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Christopher Nolan has been able to take film into realms that others have not for the last two decades. His elaborate stories are not privy to normal storytelling techniques that other Hollywood movies use, instead relying on mind-boggling plots and great characters.


Among those great characters are fantastic female protagonists and the incredible performers who help bring them to life. Yes, Nolan may have a proclivity for killing off wives, but he doesn’t do this for pure fun — it’s done to serve the plot and to make interesting, thought-provoking stories. Nolan’s female characters are always intelligent, and some of the most interesting characters in his films.

10 Natalie – ‘Memento’

Played by Carrie-Anne Moss

Natalie (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Leonard (Guy Pearce) having lunch at a diner in Memento
Image via Newmarket Films

The psychological thriller stars Guy Pearce as Leonard Shelby, a man who suffers from amnesia and is determined to find the killer of his wife. Helping him along the way is Natalie, (played by Carrie-Anne Moss), one of the key characters of the film.

Natalie is a bartender and offers her assistance in Leonard’s search. Due to the non-linear narrative, secret motives and desires pervade what the actual reality is. As we discover more, we learn the true motives and connections Natalie has in the events that transpired around the killing of Leonard’s wife.

Memento

A man with short-term memory loss attempts to track down his wife’s murderer.

Release Date
May 25, 2001

Runtime
113 minutes

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9 Selina Kyle – ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

Played by Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, standing in her costume on a rooftop at night in The Dark Knight Rises
Image via Warner Bros.

Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman, aka Anne Hathaway, is the skilled thief who eventually helps Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) in the third installment of Nolan’s trilogy. She is agile and has an affinity for theft and infiltration. She is a complex character as she acts as both an antagonist and protagonist in the film.

Nolan shows a redemption arc through Kyle, as she evolves from a self-serving thief to a complex antihero willing to help fight for a greater cause. She is an asset to the story as well as Batman, as her resourcefulness makes her a good ally. A part of pivotal action sequences, Kyle is never shy of danger and creates some of the most memorable moments of the trilogy.

The Dark Knight Rises

Eight years after the Joker’s reign of chaos, Batman is coerced out of exile with the assistance of the mysterious Selina Kyle in order to defend Gotham City from the vicious guerrilla terrorist Bane.

Release Date
July 16, 2012

Runtime
164

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8 Olivia Wenscombe – ‘The Prestige’

Played by Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson as Olivia Wenscombe, standing on stage and showing the audience a metal tube in The Prestige
Image via Buena Vista Pictures 

In The Prestige, Scarlett Johansson portrays Olivia Wenscombe, an alluring stage assistant who becomes involved with two feuding magicians (Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman) in the late 19th century. The film’s core themes explore the lengths people will go to for obsession and sacrifice.

Wenscombe is an added dynamic to the enhanced hostility between the two magicians. The intriguing part of Nolan’s writing is creating elusive tensions behind each character. As the magicians feud, it is not clear where Wenscombe will end up.

The Prestige

After a tragic accident, two stage magicians in 1890s London engage in a battle to create the ultimate illusion while sacrificing everything they have to outwit each other.

Release Date
October 20, 2006

Runtime
130 minutes

Main Genre
Drama

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7 Mal Cobb – ‘Inception’

Played by Marion Cotillard

Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Mal (Marion Cotillard) sitting on the beach in Inception
Image via Warner Bros.

Mal Cobb, played by Marion Cotillard, is the wife of Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), a skilled thief who specializes in extraction. Together they play in the dream world, only for Mal to become convinced the only way to get out is by taking her own life.

Nolan gives Cotillard a metaphysical role, as her presence is often felt rather than in physical form. She lingers in dream sequences that carry immense weight, showing Dom’s guilt and grief over the loss. Her character is the driving force behind Cobb’s motivations, making her an integral part of his journey.

Inception

A thief who steals corporate secrets through the use of dream-sharing technology is given the inverse task of planting an idea into the mind of a C.E.O., but his tragic past may doom the project and his team to disaster.

Release Date
July 15, 2010

Runtime
148

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6 Ariadne – ‘Inception’

Played by Elliott Page

Elliot Page as Ariadne, standing in the road looking mystified in Inception
Image via Warner Bros.

Elliot Page plays a talented architecture student, Ariadne, who is recruited by Dom Cobb to join his team. She becomes responsible for creating the dreamscapes in their target subconscious during the process of “inception.”

As the newest member of the team, Ariadne helps give exposition to the audience as she learns about the complexities of constructing immersive and stable dream worlds. Like an ethical meter, Ariadne gives conversation to the moral aspect of what they are doing and also helps Cobb emote his struggles with his past.

5 Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer – ‘Oppenheimer’

Played by Emily Blunt

The wives of historical figures hardly ever get a mention when it comes to a biopic, but Nolan seems to right this wrong in his critically acclaimed Oppenheimer. As Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer, Emily Blunt shows the immense dedication that wives show to help support a seemingly trivial cause.

A stoic woman, Kitty is not only there for her husband (Cillian Murphy) in moments of grief and disappointment, but also at moments when he needs to have the confidence to fight against the people who are after him. Her presence is truly felt on screen as much as it would have been in real life.

Oppenheimer

The story of American scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.

Release Date
July 21, 2023

Runtime
180 minutes

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2:15

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4 Rachel Dawes – ‘Batman Trilogy’

Played by Maggie Gyllenhaal

rachel-dawes-the-dark-knight-2008-maggie-gyllenhaal
Image Via Warner Bros. 

Rachel Dawes is played by two actresses in the Batman trilogy: Katie Holmes and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Dawes is the childhood best friend of Bruce Wayne, and her status as the assistant district attorney gives her power to help fight crime in Gotham.

Throughout the trilogy, Dawes serves as a source of moral guidance for Bruce Wayne. She holds a significant place in his life as an avenue to which he can be vulnerable. Dawes is a well-rounded character in the trilogy, embodying the themes of justice, sacrifice, and the struggle between good and evil.

The Dark Knight

When the menace known as the Joker wreaks havoc and chaos on the people of Gotham, Batman must accept one of the greatest psychological and physical tests of his ability to fight injustice.

Release Date
July 18, 2008

Runtime
152 minutes

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3 Amelia Brand – ‘Interstellar’

Played by Anne Hathaway

Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) standing in a spaceship in a spaceship and looking concerned in Interstellar
Image via Paramount Pictures

In Interstellar, Anne Hathaway’s Amelia Brand is one of the astronauts chosen for the interstellar mission to find a new habitable planet. Brand is a scientist and the daughter of the leader of the mission. She is intelligent and determined to help save humanity.

Brand holds a strong belief that love is a powerful force that transcends space and time. It is her principles that help to guide Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) further on his journey, and they are integral to her decision-making in the film as an altruistic heroine. In the film, she touches on many moral and philosophical dilemmas that play a part in the rationality of the mission they are on.

Interstellar

When Earth becomes uninhabitable in the future, a farmer and ex-NASA pilot, Joseph Cooper, is tasked to pilot a spacecraft, along with a team of researchers, to find a new planet for humans.

Release Date
November 7, 2014

Runtime
169 minutes

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2 Ellie Burr – ‘Insomnia’

Played by Hilary Swank

Hilary Swank as Ellie Burr, looking distraught in Insomnia
Image via Warner Bros. Pictures

In Insomnia, Hilary Swank plays the ambitious detective Ellie Burr, a young member of the Alaska Police Department. She becomes entangled in a murder investigation that becomes a high-profile case when a renowned Los Angeles detective (Al Pacino) gets involved.

Ellie is inquisitive and fast-thinking in a film where guilt and deception pervade. She balances a moral compass of what is right and wrong, being the guide that navigates the intricacies of law enforcement and human nature. As she uncovers the truths behind the case, she has to decide what the right choices are.

Insomnia

Two Los Angeles homicide detectives are dispatched to a northern town where the sun doesn’t set to investigate the methodical murder of a local teen.

Release Date
May 24, 2002

Runtime
118 minutes

Writers
Hillary Seitz , Nikolaj Frobenius , Erik Skjoldbjærg

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1 Murphy Cooper – ‘Interstellar’

Played by Jessica Chastain

Jessica Chastain as adult Murph, standing in a corn field in Interstellar
Image via Paramount Pictures

A key character that goes through their entire life in one movie is Jessica Chastain as Murphy in Interstellar. Highly intelligent and motivated, Murph is the daughter of the film’s protagonist, Joseph Cooper. She has a loving relationship with her father and a magnetic relationship with science that could help save humanity.

Murph plays a crucial role in helping her father’s celestial mission from down below, helping to solve intricate scientific puzzles. Murphy is the emotional core of the science fiction film that brings levity to what it means to be human in the first place. The relationship she has with her father helps drive the narrative and create themes of everlasting love and the connections between humans.

NEXT: The 10 Best Christopher Nolan Acting Collaborators, Ranked



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