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Top 10 Characters From Christopher Nolan’s Filmography

Atharva Deshpande lives in Nashik, Maharashtra. He is a cinephile and a bookworm. He likes to talk about books & movies that interest him.



Christopher Nolan has given us pretty amazing films over the last two decades. These films have blown our minds with amazing and memorable characters. Many critics claim that Nolan’s characters don’t provide emotional depth or any kind of development, but I can claim they are pretty complex and interesting.

I am ranking my top 10 favorite characters in this list that appeared in Christopher Nolan's Films.
This list is subjective and based on the fact that how much I enjoyed seeing them on screen!

On That Note, Let's get started.

#10 Daniel (Danny) Llyod – Following (1998)


Right off the bat, starting this list with Nolan’s debutant feature. Daniel Llyod is a pretty interesting character who follows people to get ideas for writing. Jeremy Theobald plays the character very well and gives us a conflicted protagonist (not the one from Tenet).

But, in Nolan’s world of characters, Danny is pretty straightforward. His motivations and actions are pretty well defined. He doesn’t get too complex rather the opposite as the film progresses. Of course, Alex Haw’s Cobb also steals the show a bit.

#9 Bruce Wayne – Batman Begins (2005)


Now Bruce Wayne doesn’t only belong to Nolan, but his version of Bruce Wayne is actually pretty awesome, gritty, and real. We see this Bruce turning from a misguided youngster into a full-blown Vigilante for justice. Christian Bale’s portrayal of this conflicted guy puts a charm onto it. And be aware, I am talking about Wayne, not Batman. Because Batman’s characterization is pretty straightforward. He wants justice by vigilance.

Nolan’s Wayne, on the other hand, keeps his complex persona going on. He wants a happy life, but he can’t have it. He is constantly torn in his dual identity. To be good as Batman, Bruce has to be bad as Wayne. It doesn’t help that he roasts people at his parties.

Well, at least this Wayne has Michael Caine’s Alfred.

#8 The Protagonist – Tenet (2020)


Tenet has had a pretty divided reception. Nolan fans think it’s smart whereas few believe it’s not that smart. I believe I am only going to add to the argument.

Whatever the film might be, JDW’s The Protagonist is worth mentioning on this list. The aspect that making him so interesting is his mysteriousness. We don’t know much about this guy, not even his name. We only know John David Washington looks awesome in a suit. JDW’s demeanor enhances this character.

Of course, Robert Pattinson’s Neil is a character worth mentioning; but the Protagonist's overall style wins this entry. Yet, later on in the film, we get to know a little about him and his mysteriousness starts feeling a little out of place.

#7 Farrier – Dunkirk (2017)


Dunkirk has many characters, none of them we stay with for a long time. The only two characters I felt connected towards are Shivering Soldier from the boat and Farrier, the pilot. While Shivering Soldier played by the ever-dependable Cillian Murphy is amazing, it’s Tom Hardy’s Farrier who wins this spot.

We don’t even see Farrier’s face for most of the movie. His actions cause the biggest impact on the events of this film. From saving his buddy pilot to saving the on-beach soldiers, Farrier is actually a pretty heroic character. The interesting thing is we don’t know much about Farrier.

The only thing I do know about him is that he burnt the plane.

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#6 Joseph Cooper or Cooper – Interstellar (2014)


Interstellar is a film with amazing space sequences, nice practical effects, and a loud background score. While it is pretty interesting with its set pieces, the characters aren’t that interesting. The only character that is awesome throughout the film is Joseph Cooper (And Murph, she’s pretty cool). Cooper is the one we empathize with throughout the film. His journey gets more and more heartbreaking as the film progresses.

His ability to keep working even after knowing the cost is praiseworthy. Matthew McConaughey’s performance will leave a huge mark on you. Cooper’s actions may be well defined, but it’s his emotional arc that gives him a spot on this list.

#5 Walter Finch – Insomnia (2002)


Insomnia is the most underrated Nolan film of all time. There, I said it.

Due to its straightforward plot, not a lot of people mention Insomnia. For me, it’s one of the more grounded movies from Nolan. The characters both Will Dormer and Walter Finch are interesting. But where Al Pacino’s Dormer is just a cop, it’s Finch who ends up being more interesting.

I never would have imagined Robin Williams playing a psycho killer who could manipulate Michael Corleone (The Godfather, 1972). Williams takes the cake with his charming performance. He is casual about “the accident” and knows a secret about Dormer, driving the investigation to a weird way.

It’s the mystery of Robin Williams’ Finch that keeps us hooked throughout the film. So, he does deserve a spot.

#4 Leonard Shelby – Memento (2000)


Leonard Shelby is already an interesting character on first hand. When we get to know him, we see that he suffers from a rare disease where he can't make new memories. He remembers everything before his injury though, where his wife was raped and murdered. Shelby’s motivation is to avenge his wife’s murder.

Of course, these are not new characteristics or motivations.

What’s new is the twist.

During the climax, which is technically the beginning, we understand Leonard actually is a murderer, a weapon. He has killed several "John G.s" in order to keep his guilt at bay. This reveal is ingenious and gives a unique shade to this character. That’s why, this character played by highly underrated Guy Pearce, is always going to be in my top 5 Nolan characters.

#3 Dom Cobb – Inception (2010)


What new could I say about Inception that isn't been said before?

Inception’s protagonist Dominic Cobb, played by the legendary Leonardo DiCaprio, is quite secretive. Cobb’s motivation is quite clear when agreeing to Saito’s offer. He wants to go home to his children.

It’s his whole angle about his wife, Mal, that makes him so much more interesting. She keeps coming/ interrupting/ sabotaging his dreams. Which in the rules of Inception is a huge threat. We aren’t given the reasons for this, it is revealed slowly. That's what makes Cobb that much more interesting.

Also, the totem he uses belonged to his wife.

Nolan and Leonardo created such a distinct character that we couldn’t stop but like this character.

#2 Alfred Borden – The Prestige (2006)


The Prestige is a showdown between two amazing magicians, Robert Angier and Aldred Borden. This showdown starts as a healthy competition leading to an unhealthy obsession. Robert Angier and Alfred Borden make great rivals and great character. Angier’s anger towards Borden is pretty clear and concise. I mean, Borden doesn’t remember which knot he tied!

But it’s Alfred Borden, played by Christian Bale, who keeps his game under the wraps. I won’t spoil the twist, but until the end, we don’t understand Borden’s magic trick. It’s his sacrifice, his conviction, and determination that make his trick evergreen for the audiences.

By the end, we are left shocked, depressed, confused even.

Whenever I look at the scene where Borden walks through rows of tanks, the only question lurks in my mind, “Was it all worth it?’’

#1 Joker – The Dark Knight (2008)


You might have seen this coming from a mile away, but how could I select anyone other than the clown prince of crime from Nolan’s Gotham for the top character. Heath Ledger’s Joker might be created by DC, but it’s the treatment that Nolan gives to him that remains memorable.

We don’t know anything about this guy, not even his real name. For a visiting card, this guy has a Joker card from a deck of cards. One thing's for sure, he is the agent of chaos who pushes Batman to make the toughest choices, to break his rules, to become The Dark Knight he was meant to be.

Written with detail and performed with an undying craze, Joker remains the most memorable part of the greatest superhero film of all time and that’s something.

With a posthumous Oscar win, Heath Ledger will leave nightmares in your mind. Creating chaos all over Gotham and being a guy with no plan yet always the best adaptability, I believe Joker is the best character ever seen in a Nolan film.

That concludes that.

My top 10 favorite characters from Christopher Nolan’s filmography. All mysterious and interesting in their own way.

What do you think about my list?

Did I leave any of your favorite characters?

Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks For Reading.

© 2021 Atharva Deshpande


Atharva Deshpande (author) from Nashik on May 24, 2021:


Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on May 23, 2021:

Well presented. Nice.

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