British filmmaker Christopher Nolan is one of the most well-known directors of the 21st century. With wildly popular successes such as the Dark Knight Trilogy as well as enigmatic sci-fi works such as Interstellar, Nolan has shown the world that his artistic vision is simultaneously grand and versatile.
In an interview with the DGA, Nolan said: “To be honest, I’ve always made films and I never really stopped, starting with little stop-motion experiments using my dad’s Super 8 camera. In my mind, it’s all one big continuum of filmmaking and I’ve never changed. I used to noodle around with the camera but I didn’t go to film school. I studied English literature at college and pursued a straight academic qualification, all the while making my own films and wanting to make more.”
Adding, “I’m interested in every different bit of filmmaking because I had to do every bit of it myself—from sound recording and ADR to editing and music. I feel very lucky to be a member of probably the last generation who cut film on a Steenbeck flatbed, physically taping it together and dropping out shots.
“It gave me a really good grounding in knowing overall what has to go into a film technically that was very valuable. And it meant that absolutely everything I did was simply because I was passionate and wanted to try stuff. You’re never going to learn something as profoundly as when it’s purely out of curiosity.”
As a tribute to Christopher Nolan’s celebrated filmmaking career, we take a look at five masterpieces that shaped the director’s own cinematic journey.
5 films that influenced the career of Christopher Nolan:
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick – 1968)
It should come as no surprise that 2001 is on this list since Stanley Kubrick’s magnum opus is considered by many to be the greatest sci-fi film ever made. In his transcendental vision of space exploration and evolution, Kubrick managed to create a complete cinematic experience.
Nolan recalled: “My dad took my brother and me to Leicester Square, which is where you’d find the biggest theatres in London. I remember very clearly just the experience of being transported to another world. I was a huge Star Wars fan at the time. But this was a completely different way of experiencing science fiction.
“I was seven years old, so I couldn’t claim to have understood the film. I still can’t claim that. But as a seven year old, I didn’t care about understanding the film. I just felt this extraordinary experience of being taken to another world. You didn’t doubt this world for an instant. It had a larger than life quality.”
The Spy Who Loved Me (Lewis Gilbert – 1977)
While growing up, Nolan loved Bond films but his favourite was 1977 classic The Spy Who Loved Me. Starring Roger Moore in the iconic role, the film features a story full of international intrigue and nefarious conspiracies involving missing nuclear warheads.
The filmmaker said: “One of the first films I remember seeing was The Spy Who Loved Me and at a certain point the Bond films fixed in my head as a great example of scope and scale in large scale images. That idea of getting you to other places, of getting you along for a ride if you can believe in it — in The Spy Who Loved Me, the Lotus Esprit turns into a submarine and its totally convincing, and it works and you go ‘Wow, that’s incredible.’”
Superman (Richard Donner – 1978)
Richard Donner’s 1978 interpretation of Superman was probably one of the most influential works in the superhero genre, featuring a fantastic score by John Williams. The film was nominated for multiple Oscars and has now become a true cult classic.
“Donner took on the character of Superman, he made the image of how people my age saw Superman,” Nolan commented. “I still remember the trailers. I remember going to the cinema to see something else and seeing these epic trailers — the character standing in the cornfield, Marlon Brando’s voice — and that stuck with me.”
Blade Runner (Ridley Scott – 1982)
Blade Runner is a 1982 neo-noir masterpiece that continues Philip K. Dick’s, imagining a post-apocalyptic world where humans violently terminate their own creations without a shred of empathy. Scott’s masterpiece is still a valuable lesson in filmmaking, filled with visuals that look better than some of today’s works.
Nolan revealed: “From a pragmatic point of view, Blade Runner is actually one of the most successful films of all time in terms of constructing that reality using sets. On Batman Begins, unlike The Dark Knight, we found ourselves having to build the streets of Gotham in large part. So I immediately gravitated toward the visual treatment that Ridley Scott had come up with, in terms of how you shoot these massive sets to make them feel real and not like impressive sets.”
The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick – 1998)
The Thin Red Line marked Terrence Malick’s return to the world of cinema after a long hiatus of almost two decades. In this fascinating war epic, Malick examined the fundamental elements of the human condition through glimpses of the horrors of World War II.
“I also see a lot of attempts to do what I saw Terrence Malick doing, in terms of the portrayal of mental states and memory. If you watch The Thin Red Line, that was a revelation to me,” the director stated. “He’s cutting to memories and flashbacks with simple cuts; there are no wavy lines or dissolves. There are moments [in Memento] where Guy’s character is remembering his wife that were taken very much from that film.”