Movie Reviews

How Each Of Christopher Nolans 11 Other Movies Prepared For Him For His Oppenheimer Oscar Win

Summary

  • Nolan’s long career led to the success of Oppenheimer, which was a departure from his usual blockbusters.
  • The movie borrows visual elements from Nolan’s earlier works, showing his growth as a filmmaker over 25 years.
  • Nolan’s collaborations with Cillian Murphy, Ludwig Göransson and Hoyte van Hoytema all shaped Oppenheimer.



Christopher Nolan won his first Oscar for Oppenheimer, but this achievement is just the culmination of a long career which shaped him for greatness. Nolan’s feature-length debut was in 1998, and each subsequent movie that he directed has contributed in some way to making him the filmmaker that he is today. He could not have made Oppenheimer without acquiring the skills that he has from his other projects.

Oppenheimer blew away all box office expectations last summer, and it combined this success with an awards-season hot streak. The biopic is an unusual project for Nolan in some ways, who so often creates action-packed blockbusters with original sci-fi concepts. However, each of Christopher Nolan’s best movies have given him something that he later used in Oppenheimer.


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11 Following (1998)

Nolan’s first feature-length movie shows a lot of his trademarks

Following (1998)

Release Date
April 2, 1999

Cast
Jeremy Theobald , Alex Haw , Lucy Russell , John Nolan , Dick Bradsell

Christopher Nolan’s first feature-length movie displays a lot of his signature quirks. Following was famously made on a shoestring budget of just $6,000, and it is just 70 minutes long. Seeing Nolan’s career development over the next 25 years is remarkable, but there are still a few ticks in Following that show up later in Oppenheimer. The latter movie does many of the same things in a more refined and mature way.


Seeing Nolan’s career development over the next 25 years is remarkable, but there are still a few ticks in
Following
that show up later in
Oppenheimer.

Although Following‘s black-and-white photography was no doubt borne out of budget restraints, Nolan leans into the visual style, creating plenty of long shadows and stark contrasts which hark back to the days of film noir. Oppenheimer‘s black-and-white scenes use a few similar techniques. It also uses the same high-angled close-ups that Following uses regularly, making Dr. Oppenheimer appear small and trapped.

10 Memento (2000)

Memento developed Nolan’s flair for non-linear storytelling


Memento

Release Date
May 25, 2001

Cast
Joe Pantoliano , Guy Pearce , Carrie-Anne Moss , Stephen Tobolowsky , Mark Boone Junior

After Following, Memento was the movie that established Christopher Nolan as a filmmaker to watch. Memento was a success both critically and financially, and Nolan achieved this with an unconventional story structure. Memento has two narrative threads running concurrently in opposite directions, and the plot becomes easier to grasp as the film continues.

Oppenheimer
jumps around between the war years and the aftermath in the 1950s. It isn’t as ostentatious as
Memento,
but Nolan carefully chooses where to place each scene for maximum effect.


Memento‘s non-linear timeline may represent the peak of Nolan’s experiments with story structures, but many of his other movies have avoided linear storytelling, such as Tenet and Interstellar. Oppenheimer jumps around between the war years and the aftermath in the 1950s. It isn’t as ostentatious as Memento, but Nolan carefully chooses where to place each scene so that scenes at Los Alamos can provide context for Dr. Oppenheimer’s security hearing.

9 Insomnia (2002)

Nolan became more of an actor’s director with Insomnia

Insomnia

Release Date
May 24, 2002


A movie like Oppenheimer relies on the strength of its actors. Cillian Murphy’s performance in the title role is key, of course, but Oppenheimer has a large cast which is just as important. Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon and Emily Blunt are all vital to Oppenheimer‘s believability and depth. Nolan even casts well-respected actors in minor roles, like Gary Oldman and Casey Affleck.

Insomnia
is the only one of Nolan’s movies which he had no input in writing, and this allowed him to focus more on coaxing two outstanding performances out of his stars.

Nolan’s career has been boosted by many brilliant performances in his movies, but Insomnia was his first movie to rely on them. Al Pacino and Robin Williams strike up an intoxicating dynamic as a detective and a criminal in the long Alaskan summer. Insomnia is the only one of Nolan’s movies which he had no input in writing, and this allowed him to focus more on coaxing two outstanding performances out of his stars. This experience clearly helped him with his later movies.


8 Batman Begins (2005)

Batman Begins was Nolan’s first big-budget movie

Batman Begins

Release Date
June 10, 2005

Cast
Ken Watanabe , Liam Neeson , Gary Oldman , Tom Wilkinson , Linus Roache , Christian Bale , Katie Holmes , Mark Boone Junior , Michael Caine , Rutger Hauer , Cillian Murphy , Morgan Freeman

Batman Begins was Christopher Nolan’s first big-budget movie, and he rose to the challenge by shaking up the entire superhero genre. Batman Begins incorporates elements of film noir and crime movies to create a more grounded kind of superhero, an approach which has been copied countless times with varying success. This confident willingness to blaze his own trail has advised many of Nolan’s movies.

Batman Begins
was Christopher Nolan’s first big-budget movie, and he rose to the challenge by shaking up the entire superhero genre.


Batman Begins was also Christopher Nolan’s first attempt at a movie based on a pre-existing character, and he approached the subject with respect but not reverence. The result is something that Batman fans and newcomers can both appreciate. In the same way, Nolan stamps his mark on the well-known story of Dr. Oppenheimer’s security hearing and the Manhattan Project without being overcome by the historical context.

7 The Prestige (2006)

Nolan’s first book adaptation


Although Oppenheimer is based on a true story, it borrows heavily from one book in particular, Martin J. Sherwin and Kai Bird’s Oppenheimer biography American Prometheus. The director’s first book adaptation was The Prestige, which was based on the novel by Christopher Priest. Nolan is famous for bringing original concepts to the big screen, but he has also shown that he can make other sources his own.

Oppenheimer
plays around with the structure of
American Prometheus,
which mostly tells events in chronological order, but it lifts several passages and quotes as closely as possible.

Oppenheimer plays around with the structure of American Prometheus, which mostly tells events in chronological order, but it lifts several passages and quotes as closely as possible. The controversial story about Oppenheimer poisoning his professor’s apple and the Chevalier incident are two scenes which stick closely to the framework laid out by the book, but there are other scenes where Nolan gives himself more creative license.


6 The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight was filmed with IMAX cameras

IMAX screens are usually reserved for action blockbusters, but Oppenheimer managed to steal the spotlight from the latest Mission: Impossible movie when it was first released. This is partly because Christopher Nolan has long been a pioneer of the IMAX format, believing that it lends itself to the collective experience of cinema that he so often seeks to facilitate with his movies.

Oppenheimer
uses the same technology, even though it doesn’t rely on spectacular action like
The Dark Knight.
The Trinity test scene alone shows that the IMAX cameras were worthwhile.


The Dark Knight was the first major movie to be filmed using high-resolution IMAX cameras. This increased the film’s budget, but Nolan’s decision was proved right as The Dark Knight topped $1 billion at the box office. Oppenheimer uses the same technology, even though it doesn’t rely on spectacular action like The Dark Knight. The Trinity test scene alone shows that the IMAX cameras were worthwhile.

5 Inception (2010)

Inception established Nolan’s awards-season potential


With two critically-acclaimed Batman movies under his belt, Christopher Nolan had a lot of freedom to select his next project. Rather than moving on to another big-budget franchise, and he probably had no shortage of offers, Nolan decided to helm another original movie. This decision, and Inception‘s subsequent success, made Nolan into his own franchise. He now has a large fan base willing to buy tickets to his new movies, no matter what they are about.

Inception
was Nolan’s first movie to be nominated for Best Picture. It also earned him nominations for Best Film at the BAFTAs and Best Director at the Golden Globes.


Inception also established Nolan’s credentials as a potential award-winner. He easily could have become stuck in the role of a big franchise director, but even the very best superhero movies rarely attract the interest of the Academy and other awards bodies. Inception was Nolan’s first movie to be nominated for Best Picture. It also earned him nominations for Best Film at the BAFTAs and Best Director at the Golden Globes.

4 The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises was Nolan’s longest movie at the time


The culmination of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was a satisfying finale, even though it didn’t quite the heights of its predecessor. One of the main criticisms that The Dark Knight Rises has faced is that its third act drags on for too long, suggesting that Nolan tried to cram too many stories and ideas into his final Batman movie. Compared to the two movies which came before it, The Dark Knight Rises is a little imprecise.

Oppenheimer
is even longer than
The Dark
Knight Rises
, but much more economical with its use of time.

The Dark Knight Rises was Nolan’s longest movie at the time by quite some distance, coming in at a little under 3 hours. Nolan seems to have learned from this experience, as Oppenheimer is even longer, but much more economical with its use of time. The third act focuses largely on the effects of the Manhattan Project, both on the American political landscape and Oppenheimer’s mental state.


3 Interstellar (2014)

Nolan explored more abstract visuals with Interstellar

Oppenheimer has to convey a lot of complex scientific concepts, but it does so without becoming overly verbose. Christopher Nolan effectively communicates the key concepts of quantum mechanics by relating them to Oppenheimer’s life and other revolutions, like those in politics or art. He also intersperses vibrant, abstract imagery to illustrate subatomic reactions and theoretical concepts.

Like
Oppenheimer,
Interstellar
also uses jaw-dropping visuals to convey parts of its story without the need for dialogue.


In some cases, these pulses of light and undulating mushroom clouds seem to provide a window into Oppenheimer’s mind. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema won an Oscar for Oppenheimer, but his first collaboration with Christopher Nolan came nine years earlier on Interstellar. Like Oppenheimer, Interstellar also uses jaw-dropping visuals to convey parts of its story without the need for dialogue.

2 Dunkirk (2017)

Nolan’s first movie based on a true story


With a couple of exceptions, Christopher Nolan’s career has mostly consisted of original concepts that gave him the freedom to approach stories in any way he wanted. He took on a new challenge with Dunkirk, which tells the story of a group of British soldiers stranded in France during the Second World War. Dunkirk‘s true story has become symbolic of British resilience, but Nolan didn’t let this idea overshadow his own.

With a couple of exceptions
,
Christopher Nolan’s career has mostly consisted of original concepts that gave him the freedom to approach stories in any way he wanted. He took on a new challenge with
Dunkirk.

Like Dunkirk, Oppenheimer also tells a famous true story loaded with cultural importance, but both movies have just as much fiction mixed in with the facts. While neither story misrepresents anything egregiously, Nolan gives himself the space to interpret particular moments in his own way. Another common factor shared between Dunkirk and Oppenheimer is that both movies use the weight of the historical context to their advantage, so neither movie has to show the enemy.


1 Tenet (2020)

Nolan worked with composer Ludwig Göransson for the first time on Tenet

Tenet

Release Date
September 3, 2020

The music in Oppenheimer is vital to transport the audience within the mind of its main character. Christopher Nolan has often worked with Hans Zimmer throughout his career, but when Zimmer decided to work on Dune instead of Tenet, Nolan turned to Ludwig Göransson. His score in Tenet was enough to make Nolan trust him with Oppenheimer, and the latter movie set the stage for his greatest masterpiece yet.

Oppenheimer
‘s score helps delineate the different stages of Oppenheimer’s life as the script jumps between different time periods.


Oppenheimer‘s score helps delineate the different stages of Oppenheimer’s life as the script jumps between different time periods. Göransson begins with delicate strings to illustrate Oppenheimer’s initial wonder when exploring quantum mechanics, but these same instruments suddenly become more menacing during the years of the Manhattan Project. The music reflects Oppenheimer’s thoughts and emotions throughout his journey.

Oppenheimer Poster

Oppenheimer

Oppenheimer is a film by Christopher Nolan, which follows the theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the atomic bomb. Cillian Murphy will play the titular role, with the story based on the book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin.

Release Date
July 21, 2023

Studio(s)
Syncopy Inc. , Atlas Entertainment

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