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The surprising films that inspired Christopher Nolan's #Dunkirk


A Christopher Nolan film is always something of an event, and his latest, Dunkirk sees the auteur tackling the war epic in what promises to be another visually stunning, emotional masterpiece.

Always one to wear his influences on his sleeve, Nolan’s inspiration for Dunkirk is as varied as you would expect. From a 1970s sci-fi/horror masterpiece to a 90s nail-biter, Nolan takes his influence from across the board, and these are just some of the surprising films that the master director himself is citing as his major influences for his latest epic…

The silent movie: Greed (1924)

You might not have heard of this one, and despite the fact it pre-dates Christopher Nolan's own birth by 46 years, he still names this film as one of the influences for Dunkirk. As it is a silent movie with written intertitles, the need for the visuals to tell the story is even more important, and “visual storytelling” is famously one of Nolan's key strengths.

When digging a bit more it isn’t hard to see the similarities between Greed director Erich von Stroheim and Nolan also. Stroheim was obsessed with the accuracy of the film, putting his cast through a gruelling two month shoot in the ominously named Death Valley in California in order to get the footage required.

Nolan might be a little kinder to his cast, but accuracy and attention to details is something he prides himself in. For Dunkirk, major money has been spent on using real destroyers, ships and planes to get that perfect look he is aiming for. We’re in no doubt that his focus on authenticity will pay off on the big screen.

The romantic movie: Ryan's Daughter (1970)

Yes, you did read that correctly, and whilst a romantic movie might not seem like the most obvious of reference points for a war movie, there was something very specific about the landscapes that inspired Nolan.

He commented of David Lean's epic: "The relationship of geographical spectacle to narrative and thematic drive in this work is extraordinary and inspiring. Pure cinema."

Whilst we shouldn’t necessarily be expecting a romantic subplot, we should still expect beautiful landscapes and scenery to provide contrast to the scenes of war and destruction, making it a war film like no other.

The sci-fi/horror movie: Alien (1979)

In space, no one can hear you scream, and whilst a sci-fi/horror film might seem pretty far removed from a war movie, it is more the sense of tension created by Alien that has inspired Nolan.

In the 1979 Ridley Scott masterpiece, a fair chunk of time passes before we see the alien of the title appear, but yet the sense of unease and dread is palpable right from the start. The first trailers for Dunkirk, which had an ominous ticking clock sound (subsequently incorporated into Hans Zimmer's score), emphasise that sense of tension that Nolan is going for here.

As Nolan is also well known for delivering some of the biggest twists in cinema history, you should definitely go into Dunkirk expecting the unexpected... even without any extraterrestrial intruders.

The action movie: Speed (1994)

Long before he was beating up bad guys in John Wick, Keanu Reeves starred in this 1990s action movie classic. Playing the role of a police officer, Reeves’ character is tasked with preventing a bomb from exploding by keeping the bus it is on above 50mph.

Describing it as a “ticking-clock nail-biter”, it was the pacing of this film which had the biggest influence on Christopher Nolan, and perhaps even led to the choice to include the ticking sound in the trailer as we’ve already mentioned.

Whereas his previous film, Interstellar, was pushing 3 hours, Dunkirk comes in at a rather punchy 1 hour and 46 minutes, but an awful lot can still happen in that time. Expect tension, nail-biting and edge of your seat moments.

Click here to book your tickets for Dunkirk, opening on 21st July.

Sarah Buddery is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.

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