Christopher Nolan is regarded as one of the best directors of our time. He’s up there with the likes of Stephen Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Though what separates this filmmaker from other directors is his unique stories and his use of as few visual effects as possible; now, he’s gone on record stating that with Oppenheimer, he created a nuclear explosion without using any visual effects.

Nolan is an A-list director with a small, but remarkable filmography under his belt. Most know him as the director behind The Dark Knight Trilogy. As prep for Nolan’s next big outing, here’s a short list of movies that fall in line with the themes and genre behind Oppenheimer.

Tenet

Tenet movie poster

Released in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic, Tenet is Nolan’s most recent film and the last one he made with Warner Bros. Pictures, before leaving the company due to the studio releasing movies on HBO Max the same day they were released to theatres. Tenet is a reality-bending movie that moves both forward and backward in time; its protagonist, played by John David Washington, fights against powers that are attempting to bring about the end of the planet.

Tenet features topics such as inversion, entropy, and the choice of free will. Tenet is a film that no other director could pull off. Everything about this movie, its plot, story, characterization, and even its musical score — everything is of a standard that Nolan maintains for his features.

Clocking in at 2 hours and 30 minutes, Tenet is a must-watch and is easily one of Christopher Nolan’s best films and most imaginative stories.

Interstellar

Interstellar movie poster

Released in 2014, Interstellar is regarded as one of Nolan’s best after the end of his The Dark Knight Trilogy, and was his first foray into more scientific subjects in his films. Featuring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway, this film tells the story of NASA physicists venturing into space one last time to find a new home for humanity as climatic and agricultural problems render Earth uninhabitable.

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Tackling themes such as relativity, Stephen Hawking’s theories, interdimensional travel, and Kip Thorne’s own work — the physicist actually worked on the movie and helped create its black hole sequence — Interstellar is an intensely emotional epic; a heartbreaking and endearing tale about the journey through spacetime and the human condition.

Inception

Inception movie poster

Released in 2010, Inception was originally envisioned as a horror film about dream stealers Nolan pitched to Warner Bros. in 2002 after the director finished working on Insomnia, the psychological thriller that starred Al Pacino and Robin Williams. Nolan decided that he needed more experience as a director, so he shelved it until he was ready.

This film tells the story of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is a “dream thief”. He possesses the talent to penetrate the subconscious and steal valuable information. In this world of dream espionage, Cobb is sought after due to his talents, though it has cost him everything he values. DiCaprio leads an ensemble cast with the likes of Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.

Inception is regarded as one of the best movies of the 2010s and even went on to win four Academy Awards of the eight it was nominated for during the 83rd Academy Awards Ceremony. Tackling themes such as reality and dreams, Nolan questioned: if someone occupied the same dream space as you, how would that be used, or abused? This film does a fine job of exploring that very question.

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Dunkirk

Dunkirk movie poster

Released in 2017, Dunkirk is Nolan’s first historical feature and is one of the best war films ever made. Featuring very little dialogue, Nolan utilizes the cinematography and musical score in the film to help drive the suspense home and create a realistic recreation of one of the world’s most tense and difficult periods. This film is also told from three perspectives: land, sea, and air. The land is within one week of action, the sea is within one day of action and the air is within one hour of action.

Dunkirk tells the tale of 400,000 men being trapped on the Dunkirk beaches in 1940, waiting for rescue ships to save them and send them home. The British and French forces provided air and ground support as they slowly and meticulously evacuated troops from the beach, using every available naval and civilian boat. 330,000 men were rescued thanks to ordinary British individuals who gave their boats for the cause.

Dunkirk captures conflict and the tense nature behind war extremely well. From Richard King’s sound design to Hans Zimmer’s musical score, the film builds on its unsettling sounds and suspense to help recreate and capture what happened on the beaches of Dunkirk that day.

What to Expect from Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer movie poster

The release of Oppenheimer is right around the corner, and many believe that this film will be revolutionary. The creative mind behind The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, and Inception has returned to create another feature centered around one of the biggest moments in American history. As explained above, Nolan is mostly known for experimenting with time and reality; Oppenheimer is his first feature that will reportedly convey the story of someone’s life as he walks through their personal history.

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The Father of the Atomic Bomb is at the center of this film. Speaking with Total Film Magazine, Nolan said:

“We’re trying to tell the story of somebody’s life and their journey through personal history and larger-scale history, and so the subjectivity of the story is everything to me. We want to view these events through Oppenheimer’s eyes. And that was the challenge for Cillian that I set him, to take us on this journey; that was the challenge for Hoyte van Hoytema, my designer, my whole team: how do we view this extraordinary story through the eyes of the person who was at the heart of it? All of our decisions on how to make this film were based on that real premise.”

Christopher Nolan may well have yet another masterpiece on his hands. While not every movie of his is regarded as being among the best of the best, he’s one of few directors working today that has a filmography where each entry stands out from one another.

Oppenheimer hits theatres on July 21st, 2023.

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