By Christian Holub
September 10, 2020 at 04:03 PM EDT
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Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker of a rare and vanishing breed: A director who has built up so much trust with audiences over the course of the last two decades that his name alone is often enough to people into theaters to watch films with subjects as diverse as a World War II and spaceship travel. His latest film, Tenet, has, unfortunately, run into the obstacles of COVID-19, which continues to prevent many Americans from gathering in theaters or other public spaces. Nevertheless, Tenet has opened worldwide and in select U.S. markets.

Whether or not you have been able to see Tenet yet, take a walk down memory lane to see how all of Nolan's films rank according to the reviews they received from EW. The only exception is Nolan's 1998 debut feature Following, which was not reviewed by EW.

Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros.; Everett Collection; Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.

Dunkirk (2017): A 

"Nolan has for all intents and purposes conjured the British response to Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. If you can imagine that film’s kinetic, nerve-wracking 29-minute opening D-Day invasion stretched out to feature length, this is what it would look like. It’s a towering achievement, not just of the sort of drum-tight storytelling we’ve come to expect from the director of MementoThe Dark Knight, and Inception, but also of old-school, handmade filmmaking." —Chris Nashawaty (read more)

Batman Begins (2005): A

"Batman Begins, directed by indie-oriented storyteller Christopher Nolan (Memento), is a triumph — a confidently original, engrossing interpretation, with a seriously thought-through (but never self-serious) aesthetic point of view that announces, from the get-go, someone who knows what he’s doing is running the show, and he’s modestly unafraid to do something new. The movie reenergizes Bruce Wayne and his winged mammalian disguise for a 21st-century relaunch, after the Hollywoodized Caped Crusader had giggled and vamped to a dead end with 1997’s Batman & Robin." —Lisa Schwarzbaum (read more)

Memento (2000): A

"Memento has a spooky repetitive urgency that takes on the clarity of a dream; it’s like an Oliver Sacks case study played as malevolent film noir. Pearce, frantic and disheveled, lends even the smallest events the aura of a life-or-death search, a quest for meaning." —Owen Gleiberman (read more)

The Dark Knight (2008): A-

"Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing, scary-funny performance begins with the creepiness of his image: the greasy long hair, the makeup that looks as if he’d drawn it on with crayons, then messed it with tears. That ghostly rotting paint job covers his scarred smile (explained by a backstory that gives you the willies, even if he just made it up), and the disturbing thing is that when Ledger’s Joker talks, with those ”Ehhh, what’s up, Doc?” vowels that make him sound like Al Franken crossed with a nerdish pedophile, you realize that the icky sloshing sound you hear is him sucking on his cheeks; he uses his attachment to those scars to fuel his sadistic (and masochistic) whims. This Joker may be a torture freak, but he also has a lost quality, a melancholy hidden within those black-circled eyes. He turns slaughter into a punchline; he’s a homicidal comedian with an audience of one — himself. In this, the last performance he completed before his death, Ledger had a maniacal gusto inspired enough to suggest that he might have lived to be as audacious an actor as Marlon Brando, and maybe as great." —O.G. (read more)

Stephen Vaughan/Warner Bros.

Insomnia (2002): A-

"The link between the two is the directorial confidence of Christopher Nolan. Neither repeating nor losing touch with the keen trickiness of Memento or his feature debut, Following, he uses his first big Hollywood picture — a good, basic cop flick — to demonstrate that he’s the real deal. This is a filmmaker in full control of mood, tone, and pacing, to whom actors as wildly different as Pacino and Williams can entrust their best instincts, rather than their showiest." —L.S. (read more)

The Prestige (2006): B+

"Magic or technology? Either way, The Prestige wants to fool your senses by ripping a hole in reality. It does so with a busy, at times brutal, singlemindedness. Nolan unfurls the parallel stories of two magicians, the sleek showman Robert Angier (Hugh Jackman) and the brooding virtuoso of illusion Alfred Borden (Christian Bale), the two of whom start as young partners but end up as fierce competitors, trying to top each other’s secrets in a fake-out to the death. The Prestige leaps around in time with dizzy abandon, a deliberate strategy to make magic seem like the most concrete, grounded thing in the movie. It works, though at the expense of giving the audience much room to breathe." —O.G. (read more)

Inception (2010): B+

"First time around, the movie — part sci-fi fantasy, part gun-toting heist pic, part mindfreak, all filmmaker brio — is dazzling and buzzy. It’s a rolling explosion of images as hypnotizing and sharply angled as any in a drawing by M.C. Escher or a state-of-the-biz videogame; the backwards splicing of Nolan’s own Memento looks rudimentary by comparison. Only repeated exposure can clarify for each spectator not only what’s going on, but also whether the emotional payoff deepens enough to warrant the arbitrary complexity of the game." —L.S. (read more)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012): B

"The movie is built for greatness, not to mention a biggest-stakes-yet conclusion scaled to please fans who thought The Dark Knight was snubbed — snubbed — during the 2008 awards season. But this time the chief villain is a thuggish baldy named Bane (Tom Hardy) whose charisma pales in comparison with that of Heath Ledger’s Joker — the super-est supernemesis in recent comic-book-movie history. Bane is distinguished mostly by his baroque helmet, with a clawlike mouthguard that is a kid’s worst nightmare of orthodontic headgear." —L.S. (read more)

Marc Hom for EW

Tenet (2020): B-

"Because as much as Tenet succeeds at being visually and technologically dazzling, it is more often than not almost unbearably draining. Like most Nolan movies, it refuses to come up for air; even as the camera glides smoothly across the cliffs of Italy’s Amalfi Coast or the spare Nysted Wind Farm in Denmark, there’s a stressful tinge to the proceedings — and not just because ticking spots like these off your overseas vacation bucket list feels like it may now never happen." —Nicholas Fonseca (read m0re)

Interstellar (2014): B-

"Chastain, Hathaway, and McConaughey are authentic, emotive performers, and they cry enough in Interstellar to irrigate cornfields. The waterworks are not contagious. Especially in the pathos-drenched final section, Nolan, backed by Hans Zimmer’s hysterical score, tugs strenuously at our heartstrings. But all we feel is the tugging. For a brief moment in galactic time, our most brilliantly cold and clinical filmmaker forgets how to go gentle into that good night." –Joe McGovern (read more)

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