What Should Christopher Nolan Do Next?

Join us as we speculate on what Christopher Nolan might be up to next.

Christopher Nolan is one of the few directors in Hollywood who gets complete creative control over his films – perhaps only Steven Spielberg and James Cameron have that same kind of freedom. Frankly, he’s earned it: his Dark Knight trilogy has made billions and even his original sci-fi epic from 2010, Inception, raked in $800 million worldwide – almost unheard of these days for a film not based on a pre-existing property.

With last year’s Interstellar also crossing over $670 million worldwide despite some division among audiences — we found it to be an ambitious and stunningly unique piece of work — it also seems likely that his ability to have carte blanche on the next one remains intact.

The word “visionary” gets stuck next to the names of a lot of directors these days – it’s become pretty much a marketing tag – but Nolan is one a handful of filmmakers who arguably has earned the title.

So what does Nolan tackle next? He finished the screenplay for his 10th feature film earlier this summer, and although it’s only known for the moment as “Untitled Christopher Nolan Film,” it now has a release date. So what could this project be?

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The director has indicated he is fond of making movies that fill the screen (IMAX or otherwise), so it’s not unlikely that he could reach for some new spectacle, sci-fi or otherwise. Or does he take a break from vast visions of multi-tiered dream realities, time-bending voyages through the universe and epic clashes between superheroes and supervillains? Can Christopher Nolan make something again as small as his brilliant breakthrough thriller Memento?

Only he knows the answer to that, and he’ll share it with us sometime soon. But in the meantime, let’s speculate a bit on what Nolan could tackle and perhaps what we might like to see him make…

1. James Bond

Nolan has spoken often about the influence of the Bond franchise on him in general and Inception in particular – and has even suggested he might like to direct a 007 outing one day. To be fair, this can’t be his 2017 project, but we’d still like to see it happen.

Pros: Not only would landing Nolan be a real coup for the Bond producers, but it would immediately generate tons of interest in a franchise that, while generally healthy at the moment, always needs a shot of fresh energy every few years. I suspect that if he did direct one, he would want to wait until Daniel Craig steps down and put his own imprint on the film by being involved in the casting of the seventh Bond. The combination of Nolan behind the camera and a new 007 would be a formidable publicity machine. Plus wouldn’t we all love to see what Nolan would do with one of cinema’s most storied series?

Cons: The Bond films are as tightly controlled – by Eon Productions – as the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While they’ve hired name directors like Sam Mendes, most of the time the director serves the will of producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson. Nolan might not work well under those conditions and might find it difficult to express his own ideas with the confines of the franchise. 

2. A previously abandoned project

Nolan rarely speaks about films that don’t come to fruition, but two such projects have come up in the past and could be worth revisiting. One is his biopic of Howard Hughes, for which he wrote a script 10 years ago that he has claimed is the best screenplay he’s ever written. The other is a big-screen version of the cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner, which he was reportedly interested in doing at one point but which never got past some early development (a dreadful six-part AMC remake of the series is all we ended up getting).

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Pros: Either one of these projects have their positive attributes. A biopic would take Nolan into new genre territory and it would be interesting to see if he could break the current rise-fall-redemption template associated with the genre these days. As for The Prisoner, its themes (memory, identity, paranoia, government overreach, individuality) and surreal imagery (the Village, Rover) are still relevant and seem like a terrific match for the director.

Cons: Martin Scorsese has already done one Hughes biopic (the reason why Nolan abandoned his) and Warren Beatty has one on the way, so I can’t imagine there’s enough interest for a third. When it comes to The Prisoner, the show was very much a cult item and Nolan would have to walk that always tricky line of pleasing its fans while introducing it to a wider mainstream audience.  

3. Adapt a novel

Nolan’s most criminally overlooked film may be 2006’s The Prestige, his excellent adaptation of the outstanding and disturbing novel by Christopher Priest about dueling magicians in 19th century London. Nolan and his brother Jonathan wrote the screenplay and exhibited a fine ability to capture both the essence and plot of Priest’s dense book. So why not attempt another one?

Pros: The Nolans do quite well with taking existing material and making it their own, as The Prestige and the Dark Knight trilogy have shown. In fact, I have a novel in mind that I think would be perfect for Nolan (and have thought so for years): The City and The City by British speculative fiction writer China Mieville. The book takes place in a sort of alternate Eastern Europe where two completely separate cities occupy the same geographical space. The citizens of each city are trained from birth to “unsee” anything that’s part of the other metropolis, and any breaking of that law brings down the mysterious authority known as Breach. The story is essentially a police procedural told in an utterly bizarre setting – both of which play to Nolan’s strengths.

Cons: I’m a little biased on this because I really do believe Mieville’s novel would be a terrific challenge for Nolan, in addition to being a great (and genuinely weird) story on its own. It was not a best seller, however, or a very mainstream book, so selling it to both a studio and audiences could be a struggle.

4. Interstellar 2

Don’t laugh. Nolan has never made a sequel outside of the Batman movies, but that doesn’t mean he’s opposed to them. And if Interstellar becomes successful enough, the studio might want him to consider it.

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Pros: I’m going to get into spoilers here a bit so be warned. The ending of Interstellar – with Anne Hathaway as the mother of 700 embryonic human beings on a distant planet, and Matthew McConaughey stealing a ship to go find her – is more sequel-friendly that, say, Inception, and leaves room for Nolan and his brother to take their story in many different directions. It’s a big universe out there, and the ending of this film left a lot of questions unanswered.

Cons: Sequels always come with the baggage of the first movie attached, plus Nolan may simply have no interest in revisiting these characters or this storyline. And speaking strictly from a business point of view, if Interstellar does not quite hit the box office marks that were perhaps expected for it, it might be tough for even Nolan to get a second film approved.

5. An original film for under $100 million

That’s how Den of Geek editor David Crow puts it, and he’s got a point: let’s see Nolan make something that is unique to his vision but perhaps redirects his energies away from $160 million spectacles into a story that is just as compelling (if not more so) for half the price.

Pros: After making four gargantuan films in a row (The Dark Knight, Inception, The Dark Knight Rises, and Interstellar), Nolan may simply find that going smaller is better than going bigger. Working with a (relatively) tighter budget could be just as challenging as having unlimited funds, and tightening up his scripts from nearly three hours to, say, just under two could hone his storytelling ability – often cited as the weak link in many of those blockbusters.

Cons: Nolan may simply like telling huge stories and might not want to go back to something simpler and less grandly cinematic. There is also the notion of expectations: audiences may now have a certain idea of what they want to see when they plunk down cash for Christopher Nolan film – at the very least, they know they’re going to get a lot of movie for their money.

In the end, Nolan has to follow his creative inspiration and go in whatever direction that leads him. Whatever it is, I’ll be watching. He’s too fascinating a filmmaker not to.

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This article was first published on Nov. 14, 2014.