So you’ve watched Tenet, basked in the complicated thrills of Christopher Nolan, and would like more topsy-turvy, mind-bending movies. Hopefully, you’ve already watched Nolan’s other movies, as Inception, The Prestige, and Memento kind of create the blueprint for Tenet. If not, watch all of those. You should love them. It would be easy to include them on this list but that would be cheating. So here are some non-Nolan movies to watch if you liked Tenet.
- Source Code (2011)
- Total Recall (1990)
- Primer (2004)
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
- Paycheck (2003)
- Terminator (1984)
- Gemini Man (2019)
- Deja Vu (2006)
- Minority Report (2002)
- 6 Underground (2019)
- Haywire (2011)
Looper had, when it first came out, a lot of hype. Given its star power and quality story, it seemed like it could be an instant classic in the sci-fi genre. However, over the years, it’s aged into more of a cult film than anything else. But it starts Bruce Willis as Old Joe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Young Joe. And they are not getting along. It’s existentially interesting when you’re in a fight with yourself, and you see these two versions of Joe go through a lot of emotions when it comes to their past and their future and who their loyalty is to. The reason it makes the list is because there’s a lot of time travel shenanigans. To the point where people were having great debates about the logic of the story. Something every Tenet fan knows well. And there’s action. Tons of action. Smart, dynamic, and a stand-out of its era, Looper‘s worth the watch.
The Bourne Identity (2002)
The Bourne Identity was a pretty big deal when it came out. A spy-thriller that re-defined the aesthetic of spy-thrillers through the use of a quick-cutting, handheld shaky cam. Some of the fight scenes were disorienting to people in the theater because the camera was so chaotic. Kind of reminds me of the complaints surrounded Tenet audio choices and how hard it could be to hear characters. Bourne stars Matt Damon as Jason Bourne and starts with him found in the sea by a fisherman, two gunshot wounds in his back, and a serious, serious, serious case of amnesia. With very little information, he has to solve the mystery of who he is, while people try and kill him. He has a similar arc to Tenet‘s Protagonist, as both begin completely dismayed and work their way toward mastery of the situation.
Spy Game (2001)
For those of you who loved the dynamic between The Protagonist (John David Washington) and Neil (Robert Pattinson), I give you Spy Game. This Tony Scott film is a blend of the quick-pacing of other Scott films like Top Gun with the classic slow-burn of 19070s neo-noir. It’s fitting, as Spy Game features Brad Pitt and Robert Redford. Pitt brings a modern bravado to his role as a CIA agent, while Redford has his vintage poise as the Pitt’s handler. You see the highs and lows of their dynamic as they’re torn between friendship and duty. It’s the kind of movie you’d probably never think to watch, but once you do, you’re glad that you did. They don’t really make ’em like this anymore.
Re:Zero — Starting Life in Another World (2016)
We don’t normally put TV shows into this list. But Re:Zero is such a unique experience that I think it’s worth breaking the rules. So the show features a kid, Subaru Natsuki, who mysteriously transports from modern Japan into a world that’s pure fantasy. Monsters. Magic. Elves. Witches. The works. And he’s just your average teenager. Except for one thing: whenever he dies, he wakes up at a fixed point in time. So what he lacks in ability, he makes up for in opportunity. It’s very anime Groundhog Day. But it’s fascinating. As Subaru solves a problem, he creates a new wake up point. But the situations grow more and more complicated. So he’s essentially enacting temporal pincer maneuvers left and right to try and figure out bleaker and bleaker problems. It’s actually one of the most thought-provoking shows I’ve ever watched.
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)
An early example of the temporal pincer. The first Terminator starts in the future where a sentient machine has brought humanity to the brink of destruction. The human leader, John Connor, has rallied the people who remained and found a way to defeat Skynet. In a last ditch effort, Skynet has sent a robo-assassin back in time to take out Connor’s mom and prevent the leader from ever existing. Connor sends a soldier back to save his mom. Humans win! The second movie repeats this premise. Except this time Skynet sends back an even more advanced robot and Connor doesn’t send a human at all but his own re-programmed T-800 (from the first movie). Terminator was a much more arthouse, independent movie than the blockbuster Terminator 2. Given the blockbuster status, it feels much more in-line with Tenet‘s overall tone and style.
Tenet is essentially a Bond movie. Nolan said in interviews he always wanted to direct a Bond movie. But he never had the opportunity. So he made his own! But with some twists. He essentially made The Protagonist an anti-Bond. Just look at their names. James Bond is iconic and his quote, “The name’s Bond. James Bond.” Is also iconic. When you’re trying to compete with that, you really can’t. So what did Nolan do? Go the opposite route. Make the character nameless. And instead of being a womanizer, The Protagonist is a chaste gentleman. Instead of drinking martinis, he’s alcohol-free. So Nolan definitely had Bond in mind, even if the end result was an anti-Bond. The reason I picked Skyfall is because it felt the most Nolan-y to me. Casino Royale is just, I think, a little too sensible and grounded to get the comparison. Where Skyfall swings for the fences in a way I think Nolan would appreciate.