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First Screenings of Christopher Nolan’s Best Movie Were a Disaster, Says Writer

First Screenings of Christopher Nolan's Best Movie Were a Disaster, Says Writer


  • Memento
    defied traditional storytelling, becoming an innovative hit for the Nolans with a unique narrative structure.
  • Initial reactions to the film were negative, with executives displaying contempt for the audience’s intelligence.
  • Despite being overshadowed by other Nolan hits,
    remains the director’s joint-best movie on Rotten Tomatoes.

Memento became an early example of the kind of twisting, innovative narrative that Christopher Nolan would become partially known for with movies like Inception and Tenet. The Guy Pierce-starring mystery thriller would go on to be a defining moment for Nolan and his brother, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan, but the latter revealed that it could have all been very different considering the initial reaction to that film.

Premiering in 2000, the Nolans’ groundbreaking film defied traditional structure to tell its story in reverse. Based on the short-story by Jonathan, Memento sees Pierce playing Leonard, a former insurance investigator who suffers from short-term memory loss. Only able to remember his wife’s murder, Leonard goes about finding those responsible and exacting revenge.



Release Date
May 25, 2001

1hr 53min

Newmarket Capital Group, Team Todd, I Remember Productions

Although Christopher Nolan would mirror some of Memento’s storytelling techniques in his Oscar-winning Oppenheimer, the screening reactions were not very promising at all. Jonathan Nolan told Josh Horowitz’s Happy Sad Confused podcast:

So we screened it for everyone, all on the same day, March of 2000. I took Chris out for a steak. Emma [Thomas] went to one screening, [producers] the Todd sisters went to another, Aaron Ryder our producer went to a to a third, and they called me on my old Nokia cell phone. Chris and I were waiting for the hosannas…the calls came in and no one wanted to buy it.

It started with Harvey Weinstein and all the rest. … We screened it for all these movie theaters and we get completely blanked. No one wanted it and the response from all of them was, “Oh I thought it was great.” “Okay well how much do you want to offer?” We would have taken not a lot of money. And the answer was, “I get it, but the audience won’t get it.” And there was such contempt for the audience.

This is really what motivated a lot of my career and a lot of the way I’ve approached my career. There’s such contempt for the audience, that the audience was a bunch of f—–g idiots. So they wouldn’t get it. And I thought to myself, “God I’ve met some of these executives. What makes you think you’re that much smarter than the audience? Cause you’re not.”

Memento is Christopher Nolan’s Joint-Best Movie, According to Rotten Tomatoes.

Guy Pearce in Memento
Summit Entertainment

Although Christopher Nolan has delivered several impressive movies in his career, Memento sits at the top of the pile, along with his sophomore Batman outing, The Dark Knight. Although it was Oppenheimer that won him numerous awards, and a box office worthy of the accolades, Memento remains his top-rated movie according to both audiences and critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with both scores sitting at 94%.

Although Memento‘s box office did not bring in the kind of money that The Dark Knight did ($1.006 billion), it was still a huge box office success in terms of profit. Made on a budget of around $5 million, the film ended its run in cinemas with a gross of over $40 million. While the director would go on to receive a much higher amount to play with on his subsequent films – like the $100 million of Oppenheimer or the staggering $185 million for The Dark KnightMemento is a solid reminder that sometimes it doesn’t take a big budget to make an outstanding movie.


Jonathan Nolan Thinks Video Games Are Better Than Most Movies These Days

In an exclusive chat with MovieWeb, Fallout creator Jonathan Nolan discussed the emergence of video games as a “more interesting” medium than movies.

While Christopher Nolan is expected to make his movie remake of 1960s TV series The Prisoner his next project, Jonathan Nolan is currently watching his latest project, Prime Video’s Fallout series, earning plenty of praise. All in all, things are looking very good for the Nolan brothers – not bad for a pair who believed that their first big hit was destined to fail.

is currently available to stream on Peacock.

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