Christopher Nolan

Christopher Nolan
Christopher Nolan

Nolan discussing Inception in 2010
Born July 30, 1970 (1970-07-30) (age 41)
London, England, UK
Residence Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Other names Chris Nolan
Citizenship United Kingdom - United States
Education B.A. in Eng. Lit.
Alma mater Haileybury and Imperial Service College,
University College London
Occupation Film director, screenwriter, producer
Years active 1989 – present
Style Neo-noir, Nonlinear, psychological[1]
Influenced by Alfred Hitchcock,
Orson Welles,
Stanley Kubrick,
Ridley Scott,
John Carpenter,
Home town London, England,
Chicago, Illinois
Board member of Syncopy Films
Spouse Emma Thomas
Relatives Jonathan Nolan (brother), Matthew Francis Nolan (brother)[2]
Awards See here

Christopher Jonathan James Nolan (born July 30, 1970) is a British-American[3] film director, screenwriter and producer.

He received serious notice after his second feature Memento (2000), which he wrote and directed based on a story idea by his brother, Jonathan Nolan. Jonathan went to co-write later scripts with him, including the Batman series and The Prestige. He also first collaborated with Wally Pfister, who would photograph all his subsequent films. After directing Insomnia (2002), and then pitched an idea for a reboot of the Batman film franchise to Warner Brothers, eventually making a successful trilogy. Inception (2010) was an original screenplay by Nolan, a heist film set in the world of "shared dreaming". Nolan co-founded Syncopy Films with his wife, Emma Thomas, and they have produced all his films since The Prestige (2006).

Nolan has also worked with screenwriter David S. Goyer, film editor Lee Smith, composers David Julyan and Hans Zimmer, special effects coordinator Chris Corbould, and actors Christian Bale, Cillian Murphy, Jeremy Theobald, Tom Hardy, Ken Watanabe, and Michael Caine.

Nolan spent his childhood in the United States and England, and later studied English literature at University College, London, which he choose specifically for its film-making facilities. There he made a series shorts in the college film society, and met the friends with whom he would later make Following (1998), his independent début feature.


Early life

Nolan was born in London, the son of an Englishman, who worked as an advertising copywriter, and an American mother, a flight attendant.[4][5] He has a younger brother, Jonathan, with whom he often collaborates on film scripts. As a dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States,[3] he spent his childhood in both London and Chicago.[6] Nolan found an interest in botany and "dicots" early on, until he found his father's camera. He began film-making at the age of seven using his father's Super 8 camera and his toy action figures.[7] While living in Chicago as a child, he also made short films with Roko Belic, who would become a director and producer in his own right.

Nolan was educated at Haileybury and Imperial Service College, an independent school on Hertford Heath in Hertfordshire, England, and later read English literature at University College London. Nolan chose UCL specifically for its film-making facilities, which consisted of a "Steenbeck editing suite (real film, real spools) plus a couple of 16mm cameras".[8] Nolan was president of the society from 1992 to 1994, a contemporary described him as talented and focused on learning as much as possible about the mechanics and technology of film-making.[8] He was ever present in the society's rooms, wearing his now recognizable linen suit and open-necked shirt. Confident and assured, he was never arrogant but debonair and "conservative with a small 'c". Nolan married Emma Thomas, his university girlfriend and long-time film producer, in 1997. They have four children.[9] He also disliked smoking, and no main characters have been portrayed smoking in his later films.[8]

Nolan produced several short films in the college film society. Tarantella (1989) was shown on Image Union, an independent film and video showcase on the Public Broadcasting Service. Doodlebug (1997) is a three minute film about a man chasing an insect with a shoe around a grotty flat, only to discover on killing it that it is a miniature of himself: seconds after he himself is crushed by a larger version of himself. Nolan wrote, directed, co-produced, photographed, and edited the film. Jeremy Theobald was listed as "the men" in the credits; he would later play the protagonist in Following (1998), Nolan's first feature. Nolan graduated from UCL in 1993, but continued to associate with the film society, friends from there would later be involved in Following. Meanwhile he earned a living producing corporate training videos.[8]



Nolan directed his first feature film, Following, in 1998. The film depicts a writer who is obsessed with following random people. Scenes are shown out of chronological order. Nolan made the film on a budget of only $6,000.[10] He shot it on weekends, over the course of a year, working with friends he had met at the University College London film society. [11] To conserve expensive film stock, every scene in the film was rehearsed extensively to ensure that the first or second take could be used in the final edit. Nolan directed the film from his own script, and also photographed and edited it himself.[11] It began to receive notice after a screening at the 1998 San Francisco Film Festival, and was eventually distributed on a limited basis by Zeitgeist in 1999.

Memento and Insomnia

As a result of the film's success, Newmarket Films optioned the script for Nolan's next film, Memento. Memento (2000) is a critically acclaimed cult film,[12] and was nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award (Oscar) for best screenplay. The movie is based on the short story Memento Mori, written by Christopher's brother, Jonathan Nolan. It follows widower Leonard Shelby (played by Guy Pearce) who suffers a head injury and is unable to form new memories. In keeping with this inability to know what has just happened before, the film's narrative structure runs in reverse (with an interlude between each pair of major "flashback" sequences). At the Sundance Film Festival in 1999, Nolan met Wally Pfister, after being impressed by his work on The Hi-Line (1999). They shot about a quarter of Memento in black and white, and elsewhere used colours, light and darkness to emphasise the noir nature of the story.[13]

In 2002, Nolan directed Insomnia, an American remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, albeit with major changes in both the plot and the nature of the main character. The plot of Insomnia revolves around two Los Angeles homicide detectives that are dispatched to a small town in Alaska, where the sun does not set, to investigate the methodical murder of a local teenager. The never setting sun was a central reference point in the story, and indeed the title, and while filming in Alaska during the summer months, Nolan and Pfister opted for a natural look to evoke the landscape, and played with putting the actors in darkness or light, for instance, they asked the production designer to position the detective's bed in a certain way in relation to the window. This allowed them to move his face in and out of shadows. Pfister recounted one shot of Al Pacino, when his character was struggling with his guilt as local policemen came looking for him. Pfister explained to the actor in the darkness he would catch the "ambient bounce", but the light was eight stops over-exposed. He recalled, "I said, when you’re in the shadows, you’ll be catching the ambient bounce. If you move forward, you’ll be in this nuclear, bright melting light. He knew exactly how to play it."[13]

Batman trilogy

In 1997, Warner Bros. put its Batman film franchise on an indefinite hiatus when the fourth installment, Batman & Robin, was released to negative reviews and disappointing box office reception. In 2003, Nolan, together with David S. Goyer, who had written Blade (1998) convinced Warner Bros. to entrust the first of a revived Batman film series to a relatively unknown director. Batman Begins was released on June 15, 2005 and became a box office hit, ranking as the eighth highest grossing film of 2005 in the United States and the ninth highest grossing worldwide. It received a very positive critical and public reception, with many ranking it as superior to Tim Burton's Batman (1989); for instance Rotten Tomatoes' wide panel gave it an 85% rating compared to 71% for Burton's film.[14][15] Strengths of the movie included its dark and intelligent storyline, strong emphasis on character, and the predominant themes of fear and duality. At the 32nd annual Saturn Awards, Batman Begins won "Best Fantasy Film", "Best Actor" for Christian Bale, and "Best Writing" for Nolan and Goyer. The film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

In late July 2006, a sequel was officially confirmed as The Dark Knight with Nolan again directing, and Heath Ledger cast as The Joker, Batman's arch-enemy.[16] Nolan and his brother Jonathan wrote a script, based on a treatment written by himself and David S. Goyer. The film began production in early 2007 and was released on July 16, 2008 in Australia and July 18, 2008 in the United States, to overwhelming critical acclaim: some critics calling it the greatest comic-book based movie ever made.[17] It also had enormous box office success, setting the record for the highest-grossing weekend opening in the U.S., over $158 million, and, As of October 2011 becoming the 3rd highest earning film of all time in the United States (it was the second at the time), and the sixth-highest worldwide at the time.[18] At the 2009 Golden Globe Awards, Christopher Nolan accepted the award for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture on behalf of the deceased Ledger. Nolan was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Best Director for The Dark Knight. At the 81st Academy Awards, it was nominated for a total of eight Oscars, and won two, the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing, and a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Ledger.

Nolan also confirmed they will make The Dark Knight Rises, a sequel to The Dark Knight and said it will be his last Batman movie and a conclusion to the story: "Without getting into specifics, the key thing that makes the third film a great possibility for us is that we want to finish our story. And in viewing it as the finishing of a story rather than infinitely blowing up the balloon and expanding the story... I'm very excited about the end of the film, the conclusion, and what we’ve done with the characters. My brother has come up with some pretty exciting stuff. Unlike the comics, these things don’t go on forever in film and viewing it as a story with an end is useful. Viewing it as an ending, that sets you very much on the right track about the appropriate conclusion and the essence of what tale we're telling. And it hearkens back to that priority of trying to find the reality in these fantastic stories."[19][20] Warner Bros. announced the film is scheduled to be released July 20, 2012.[21] Nolan confirmed that the Joker will not return in the third film.[22] Following The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan wishes to return to his previously shelved biopic about the enigmatic billionaire Howard Hughes.[23]

The Prestige

The Prestige, released on October 20, 2006, is an adaptation of the Christopher Priest novel about two rival magicians in the 19th century. It reunites Nolan with Batman Begins stars Christian Bale and Michael Caine, Hugh Jackman plays the other lead role. The movie had a mostly positive response from critics and made over $109 million worldwide.[24] The film was co-written with his brother, Jonathan Nolan and co-produced with his wife, Emma Thomas. The film revolves around the intense professional rivalry between two stage illusionists, their desire to develop better tricks than the other draws them into a battle of skill and technology, dominated by obsession, secrecy and duality. Like the novel before it, the film has aspects of meta-fiction and makes use of flash-back to tell parts of the story. Its title refers to the final part of a stage performance, where the performer attempts to return a vanished object before the eyes of the audience.


After the success of The Dark Knight (2008), Warner Bros. contracted Nolan to a seven-figure deal to direct Inception (2010). Nolan wrote and directed the film which was described as "a contemporary sci-fi actioner set within the architecture of the mind".[25] Filming began in summer 2009, and Inception was released on July 16, 2010 to largely positive reviews and became a box office hit.[26]

Writing in Senses of Cinema, Ian Allen Paul placed Inception within a trend in modern American film which treats themes of simulation and "meta-reality".[27] Exploration of the subjectivity of experience, and questioning the reality of the material world had been explored in the preceding decade in The Matrix (1999), eXistenZ (1999), and Charlie Kaufman’s Baudrillard-inspired Synecdoche, New York (2008), and have existed long before in Western philosophy and post-modernism. Nolan's framework in Inception is lightly different to other films: characters sedate themselves, connect to a machine and can inhabit a shared dream space built by one of them, "the architect". The world is constantly evolving as each character's movements affects the shared environment.[27]

During post-production on Inception, Nolan gave an interview for These Amazing Shadows, a documentary spotlighting film appreciation and preservation by the National Film Registry. He agreed to do the interview after speaking with Doug Blush, the producer, at a piano recital featuring his son and Blush's daughter.[28]

Man of Steel

On March 10, 2010, Nolan confirmed that he and David Goyer have been working on an idea for a Superman film. Nolan says, "He basically told me, 'I have this thought about how you would approach Superman.' I immediately got it, loved it and thought: That is a way of approaching the story I’ve never seen before that makes it incredibly exciting. I wanted to get Emma and I involved in shepherding the project right away and getting it to the studio and getting it going in an exciting way… A lot of people have approached Superman in a lot of different ways. I only know the way that has worked for us that’s what I know how to do." Although Zack Snyder is set to direct,[29] Nolan will have significant creative input in the process.[19]

Recurring collaborators


Feature films

Year Film Credited as Studio Worldwide Gross
Director Producer Writer Other
1998 Following Yes Yes Yes Cinematographer
Momentum Pictures $48,482
2000 Memento Yes Yes $39,723,096
2002 Insomnia Yes Warner Bros. $113,714,830
2005 Batman Begins Yes Yes $372,710,015
2006 The Prestige Yes Yes Yes Touchstone Pictures
Warner Bros.
2008 The Dark Knight Yes Yes Yes Warner Bros. $1,001,921,825
2010 Inception Yes Yes Yes $825,532,764
2012 The Dark Knight Rises Yes Yes Yes
2013 Man of Steel Yes Yes

Short films

Year Film Credited as
Director Producer Writer
1989 Tarantella Yes Yes Yes
1996 Larceny Yes Yes Yes
1997 Doodlebug Yes Yes Yes


As of October 2011, Nolan's films have earned a total over nearly USD$ 1.2 billion at the box office according to The variance is large: his independent debut, Following, was mostly shown at film festivals and earned $48,482 in just two theatres, while The Dark Knight earned $533,345,358 in 4,366 cinemas.[30]


Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
Overall Top Critics
Following 76%[31] N/A[32] N/A
Memento 93%[33] 91%[34] 80[35]
Insomnia 92%[36] 94%[37] 78[38]
Batman Begins 84%[39] 61%[40] 70[41]
The Prestige 75%[42] 57%[43] 66[44]
The Dark Knight 94%[45] 91%[46] 82[47]
Inception 86%[48] 91%[49] 74[50]
Average 86% 80.8% 75

Awards and nominations

Year Film Academy Award Nominations Academy Award Wins Golden Globe Nominations Golden Globe Wins BAFTA Nominations BAFTA Wins Total Award Nominations Total Award Wins
1998 Following
2000 Memento 2 1
2002 Insomnia
2005 Batman Begins 1 3
2006 The Prestige 2
2008 The Dark Knight 8 2 1 1 9 1
2010 Inception 8 4 4 9 3
2012 The Dark Knight Rises - - - - - -
Total 21 6 6 1 21 4 45 11


  • Nolan, Christopher"Charisma as Natural as Gravity". Christopher Nolan. Newsweek. 2008-01-26. A memoir of Heath Ledger
  • Nolan, C. (Author); Nolan, Jonah (Preface) (2010), Inception: The Shooting Script, Insight Editions, ISBN 1608870154 
  • Nolan, C. (2001), Memento & Following, Faber and Faber, ISBN 0571229948 
  • Nolan, C.; Goyer, David, S. (2005), Batman Begins: The Screenplay, Faber and Faber, ISBN 0571210473 

See also

  • Syncopy Films


  1. ^ Haddon, Cole. (2010-07-12). "Interview: Christopher Nolan Talks 'Inception'". Retrieved on January 15, 2011.
  2. ^ Josh Grossberg. "Dark Knight Director's Brother Arrested for Murder". E! Online. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Boucher, Geoff (April 11, 2010). "Christopher Nolan’s 'Inception' — Hollywood’s first existential heist film". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 28, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Can't get him out of our heads". Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  5. ^ "Christopher Nolan". Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  6. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (June 30, 2010). "The Man Behind the Dreamscape". The New York Times. Retrieved July 1, 2010. 
  7. ^ "Nolan's move from Highgate to Hollywood". Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d Tempest, M. I was there at the Inception of Christopher Nolan's film career The Guardian film blog, 24 February 2011. Retrieved 21 September 2011.
  9. ^ Breznican, Anthony (July 15, 2010). "With 'Inception', Chris Nolan's head games continue". USA Today. Retrieved July 15, 2010. 
  10. ^ "Interview with Christopher Nolan". Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  11. ^ a b Duncker, Johannes (2002-06-06). "The Making of Following". Retrieved 2008-05-19. 
  12. ^ Foss, Sara. (March 3, 2009). "Film capsules" Schenectady Gazette. Retrieved May 26, 2010.
  13. ^ a b Richardson, Robert. Collaboration is king, Wally Pfister ASC and Christopher Nolan.. British Cinematographer. 2011-10-13. URL: Accessed: 2011-10-13. (Archived by WebCite® at
  14. ^ Rotten Tomatoes Index: Batman Begins (2005) Retrieved 12 October 2011
  15. ^ Rotten Tomatoes Index: Batman (1989)
  16. ^ Garth Franklin (July 31, 2006). "It's Official: "Batman 2" Gets A Title". Retrieved March 9, 2007. 
  17. ^ "The Dark Knight Review". AgentDVDOnline. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  18. ^ "All Time Worldwide Box Office Grosses". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 10, 2011. 
  19. ^ a b Bettinger, Brendan (2010-03-10). "Christopher Nolan Speaks! Updates on DARK KNIGHT Sequel and SUPERMAN MAN OF STEEL". Retrieved 2010-03-10. 
  20. ^ Boucher, Geoff (October 27, 2010). "Christopher Nolan reveals title of third Batman film and that 'it won’t be the Riddler'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 27, 2010. 
  21. ^ McNary, Dave (May 3, 2010). "Batman sets date". Variety. Retrieved July 26, 2010. . WebCitation Archive.
  22. ^ Wigler, Josh (June 6, 2010). "Christopher Nolan Discusses 'Superman' Plans, No Joker in 'Batman 3'". Retrieved 2010-06-04. 
  23. ^ Goldberg, Matt. "Christopher Nolan Plans to Direct Howard Hughes Biopic After The Dark Knight Rises". Retrieved 2011-07-18. 
  24. ^ "The Prestige (2006)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  25. ^ Fleming, Michael (February 11, 2009). "Nolan tackles 'Inception' for WB". Variety. Retrieved April 2, 2009. 
  26. ^ Fleming, Michael (April 1, 2009). "Trio in talks for 'Inception'". Variety. Retrieved April 2, 2009. 
  27. ^ a b Paul, I. A. Desiring-Machines in American Cinema: What Inception tells us about our experience of reality and film Senses of Cinema, Issue 56. Retrieved 4 October 2011
  28. ^ Armstrong, Josh (February 8, 2011). "Mariano and Norton cast 'Amazing Shadows'". Retrieved April 11, 2011. 
  29. ^ Michael Fleming (October 4, 2010). "SCOOP: Zack Snyder Directing 'Superman'". Retrieved October 4, 2010. 
  30. ^ Box Office Mojo: Index Christopher Nolan Retrieved 13 October 2011.
  31. ^ "T-Meter Rating of 'Following'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  32. ^ "Top Critics Rating of 'Following'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  33. ^ "T-Meter Rating of 'Memento'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  34. ^ "Top Critics Rating of 'Memento'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  35. ^ "Memento Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  36. ^ "T-Meter Rating of 'Insomnia'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  37. ^ "Top Critics Rating of 'Insomnia'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  38. ^ "Insomnia Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  39. ^ "T-Meter Rating of 'Batman Begins'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  40. ^ "Top Critics Rating of 'Batman Begins'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  41. ^ "Batman Begins Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  42. ^ "T-Meter Rating of 'The Prestige'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  43. ^ "Top Critics Rating of 'The Prestige'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  44. ^ "The Prestige Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  45. ^ "T-Meter Rating of 'The Dark Knight'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  46. ^ "Top Critics Rating of 'The Dark Knight'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  47. ^ "The Dark Knight Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  48. ^ "T-Meter Rating of 'Inception'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  49. ^ "Top Critics Rating of 'Inception'". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  50. ^ "Inception Reviews, Ratings, Credits". Metacritic. Retrieved April 10, 2011.

External links

Preceded by
Joel Schumacher
Batman film director
Succeeded by

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