9 Films That Inspired Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’

Interstellar, the latest film from renowned director Christopher Nolan, landed in U.S. theaters almost two tears ago. In the film, a group of astronauts embark on an intergalactic journey through a wormhole to seek out a new habitable planet in order to save humanity from the dying earth. The film features an impressive cast, including Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Bill Irwin, Matt Damon, Topher Grace, and Ellen Burstyn.

Interstellar has received positive reviews from most critics, including the critics at Rotten Tomatoes, who gave the film a 71% “Certified Fresh” rating and said thatInterstellar represents more of the thrilling, thought-provoking, and visually resplendent filmmaking moviegoers have come to expect from writer-director Christopher Nolan, even if its intellectual reach somewhat exceeds its grasp.”

Of course, Interstellar is not the first science fiction film to explore themes related to space travel or the fate of humanity in a dystopian future. “I wouldn’t want to give too complete a list [of my sci-fi inspirations], because then when you see the film, you’ll see all the things I’ve ripped off,” joked Nolan at Comic-Con in San Diego earlier this year, according to BuzzFeed. Despite this supposed reluctance to reveal his influences, the renowned filmmaker has cited multiple films by other directors that had an impact on the set design and overall themes of Interstellar in several different interviews. In no particular order, here are nine films that director Christopher Nolan has named as inspirations and influences on Interstellar.

Star Wars (1977)

In an interview with Yahoo! Movies Christopher Nolan noted that “the first film that really got me excited about making films was the first Star Wars.” Besides inspiring his desire to be a filmmaker, Star Wars also directly influenced Nolan’s hyperrealistic approach to set design on Interstellar.

“My rule of thumb was we didn’t want any kind of gratuitous futurism in the sets,” Nolan told Empire film magazine. “Everything would be functional and feel real to the actors. They could flip the switches and use the control stick and actually have it feel like it means something.”

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

The release of Star Wars in 1977 led to Nolan’s exposure to another science fiction classic that was an even bigger influence on his approach to directing Interstellar. As recalled by Nolan, the success of Star Wars led to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey being rereleased in theaters in 1977.

“My dad took me to see it on the very big screen at Leicester Square,” Nolan told Yahoo! Movies. “I sat there with him, watched this imagery unfold and I remember very clearly, that sense of scale, that sense of otherworldliness. You felt lost, you felt like you’d gone across the universe to some very peculiar corner of it. Interstellar is absolutely my attempt to try and give audiences today some of that magical sense of being immersed in a different universe, taken on an incredible journey. I would love for kids today to experience that watching my film.”

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Clearly 1977 was an important year for shaping Nolan’s approach to science fiction filmmaking. Besides being the year that he first saw Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was also the year that Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released. Nolan acknowledged the influence that Steven Spielberg’s film about alien encounters had on Interstellar in a press conference covered by Indiewire.

“I grew up in an era that was the golden age of blockbusters, with films like ‘Close Encounters’ and the way that addressed the idea of this moment when humans would meet aliens from a family perspective and a very relatable human perspective,” said Nolan according to Indiewire. “I liked the idea of trying to give today’s audiences some sense of that form of storyline.”

Alien (1979)


Along with Star Wars, Nolan cited Alien as another big influence on how the future world depicted in Interstellar should look. “For me growing up in the ’70s, the reality of the grit and the grime of films like Alien, or the first Star Wars, those always stuck in my head as being how you need to approach science fiction,” Nolan told Empire. “It has to feel used — as used and as real as the world we live in. And I didn’t want design for design’s sake. There’s a lot of what I referred to Nathan [Crowley, production designer] as ‘getting a bunch of Styrofoam boxes and spray-painting them silver and sticking them on a wall,’ as if that meant something. Whereas it doesn’t. We tried to approach it from exactly the opposite point of view, which just says: ‘If there’d be a switch here that does something, we’ll put a switch here.’”

Metropolis (1927)

While Nolan didn’t go into detail about how Metropolis specifically influenced Interstellar, he cited the movie as one of the most important films in the science fiction genre. Directed by Fritz Lang, Metropolis is set in a futuristic city and includes one of the earliest portrayals of a robot. “I think anytime you look at science fiction in movies, there are key touchstones. Metropolis. Blade Runner. 2001,” Nolan told Entertainment Weekly.

Blade Runner (1982)

Nolan has long been “an obsessive champion” of Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece, according to The Telegraph, and the director has repeatedly cited the science fiction masterpiece as one of the primary influences on Interstellar. Blade Runner is perhaps most notable for its futuristic neo-noir visuals and its story that explores humanity’s relationship with technology.

The Right Stuff (1983)

Not all of the movies cited by Nolan fall into the genre of science fiction. The Interstellar director is a big fan of the Philip Kaufman-directed movie The Right Stuff. Based on a book of the same name by Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff tells the story of the test pilots who were involved in the early manned space flight program in the U.S. Nolan is so enthralled with the film that he made it required viewing for his Interstellar film crew.

“You can’t pretend 2001 doesn’t exist when you’re making Interstellar,” observed Nolan, according to IGN. “But the other film I’d have to point to is The Right Stuff. I screened a print of it for the crew before we started, because that’s a film that not enough people have seen on the big screen. It’s an almost perfectly made film. It’s one of the great American movies and people don’t quite realize how great it is — probably because it’s four hours long!”

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)

Christopher Nolan cited this classic John Huston-directed film as an important influence on how he depicted human nature in Interstellar. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre tells the story of several American prospectors who travel to Mexico to pan for gold, before their greed turns them against one another.

“[Interstellar] is about human nature, what it means to be human. It sounds like a very grand statement, but I don’t intend it to be. I mean it in the way, say, Treasure of the Sierra Madre is about dramatizing ideas of human nature,” Nolan told Entertainment Weekly. “When you take an audience far away from human experience as possible, you wind up focusing very tightly on human nature and how we are connected to each other. What the film tries to do is to be very honest in that appraisal.”

The Mirror (1975)

Highly regarded by many film critics for its unconventional dreamlike structure, The Mirror was directed by legendary Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, who is perhaps best known for his critically-acclaimed science fiction film Solaris. Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema introduced Nolan to The Mirror and the film had an influence on “elemental things in the story to do with wind and dust and water,” according to Indiewire.

While many viewers might overlook the similarities between Tarkovsky’s film and Interstellar, the influence was apparent to fellow director Quentin Tarantino, who saw Interstellar at a special early screening in October. “It’s been a while since somebody has come out with such a big vision to things,” Tarantino told The Guardian. “Even the elements, the fact that dust is everywhere, and they’re living in this dust bowl that is just completely enveloping this area of the world. That’s almost something you expect from Tarkovsky or Malick, not a science fiction adventure movie.”

Follow Nathanael on Twitter @ArnoldEtan_WSCS

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