WARNING: This article contains spoilers for many Christopher Nolan films.
Whether you love or loathe the films by Christopher Nolan, there's no denying that he's a true visionary. With ten feature length films now under his belt and eight of them in the IMDb top 250, Nolan has cemented himself as one of the greatest directors working today.
From Batman to 19th century magicians, Nolan is constantly pushing the envelope and daring to go places where no other director would dare go. Hater of CGI and lover of celluloid, the release of a Nolan movie is an event which guarantees to get bums in seats. His big ideas and masterful execution have created some of the most magical moments in cinema history. With Dunkirk just released, I thought it would be fun to count down some of the very best scenes #ChristopherNolan has had to offer.
10. Memento — The Beginning Of The End
Nolan followed up his impressive low-budget debut, Following with this tightly plotted gem of a thriller. Memento is designed to get the cogs in your little brain turning as the story is told backward ─ opening where events of the film have chronologically finished and ending on when the film really should've began. Confused yet? It's an ingenious film which ends on an mind-blowing twist designed to leave your jaw on the floor. We're put inside the mind of an amnesiac obsessed with finding his wife's killer, only to find out that the whole film has basically been a lie. It's an unforgettable rug-pulled-from-under-your-feet moment which will have you wanting to see it all again.
9. Dunkirk — Air Raid
#Dunkirk is still fresh in our minds, so it's difficult to pin-point a particular standout moment. This is especially true, as the film is designed to overwhelm every sensation by presenting the event as one huge, spectacular set-piece, firing one intense scene after another until your blood pressure reaches unhealthy heights. One scene which sticks out, though, is the monumental opening which shows a tragically young soldier escaping enemy bullets and witnessing a terrifying air raid. The sheer realism of the directing plunges you into a war zone and makes you realize how frightening war really is. The roar of those enemy planes and the fear in every soldier's eyes makes for a startling viewing. When the bombs do drop, it's devastating.
8. Inception — Hallway Fight
One of the most inventive action-set pieces of all time is the famous turning-hallway fight in Inception. If you can't get your head around the dreams within dreams within dreams concept, then don't worry, just sit back and enjoy the eye-popping visuals. Nolan is a keen detractor of CGI effects and prefers to keep everything real, which is why his films have that extra intensity to them. To film this scene, they built an actual life-size rotating hallway so that no cheeky computer trickery could be used at all. The fact that this scene is filmed in largely one shot also adds to the intensity, creating a vivid realness in a scene which thrives on surrealism.
7. The Prestige — Abracadabra
Nolan isn't a stranger to a good twist and in The Prestige he gives us one of the best ever. The film follows two warring magicians who are constantly trying to outdo each other. Hugh Jackman's character spends most of the film obsessing over how on Earth Christian Bale's character does his transported man magic trick, and even seeks out David Bowie as Nikola Tesla for scientific answers. However, in the end it's revealed that Bale had a twin brother all along, meaning that the entire film has been one big magic trick. It's an absolutely stunning moment which is guaranteed to have you gasping.
6. The Dark Knight Rises — Plane Heist
How do you top one of the most iconic openings in superhero movie history? How about, doing another heist but this time having it in the air! Christopher Nolan himself has cited this sequence as his favorite and it's not difficult to see why. The impeccable stunt work and terrifying reveal of Tom Hardy's Bane make this an exhilarating scene from start to finish. As usual, there's no trickery here, Nolan and crew filmed with real planes in the sky and the result is breathtaking. Add Hans Zimmer's menacing score on top and you've got a seriously dazzling opening scene.
5. The Dark Knight — Face Off
Arguably the most iconic scene in #TheDarkKnight is this one where Batman and The Joker finally come face to face. The scene is dripping with realism right from the start, you almost forget that you're watching a movie. Everything’s going on here: a helicopter crashes, the tumbler dies, Batman crashes through a window, the Joker steals a huge truck and Batman flips it over in spectacular style. Things only get more epic when the Joker crawls out of the wreckage and toys with Batman’s “one rule.” It’s hair-raising to see Batman rocket towards the hapless Joker as he goads him on. The whole sequence is damn near perfection: it's quite simply one of the greatest action sequences ever filmed.
4. Interstellar — Docking
There are countless breathtaking moments in Nolan's sci-fi melodrama, #Interstellar: mountainous waves, worm holes, fist fights and weird four-dimensional worlds all add to the drama, but pretty much everyone agrees that the docking sequence is the most spectacular. The sheer intensity will have you ripping off your armrests in disbelief. The idea is that Matthew McConaughey as the lead has to dock his little spacecraft onto a bigger one which is spinning out of control. The stakes are incredibly high as the future of mankind all lies on this impossibly difficult docking. What elevates the scene to unbearable levels of tension is Hans Zimmer's thunderous score.
3. Inception — Spinning Top
One of the most iconic movie moments in recent years is the haunting ending to Inception. After an absolute rollercoaster ride, the crew peacefully wake up to a successful mission. Zimmer's emotional score begins to play as Cobb finally gets to go home and reunites with his children. The whole sequence is overwhelmingly powerful so you'd be forgiven for perhaps having a little tear in your eye. It would've been enough to end the film just like that, but Nolan couldn't resist planting his own little idea in his audiences minds. The infamous spinning top continues to spin, suggesting that Cobb is still in his own dreamland. It did wobble a bit though. Didn't it?
2. Interstellar — Reunion
I’ll never forget seeing this scene for the first time and just being so overwhelmed with emotion. I was not expecting Interstellar to touch me so emotionally and this part really pulled at my heart strings. Some find the ending contrived, but I think that it’s essential that the film ended this way. If you’re still not satisfied, then you can always go with the plausible theory that everything from the tesseract onwards is Coop’s dying delusions. After all, Matt Damon's character did say that our children are the last people we see before we die, didn’t he? Either way, it’s just such a powerful scene and also quite tragic that Cooper basically missed the majority of his daughter’s life. The fact that Ellen Burstyn is playing Murph is just the cherry on top of an already spectacular cake. For all the grand set pieces the film has to offer, it's still the quieter ones which have the most impact.
1. The Dark Knight — Interrogation
The iconic interrogation scene features some of the best acting and writing ever committed to film. You can feel Batman’s reeling anger as he brutally beats the Joker ─ it's like he actually wants to kill him! But the more angry Batman gets, the more amused the Joker is. This is really tremendous acting from Heath Ledger and it's also the scene where the Nolan brothers give the Joker his most brilliant lines. To top it all off, there’s Zimmer’s menacing high-pitched score for the Joker playing over, which ratchets up the tension a couple of notches. There’s also that breathtaking moment afterwards where Batman has to save either Harvey or Rachael. If it was any other superhero movie, then Batman would find some sort of way to save both unharmed. However, in a vicious twist, Bruce Wayne's first love gets callously blown to smithereens.
Christopher Nolan has provided a lot of stirring scenes in his illustrious career. What are some of your favorites?