On Christopher Nolan’s birthday, how many of his 15 favourite films have you seen?
Over the course of a two-decade career, Christopher Nolan has established himself as one of the most acclaimed and bankable filmmakers in the world. Every film he makes is fiercely anticipated, and destined for almost certain critical and commercial success.
In his own way, through his work, Nolan pays homage to the films that shaped his style - from science fiction epics to thoughtful dramas. On his 49th birthday, let’s take a look at 15 films Nolan has urged his fans to watch, on various occasions, in his own words.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
The impact of Stanley Kubrick’s classic film can be felt in everything from Inception to Interstellar. “I just felt this extraordinary experience of being taken to another world,” Nolan told Entertainment Weekly. “You didn’t doubt this world for an instant. It had a larger than life quality.”
The Battle of Algiers (1965)
Gillo Pontecorvo’s historical drama had a huge impact on Nolan, particularly in Dunkirk. He called it “a timeless and affecting verité narrative, which forces empathy with its characters in the least theatrical manner imaginable. We care about the people in the film simply because we feel immersed in their reality and the odds they face.”
Nolan singled out Erich von Stroheim’s 1924 silent film Greed as a big influence on Dunkirk, and called it a ‘silent epic’.
The Hit (1984)
Nolan raved about the film to BFI, “Few films have gambled as much on a simple portrayal of the dynamics between desperate men.”
12 Angry Men (1957)
While not an obvious choice, considering the scope of Nolan’s films, the classic drama was handpicked by Nolan for his Criterion top 10. He said few films have been able to capture the conflict between men better.
For All Mankind (1989)
Nolan told Criterion that the space documentary is “an incredible document of man’s greatest endeavour.”
Foreign Correspondent (1940)
A lifelong fan of Alfred Hitchcock, Nolan told BFI, “No examination of cinematic suspense and visual storytelling would be complete without Hitchcock, and his technical virtuosity in Foreign Correspondent’s portrayal of the downing of a plane at sea provided inspiration for much of what we attempted in Dunkirk.”
Director Ridley Scott’s film left a strong imprint on Nolan. He told Media Company, “The director I have always been a huge fan of… Ridley Scott and certainly when I was a kid. Alien, Blade Runner just blew me away because they created these extraordinary worlds that were just completely immersive.”
All Quiet on the Western Front (1930)
All Quiet on the Western Front said it first and best: war dehumanises,” Nolan told the BFI. “Revisiting that masterpiece, it is hard to disagree that the intensity and horror have never been bettered. For me, the film demonstrates the power of resisting the convention of finding meaning and logic in individual fate.”
Bad Timing (1980)
“Nic Roeg’s films are known for their structural innovation,” Nolan told Criterion, “but it’s great to be able to see them in a form that also shows off their photographic excellence.”
Blade Runner (1982)
The second Ridley Scott film on the list, Nolan took massive visual cues from the sci-fi classic in conceptualising his own vision.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Nolan told IndieWire, With films like Close Encounters and the way that addressed the idea of this moment when humans would meet aliens from a family perspective and a very relatable human perspective. I liked the idea of trying to give today’s audiences some sense of that form of storyline.”
“An incredible document of how man’s greatest endeavours have unsettling consequences,” Nolan told Criterion about Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 experimental documentary. “Art, not propaganda, emotional, not didactic; it doesn’t tell you what to think — it tells you what to think about.”
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Nolan has often referenced David Lean’s epic when he’s talking about his preference for film over digital, as well as the inspiration behind his visual aesthetic.
First Man (2018)
The most recent film on the list, Nolan said about Damien Chazelle’s film, according to IndieWire, “It’s a masterfully staged re-creation of the space program with utterly compelling physical detail and layers of cinematic immersion that command credence and ensure that the radical and intensively subjective nature of Chazelle’s point-of-view comes as a gradually unveiled shock.”