What will Christopher Nolan do next?

After winning Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars, the Oppenheimer director has the world at his feet.

Hollywood, CA - March 10: Christopher Nolan with the Oscar for Best Picture for
Christopher Nolan is at the pinnacle of his career, but what's his next move? (Getty Images)

When Christopher Nolan took to the stage of the 96th Academy Awards, it was to collect a long overdue Oscar for Best Director.

As one of the most lauded filmmakers of his generation, it seems crazy that the London-born director had to wait until his 12th movie — and to be 26 years into his career — to scoop cinema’s most prestigious trophy. And it wasn’t just his own award he was celebrating that night, as Oppenheimer, his three-hour biopic about "the father of the atomic bomb", swept the board, hoovering up seven Oscars, including wins for Cillian Murphy (Best Actor) and Robert Downey Jr (Best Supporting Actor).

And it was on the stage of Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre that Nolan made his emotional speech, closing with a heartfelt tribute to the art of cinema. “Movies are just a little bit over 100 years old,” he said, clutching his Oscar. “Imagine being there 100 years into painting or theatre. We don't know where this incredible journey is going from here.”

Watch: Oppenheimer cleans up at the 2024 Oscars

So with the world now watching more closely than ever, the question on everyone’s lips is: what will Christopher Nolan do next?

This is a moviemaker who has worked in multiple genres, from reality-bending sci-fi (Inception, Tenet, Interstellar) through superhero spectaculars (the Dark Knight trilogy) to neo-noir thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to sweeping historical epics (Dunkirk, Oppenheimer), and so maybe nothing — not a rom-com, or a musical, or a buttoned-up period piece — is off the table.

When asked about making a horror film at a recent BFI event, Nolan told the audience "I’d love to make a horror film. But I think a really good horror film requires a really exceptional idea. And those are few and far between. So I haven’t found a story that lends itself to that."

Christopher Nolan with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of his 2010 mind-bending sci-fi thriller Inception. (Alamy/WB)
Christopher Nolan with Leonardo DiCaprio on the set of his 2010 mind-bending sci-fi thriller Inception. (Alamy/WB)

La La Land director Damien Chazelle has praised Nolan for his ability "to make the most seemingly impersonal projects — superhero epics, deep-space mind-benders — feel deeply personal", and it’s true: few filmmakers make such thought-provoking movies on such a blockbuster scale.

It is Nolan’s talent for blending intelligence and spectacle that has led many to suggest that he’d be a good fit with the James Bond series. Certainly, Nolan is a fan, and past 007 directors, particularly Skyfall’s Sam Mendes, have acknowledged his work as an influence.

“What Nolan proved,” Mendes told Indiewire in 2012, “was that you can make a huge movie that is thrilling and entertaining and has a lot to say about the world we live in.”

Bond 26 remains shrouded in mystery. (MGM/Sony)
Bond 26 remains shrouded in mystery. (MGM/Sony)

But would Nolan ever sign up for a Bond? The internet went into overdrive in October 2023 when it was rumoured that Nolan had met with Eon (i.e. producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson) and inked a deal to make two movies that, it was said, recast James Bond in the original period setting of Ian Fleming’s novels.

Only it was bunkum. Eon is well known for its backseat driving, and a teaming up of Broccoli and Wilson on one side and a director as fiercely independent as Christopher Nolan on the other seems potentially unworkable, something the filmmaker acknowledged to the Happy Sad Confused podcast in July ‘23.

“I love the films,” Nolan said. “You know, it would be an amazing privilege to do one. It has to be the right moment in your creative life where you can express what you want to express and really burrow into something within the appropriate constraints because you would never want to take on something like that and do it wrong.

"You wouldn’t want to take on a film not fully committed to what you bring to the table creatively. So as a writer, casting, everything, it’s a full package. You’d have to be really needed, you’d have to be really wanted in terms of bringing the totality of what you bring to a character.”

Whatever Nolan has lined up next — and you can be sure he’s already deep into pre-production on movie number 13 — he’s keeping his cards close to his chest. And there’s little chance of any information leaking before he’s ready to reveal. As someone who shuns smartphones and who writes his screenplays on an offline computer, he knows how to keep a project top secret.

Nolan also keeps his inner circle as intimate as possible (his producer is his wife Emma Thomas, while his brother Jonathan was co-screenwriter on five of his films), again minimising any possibility of leaks. And though he makes his movies with studios (he’d worked for Warner Bros since making Insomnia in 2002, finally breaking with them in 2021 after they decided to premiere a year’s worth of films on their new streaming service HBO Max. He went to Universal for Oppenheimer) he doesn’t have a production deal, meaning that his movies are largely independent.

L to R: Emily Blunt (as Kitty Oppenheimer) with writer, director, and producer Christopher Nolan and Cillian Murphy (as J. Robert Oppenheimer) on the set of OPPENHEIMER. (Universal)
Emily Blunt and Cillian Murphy with Christopher Nolan on the set of the Oscar-winning Oppenheimer. (Universal)

Though Nolan has only made 12 films in his career, there have been a few near-misses. After Insomnia he began work on a biopic of Hollywood recluse Howard Hughes, only to scrap the project when Martin Scorsese announced his own take on Hughes’ life in the form of The Aviator. He was also briefly attached to an adaptation of Ruth Rendall’s 1996 novel The Keys to the Street and to a reimagining of the 1960s series The Prisoner. In the end, the series was remade for AMC with Jim Caviezel in the title role.

Certainly, Oppenheimer’s nearly $1 billion box office will mean that whatever Nolan wants to do next, he won’t have to scramble for greenbacks. Taking a look at his filmography you can see there’s never been a gap longer than three years between movies, suggesting the latest we’ll see Nolan’s next project will be 2026.

Preferring to prep his movies in MI6-like secrecy, it’s unlikely we’ll find out his next move anytime soon. At the moment, it’s possible only a few people know what that project is. One thing is for sure, though – whether it’s a knotty crime thriller, a surreal sci-fi, a gritty historical or a sweeping love story, it’s going to be cerebral, provocative and, above all, strikingly cinematic.

Watch this space.

Oppenheimer will be available to stream on NOW from 12 April.

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