Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas: From University sweethearts to Oscar winners

Film director Christopher Nolan and his wife, film producer Emma Thomas, have rounded off a successful award season by receiving two of the highest honours in the UK.

The couple are to receive a knighthood and damehood, respectively, for their services to film, the Government has said.

Their partnership dates back to their days at University in the 1990s and has produced major blockbusters including The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception and their most recent venture, the epic biopic Oppenheimer, which swept the 2024 award ceremonies.

The couple met on their first week at University College London (UCL) where Nolan, 53, read English and Thomas, 52, read history.

London-born Nolan chose the school because of its filmmaking facilities and introduced Thomas to UCL Film Society, where he was president and produced short films.

The pair later married in 1997 and share four children – Flora, Oliver, Rory and Magnus.

Together they co-founded and run a production company, Syncopy, which has been behind many of their blockbusters.

Christopher Nolan receives BFI Fellowship – London
Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas attending the BFI Fellowship Annual Dinner (James Manning/PA)

In 1998, Nolan made his directorial debut with crime thriller Following, which he co-produced with Thomas.

Two years later Memento, which saw Guy Pearce as a man suffering memory loss desperately trying to discover who attacked him and killed his wife, unlocked Hollywood for them.

The film received two Academy Award nominations, for best original screenplay and best film editing, as well as being a box office success.

Following the well-received Memento, Nolan directed Insomnia, a psychological thriller starring Al Pacino as a detective on the hunt for a killer in an Alaskan town.

It was another critical and commercial smash, the beginning of a gilded run for Nolan and Thomas.

Christopher and Emma Nolan honoured
Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas met at university (Ian West/PA)

In 2005, they made the first film in the Dark Knight trilogy, with Christian Bale playing the titular role in Batman Begins.

That was followed by drama The Prestige in 2006, which starred Bale and Hugh Jackman as two rival magicians in Victorian London.

The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises followed in 2008 and 2012 respectively, with both films grossing more than one billion US dollars worldwide.

In 2010, Nolan directed sci-fi action film Inception, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio as a professional thief who steals ideas from victims’ unconsciousness. The film was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning four.

Their following sci-fi epics – 2014’s Interstellar and 2020’s Tenet – also enjoyed critical and award success.

Nolan received his first best director Oscar nomination for 2017’s Dunkirk, which depicts the Allies’ retreat from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk during the Second World War.

UK premiere of Oppenheimer – London
Emma Thomas and Christopher Nolan with the cast of Oppenheimer (Ian West/PA)

Their latest project, Oppenheimer, was based on the 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph And Tragedy Of J Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and the late Martin J Sherwin.

It birthed the Barbenheimer phenomenon, as Greta Gerwig’s comedy about the famous doll Barbie and his dark Second World War scientific film about the “father of the atomic bomb”, starring Irish actor Cillian Murphy in the titular role, were released on the same date.

Barbie was the highest grossing film of 2023, but Oppenheimer led during awards season, winning seven Oscars and seven Baftas.

It marked the first time the couple won the best picture Oscar and best film Bafta having previously been nominated for 2010’s sci-fi Inception and 2017’s war thriller Dunkirk.

It also secured Nolan his first directing Oscar after he had previously been nominated for six Academy Awards for examining important questions throughout his body of work.

While collecting his trophy, Nolan thanked his wife Thomas for being the “producer of all our films and all our children”.

At the end of the night, Thomas accepted the best picture prize on behalf of the film, saying: “I think any of us who make movies know that you dream of this moment.

“I could deny it, but I have been dreaming about this moment for so long, but it seemed so unlikely that it would ever actually happen.”