MOVIES

Christopher Nolan’s Rumored Next Movie Might Be His Riskiest Yet

Summary

  • Nolan considers making a horror movie, but The Prisoner movie could be his riskiest venture yet.
  • The finale of the original series was so controversial that viewers showed up to the creator’s house to demand an explanation.
  • If Nolan adapts The Prisoner, he risks alienating viewers but his success indicates he may pull it off.



Fresh off winning seven Academy Awards for the towering historical epic Oppenheimer — including Best Picture and Best Director — Christopher Nolan is setting his sights on his next cinematic project. In February 2024, Nolan expressed interest in potentially making a horror movie in the future, telling the BFI that it is extremely difficult to find an original horror tale and that he is still seeking one worthy of adapting. As Nolan continues his search, the door has seemingly opened for The Prisoner, a big-screen adaptation of the 1967 British TV show of the same name that has been rumored to be Nolan’s next movie (as per Variety).


While nothing is definitive and should be taken with a grain of salt at this point, a cinematic adaptation of The Prisoner could potentially be Nolan’s riskiest venture to date. Of course, winning multiple Oscars affords greater creative freedom and the opportunity to take bigger chances, and it appears as though Nolan might be courting his most daring project yet. To understand why The Prisoner could be Nolan’s biggest cinematic risk of his career thus far, it’s worth exploring what happened to the original TV show and its creator and star, Patrick McGoohan.


What is The Prisoner and How is Nolan Involved?

Number Six wears all black in The Prisoner
ATV


Created by and starring Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner is a British sci-fi mystery thriller that aired on the ATV network for 1 Season and 17 episodes from 1967 to 1968. The premise of the acclaimed ’60s TV show concerns Number Six (McGoohan), a British intelligence agent who is abruptly kidnapped following the resignation from his government post. Number Six is held hostage and taken to a mysterious area called The Village along the coast surrounded by mountains.

Odder yet, Number Six awakes inside a precise replica of his house and soon meets other prisoners in The Village identified by numbers. The numerically-appointed prisoners have no clue who to trust and when Number Six realizes what’s happening, he claims he is a free man and not just a number meant to be held captive by mysterious forces. While the prisoners are not caged and can move freely, The Village is a high-tech surveillance state that tracks every move each prisoner makes, robbing them of freedom, privacy, and solitude.


Those who attempt to escape The Village are either killed or recaptured by Rover, a robotic watchguard. The more that Number Six uncovers the truth about The Village, the more he links a grand conspiracy relating to mind control, stolen identity, dream theft, and psychological indoctrination. If the idea of dream theft sounds familiar, that’s because Nolan explored a similar subject in his 2010 film Inception. While Inception is not an adaptation of The Prisoner, Variety reports that Nolan was attached to adapt The Prisoner as a movie back in 2009.

According to Variety, Nolan had interest in adapting The Prisoner as a feature film. But as the trade notes:

“The sci-fi project vanished from Nolan’s dance card that same year, when AMC released its own ‘The Prisoners,’ a six-part miniseries led by Jim Caviezel as the ill-fated agent Number Six alongside Ian McKellen and Ruth Wilson.”


Once AMC released The Prisoner as a watered-down American version of the thrilling British original series, Nolan scrapped plans to make The Prisoner as a movie and focused on other projects instead, including the mind-altering Inception. Although it is rumored that Nolan has rekindled his interest in The Prisoner, Variety notes that Nolan could be writing a new screenplay entirely. Regardless of what Nolan opts to direct next, chances are it will land at Warner Bros. or Universal, two major studios known for working with him in the past.

What Happened to the Star of The Prisoner?

Number Six sits on a throne in The Prisoner
ATV

Not mentioned in The Variety article is what happened to star and showrunner Peter McGoohan following The Prisoner‘s initial run in 1968. The show’s final episode, “Fall Out,” left viewers with an ambiguous, open-ended conclusion that did not provide the answers fans were looking for. Although the episode earned a 1969 Hugo Award nomination for Best Dramatic Presentation, fans were outraged that a satisfying conclusion was not given to them.


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According to McGoohan, the outrage was so intense that he was forced to “go into hiding for a while” following the release of “Fall Out” (as reported by NPR) because disgruntled viewers were showing up at his house demanding answers. After the surreal and cerebrally challenging finale took place, McGoohan noted that viewers were upset with the ambiguity, adding:

“No, yeah, lots of people didn’t [get it]. They wanted clear answers — Where WAS the village? Which side ran it? Who WAS Number One?”

While the ending of The Prisoner failed to provide satisfying answers, the real question is whether Nolan would be brave and bold enough to adapt the story faithfully to the big screen or if he would provide the answers that have eluded viewers since 1968. Of course, Nolan is no stranger to an ambiguous ending, but would this one be a step too far for the audience?


Why is The Prisoner Such a Risky Project for Nolan?

Although Nolan has made daringly risky movies with Memento, Inception, The Dark Knight, and others, The Prisoners could potentially be his boldest creation yet. The original series is imbued with a bizarre and nightmarish Kafkaesque experience akin to Orson Welles’ 1962 thriller The Trial, a risky picture that notoriously flopped at the box office by earning just $93,533 against a $1.3 million budget (via Box Office Mojo). By potentially making The Prisoner his next film, Nolan subjects himself to a similar financial risk while also potentially alienating or upsetting viewers.

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Yet, one person’s risk is another person’s certainty. With Oppenheimer, Nolan has proven that he can turn a talky, three-hour historical epic about the formation of the atomic bomb into a global blockbuster and multi-Oscar-winning movie. If anyone is poised to take on a risky project like The Prisoner, Nolan is arguably the most capable director in Hollywood to get the job done.

Nolan’s interest in making The Prisoner dates back to at least 2009 and now that he reportedly has the creative freedom that winning two Oscars affords (seven total for Oppenheimer), the director may be emboldened to take on his riskiest movie yet. While nothing is set in stone at this time, Christopher Nolan could lock up The Prisoner as his next potential big-screen outing. Stay close as the story continues to develop.


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