One of the most obvious answers these days to the common question, “Who is your favorite director?” is Christopher Nolan, whose 10-film resume is without a single loser. The guy has yet to make a bad movie as his films have garnered widespread critical praise while doubling as box office blockbusters. Six of his titles have grossed at least $375 million worldwide with five crossing the vaunted half-billion mark. His lowest-scoring movie on Rotten Tomatoes still boasts 71 percent.
Yes, I am an unabashed Nolanite. No, I don’t care about your Dark Knight Rises hot take.
With such a successful pedigree, Nolan has long since reached the point where he can do any type of film he wants and a studio will gladly foot the bill. Coming off the Oscar-winning, box office-surprising success of Dunkirk, fan and industry anticipation is high to see what he’ll do next.
So, what would we want that to be?
Off-World Alien Sci-Fi
Nolan has tackled the space genre before with Interstellar, but he has yet to dabble in science fiction’s most popular lane: aliens.
Everyone loves extraterrestrials; the highest-grossing movie of all time only exists so we can watch a human become a seven-foot-tall blue alien. It’s wish-fulfillment. Let’s get Nolan in on this so he can dethrone the overrated Avatar at the box office.
His penchant for overwhelming IMAX visuals is perfectly suited for another exploration of outer space. This time, we don’t want to even see Earth after the opening act. Let’s go completely off-world and get creative with the imagery. If there’s one mind that audiences can trust to compellingly transport them to a different galaxy, it’s Nolan’s. He can even root the film in familiar human conflict.
An adaptation of The Forever War, which tells the planet-hopping contemplative story of soldiers fighting an interstellar war with an alien race over centuries, is right up the director’s alley. Maybe even something in the vein of Starship Troopers, a military sci-fi action flick with a satirical slant.
Nolan hasn’t worked with a budget under $100 million since 2006’s The Prestige, which just so happens to be his very best film. Relinquishing the special effects, action set pieces and balls-to-the-wall production, the filmmaker is forced to develop a moving character drama that is intertwined with a taut and twisty mystery.
Of course, there are still all of the familiar and endearing Nolan elements, such as a nonlinear narrative that unspools from unreliable narrators. But The Prestige is an engaging and atmospheric meditation on obsession; a figure-it-out tale that you’ll continue to chew on long after the lights come up similar to Memento.
Nolan doesn’t need to rehash the same “who done it” territory he’s previously covered, but perhaps a smaller scale project could producer another thought-provoking and grounded story. Dunkirk was a masterpiece but intentionally neglected character development; Interstellar is a marvel but loses its thread a bit in the back-breaking third-act; and The Dark Knight Rises is a wonderful spectacle that doesn’t quite hold up on repeat viewings.
Wouldn’t you want to see Nolan resharpen his focus on average people?
I don’t know if you noticed, but the Western is making a comeback in Hollywood recently.
The most prominent example is Logan, an ultra violent neo-Western from James Mangold and 20th Century Fox that bid goodbye to Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine after 17 years. The film was the first comic book movie to score a screenwriting nomination at the Oscars and earned more than $600 million.
Elsewhere, No Country for Old Men took home Best Picture honors in 2008; 2016’s Hell or High Water was one of the best films of its year; and Tessa Thompson and Lily James’ Little Woods was one of the top features to come out of the Tribeca Film Festival this year. Each baked in updates that more closely connected the genre with today’s times and tones. They don’t prop up the gunslinger archetype, they deconstruct it.
Nolan could perfect the modernization of the Western and hammer home the idea that the genre never went extinct, it just needed time to evolve.
“Westerns deal with land, greed, power, ambition and morality, the rule of law and the treatment of indigenous people,” The Telegraph‘s David Gritten wrote in 2013. “That’s an inexhaustible range of themes, and each generation of westerns tailors them to address current preoccupations.”
Sounds like a perfect fit for Nolan’s trenchantly detached perspective.
Nolan saved the Dark Knight from the Dark Ages of the Geroge Clooney era. He helped turned Leonardo DiCaprio into a full-fledged action star. He’s fucked with our minds in all sorts of experimental narrative ways.
Now, we’re ready for him to tell us a story about being a person.
By doing a World War II film, Nolan—like Spielberg before him—signified to Hollywood that he wants to be taken seriously as an auteur and not just an expert popcorn filmmaker. (Unfortunately, the entertainment industry still can’t accept that someone can simultaneously be both). Dunkirk scored the filmmaker his long overdue first nomination for Best Director and got him closer to Oscars gold than ever before. If he really wants to nab that statue, a biopic is the way to go.
Biographical films of famous historical figures of great influence and contemporary names of great controversy have long been a favorite of the Academy.
Just this year, the powers that be rewarded Darkest Hour (Winston Churchill), The Post (Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee), I, Tonya (Tonya Harding) and All the Money in the World (J. Paul Getty) with varying awards and nominations. DiCaprio has two separate presidential biopics in the works with Scorsese and Spielberg.
This route gets Nolan closest to that desirable career threshold and likely teams him with an A-list headliner.
Quietly, the horror genre has become Hollywood’s most financially reliable field.
Get Out and A Quiet Place garnered universal critical praise and surprising box office success, while Blumhouse Productions has mastered the micro-budget bang-for-your-buck model of horror filmmaking. Major studios are now scrambling for their own scary franchises, and Warner Bros., Nolan’s most frequent collaborator, is developing a star-studded follow-up to September’s breakout hit It, which defied all expectations and grossed more than $700 million worldwide.
Certain horror films can now be treated as bonafide cinematic events; attach Nolan’s name to something in this vein and you’ve got a release other studios are going to steer clear of on the schedule. It’s a perfect combination of concept and talent.
Dunkirk actually works as horror at times. It capitalizes on that feeling of no escape from unseen terror that is the trademark of the best scary movies. As we’ve seen, there is a massive untapped market for original, high-concept horror movies, and Nolan is a filmmaker who prides himself on developing original ideas.
Insomnia was a great thriller that proved if Nolan wanted to take the suspense one step further into full-on terror, he could. Given the economic landscape of the industry at the moment, now is the perfect time for Nolan to tinker with something different.