101 Greatest Screenplays of the 21st Century (*so far)

Few modern endings linger as powerfully as that of Inception, a sci-fi epic about thieves invading victims’ dreams. In protagonist Dom Cobb, Christopher Nolan found a fresh take on the archetype of a criminal damaged by the moral ramifications of his work—Cobb is so adrift that he employs a spinning top to affirm when he’s in the real world, as opposed to the realm of dreams. This device allows Nolan to root Inception in Cobb’s journey even as the story sprawls to encompass audacious heists, mysteries within mysteries, and spectacular battles. Like Cobb focusing on his top, Nolan keeps the film’s uber-narrative charging forward while cityscapes morph like Escher drawings come to life, so once the script reaches its final beat—an image of the spinning top that leaves Cobb’s fate unknown—Nolan has formulated Inception as a provocative question. How do we know what’s real? Nolan won the 2011 Writers Guild Award for Original Screenplay for Inception.