Christopher Nolan's 10 Best Action Scenes (And Why They're So Good)

Christopher Nolan knows how to do action scenes well. Here are the best ones that'll have you on edge every time you watch.
Christopher Nolan's 10 Best Action Scenes (And Why They're So Good)

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As of this writing, everyone is looking forward to Christopher Nolan's upcoming Oppenheimer. This is nothing new—Nolan has been one of the most anticipated directors since 2005's Batman Begins.

Though he's mostly known for creating intelligent plots that border on convoluted, one of Christopher Nolan's strongest traits has been his ability to craft impressive action sequences.

After his immense success with several past action flicks, he now commands vast budgets that allow him to come up with all kinds of impossibly outstanding action sequences.

In this article, we're looking at Christopher Nolan's greatest action scenes based on how important they were to their stories, how smartly they were written, and how well they were choreographed.

10. Who's Chasing Who? (Memento)

Watch: Who's Chasing Who?

While this may not be the best action sequence you'll ever see, it's great because it's very smartly written—plus, it's thrilling.

This Memento scene starts with Leonard finding himself on a toilet, unsure as to how he got there. Due to his short-term memory loss, he usually finds himself in these kinds of situations.

But this time, he's about to take a shower but realizes he's being followed—and a fight for survival ensues. Even if you have short-term memory loss, it doesn't stop you from bludgeoning someone with a bottle!

After that, we see the origins of this encounter: a chase scene that features the kind of confusion an amnesiac might actually exhibit. "Am I chasing this guy? Nope! He's chasing me!"

9. You're Practice (Batman Begins)

Watch: The Opening Sequence

How do you reintroduce an audience to a serious character who has become a laughing stock? For an excellent example of doing it well, see Nolan's opening action sequence in Batman Begins.

After having his breakfast thrown to the ground, Bruce Wayne gives a savage beatdown to all who oppose him.

The great thing about this action opener is that there's historical significance here, too. For a while, Batman was best known for his nipple suit—this scene goes completely against that in all the best ways.

8. Bane vs. Batman (The Dark Knight Rises)

Watch: Bane Versus Batman

This scene stands out because we went from Batman whooping ass to Batman getting his ass whooped. This one was tough to watch!

While the Dark Knight trilogy has an abundance of punch-ups, this one feels especially important. It's the kind of brawl that Bruce Wayne is used to, but we now get to see that the years have caught up to him.

As Bane cracks Wayne's spine on his knee, it was a symbolic moment. He's no longer who he was when he first started this campaign against crime. Will he be able to become that person again?

7. The Joker's Heist (The Dark Knight)

Watch: The Joker's Heist

This might just be the greatest action movie opening scene of all time. As an introduction to The Joker, it works. As the setup for one of the most brilliant action films ever made, it works even better.

The zip-line across the street, the shootout with the bank teller, the running commentary, the demonstration that "there's no honor among thieves," the introduction to Heath Ledger's Oscar-winning performance—everything about this scene is perfect.

6. The Highway Car Chase (Tenet)

Watch: The Highway Car Chase

Not only was this action scene exciting, it was a real head-scratcher. Christopher Nolan is the first director to depict a reverse-time-traveling car chase. Yup, you read that correctly.

Though it was mind-melting to witness, it was more than just a gimmick. It's actually incredibly well-designed for a car chase scene.

Tenet underperformed at the box office for different reasons, and it's far from a perfect movie, but it deserves credit where credit is due. Even if it's hard to grasp, this scene is just really cool.

5. Crashing the Plane (The Dark Knight Rises)

Watch: Crashing the Plane

If you haven't realized thus far, Christopher Nolan can do a pretty darn good action movie opener. With The Dark Knight Rises—the final entry in his Dark Knight trilogy—he exceeded all expectations.

As the CIA have captured a group of men connected to Bane, things suddenly get out of hand when they realize the very man they're looking for is already in their midst...!

The only reason why I rank this one above the opening for The Dark Knight is because of the lengths Nolan went to film it.

Nolan is the type of director who chooses practical effects whenever possible, which is admirable in today's CGI-reliant era. The behind-the-scenes for this action set-piece were insane.

4. The Hallway Fight (Inception)

Watch: The Hallway Fight

Remember when I said, earlier in this article, that Memento had one of the smartest action scenes out there? Well, yeah, this one tops that.

Immaculately imitating how dreams function in real life, this action scene from Inception takes place inside a character's head—and the environment is influenced by his real-life circumstances.

In other words, when the car swerves in real life, the action scene taking place inside his head also feels the swerve. It's an action scene inside of an action scene, and it's peak Christopher Nolan.

3. The Docking Sequence (Interstellar)

Watch: The Docking Sequence

If you were to cross Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey with Speed, the end result would be something like Christopher Nolan's Interstellar.

While Interstellar was slow, intricate, and methodical for the most part, there's an action scene that really stands out as thrilling, edge-of-your-seat, and heart-pumping: the docking sequence.

After the explosion at the space station, Cooper attempts to dock, knowing that this is their only hope for survival. After he's told it's not possible, he coldly replies: "No... It's necessary."

Hans Zimmer is a god amongst men and his heart-stopping score in this scene proves it. Everything comes together perfectly.

2. The Dogfight (Dunkirk)

Watch: The Dogfight

Dunkirk remains Christopher Nolan's most mature project as it deals with the evacuation on the beaches of Normandy. That doesn't mean Nolan leaves out the heart-pounding action he's known for.

One of the most intense scenes that Nolan ever designed is the dogfight that takes place over the English Channel. As two pilots realize that German fighter jets are heading to destroy a minesweeper, they take it upon themselves to stop them.

We're right in the action the whole time. There isn't one moment where we don't feel like we're in the cockpit beside Tom Hardy. And the watch? The ticking of that watch is the definition of intense.

1. The Bat Bike (The Dark Knight)

Watch: The Bat Bike

The Dark Knight was hailed as an instant classic for many reasons: Heath Ledger's performance, Hans Zimmer's score, Christopher Nolan's writing and direction. Buried under all that? The insane stunts.

The chase sequence where The Joker attempts to kill Harvey Dent will forever go down as one of the greatest action sequences ever.

Just look at everything that happens: first, we have the RPG; second, the SWAT car is rammed into the water; third, the crashing helicopter. One by one, it's an action fan's dream come true.

And I haven't even mentioned the Bat Bike! This is the capstone to an already great scene. There will never be another scene as cool as when the truck flips over like that. It'll be hard to top, for sure.

Despite all the thrills that Nolan has given us over the years, this chase sequence in The Dark Knight is absolutely, without a doubt, Christopher Nolan's best action scene of all time.