Directors Who Dominate: Christopher Nolan
It doesn’t get more dominating than having directed the highest-ranked film on Flickchart’s list of The Best Movies of All Time. But the man behind The Dark Knight is not only responsible for the highest-grossing movie of 2008 (and a member of that elite billion-dollar club). Every one of the seven feature films he has directed has been a hit with critics, and several have been big hits at the box office. They’re also hits on Flickchart. In this entry of Directors Who Dominate, we shine the spotlight on the dark figure of Christopher Nolan.
In addition to The Dark Knight at #1, three of Nolan’s other six feature films figure in Flickchart’s Top 100. Six of his seven films have a win percentage of over 50%; more than half the time a Christopher Nolan film comes up, it beats the film it’s pitted against. Here’s a breakdown of Nolan’s global rankings on Flickchart:
- The Dark Knight: #1 – 11,196 Top 20 lists
- Batman Begins: #13 – 6074 Top 20 lists
- Memento: #31 – 5031 Top 20 lists
- The Prestige: #72 – 3740 Top 20 lists
- Insomnia: #495 – 374 Top 20 lists
- Inception: #1386 – 371 Top 20 lists
- Following: #3335 – 5 Top 20 lists
The conspicuous entry on this list is one of the breakout hits from this year, Inception. New films in Flickchart’s database take longer to figure into the global rankings. (For example, the current highest-ranked film for 2009, is J.J. Abrams‘ Star Trek; but it has been in the database longer and been ranked three times more than Best Picture Oscar nominee Inglourious Basterds, and so ranks higher even though Basterds has a higher win percentage.) Let’s look at the facts, though: After more than 30,000 rankings, Inception has climbed into the Top 1500 on Flickchart’s list of well over 17,000 films. 371 users have it in their Top 20, and it has a win percentage of a whopping 90.8%. Contrast that with The Dark Knight‘s win percentage of 78.64%, and I have to wonder if Flickchart won’t have a new highest-ranked film soon. Here’s how Inception stacks up against other top-ranked films from 2010:
- Inception: 371 Top 20 lists – Wins 90.80% of the time
- Shutter Island: 101 Top 20 lists – Wins 67.84% of the time
- Kick-Ass: 209 Top 20 lists – Wins 66.88% of the time
- Toy Story 3: 128 Top 20 lists – Wins 80.42% of the time
- Iron Man 2: 81 Top 20 lists – Wins 60.66% of the time
Many people cry foul that The Dark Knight is #1 over a beloved film like Star Wars. The facts? 11,196 users have The Dark Knight in their personal Top 20. That’s over 1000 more than Star Wars. The Dark Knight‘s win percentage is 79% compared to Star Wars‘ 77%. Whether you agree with TDK being #1 or not, you have to admit that most people consider it to be at least “pretty good”, and that’s enough of a popular opinion to get it the top spot.
Even Nolan’s little-seen debut film, Following, has a 60% win rate, and 5 users have it in their Top 20. As a fan of Nolan’s work, I have little excuse for not seeing this movie yet.
I am a self-avowed Nolan nut. My lowest-ranked Nolan film is Insomnia, and it still cracks my Top 250. Here’s a breakdown of Nolan’s films on my personal Flickchart:
Yes, I have four Christopher Nolan films in my Top 10.
What do I, and other Flickchart users, love about Nolan’s movies? His films are gritty, dark, with a sharp eye for detail, and Nolan is a master of the non-linear narrative. The Prestige is the best example: It was a film that I liked the first time through…but absolutely loved the second time, when I realized just how well-made it really was. Through the careful structure of Nolan’s narrative and the masterfully subtle performance he extracts from Christian Bale, Nolan pulls off a great cinematic magic trick, a twist ending that you probably didn’t see coming. And yet, upon second viewing, you realize you should have.
Meanwhile, there’s Nolan’s breakout film, Memento, nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar, in which we follow a man with short-term memory loss through two separate narratives–one running forward, the other backward–that meet in the middle at the end of the film, as he searches for his wife’s killer. In my first viewings of both Memento and The Prestige, I was fully engaged and never lost in the complexities of the plot. But on subsequent viewings, I was able to see many aspects of the story that had escaped me the first time through. Too many directors have too much trouble with a simple, straightforward narrative, never mind one that has as many ins and outs as one of Nolan’s self-written Gordian-knotlike scripts. I look forward to peeling back the layers of Inception–probably Nolan’s most complex film to date–in the same way I did his previous films.
On the other hand, The Dark Knight is probably Nolan’s most straightforward narrative. (Even its predecessor, Batman Begins, featured copious flashbacks.) But while much of the film’s success can be attributed to Heath Ledger‘s posthumous Oscar-winning and utterly unforgettable performance as the Joker, there is no discounting Nolan’s contribution to the film. It’s a dark tale of corruption that brought a gritty realism rarely seen in comic book movies. With his two Batman films, Nolan breathed new life into the character, and struck box office gold, even as the critics heaped more praise upon him.
Even Insomnia, an effective little thriller, is an accomplished work, and features possibly the last truly great performance from Al Pacino, and one of the best turns in Robin Williams‘ career. Under Nolan’s guidance, those two great actors created a wonderful little game of cat-and-mouse.
So what’s next for this dominating director? Christopher Nolan will be making an all-too-welcome return to Gotham City, putting Christian Bale under the cowl again with the as-yet-unnamed Dark Knight sequel in Summer 2012. After TDK, I always said I hoped Nolan would make it a trilogy, and my wish has been granted, but with an eye, Nolan claims to wrapping up the story. Instead of the same old comic book sequel–forever opening up the world with unending possibilities and sequel setups–Nolan plans to bring his Batman story to a close, and this is great news, as far as I’m concerned.
But Nolan will also be using his talents as a producer to bring another comic book hero back to life. Together with director Zack Snyder (300, Watchmen), he is slated to bring us a new vision of Superman. As long as it’s better than 2006‘s Superman Returns, I’m sure fans will be happy.
After that, I hope Nolan brings us something more original again, like Inception. But no matter what he does, one thing’s certain: This director is going to get my butt in the seat.
Previously featured in Directors Who Dominate:
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Nigel as johnmason on Flickchart. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.