Nearly 29% Of Fans Think This Is Christopher Nolan's Best Movie — We Have Thoughts

(Welcome to Survey Says, a feature where we conduct a movie-related survey for a random group of people and explain why they're completely right, completely wrong, or somewhere in-between.)

Filmmaker David Cronenberg once said, "Christopher Nolan's best movie is 'Memento.' " This was after the release of "The Dark Knight Rises" back in 2012, and Cronenberg (who, it should be said, directed his own comic book movie, "A History of Violence") stated that he didn't think "formidable directors" like Nolan were making superhero films "an elevated art form."

Audiences would seem to disagree. The results are in for our latest survey, where we polled 590 U.S. respondents with one simple question: "What's the best Christopher Nolan movie?"

If you, like Cronenberg, think "Memento" should rank number one, you might be disappointed. Based on these results, people have a clear preference for Nolan's Batman films over most of his other movies — even "Dunkirk," which another one of Nolan's contemporaries, Quentin Tarantino, cited as his second favorite film of the 2010s.

Take a wild guess which Nolan movie ranked number one...

It's a Dark Knight for Nolan Movies Without Batman

With 28.64% of the vote, the winner of our survey by a landslide was "The Dark Knight." Heath Ledger's Joker left his calling card on Nolan's filmography and on popular culture. "The Dark Knight" made a billion dollars at the box office, back when there were only a handful of other crowd-pleasers that had made that much worldwide, such as "Jurassic Park," "The Lion King," "Titanic," and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."

There are those of us who went to see "The Dark Knight" eight times in the theater. It's a thematically rich slice of blockbuster entertainment that inspired a whole 10th-anniversary legacy series of articles here on /Film. Ledger won a posthumous Academy Award for his performance as the Joker, and it was widely perceived as a snub when the film itself did not earn a Best Picture nomination. In response to the public outcry, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences even expanded the Best Picture category from five to 10 nominees the very next year.

Weighing critical acclaim, commercial success, and cultural impact against Batman's sometimes risible, growly voice, it's tough to argue that "The Dark Knight" is Nolan's best movie.

Batman Begins and Inception Pull Off a Mind Heist

Coming in at second place, with 14.07% of the vote, is "Batman Begins." Nolan was arguably the quintessential filmmaker of the 2000s, but if we're being honest, the mid-2000s were when the moviegoing masses really began to sit up and take notice of his work. That's when he rescued the Batman franchise from the development hell where it had languished for years after Joel Schumacher's much-derided "Batman and Robin."

"Batman Begins" brought a new level of serious artistry to the comic book movie. It's the film that made reboots go boom as a business model in Hollywood, and it's the rare Batman movie that is truly focused on making Bruce Wayne the most compelling character. With these things in mind, you can't fault our respondents for saying it's the second best Nolan movie.

Where this survey starts to get wacky is in the third-place position. "Inception" and "The Dark Knight Rises" tied for third most popular Nolan film, with both of them taking in 10.17% of the vote. "Inception" did earn a Best Picture nom, and we ourselves highlighted it as one of the best films of the 2010s. Nolan ushered in the new decade by encouraging the audience to "dream a little bigger," beyond Batman. He took his penchant for cross-cutting to a new level — with action rippling across multiple dream levels — and left us with a totemic top spinning in the ultimate open ending.

"Inception!" It's a real solid choice. But "The Dark Knight Rises" at number three? C'mon.

The Dark Knight of the Soul Rises

Forget about escalation, Lieutenant Gordon. The real question is, what about exposition?

There are characters in "The Dark Knight Rises" that are completely disposable and exist solely to be receptacles for expository dialogue before dying. It's the movie that brought sound issues and mouths muffled by masks to the forefront of Nolan's filmography. Bane breaks Batman's back, but in no time at all, Batman is up and walking again, teleporting from the desert back to Gotham, which co-screenwriter Jonathan Nolan mistook for "A Tale of Two Cities" (or A Tale of Three-Plus Cities, since Gotham is now Pittsburgh and Manhattan instead of Chicago or Shepperton Studios in England).

Readers who think "The Dark Knight Rises" is a misunderstood masterpiece are certainly entitled to their opinion. The film goes for the "Inception" effect with its ending. (Is our hero really still alive in Europe, or is that just an old friend's fantasy of what could have been?) It's a clear favorite among fans, but the fact that it received so many votes for Nolan's objective "best movie" maybe just goes to show how deeply inception-ed certain Nolanites are.

The rest of us would sooner rewatch "Memento," which came away with 9.15% of the vote in our survey. It remains an indie triumph of non-linear storytelling and a movie about self-deception and the lies we tell ourselves (lies like "The Dark Knight Rises" being worthy of a bronze medal here?).

Everything Non-Batman Brings Up the Rear

Though it features the other great, dark-tinged Robin Williams performance of 2002 (next to "One Hour Photo"), Nolan's remake of the Norwegian film, "Insomnia," went to sleep with 8.14% of the vote. "Dunkirk," his back-to-basics bid for a long overdue Best Director nom, drowned like a soldier on a sinking ship with 7.29% of the vote.

Second to last is "The Prestige," which secured 7.12% of the vote, perhaps because it has one too many plot twists. The Christian Bale twist is believable and worthy of an O. Henry short story, but then came the Hugh Jackman twist, which strains credulity even if it does work on a thematic level.

"Interstellar" arrives dead last with 5.25% of the vote. For all its visual and musical majesty, the film's spotty script and questionable third act left it floating in the space library, peering in envy through the cracks in the bookshelves at all the other Nolan movies that ranked higher than it.

"Tenet" has no place in this survey, either because it's too recent and not enough people have seen it, or because they've seen it but not enough people were willing to go to bat for it ... or because it's Nolan's lowest-rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes and wasn't included as an option in the survey in the first place.

One thing is certain: the denizens of geekdom prefer Nolan, the franchise filmmaker, to Nolan, the auteur of original, non-superhero stories. Jesus wept, and somewhere in the dark of night, Cronenberg is also weeping.