Christopher Nolan at the Oscars: A timeline

Acclaimed director wins first Oscar for Best Director for Oppenheimer, after years of nominations

Christopher Nolan wins Best Director and Best Picture awards for Oppenheimer at the 96th annual Academy Awards. EPA
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British-American filmmaker Christopher Nolan has won an Oscar at last. Many fans have thought he deserved to win on several occasions in the past.

Before the 2024 Academy Awards, Nolan had earned five nominations. His latest release, Oppenheimer, received 14 nominations, making it the most honoured film of his decades-long career.

In total, the film earned seven awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Nolan himself.

Since emerging in the late 1990s, Nolan has become a successful blockbuster filmmaker, with many of his movies becoming time-tested favourites for fans and critics alike – creating larger-than-life experiences that warrant repeat viewing.

Here we look at the director’s history at the Academy Awards that led to his much-anticipated wins.

2002 – Memento

Nolan’s first nomination was for Best Original Screenplay for Memento. The film is considered one of the director’s most important films for its mystery-box storytelling and editing.

The neo-noir film tells its story in reverse, with the end at the beginning and vice versa. The film stars Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss and Joe Pantoliano.

Memento lost the Best Original Screenplay Oscar to Gosford Park, written by Julian Fellowes. The film was also nominated for Best Film Editing and lost that award to Black Hawk Down.

Despite being his first major film after his student feature Following, Memento displayed a level of artistry and attention that only grew in the subsequent years.

2011 – Inception

Nolan returned to the Oscars nomination list in 2011 with his most ambitious work to date.

After the huge success of The Dark Knight, the director stepped away from the Batman franchise to direct an action epic set inside the world of dreams.

Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Marion Cotillard, Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe. The film was a huge box office success, earning more than $800 million against its $160 million budget.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards in 2011, Inception took home four Oscars. Unfortunately for Nolan, he lost the Best Picture and Best Director awards to The King’s Speech and its director Tom Hooper.

Inception remains a fan favourite as well as a popular choice for home entertainment, providing a film experience unlike any other.

2018 – Dunkirk

After another long absence from the awards, Nolan was nominated once again for his Second World War film Dunkirk.

Starring Fionn Whitehead, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy and Mark Rylance, the historic epic was a popular big-screen experience that year, earning more than $500 million in box office returns.

Dunkirk was nominated for eight Academy Awards, taking home three for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.

While he was nominated for both Best Director and Best Picture, Nolan lost both to Guillermo Del Toro and his film The Shape of Water.

2024 – Oppenheimer

Arriving at this year’s Academy Awards, Nolan’s historical biopic about the so-called father of the atom bomb was the favourite to win the most categories.

Oppenheimer earned 13 nominations and took home seven awards.

The film, which was released in summer, became a cinematic sensation alongside Barbie, as they came out within a week of each other.

Film fans called the unlikely double-feature “Barbenheimer,” a portmanteau of the titles.

Oppenheimer made more than $900 million in box office returns, a big success for cinemagoing in the post-pandemic world.

Proving to be Nolan's most successful film at the Oscars yet, Oppenheimer picked up awards throughout the night.

While the film's Best Picture win was the heavy favourite, Best Director was more in question, making his win all the sweeter for fans.

And if that wasn’t enough, Oppenheimer went on to win Best Picture too, giving Nolan a double Oscar win for a film he fought hard to get made.

Updated: March 11, 2024, 10:28 AM