What to Watch

Ten Films to Watch Before Tenet

As Tenet's release day draws ever closer, warm up for Christopher Nolan's long-awaited time travel spy thriller with these great movies...

In an alternate timeline in which a global pandemic didn't happen, we'd have already seen Christopher Nolan's mind-bending spy thriller Tenet by now, and would probably all be sitting around, scratching our heads, typing things like “Tenet ending explained” into our search engines.

But in this far less ideal timeline, Tenet has been delayed a whopping three times, though not – as originally reported – indefinitely. It'll hit theatres in the UK on August 26, per Nolan's wish – demand? – that it should only be seen in theatres on the basis that it's apparently the most cinematic thing ever conceived, and God help anyone who tries to tell the filmmaker differently.

But that's still three weeks away and the days until then can only be long and empty. In the meantime, why not sit down to the following ten films, which either influenced Tenet, share some thematic links, or feature some of the film's cast in their most unmissable roles. Think of these picks as warmups to what should hopefully turn out to the cinematic event of the year, in a year that so desperately needs one…


On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)

What is it? One of the more underrated films in the Bond franchise, On Her Majesty's Secret Servicestarring the largely forgotten George Lazenby in his one and only performance as the iconic spy.

Why should I watch it? Though Nolan has cited the far more silly The Spy Who Loved Me as his favourite Bond film, this entry – another of his alleged favourites – feels better matched to Tenet's more seriously-minded spy story. Interestingly, the director chose not to adhere to tradition and screen films to inspire the cast and crew while shooting Tenet, preferring instead to work from his memory.

Where to watch it: Various streaming services


Primer (2004)

What is it? An indie sci-fi film that is eerily convincing in its methodical and incredibly complicated depiction of time travel, directed by Shane Carruth.

Why should I watch it? Few films have busted as many brains as Primer, marking it out as essential viewing before Tenet comes along and does the same with its tale of “time inversion.” Rumour has it that if you make can make sense of Primer, you can make sense of anything.

Where to watch it: Amazon Prime Video


Inception (2010)

What is it? Christopher Nolan's other mind-bending sci-fi thriller, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a “dream-stealer” tasked with implanting an idea into a person through the subconscious act of – you guessed it – “inception.”

Why should I watch it? Out of all of Nolan's films to date, Tenet looks like it shares the most DNA with Inception – visually and thematically. Plus, it's the 10th anniversary this year, so why not?

Where to watch it: Various streaming services


Predestination (2014)

What is it? This absolute mind-bender of a science-fiction movie tells the story of a temporal agent, played by Ethan Hawke, who gets sent on a dangerous mission through time to… honestly, I couldn't tell you, it's that mind-bending.

Why should I watch it? To get you in the mood for Tenet's own sure-to-be barmy time travel antics, Predestination offers brilliantly clever B-movie thrills, time loops, paradoxes, and some truly unexpected twists. It also has Succession's Sarah Snook, which has nothing to do with Tenet, but is worth mentioning.

Where to watch it: Various streaming services


Annihilation (2018)

What is it? Alex Garland's strange and hallucinogenic adaptation of the novel of the same name, which follows a group of female scientists as they venture inside a alien-infected zone where plants and animals are mutating in bizarre ways. Natalie Portman stars.

Why should I watch it? Anyone who values the “smart thrills” that we've come to associate with Christopher Nolan's body of work will cherish this film's refusal to pander to its audience. It's confusing, but in the best possible way.

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

Black Panther (2018)

What is it? The billion dollar success that is Black Panther, one of the most beloved movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, starring Chadwick Boseman as the titular superhero.

Why should I watch it? Aside from the fact that it's a great time from start to end, this is the movie for which composer Ludwig Göransson bagged the Academy Award for Best Original Score back in 2019. He's also the composer behind the sure-to-be epic score for Tenet, standing in for Nolan's usual maestro Hans Zimmer. It's gonna be big.

Where to watch it: Various streaming services


Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

What is it? The sixth – and arguably best – entry in a franchise that is basically an excuse for Tom Cruise to prove his mettle to us through a series of insane stunts.

Why should I watch it? Because there is probably no other franchise out there that blends high-octane espionage, real life stunts, and a minimal use of CGI to such exhilarating effect. Given Nolan's love of both spy stories and practical effects, which has informed the making of TenetFallout feels like something of a kindred spirit. Also, Tom Cruise flies a helicopter! For real!

Where to watch it: Various streaming services


BlacKkKlansman (2018)

What is it? Spike Lee's Oscar-winning drama-comedy, based on an unbelievable true story, about a Black cop who goes undercover as a white man to infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan.

Why should I watch it? Tenet's leading man, John David Washington, also played the lead in BlacKKKlansman, so it's the ideal place to get acquainted with the actor before release day. He's also Denzel Washington's son, by the way.

Where to watch it: Various streaming services


High Life (2019)

What is it? A singularly strange and captivating sci-fi thriller from French auteur Claire Denis, about an intergalactic mission to the stars that is also very sweaty and very sexual. Oh, and it stars Robert Pattinson.

Why should I watch it? Anyone who still doubts Robert Pattinson's immense talent… firstly, what is wrong with you? And secondly, High Life will change your mind and gear you up for his performance in Tenet, where the actor – look at that scarf! – appears to be playing a thinly-veiled version of Christopher Nolan?

Where to watch it: Various streaming services


Widows (2019)

What is it? An utterly captivating heist movie from the great Steve McQueen, starring Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Cynthia Erivo, whose husbands are killed in a job gone wrong, saddling them with millions of dollars worth of debt.

Why should I watch it? Elizabeth Debicki is also in Tenet, playing a mysterious character of whom we know little about. But she's absolutely incredible in Widows and outright steals the movie. Get to know her here first and be blown away.

Where to watch it: Various streaming services

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