Nolan joins previous cinema heavyweights, including Martin Scorsese, Richard Attenborough and David Lean – one of his chief inspirations – in being named as a fellow, and it will be presented to him in London on 14 February.
The event will be marked with a special In Conversation event the following evening at BFI Southbank, as well as a screening of his 2020 action thriller Tenet at BFI IMAX, which Nolan will introduce.
Others to have received BFI Fellowships include Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine, Cate Blanchett and Hugh Grant.
Since the early 2000s, Nolan has proved adept at directing critically acclaimed films that become box office successes. His films have grossed $6.1bn worldwide, with his latest film – the three-hour long war drama Oppenheimer – defeating the odds to make $953.2m globally.
This positions the film as his third most successful behind superhero sequels The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
The director has been Oscar-nominated for Best Director once before – for the Second World War film Dunkirk – but is expected to be nominated again for Oppenheimer next year.
Nolan said of his BFI Fellowship: “I am thrilled and honoured to be accepting a BFI Fellowship from an organization so dedicated to preserving both cinema’s history as well as its future.”
Meanwhile, BFI Chair Tim Richards stated: “I’m delighted to be honouring and recognising Christopher Nolan with a BFI Fellowship. Christopher Nolan is one of the greatest filmmakers of the 21st-century, creating hugely popular movies that have grossed over $6bn worldwide.
“His movies are all made for the big screen to challenge and entertain audiences around the world. Christopher’s commitment and support of the Cinema industry is legendary. He has also been at the forefront of preserving celluloid through his involvement with The Film Foundation and his own support via the Morf Foundation for the BFI’s photochemical work.
“All done to ensure that current and future audiences will be able to continue to enjoy and learn from our incredibly rich history of cinema for many years to come.”