess, and they are few and far between), I doubt you would notice.

            What I think would be the ideal solution for this movie on home video is to just open up the matts on the stuff shot in 35mm and have a consistant 1.85:1 aspect ratio. throughout the entire movie. I just don’t think it is possible for them to release a home video release that everyone is going to be happy with

  7. Onslaught

    I think he’s simultaneously one of the most overrated and underrated directors in Hollywood. People often discredit his work because of his recent films, trivializing him to the point of being a ‘terrible’ director while others will claim he makes some of the most transcendent films in Hollywood. In which, he’s neither, though I’ll admit he’s often more credited as the latter right now than the former. But he’s still a very talented director. He also has gaping issues as a writer. Brilliant ideas that are hamstrung by Nolan’s desire to make grand films, packing as many ideas as possible into one film and also his need to balance between the need for his film to be taken seriously among cinephiles while making his film accessible for general audiences.

    I think Interstellar will show a lot of his strengths while displaying many of his worst traits. He just happens to be in a position where he’s making the most unique blockbusters out there by virtue of the fact that he’s the only one able to make original blockbusters with no questions asked outside of Spielberg and Cameron. And those two aren’t as active as Nolan. I admire the risks that he takes, but at the same time, I wish he would have the self realization to find out where he excels and where he does not. A smaller film, a character piece from time to time might be cleansing for him as well, but he also has stated recently that he has to take advantage of his free reign while he still can.

    I haven’t seen Interstellar yet. But I like Nolan. He’s one of my favorite directors out there partially because of the unique position that he’s in and he comes off as an intelligent person who often has the right intention. It’s just bothersome that some people make him out to be a Cinematic legend based off of that while others label him as pretentious. He’s just a generally good director who like many other directors in Hollywood has his own issues.

  8. Pretty much, I like everything except for TDK and tdkr, and my issue with those are with story – they are visually stunning and have great characters. Pretty much, as long as he is doing his own stuff and not franchise work, I will blindly go see his movies

  9. Brett

    I voted for the first option. While I wouldn’t call any of his movies classics in the sense that I would the best Spielbergs or Scorseses or Coppolas or De Palmas or even Scotts–the usual suspects–his movies are consistently unique, innovative and brimming with the kind of showmanship that the movies sorely need these days, as C.C. 95 points out.

    Josh, I completely agree with you on Memento but I hold DKR to be by far the best of the trilogy. It absolutely blew my socks off and has proven to have great replay value.

  10. VIOZ

    I believe Nolan’s innovativeness starts and ends with “gimmick”, because innovatively they don’t deliver: the Batman films are incredibly juvenile (I don’t know if the target audience was kids), but they’re sooooo dark; a movie about dreams, where we all know anything can happen, is so unimaginative and boring, but dude, is a dream within a dream within a dream… MIND-BLOW! Audiences want new and Nolan is the closest to that right now.

  11. Bill

    Saw Interstellar last night. I liked it. It has some good ideas and some provocative moments. However as I watched it I couldn’t help wondering if Nolan’s fans may feel let down. It can’t be the type of movie they were expecting from him.

  12. Hanshotfirst1138

    I have mixed feelings about Nolan, but I do like the fact that he proves as polarizing as he does, to be honest. I think that in an age where most blockbusters basically exist to mainline as much dopamine into the audience’s dying brains as possible, anyone who provokes heated debate after a film is over is defiantly a good thing. That’s what film should do, and I like and appreciate the fact that Nolan brings that kind of provocation to movies which are so expensive. I also have a MAJOR soft spot for his extensive batting for 35mm and 70mm in their death throes, so I respect him for that.

    That said, what one thinks of Nolan’s films themselves is another question entirely. While I like how provocative he can be, some critics have ridiculously fallen all over about how he makes “$200 art films,” as of the guy is Bergman or something. Complexity does not equal intelligence, and if ever there was someone who tells rather than shows, he would be it. People do sometimes overrate what they find unexpected, and I’ll be intrigued to see how well Nolan’s films hold up in the coming years and whether he’s esteemed as highly when the dust settles. But like I said, between his flag-waving for celluloid and the fact that he provokes such discussion and heated opinion, I think they in the current climate, the guy is good for cinema. Interesting failures and experiments can be much more interesting than dull successes.

  13. Kyle

    I would have to say hes one of my favourite directors as I have yet to watch one of his movies and not enjoyed it.

    I loved Inception, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (With Inception and TDK being two of my favourite movies in the last few years). I enjoyed The Dark Knight Rises, The Prestige and Insomnia. I have yet to see Memento, but just picked it up not too long ago. I also have not seen Following or Interstellar…though I am keeping my eyes open for Following on the cheap and plan on going to see Interstellar tomorrow in theatre.

  14. Totally overrated!! The Batman Trilogy movies were long and boring. Being they were the only comic book based movies at the theaters, it somehow got the benefit of being considered great movies.

  15. Coco

    ‘Following‘ – Not Seen
    ‘Memento‘ – Poor story that doesn’t hold together, regarded as good because most people confuse gimmick with good
    ‘Insomnia‘ (2002) – Might have been OK, but didn’t work for me at the time would need to review to be honest about it.
    ‘Batman Begins‘ – Wasn’t a Batman film, might have been OK if they had given the hero a different name.
    That wasn’t Gotham (OK that’s a personal opinion)
    Batman would NEVER use a voice changer!!! It’s OK for guys like Oliver who doesn’t have a disguise because of his beard but Batman isn’t anything like that.
    Batman would never drive that monstrosity, firstly it would not work well in a city (which is where Batman works), secondly it just doesn’t fit Batman in any respect, but most of all he would never drive anything that would give identity away faster than posting adverts in every paper about who he is.
    Yes I hated them all.
    ‘The Prestige‘- Started off OK, but the ending just ruined the whole film for me
    ‘The Dark Knight‘ – Heath Ledger (who I did like in other movies) sucked as the joker, but everyone thinks that because he died we have to say he was great. Maybe I’m too cynical but that’s how it feels. Better than the first still not Batman
    ‘Inception‘ – Confuse your average film goer and he will say it’s a great movie so people think he’s smart, some good scenes in a film with no story or point.
    ‘The Dark Knight Rises‘ – Once again a total misrepresentation of one of Batman’s most dangerous enemies. Bane should be banned from films, because directors like Nolan just can’t understand who/what he is.
    ‘Interstellar‘ – Haven’t seen

    So yes IMO he’s overrated, but I don’t get where people can say he made any decent movies.

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