Birthdate: July 30, 1970
Birthplace: London, England, UK
Christopher Nolan (birthname: Christopher Edward Nolan) belongs to the elite category of Hollywood-backed filmmakers working with large budgets who have near-total artistic control over his movies, which combine massive-scale entertainment with complex ideas and concepts, often involving science, history, and aspects of time and consciousness.
Nolan’s body of work traces a line from independent, ultra-low-budget films, starting with his feature debut as director/writer/producer with Following (1998), with Jeremy Theobald, Alex Haw, Lucy Russell, and John Nolan, which premiered at the Slamdance film festival, where it won the Black & White award followed by the coveted Tiger award at the Rotterdam film festival.
Nolan achieved his breakthrough film with his next, the highly acclaimed Memento (2000), starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano, and grossed a robust $40 million globally after its Venice film festival premiere. Christopher Nolan’s first of several movies produced by and released through Warner Bros. was his only feature that he directed but didn’t write, Insomnia (2002), starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank, and earning a fine $114 million worldwide.
In the biggest jump yet into big-scale filmmaking, Nolan was co-writer (with David S. Goyer) and director of Batman Begins (2005), regarded by many as one of the most original movies made during Hollywood’s Superhero era of blockbusters, with Christian Bale as the Caped Crusader, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, and Ken Watanabe, and which grossed $373.7 million globally, launching The Dark Knight Trilogy.
Christopher Nolan momentarily shifted away from The Dark Knight Trilogy and Warner Bros. for the Touchstone-backed psychological thriller about magicians, The Prestige (2006), starring Hugh Jackman, Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Scarlett Johansson, Rebecca Hall, Andy Serkis, and David Bowie, earning a mild $109.7 million on a $40 million budget.
Nolan returned to the world of Batman with his titanic $185 million production, The Dark Knight (2008), with new cast members Heath Ledger (in a legendary turn as The Joker), Aaron Eckhart, and Maggie Gyllenhaal, earning universal acclaim and considered a turning point in the superhero genre to allow darker tones and richer narratives, rewarded with a huge $1 billion box-office return.
As Nolan did with the previous entry in The Dark Knight Trilogy, he took a break from the series for an original sci-fi epic, his long-in-gestation written-directed-produced Inception (2010), starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ken Watanabe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard, Elliot Page, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine, nominated for eight Oscars (winning four), including for Nolan as director and producer, and ending up with a remarkable $837 million gross for a cerebral thriller.
The finale in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy was The Dark Knight Rises (2012), once again co-written with brother Jonathan, and with new cast members Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, and Marion Cotillard, and finally out-grossing the previous entry with a $1.08 billion global return. Less noticed has been Nolan’s other contribution to the DC Extended Universe—his story for David S. Goyer’s screenplay for the Zack Snyder-directed Superman movie, Man of Steel (2013), starring Henry Cavill.
Christopher Nolan began a notable run of massive-scaled movies alternating sci-fi genre and history, starting with his outer space epic, Interstellar (2014), starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Michael Caine, Jessica Chastain, Bill Irwin, and Ellen Burstyn, and received five Oscar nominations and earned $774 million on a $165 million budget.
Nolan’s biggest and boldest artistic leap then happened with the stirring, intensely dramatic WW2 epic, Dunkirk (2017), a highly modernized yet period-exact re-creation of the British-Nazi battle, with an ensemble including Tom Hardy, Fionn Whitehead, Harry Styles, Cillian Murphy, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Mark Rylance, and Kenneth Branagh.
The Warner Bros.-produced and released movie earned $527 million (on a roughly $85 million budget) and three of eight Oscars it was nominated for, with Nolan getting his first Best Director and second Best Picture nomination. Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi action movie, Tenet (2020), was the first big theatrical release during the COVID-19 epidemic, the main factor in its disappointing box-office return ($365.3 million), but marking the biggest starring role to date for John David Washington, with Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, and Caine.
Inspired by Pattinson’s gift of the J. Robert Oppenheimer biography, American Prometheus, Nolan took the book as his raw material for his script and production (backed by Universal Pictures after Nolan announced a public “divorce” of sorts from Warner Bros.) of Oppenheimer (2023), his IMAX-shot biopic of the so-called “father of the atomic bomb,” portrayed by Murphy, with a sprawling cast including Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, and Branagh.
Christopher Nolan was born and raised in the Westminster district of London by parents Brendan Nolan (advertising executive) and Christina Nolan (American-born flight attendant and English teacher). Nolan has one younger brother, filmmaker Jonathan Nolan, and an older brother Matthew. Nolan has been married to producer Emma Thomas since 1997; the couple has four children, Magnus, Oliver, Rory, and Flora. Nolan’s height is 5’ 11¼ ”. Nolan’s estimated net worth is $250 million.
Dual Citizen: Christopher Nolan’s British father and American-born mother have granted him dual citizenship in the United Kingdom.
Key Influences: Nolan considers his primary filmmaking influences to be Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, Michael Mann, and Ridley Scott.
Top Ten List: Christopher Nolan’s favorite movies include any movie made by Kubrick (but especially 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)), Topkapi (1964), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Black Hole (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Chinatown (1974), The Hitcher (1986), On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and Star Wars: Episode IV—A New Hope (1977).
Filmmaking Quirks: As a director, Nolan never uses a second unit director for production, and instead directs the unit himself; he also refuses to use CGI if at all possible, preferring instead to stage practical effects in camera.