|The Dark Knight|
|Directed by||Christopher Nolan|
|Based on||Characters appearing in comic books published|
by DC Comics
|Edited by||Lee Smith|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$1.006 billion[c]|
The Dark Knight is a 2008 superhero film directed by Christopher Nolan from a screenplay he co-wrote with his brother Jonathan. Based on the DC Comics superhero Batman, it is the sequel to Batman Begins (2005) and the second installment in The Dark Knight Trilogy. In the film's plot, the superhero vigilante Batman, Police Lieutenant James Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent form an alliance to dismantle organized crime in Gotham City, but their efforts are derailed by the intervention of an anarchistic mastermind, the Joker, who seeks to test how far Batman will go to save the city from complete chaos. The ensemble cast includes Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and Morgan Freeman.
Warner Bros. Pictures prioritized a sequel following the successful reinvention of the Batman franchise with Batman Begins. Nolan developed the core story elements alongside Begins co-writer David S. Goyer, making Dent the central protagonist and tragic hero caught in the battle between Batman and the Joker. In writing the screenplay, the Nolans were influenced by various 1980s Batman comics and crime drama films while continuing the heightened reality tone of Begins. Filming took place from April to November 2007, on a $185 million budget, on location in Chicago, Hong Kong, and on sets in England. The Dark Knight is the first major motion picture filmed with high-resolution IMAX cameras. Nolan avoided using computer-generated imagery unless necessary, insisting on practical stunts including flipping an 18-wheel truck and blowing up a factory.
The Dark Knight was marketed with an innovative interactive viral campaign initially focused on countering criticism of Ledger's casting by those who believed he was a poor choice to portray the iconic character. Ledger died from an accidental drug overdose in January 2008, leading to widespread interest from the press and public regarding his performance. Released in July, The Dark Knight broke several box office records, becoming the highest-grossing film of the year, fourth highest-grossing film of its time, and the highest-grossing superhero film. It received critical acclaim for its mature tone and themes, as well as its visual style and performances, particularly Ledger's. He received several posthumous awards including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, making The Dark Knight the first comic book film to receive a major Academy Award.
Since its release, The Dark Knight has been assessed as one of, if not the greatest superhero film ever made, one of the best films of the 2000s, and among the best films ever made. It was considerably influential on films eager to emulate its success by emulating its gritty and realistic tone to varying degrees of success and is considered the "blueprint" for modern superhero films, particularly for rejecting a comic book style for a genre film that happens to feature comic book characters. The Dark Knight has been analyzed for its themes regarding terrorism, as well as the limitations of morality and ethics. The United States Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2020. The film was followed by The Dark Knight Rises in 2012, concluding The Dark Knight Trilogy.
A gang of masked criminals rob a Mafia-owned bank in Gotham City, each betraying the other until the sole survivor, the Joker, reveals himself as the mastermind and escapes with the money. The vigilante Batman, district attorney Harvey Dent, and police lieutenant Jim Gordon form an alliance to eliminate Gotham's organized crime. Batman's alter-ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, publicly supports Dent as Gotham's legitimate protector, believing his success will allow Batman to retire so Wayne can romantically pursue his childhood friend Rachel Dawes, despite her relationship with Dent.
The Mafia crime bosses gather to discuss protecting their organizations from Batman, the police, and the Joker. The Joker interrupts the meeting and offers to kill Batman for half of the vast cash fortune their accountant, Lau, concealed before fleeing to Hong Kong to avoid extradition. Batman finds Lau in Hong Kong and returns him to Gotham police custody, and his testimony enables Dent to apprehend the crime families. In response, the bosses accept Joker's offer, and he kills high-profile targets involved in the trial including the police commissioner and judge, but Gordon sacrifices himself to save the mayor. Joker threatens that his attacks will continue until Batman unmasks. He later targets Dent at a fundraising dinner and throws Rachel out of a window, but Batman rescues her. Wayne struggles to understand the Joker's motives, but his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, surmises that some people simply want to see the world burn.
Dent confesses to being Batman to lure out the Joker, who attacks the police convoy transporting him. Batman and Gordon, who faked his death, apprehend him, earning Gordon a promotion to commissioner. At the police station, Batman interrogates the Joker, who admits he finds the vigilante entertaining and has no intention of killing him. Having deduced Batman's feelings for Rachel, the Joker reveals that she and Dent are being held separately in buildings rigged to explode. Batman races to save Rachel while Gordon goes after Dent, but they discover the Joker switched their positions. Rachel is killed in the explosion, and although Dent is rescued, his face is severely burned on one side. The Joker escapes custody, extracts the fortune's location from Lau, and burns it all.
Wayne Enterprises accountant Coleman Reese deduces Batman's secret identity and attempts to disclose it publicly, but the Joker threatens to blow up a hospital unless Reese is killed. While the police evacuate hospitals and Gordon struggles to keep Reese alive, Joker meets with a disillusioned Dent, convincing him to take justice into his own hands and avenge Rachel. Dent defers his decision-making to his half-scarred, two-headed coin, killing the corrupt officers and Mafia men who contributed to Rachel's death. As panic grips the city, the Joker reveals that two evacuation ferries, one carrying civilians and the other prisoners, are rigged to explode at midnight unless one group sacrifices the other. To the Joker's disbelief, the passengers refuse to kill one another, and Batman subdues but refuses to kill him. Before the police arrest the Joker, he gloats that although Batman proved incorruptible, his plan to corrupt Dent has succeeded.
Dent takes Gordon's family hostage, blaming his negligence for Rachel's death. He flips his coin to decide their fates but falls to his death after Batman tackles him to save Gordon's son. Believing Dent is the hero the city needs, Batman takes the blame for his death and actions, and convinces Gordon to conceal the truth. In the aftermath, Pennyworth burns an undelivered message to Wayne from Rachel, confessing she chose Dent, and Batman destroys the invasive surveillance network that helped him find the Joker. Dent is mourned by the city as a hero, while the police launch a manhunt for Batman.
The Dark Knight's cast includes Eric Roberts, Michael Jai White, and Ritchie Coster as crime bosses Sal Maroni, Gambol, and the Chechen, and Chin Han portrays Lau, a Chinese criminal banker.[d] The GCPD cast includes Colin McFarlane as commissioner Gillian B. Loeb, Keith Szarabajka and Ron Dean as detectives Stephens and Wuertz, and Monique Gabriela Curnen as rookie detective Anna Ramirez.
The cast also features Joshua Harto as Wayne Enterprises employee Coleman Reese, Anthony Michael Hall as news reporter Mike Engel, Nestor Carbonell appears as mayor Anthony Garcia, William Fichtner as a bank manager, Nydia Rodriguez Terracina as Judge Surrillo, Tom "Tiny" Lister Jr. as a prisoner, Beatrice Rosen as Wayne's Russian ballerina date, and David Dastmalchian as Thomas Schiff, the Joker's paranoid schizophrenic henchman. Melinda McGraw, Nathan Gamble, and Hannah Gunn portray Gordon's wife Barbara, son James Jr., and his daughter. The Dark Knight features several cameo appearances, including Cillian Murphy, who reprises his role as Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow from Batman Begins, musical performer Matt Skiba, as well as United States Senator and life-long Batman fan Patrick Leahy, who has appeared or voiced characters in other Batman media.
Following the critical and financial success of Batman Begins (2005), the film studio, Warner Bros. Pictures, prioritized a sequel. Although the film ended with a scene of Batman being presented with a Joker playing card, teasing the introduction of the character's archnemesis, the Joker, Nolan had no intention of making a sequel and was not sure that Batman Begins would be successful enough to warrant one. Nolan, alongside his wife and long-time producer Emma Thomas, had also never worked on a sequel film. Even so, he and co-writer David Goyer discussed ideas for a sequel during filming. Goyer developed an outline for a second and potential third film, but Nolan remained unsure how to continue the Batman Begins narrative while keeping it consistent and relevant. However, he was interested in realizing the Joker character in the grounded, realistic style established in the previous film. Discussions between Warner Bros. Pictures and Nolan began shortly after Begins's theatrical release and, following the production of Nolan's The Prestige (2006), development began in earnest.
Goyer and Nolan collaborated for three months to develop The Dark Knight's core plot points. They wanted to explore the theme of "escalation" and that Batman's extraordinary efforts against common crimes would lead to an opposing escalation by criminals, attracting the Joker, who wields terrorism as a weapon. The joker playing card scene in Batman Begins was intended to convey the fallacy of Batman's belief that his war on crime would be temporary. Goyer and Nolan did not intentionally include real-world parallels to terrorism, the war on terror, and laws enacted to combat terrorists by the United States (U.S.) government because they believed that making overtly political statements would detract from the story, but they did want it to resonate and reflect contemporary audiences. Nolan described The Dark Knight as representative of his own "fear of anarchy", and the Joker represents a "distillation of that force."
Goyer described himself as a fan of Batman (1989), featuring Jack Nicholson as the Joker, but did not consider the portrayal to be scary. He wanted The Dark Knight's Joker to be an unknowable, already-formed character without a "cliché" origin story, like the "shark in Jaws."[e] Goyer and Nolan did not give their Joker an origin story or a narrative arc, believing it made the character scarier; Nolan described it as the "rise of the Joker." They considered the threat of iconic fictional villains, such as Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader, had been undermined by subsequent films depicting their origins.[f]
With Nolan's input, his brother, Jonathan, spent six months developing the story into a screenplay draft. After submitting the draft to the studio, he spent a further two months refining it until Nolan finished directing The Prestige. The pair collaborated on the final script over the next six months during pre-production for The Dark Knight. Jonathan found the "poignant" ending to be the script's most interesting aspect. It always depicted Batman fleeing from the police, but was changed from him leaping across rooftops to escaping on the Batpod, his motorcycle-like vehicle. The dialogue he considered most important, however, came late in development: "you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." Influenced by films such as The Godfather (1972) and Heat (1995), and maintaining Batman Begins's tone, their finished script resembled a crime drama more than a traditional superhero film.[g]
The script was also influenced by writer Frank Miller's seminal 1980s comic books, which often portrayed characters in a more serious tone, and the limited series, Batman: The Long Halloween (1996–1997), which explores the relationship between Batman, Dent, and Gordon. Dent was written as The Dark Knight's central character, serving as a "tragic hero" at the "heart" of the battle between Batman, who believes Dent is the hero the city needs, and the Joker, who wants to prove that even the most righteous people can be corrupted. Nolan suggested the film's title referred to Dent as equally as Batman.[h] He considered that Dent possessed a similar character duality as Batman, making for interesting dramatic potential.
The focus on Dent meant Wayne/Batman was written to remain generally static as a character, not undergoing a significant change. Nolan found writing the Joker to be the easiest aspect of the script. The Nolans identified the traits common to his various media incarnations and were influenced by the character's comic book appearances as well as the villain, Dr. Mabuse, from the films of Fritz Lang. The graphic novel, Batman: The Killing Joke (1988), did not influence the main narrative, but Nolan believed writer Alan Moore's interpretation of the Joker, someone partially driven to prove that anyone can become like him when pushed far enough, helped the Nolans give purpose to an "inherently purposeless" character. The character was written as pure evil "psychopath" and anarchist, absent of reason, logic, or fear, who could test the moral and ethical limits of Batman, Dent, and Gordon.[i] The Nolans later realized they had inadvertently written their version similarly to the Joker's first appearance, in Batman #1 (1940). The final scene, in which the Joker states that he and Batman are destined to battle forever, was not intended to tease a sequel, but to convey the diametrically opposed pair were in an endless conflict, because the pair will not kill each other.
See also: Joker (The Dark Knight)
Describing how his character had evolved from Batman Begins, Christian Bale said that Wayne had changed from a young, naive, and angry man seeking purpose, to a hero burdened by the reality his war against crime is seemingly endless. Because the new Batsuit allowed him to be more agile, Bale did not increase his muscle mass as much as he had for Batman Begins. Nolan had deliberately obscured combat in the previous film because it was intended to portray Batman from the criminals' point of view, but the improved Batsuit design let him show off more of Bale's Keysi fighting method training.
Nolan was conscious that Nicholson's popular and iconic portrayal of the Joker would invite comparisons to his version and wanted an actor who could cope with the associated scrutiny. Ledger's casting, in August 2006, was criticized by some industry professionals and the public who considered him inappropriate for the role; executive producer Charles Roven believed Batman Begins' positive reception would help alleviate any concerns.[j] Although other actors, such as Lachy Hulme, were looked at, Roven said Ledger was the only person ever seriously considered. Nolan was confident in the casting because discussions between himself and Ledger had demonstrated they shared similar ideas on portraying the Joker. Ledger admitted some trepidation in succeeding Nicholson, but said the challenge excited him. He described his interpretation as a "psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy", and avoided humanizing him. He was influenced by sources including Alex in the crime film A Clockwork Orange (1971), as well as British musicians Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious.[k]
Ledger spent about a month generally secluded in a hotel room, reading relevant comic books, and developed the character's voice by mixing a high- and low-pitch, inspired by ventriloquist performances. His fighting style was designed to appear improvised and erratic.[l] Ledger spent a further four months creating a "Joker diary", containing images and elements he believed would resonate with his character, such as finding the condition AIDS humorous. Describing his performance, Ledger said: "It's the most fun I've had with a character and probably will ever have ... It was an exhausting process. At the end of the day, I couldn't move. I couldn't talk. I was absolutely wrecked." In a November 2007 interview, Ledger admitted that when committing himself to any role he struggled to sleep due to difficulties relaxing his mind, and often slept only two hours a night during filming.
Nolan wanted an actor with an all-American "heroic presence" for Harvey Dent, something he likened to actor Robert Redford, but with an undercurrent of anger or darkness. Josh Lucas, Ryan Phillippe, and Mark Ruffalo were considered, as well as Matt Damon, who could not commit due to scheduling conflicts.[m] Nolan believed Eckhart possessed the all-American charm and "aura... of a good man pushed too far." Eckhart found portraying conflicted characters to be more interesting. He said the difference between Dent and Batman is how far they are willing to go for their cause, and that following Dent's corruption he remains a crime fighter but taken to an extreme because he dislikes the restrictions of the law. His performance was influenced by the Kennedy family, particularly Robert F. Kennedy, who took on organized crime with a similarly "idealistic" view of the law. During discussions on how to portray Dent's transformation into Two-Face, Eckhart and Nolan agreed to ignore Tommy Lee Jones's "colorful" portrayal in Batman Forever (1995), featuring pink hair and a split designer suit, in favor of a more realistic, slightly burnt, neutral-toned suit.
Describing his role as GCPD sergeant James Gordon, Oldman said he is the "incorruptible, virtuous, strong, heroic, but understated" moral center of The Dark Knight. He found portraying truly good characters difficult because he had to be more restrained, but accepted his character was there to support the performances of other characters. Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes. Holmes instead chose to star in the crime comedy Mad Money (2008). Gyllenhaal approached Rachel as a new character and did not reference Holmes's previous performance. Nolan described Rachel as the emotional connection between Wayne and Dent, ultimately serving as a further tragedy to fuel Wayne's character. Gyllenhaal collaborated with Nolan on how the character would be depicted, because she wanted Rachel to be important and meaningful in her relatively minor role.[n] Musician Dwight Yoakam turned down a role as the bank manager or a corrupt cop as he was recording his album, Dwight Sings Buck.
In October 2006, location scouting took place in cities including Liverpool, Glasgow, and London, as well as parts of Yorkshire and several U.S. cities to portray Gotham City. Nolan chose Chicago because he liked the area and believed it offered interesting architectural features without being as recognizable as locations in places such as New York City. Chicagoan authorities had also been supportive during filming of Batman Begins, allowing the production to shut down stretches of roads, freeways, and bridges. Nolan wanted to exchange the more natural, scenic settings of Batman Begins, such as the Himalayas or caverns, for a modern, structured environment that the Joker could disassemble. Production designer, Nathan Crowley, said the clean, neat lines of Chicagoan architecture enhanced the urban crime drama they wanted to make and conveyed that Batman had helped improve the city. The destruction of Wayne manor in Batman Begins also provided an opportunity to move Wayne to a modern, sparse penthouse, reflecting the loneliness of his existence. Sets were still used for some interiors, such as the Bat Bunker (the replacement for the Batcave), on the outskirts of the city. The production team considered placing it in the penthouse basement but believed it was too unrealistic a solution.
Much of The Dark Knight was filmed using Panavision's Panaflex Millennium XL and Platinum, but Nolan wanted to film about 40 minutes with IMAX cameras, a high-resolution technology using 70 mm film instead of the more common 35mm; the finished film features 15–20% IMAX footage, equal to about 28 minutes.[o] This made it the first major motion picture to use the technology, which was generally employed for documentaries.[p] However, the studio was reluctant to endorse using the technology because the cameras were large and unwieldy, and purchasing and processing the film stock cost up to four times as much as typical 35mm film. Nolan said that if the cameras could be used on Mount Everest they would work for The Dark Knight and had cinematographer Wally Pfister and his crew begin training to use the equipment in January 2007, to prove its feasibility. Nolan particularly wanted to film the prologue bank heist scene in IMAX to immediately convey the difference in scope between The Dark Knight and Batman Begins.
See also: Stunts of The Dark Knight
Principal photography began on April 18, 2007, in Chicago, on a $185 million budget.[q][r] For The Dark Knight, Pfister chose to combine the "rust-style" visuals of Batman Begins with the "dusk"-like color scheme of The Prestige (cobalt blues, greens, blacks, and whites), in part to address overly dark scenes in Batman Begins. Filming in Chicago took place under the working title, Rory's First Kiss, to avoid attention, but this was quickly uncovered by media publications. The Joker's homemade videos were filmed and mainly directed by Ledger. Caine said he forgot his lines during a scene involving one such video because of Ledger's "stunning" performance.
The first scene filmed was the prologue bank heist, which was shot in the Old Chicago Main Post Office over five days. It was scheduled early as a test of the IMAX procedure, allowing it to be refilmed with traditional cameras if needed, and it was intended to be publicly released as part of the marketing campaign. Pfister described it as a week of patience and learning because of the four-day wait for the IMAX footage to be processed. Filming moved to England throughout May, returning to Chicago in June.
Filming took place in the lobby of One Illinois Center, which served as Wayne's penthouse apartment (bookcases were built to hide the elevators), and a floor of Two Illinois Center was decorated for Wayne's fundraiser. The crew was described as excited as this scene depicted the first meeting between Batman and the Joker. The windows in both settings were covered in green screen material, allowing Gotham City visuals to be added later. In July, three weeks were spent filming the truck chase scene, mainly on Wacker Drive, a multi-level street that had to be closed overnight. A setpiece of a SWAT van crashing through a concrete barricade was added by Nolan during filming. The sequence continued on LaSalle Street (also used for the GCPD funeral procession) for a practical truck flip stunt and helicopter sequence. Additional segments were filmed on Monroe Street, Randolph Street, and Randolph Street Station.
Navy Pier, along the shore of Lake Michigan, served as Gotham harbor for the climactic ferry scene. Scouts spent over a month unsuccessfully searching for vessels, so construction coordinator, Joe Ondrejko, and his team built ferry facades atop barges. The entire sequence was filmed in a single day and involved 800 extras, who were moved through makeup and clothing departments in shifts. Exterior footage of the Gotham Prewitt Building, the site of Batman's and Joker's final confrontation, was filmed at the in-construction Trump International Hotel and Tower. The owners refused permission to film a stunt involving a SWAT team being suspended from the building by Batman, so this was filmed from the fortieth floor of a separate building site. The Gotham General Hospital explosion was filmed in August, using a former Brach's candy factory on Cicero Avenue scheduled for demolition. The Chicago filming phase concluded on September 1, with scenes of Wayne driving and subsequently crashing his Lamborghini, before returning to England.
The Dark Knight also includes Chicago locations such as: Lake Michigan which doubled as the Caribbean Sea when Wayne boards a seaplane; Richard J. Daley Center (Wayne Enterprises exteriors and a courtroom); The Berghoff restaurant (GCPD arresting mobsters); Twin Anchors restaurant, the Sound Bar, McCormick Place (Wayne Enterprises interiors), and the Chicago Theatre. 330 North Wabash served as offices used by Dent, mayor Garcia, and commissioner Loeb, and its thirteenth floor appears as Wayne Enterprises' boardroom, its large panoramic windows and natural light enhanced by Pfister with an 80 ft (24 m) glass table and reflective bulbs. A Randolph Street parking garage is where Batman captures the Scarecrow and copy-cat Batman. Nolan wanted several Rottweillers in the scene, and it was difficult to locate a dog handler willing to manage several of them simultaneously. A scene of Batman surveying the city from a rooftop edge was filmed atop Willis Tower, Chicago's tallest building. Stuntman Buster Reeves was intended to stand in as Batman, but Bale convinced the filmmakers to let him perform the scene himself. The thirteen weeks of filming in Chicago was estimated to have generated $45 million for the city's economy and thousands of local jobs.
Many interior locations for The Dark Knight were filmed on sets built at Pinewood Studios (Buckinghamshire) and Cardington Airfield (Bedfordshire), including the Bat Bunker, which took six weeks to build in a Cardington hangar. Based on 1960s Chicagoan building designs, it integrated an existing concrete floor and used the 200 ft (61 m) long, 8 ft (2.4 m) tall ceiling to create a broad perspective. The 160 ft (49 m)} tall hangar was unsuitable for suspending the bunker roof and an encompassing gantry was built to hold it and the lighting. After moving from Chicago in May, scenes filmed included those in the Bat Bunker, the Criterion Restaurant (where Rachel, Dent, and Wayne share dinner), and a Gotham News scene shot at the University of Westminster. The GCPD headquarters was rebuilt in the Farmiloe Building. During the interrogation scene, Ledger asked Bale to actually hit him, and although he declined, Ledger cracked and dented the walls by throwing himself around. 
After returning to England in the middle of September, scenes were filmed for the ferry, hospital, and Gotham Prewitt building interiors. By mid-October, interior and exterior scenes of Rachel being held hostage surrounded by barrels of gasoline were filmed at Battersea Power Station. Because it was a listed building, a false wall was built in front of it and lined with explosives to avoid damaging the building itself. Emergency services were contacted by nearby residents who believed the explosion was a terrorist attack. Filming in England concluded at the end of October with a variety of green screen shots for the truck chase sequence, and shots of Rachel (a stunt person) being thrown from a building window on a set at Cardington.
The final nine days of production took place in Hong Kong, and included aerial footage from atop the International Finance Centre, as well as filming at Central to Mid-Levels escalator, The Center, Central, The Peninsula Hong Kong, and Queen's Road, and a stunt involving Batman catching an in-flight C-130 aircraft.[s] Despite extensive rehearsals of Reeves jumping from the McClurg Building in Chicago, a planned stunt to depict Batman leaping from one Hong Kong skyscraper to another was canceled because local authorities refused permission for helicopter use; Pfister described the officials as a "nightmare." Nolan disputed a report that a scene of Batman leaping into Victoria Harbour was canceled because of pollution concerns, saying it was a script decision. The 127-day shoot concluded on November 15, on time and under budget.
Editing was underway when Ledger died in January 2008, aged 28, from an accidental prescription drug overdose. Rumors circulated that his commitment to the Joker performance had affected his mental state, although this was later proven false.[t] Nolan described it as "tremendously emotional, right when he passed, having to go back in and look at him every day [during editing] ... but the truth is, I feel very lucky to have something productive to do, to have a performance that he was very, very proud of, and that he had entrusted to me to finish." Because Nolan preferred to capture sound while filming instead of relying on re-recording dialogue in post-production, Ledger's work had been complete before his passing, and Nolan did not modify or change the character's narrative in response. Nolan added a dedication to Ledger and stuntman Conway Wickliffe who died during rehearsals for a Tumbler (Batmobile) stunt.
Alongside lead editor Lee Smith, Nolan took an "aggressive editorial approach" to The Dark Knight to achieve its 152-minute runtime.[u] He said no scenes were deleted because he believed every one was essential anything unnecessary had been cut before filming. The Nolans had struggled to refine the script to reduce the running time, and after removing so much that they believed it had become incomprehensible, they added in more scenes.
Main article: Special effects of The Dark Knight
Unlike the design process of Batman Begins, which had been restrained by a need to represent Batman iconography, audience acceptance of its realistic setting gave The Dark Knight more design freedom. Chris Corbould returned as special effects supervisor, overseeing the 700 effect shots produced by Double Negative and Framestore. This was relatively few effects compared to equivalent films because Nolan only used CGI when practical effects would not suffice. Production designer Nathan Crowley designed the Batpod (Batcycle) because Nolan did not want to extensively re-use the Tumbler. Corbould's team built the Batpod based on a prototype Crowley and Nolan built by combining different commercial model components. The unwieldy, wide-tired vehicle could only be ridden by stuntman Jean Pierre Goy after months of training. The Gotham General Hospital explosion was not in the script but added during filming because Corbould believed it could be done.
Hemming, Crowley, Nolan, and Jamie Rama re-designed the Batsuit to make it more comfortable and flexible, developing a costume made from a stretchy material covered in over one-hundred urethane armor pieces. Sculptor Julian Murray developed Dent's burnt facial design based on Nolan's request for a skeletal appearance. He went through various designs that were "too real and more horrifying" before settling on a more "fanciful" and detailed but less repulsive version. Hemming designed the Joker's overall appearance based on fashion and music celebrities to create something modern and trendy. Influence was also taken from the 1953 painting Study after Velázquez's Portrait of Pope Innocent X by Francis Bacon (suggested by Nolan), and the character's comic book appearances. The outfit consisted of a purple coat and green vest, with an antique shirt, and a thin 1960s-style tie suggested by Ledger. Prosthetics supervisor Conor O'Sullivan created the Joker's scars, partially based on a scarred delivery man he met, and used his own technique to create and apply the supple, skin-like prosthetics. John Caglione Jr designed the character's "organic" makeup to look like it had been worn for days, partially based on more Bacon works. Caglione Jr used a theater makeup technique in the application, instructing Ledger to scrunch up his face so that after the makeup was applied and he relaxed, it created cracks and different textures. Ledger always applied the lipstick himself, believing it was essential to his characterization.
Main article: The Dark Knight (soundtrack)
Batman Begins composers, James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer, scored The Dark Knight because Nolan believed it was important to bridge the musical narrative between the films. Recorded at Air Studios, London, they composed the score without seeing the film as Nolan wanted them to be influenced by the characters and story instead of fitting specific on-screen elements. Howard and Zimmer separated their duties by character, with Howard focusing on Dent and Zimmer on Batman and the Joker. Zimmer did not consider Batman to be strictly noble and wrote the theme to not seem "super". Howard wrote about ten minutes for Dent, wanting to convey him as an all-American who represents hope but undergoes an emotional extreme and moral corruption. He employed brass instruments for both moral ends but warped the sound as Dent became more corrupted.
Zimmer wanted to use a single note for the Joker's theme, saying "imagine one note that starts off slightly agitated and then goes to serious aggravation and finally rips your head off at the end." However, he could not make it work and used two notes with alternating tempos and a "punk" influence. The theme was influenced by electronic music innovators, Kraftwerk, and Zimmer's work with rock band, The Damned. He wanted to convey elements of corrosion, recklessness, and "otherworldliness" of the Joker by combining electronic and orchestral music and modifying almost every note after recording to emulate various sounds including thunder and razors. He attempted to develop original sounds with Synthesizers, tried to create an "offputting" result by instructing musicians to start with a single note and gradually shift to the second over a three minute period, which they struggled with because it was the opposite of their training. It took several months to achieve Zimmer's desired result. He considered discarding the theme entirely for a more traditional score following Ledger's death, but he and Howard believed they should honor Ledger's performance.[v]
The Dark Knight's marketing campaign was developed by alternate reality game (ARG) development company, 42 Entertainment. Nolan wanted the team to focus on countering the negative reaction to Ledger's casting and controlling the reveal of the Joker's appearance. Influenced by the script as well as The Long Halloween, The Killing Joke, and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989), 42 Entertainment paced the ARG over different annual events, although their ideas to use Jokerized Santas at Christmas, coffins filled with chattering teeth on Mother's Day (mocking Wayne's late mother), and Batman actors on rooftops were rejected by Warner Bros. due to safety concerns.
The ARG began in May 2007, with campaign posters for Dent, and Joker playing cards secreted inside comic books at stores around the U.S. bearing the phrase "I believe in Harvey Dent." This led people to a website where they could submit their e-mail address to reveal a pixel of a concealed Joker image; about 97,000 e-mail addresses and 20 hours were required to reveal the image in full, which was well-received. At the San Diego Comic-Con, 42 Entertainment modified eleven-thousand $1 bills with the Joker's image and the phrase "Why So Serious?" that led finders to a specific location. 42 Entertainment's initial plan to throw the bills from a balcony was canceled due to safety concerns so the bills were covertly distributed to attendees. Although expected to attract a few thousand people, 650,000 arrived and participated in activities that included calling a number taken from a plane flying overhead, and donning Joker makeup to commit disruptive acts with actors.[w] Globally, fans also participated in a task of photographing letters from signs to form a ransom note. A U.S.-centric effort involved people recovering Nokia phones (a brand partner to the film) from a cake, which led to an early screening of the film's prologue bank heist before its public release in December. Ledger's appearance in the prologue was well-received and positively changed the discourse around his casting.[x]
Following Ledger's death, the campaign continued unchanged with a focus on Dent's election, influenced by the ongoing 2008 United States presidential election. Warner Bros. was concerned that public knowledge of Dent's character was low, and the campaign included signs, stickers, and "Dentmobiles" visiting U.S. cities to raise his profile. The campaign concluded in July with displays of the Bat-Signal in Chicago and New York City that were eventually defaced by the Joker. Industry professionals considered the campaign innovative and very successful.[y]
Warner Bros. dedicated six months to anti-piracy methods, with an estimated $6.1 billion lost to piracy by the film industry in 2005. Delivery methods of film reels were randomized and copies had a chain of custody to track who had access. Some theater staff were given night-vision goggles to identify people recording The Dark Knight, with one person being caught in Kansas City. Warner Bros. considered its strategy a success, delaying the first, "poorly-lit" camcorder version until 38–48 hours after its earliest global release in Australia.
See also: 2008 in film
Compared to the previous year's $9.7 billion box office, 2008 was expected to underperform due to the high number of comedies competing against each other and films with dark tones, such as The Dark Knight, releasing during a period of rising living costs and election fatigue in the U.S. Fewer sequels, which generally performed well, were scheduled, and only four were predicted to be blockbuster successes: The Dark Knight, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the only film expected to easily earn over $300 million.
The Dark Knight was expected to do well based on high audience anticipation and positive pre-release reviews, as well as a record $3.5 million in IMAX presales. Predictions placed its opening weekend above Iron Man's $102.1 million but below Spider-Man 3's (2007) record $151.1 million. Analysts suggested its success would be influenced by the lengthy running time, limiting the number of screenings per day, and counterprogramming from romantic comedy Mamma Mia!, which surveyed well with females, and family comedy Space Chimps. There was also a perceived limit on financial success for Batman films, the 1989 installment remaining the highest-grossing release. The Dark Knight's premiere took place on July 14, in New York City in IMAX. A block of the Broadway area was closed for the event, which featured a live performance of the score by Howard and Zimmer. The Hollywood Reporter reported that Ledger received several ovations, and Warner Bros. executives struggled to maintain a balance during the afterparty between celebrating the successful response and commemorating the actor.
The Dark Knight received a wide release in the United States (U.S.) and Canada on July 18, in a record 4,366 theaters across an estimated 9,200 screens. It earned $158.4 million during the weekend, an average of $36,282 per theater, breaking Spider-Man 3's record, and making it the number 1 film ahead of the debuting Mamma Mia ($27.8 million) and Hancock ($14 million) in its third weekend.[z] It set further records for the highest-grossing single-day ($67.2 million on the Friday), Sunday ($43.6 million), midnight opening ($18.5 million, from 3,000 midnight screenings), and IMAX opening ($6.3 million from about 94 locations), as well as the second-highest-grossing Saturday ($47.7 million), behind Spider-Man 3, and contributed to the highest-grossing weekend on record ($253.6 million).[aa] The film benefitted from repeat viewing by younger audiences, and had broad appeal, with 52% of the audience skewing male and an even split of those under and over 25 years old.
It broke further records for the highest-grossing opening week ($238.6 million) and 3-, 4-, 5-, 6-, 7-, 8-, 9-, and 10-day cumulative grosses, including the highest-grossing non-holiday Monday ($24.5 million) and non-opening Tuesday ($20.9 million, as well as the second highest-grossing non-opening Wednesday ($18.4 million), behind Transformers ($29.1 million).[ab] It retained the number 1 position in its second weekend with a total gross of $75.2 million, ahead of the debuting Step Brothers ($31 million), giving it the highest-grossing second weekend. It retained the number 1 position in its third ($42.7 million) and fourth ($26.1 million) weekends, before falling to second place in its fifth with a gross of $16.4 million, behind the debuting Tropic Thunder ($25.8 million). The Dark Knight remained in the top-ten highest-grossing films for a total ten weeks, and became the fastest film to surpass $400 million (18 days) and $500 million (45 days). The film was playing in less than 100 theaters when it received a 300 theater relaunch in late January 2009, to raise its profile during nominations for the 81st Academy Awards. This raised its total box office to $533.3 million before it left theaters on March 5, after 33 weeks, making it the highest-grossing comic book, superhero, and Batman film, the highest-grossing film of 2008, and the second highest-grossing film ever (unadjusted for inflation), behind the 1997 romantic drama, Titanic ($600.8 million).[ac]
Outside of the U.S. and Canada, The Dark Knight was released on Wednesday, July 16, 2008, in Australia and Taiwan, opening in a total of twenty markets by the weekend. It earned about $40 million combined, making it second to Hancock ($44.8 million), which was playing in nearly four times as many countries.[ad] The film was available in sixty-two countries by the end of August, although Warner Bros. declined a Chinese release, blaming "a number of pre-release conditions ... as well as cultural sensitivities to some elements of the film." The Dark Knight earned about $469.7 million outside of the U.S. and Canada, its highest grosses coming from the United Kingdom ($89.1 million), Australia ($39.9 million), Germany ($29.7 million), France ($27.5 million), Mexico ($25 million), South Korea ($24.7 million), and Brazil ($20.2 million). This made it the second-highest-grossing film of the year, behind Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
The film had grossed $997 million worldwide by January 2009. Its reissue in the run-up to the Oscars enabled the film to cross the $1 billion threshold in February, and it ultimately earned $1.003 billion. It was the first superhero film to gross over $1 billion, the highest-grossing film of 2008, the fourth film to earn more than $1 billion, and the fourth-highest-grossing film of its time, behind Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ($1.066 billion), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King ($1.119 billion), and Titanic ($1.842 billion).[ae][af] Subsequent re-releases have further raised its box office total to $1.006 billion.
The Dark Knight received critical acclaim on release.[ag] On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 94% approval rating from the aggregated reviews of 345 critics, with an average score of 8.6/10. The consensus reads, "Dark, complex and unforgettable, The Dark Knight succeeds not just as an entertaining comic book film, but as a richly thrilling crime saga." The film has a score of 84 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 39 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale.
Several publications called The Dark Knight the best comic book hero adaptation ever made. Roger Ebert said that it, alongside Iron Man, had redefined the potential of superhero films, by combining comic book tropes with real world events.[ah] Although some appreciated its complex moral tale about the effects of vigilantism and terrorism on contemporary society,[ai] others took issue with the dark, grim, intense, and self-serious tone that lacked any elements of fun or fantasy.[aj] David Denby concluded The Dark Knight was the product of a "time of terror," but focused on embracing and unleashing it while cynically setting up the next instalment. Stephanie Zacharek and David Edelstein criticized a perceived lack of visual storytelling in favor of exposition, and aspects of the plot being difficult to follow amid the fast pace and loud score. Nolan's action direction was criticized, especially during fight scenes where it could be difficult to see things clearly, although the prologue bank heist was often praised as among the best scenes.[ak]
Ledger's performance received near-unanimous praise with the caveat that the actor's death made the role both highly-anticipated and difficult to watch.[al] Manohla Dargis, among others, described Ledger as realizing the character so convincingly, intensely, and viscerally that it made the audience forget about the actor behind the makeup. The Village Voice wrote that the performance would have made Ledger a legend even if he had lived.[am] Other reviews said that Ledger outshone Nicholson's "magnificent" performance with macabre humor and malevolence. Reviews generally agreed the Joker was the best written character, and that Ledger commanded scenes from the entire cast to create one of the most "mesmerizing" cinematic villains.[an] Even so, Zacharek lamented that the performance was not in service to a better film.
Bale's reception was mixed; his performance was considered to be alternately "captivating" or serviceable, but ultimately uninteresting and undermined by portraying an immovable and generally unchanged character who delivers dialogue as Batman in a hoarse, unvarying tone.[ao] Eckhart's performance was generally well-received by reviewers who appreciated his charismatic Dent and subsequent transformation into a sad, bitter "monster," although Variety considered his subplot to be the film's weakest aspect.[ap] Stephen Hunter believed the character was underwritten and Eckhart incapable of portraying the role as intended. Gyllenhaal was seen by several reviewers as an improvement over Holmes, although others believed it was still difficult to care about the character, and that the actress, while more talented than her predecessor, was miscast.[aq] Peter Travers praised Oldman's skill in making a virtuous character interesting and he, among others, described Caine's and Freeman's performances as "effortless." Ebert surmised that the entire cast provided "powerful" performances that engaged the audience, such that "we're surprised how deeply the drama affects us.
Main article: List of accolades received by The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight appeared on several lists recognizing the best films of 2008, includes those compiled by Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and the American Film Institute, as well as being the year's most pirated film with about 7 million illegal downloads.[ar] At the 13th Satellite Awards, The Dark Knight received one award for Sound Editing or Mixing (Richard King, Lora Hirschberg, Gary Rizzo). A further four wins came at the 35th People's Choice Awards: Favorite Movie, Favorite Cast, Favorite Action Movie, and Favorite On-Screen Match-Up (Bale and Ledger), as well as Best Action Movie and Best Supporting Actor (Ledger) at the 14th Critics' Choice Awards. Howard and Zimmer were recognized for Best Motion Picture Score at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards. Ledger won the film's only awards at the 15th Screen Actors Guild Awards, 62nd British Academy Film Awards, and 66th Golden Globe Awards, for Best Supporting Actor. At the 14th Empire Awards, The Dark Knight received awards for Best Film, Best Director (Nolan), and Best Actor (Bale). Ledger received the award for Best Villain at the 2009 MTV Movie Awards, and at the 35th Saturn Awards, The Dark Knight won awards for Best Action or Adventure Film, Best Supporting Actor (Ledger), Best Writing (Christopher and Jonathan Nolan), Best Music (Howard and Zimmer), and Best Special Effects (Corbould, Nick Davis, Paul J. Franklin, Timothy Webber).
Even before The Dark Knight's release, film industry discourse focused on Ledger potentially earning an Academy Award nomination at the 81st Academy Awards in 2009, making him only the seventh person to be nominated posthumously, and if the decision would be influenced by his passing or performance.[as] Genre films such as those based on comic books were also generally ignored by Academy voters. Even so, Ledger was considered a favorite to earn the award based on praise from critic groups and his posthumous Golden Globe award. Ledger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, making him only the second performer to win an award posthumously, and The Dark Knight the first comic book adaptation to win a major Academy award. The Dark Knight also won an award for Best Sound Editing (King), and received six nominations for Best Art Direction (Crowley and Peter Lando), Best Cinematography (Pfister), Best Film Editing (Smith), Best Makeup (Caglione Jr. and O'Sullivan), Best Sound Mixing (Hirschberg, Rizzo, and Ed Novick), and Best Visual Effects (Davis, Corbould, Webber, and Franklin).
Despite the success of The Dark Knight, the lack of a Best Picture nomination was criticized and described as a "snub" by some publications. The response was seen as the culmination of several years of criticism toward the Academy ignoring high-performing, broadly popular films. The backlash was such that, for the 82nd Academy Awards awards in 2010, the Academy increased the limit for Best Picture nominees from five to ten, allowing for more broadly popular but "respected" films to be nominated, including District 9, The Blind Side, Avatar, and Up, the first animated film to be nominated in two decades.[at] This change is seen as responsible for the first Best Picture nomination of a comic book adaptation, Black Panther (2018). Even so, The Hollwood Reporter argued the Academy mistook the appeals to recognize important, "generation defining" genre films with just nominating more films.
The Dark Knight was released on DVD and Blu-ray in December 2008. The release featured a slipcover box art that revealed a "Jokerized" version underneath, and contained featurettes on Batman's equipment, the psychology used in the film, six episodes of the Gotham Tonight news program, and a gallery of concept art, posters, and Joker cards. The Blu-ray disc version additionally offered interactive elements during the film about how a particular scene was produced.[au] A separate limited edition Blu-ray disc set came with a Batpod figurine. The Dark Knight sold 3 million copies across both formats on its launch day across the U.S., Canada, and the United Kingdom, with Blu-ray discs accounting for about 25%–30% or 600,000 units. Released during the advent of the Blu-ray disc format, it was considered a success, breaking Iron Man's record of 250,000 units sold and indicating the format was growing in popularity.[av] In 2011, it also became the first major studio film released for rent via digital distribution on Facebook. A 4K resolution remaster, overseen by Nolan, was released in December 2017, as a set containing a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray disc, and digital download, as well as special features from previous releases.
Merchandise for The Dark Knight includes statuettes, action figures, radio-controlled Tumbler and Batpod models, costumes, sets of Batarangs, a limited-edition Grappling Launcher replica, board games, puzzles, clothing, and a special-edition UNO card game.[aw] A novelization of the film, written by Dennis O'Neil, was released in 2008. The Dark Knight Coaster, an indoor roller coaster, opened in May 2008, at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, New Jersey. Costing $7.5 million, the 1,213 ft (370 m) long attraction places riders in an imitation of Wayne Central Station in Gotham City as they move through areas vandalized or controlled by the Joker.
A direct-to-DVD animated film, Batman: Gotham Knight, was released in July 2008. Directed by Bruce Timm, and with veteran Batman actor Kevin Conroy voicing the titular hero, Gotham Knight presents six vignettes, each animated in a different artistic style, set between the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. A planned tie-in video game, Batman: The Dark Knight, was cancelled due to various development issues.
A central theme of The Dark Knight is escalation, particularly the rise of the Joker in response to Batman's vigilantism. Batman's vigilante operation arms him with high-tech military equipment against common criminals, and the Joker is the inevitable response and escalation of lawlessness to counter Batman. Critic Siddhant Adlakha considered the Joker to be an analog for countries such as Iraq, Somalia, and Lebanon, that were targeted by U.S. military campaigns and escalated by using terrorism in response. Batman also inspires copycat vigilantes, further escalating lawlessness. Film studies professor Todd McGowan identified that Batman asserts authority over these copycats, telling them to stop because they do not have the same defensive equipment as himself, reaffirming his self-given authority to act as a vigilante.
The film has also been analyzed as an analog for the war on terror, the militaristic campaign launched by the United States following the September 11 attacks in 2001. The scene of Batman standing in the ruins of a destroyed building, having failed to prevent the Joker's plot, is reminiscent of the World Trade Center site after September 11. According to historian Stephen Prince, The Dark Knight is about the consequences of civil and government authorities abandoning rules in the fight against terrorism. Several publications criticized The Dark Knight for a perceived endorsement of "necessary evils" such as torture or rendition. Author Andrew Klavan believed Batman was a stand-in for U.S. president George W. Bush and justified the breaching of "boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that [Batman] will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past." His interpretation was criticized by some publications who considered The Dark Knight to be anti-war and proposed that society not abandon the rule of law to combat lawlessness, or risk creating the conditions for escalation. This is exemplified in the covert alliance formed between Batman, Dent, and Gordon, leading to Rachel's death and Dent's corruption. Writer Benjamin Kerstein argued that both viewpoints were valid, and that "The Dark Knight is a perfect mirror of the society which is watching it: a society so divided on the issues of terror and how to fight it that, for the first time in decades, an American mainstream no longer exists."
Batman and Dent eventually resort to torture, or enhanced interrogation, to stop the Joker, but he remains immune to Batman's physical abuse because he has the utmost belief in his goals. Dent similarly ineffectually attempts to torture the Joker's henchman, and Batman does not condemn the act, only being concerned about public perception if people discovered the truth. This conveys the gradual abandonment of their principles when faced with an extreme foe. The Joker meets Dent in a hospital to explain how expected atrocities (such as several soldiers dying) and societal failings are tolerated but when norms are unexpectedly disrupted, people panic and descend into chaos. Although the Joker wears war paint he is not hiding behind a mask and is the same person with or without makeup. He lacks any identity or origin, representing the uncertainty, unknowability, and fear of terrorism, although he does not follow any particular political ideology. Dent represents the fulfillment of American idealism, someone noble who can work within the confines of the law and allow Batman to retire, but the fear and chaos embodied by the Joker, taints that idealism and corrupts Dent absolutely.
In The Dark Knight's final act, Batman employs an invasive surveillance network by co-opting the phones of Gotham's citizens to locate the Joker, simultaneously violating their privacy. Adlakha described it as a "militaristic fantasy", in which a significant violation of civil liberties is required through the means of advanced technology to capture a dangerous terrorist, reminiscent of the 2001 Patriot Act. Lucius Fox threatens to stop helping Batman in response, believing that he has crossed an ethical boundary, and although agrees these violations are unacceptable and destroys the technology, the film demonstrates that he could not have stopped the Joker in time without it.
The Dark Knight also focuses on the moral and ethical battles faced by the central characters and the compromises they make to defeat the Joker under extraordinary circumstances.[ax] Roger Ebert said the Joker forces impossible ethical decisions on each character to test the limits of their morality. Batman represents order to Joker's chaos and is brought to his own limit, but avoids completely compromising himself. Dent represents goodness and hope, the city's "white knight" who is "pure" of intent and can operate within the law. He is motivated to do good, not through trauma like Batman, but because he identifies himself as good and has the utmost faith in the legal system. Adlakha wrote that Dent is framed as a religious icon, his campaign slogan being "I believe in Harvey Dent," and his eventual death leaving his arms spread wide like Jesus on the cross. Eckhart described Dent as someone who loves the law but feels constrained by it and his inability to do what he believes is right because it is not allowed by the rules he must follow. Dent's desire to work outside of the law is seen in his support of Batman's vigilantism to accomplish what he cannot.
Dent's corruption suggests he is a proxy for those looking for hope because he is as fallible and susceptible to darkness as anyone else. This can be seen in his use of a two-headed coin to make decisions involving others, eliminating the risk of chance by controlling the outcome in his favor, indicating that losing is not an acceptable outcome for him. Once Dent experiences a significant traumatic experience in losing Rachel and being disfigured, he quickly abandons his noble former self to seek his own form of justice. His coin is scarred on one side, introducing the risk of chance and he submits himself to it completely. English professor, Daniel Boscaljon, argues that Dent is not broken, he just believes in a different form of justice in a seemingly unjust world, flipping a coin because it is "Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair."
The Joker represents an ideological deviancy, he does not seek personal gain and causes chaos for its own sake, setting a towering pile of cash ablaze to prove that "everything burns." Unlike Batman, the Joker is the same with or without makeup, having no identity to conceal and nothing to lose.[ay] Boscaljon wrote that the citizens and criminals believe in a form of order and rules that must be obeyed and the Joker deliberately upends this belief as he has no rules or limitations. The character can be considered an example of Friedrich Nietzsche's "Superman," who exists outside definitions such as good and evil and follows his own indomitable will. However, the film leaves open the option to dismiss his insights because his chaos ultimately leads to tragedy and injustice. Nolan described the Joker as a form of unadulterated evil, and professor Charles Bellinger considered him a satanic figure, who pushes people away from goodness and tempts them with things they supposedly lack, such as forcing Batman to choose between saving Dent, who is best for the city, and Rachel, who is best for Wayne. The Joker aims to corrupt Dent to prove that anyone, even symbols, can be broken, and in their desperation, Dent and Batman are forced to question their own limitations. As the Joker states to Batman:
Their morals, their code... it's a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They're only as good as the world allows them to be. You'll see—I'll show you... when the chips are down, these civilized people... they'll eat each other. See, I'm not a monster... I'm just ahead of the curve.— The Joker, in The Dark Knight
The ferry scene can be seen as the Joker's true defeat, demonstrating that he is wrong about the citizens turning on each other in an extreme scenario. Writer David Chen believed this demonstrated that, individually, people cannot handle power responsibly, but by sharing the responsibility there is hope for a compassionate outcome. Although Batman holds to his morals and does not kill the Joker, he is still forced to break his code by pushing Dent to his death to save an innocent. He chooses to become a symbol of criminality by taking the blame for Dent's crimes and preserving him as a symbol of good, maintaining the hope of Gotham's citizens. Critic David Crow wrote that Batman's true test is not defeating the Joker but saving Dent, a task he fails. Batman makes his own Christ-like sacrifice, taking on Dent's sins to preserve the city.
Although The Dark Knight presents this as a heroic act, this "noble lie" is used to conceal and manipulate the truth for what a minority determines is the greater good. McGowan considered the act heroic because Batman's sacrifice will leave him hunted and despised without recognition, indicating he has learned from the Joker that the established norms must sometimes be broken. Wayne's butler Alfred also commits a noble lie, concealing that Rachel chose Dent over Wayne, to spare him the pain of her rejection. Professor Martin Fradley, among others, wrote that Batman and Gordon's "noble lie" is a cynical endorsement of deception and totalitarianism.
The Dark Knight is considered a very influential and often imitated work that re-defined the superhero/comic book film genre, and filmmaking in general.[az] In 2020, the United States Library of Congress selected The Dark Knight to be preserved in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Before The Dark Knight, superhero films closely emulated their comic book source material, and though the genre had seen significant successes such as Superman (1978), Batman (1989), X-Men (2000), and Spider-Man (2002), they were often considered disposable entertainment that did not garner much industry respect. Building on Batman Begins' heightened realism and presenting a mature tone with contemporary themes and complex characters, The Dark Knight evidenced the genre could produce films with a distinct vision, artistic merit, and social commentary, making it a cinematic benchmark.[ba] A 2018 retrospective by The Hollywood Reporter said The Dark Knight taught filmmakers that "comic book characters are malleable. They are able to be grounded or fantastic, able to be prestigious or pure blockbuster entertainment, to be dark and gritty or light, to be character-driven or action-packed, or any variation in-between."
The Dark Knight is considered a blueprint for the modern superhero film, that projects either attempt to closely emulate or deliberately counter.[bb] Its financial, critical, and cultural successes legitimized the genre with film studios, at a time when recent entries, such as Daredevil, Hulk (both 2003), Fantastic Four (2005), and Superman Returns (2006) had failed to meet expectations. The genre became a focus of annual studio strategies instead of a relatively niche project, and a surge of comic book adaptations followed, in part because of their broad franchising potential. In 2008, Ebert wrote that "[The Dark Knight], and to a lesser degree Iron Man, redefine the possibilities of the 'comic-book movie.'” The Atlantic wrote that Iron Man's legacy in launching the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) could not have happened without The Dark Knight's success.
Retrospective analysis has focused on how studios, eager to replicate its performance, released tonally dark, gritty, and realistic films or reboots of existing franchises, many of which failed critically or commercially. Some publications argued that studios took the wrong lessons from The Dark Knight, by treating source material too seriously and mistaking a dark and gritty tone for narrative depth and intelligent writing.[bc] The MCU is seen as a successful continuation of what made The Dark Knight a success, combining genres and tones relevant to each respective film while treating the source material seriously, unlike the DC Extended Universe, which emulated the tone of The Dark Knight more closely but failed to replicate its success.
Directors including Sam Mendes (Skyfall), Ryan Coogler (Black Panther), and David Ayer (Suicide Squad), as well as the creators of the TV show Arrow, have cited it as an influence on their work.[bd] The film has been referenced in a variety of media including television shows such as Robot Chicken, South Park, and The Simpsons. U.S. President Barack Obama used the Joker to explain the growth of Islamic State (IS) military group, saying " ... the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting ... they were thugs, but there was a kind of order ... the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. [IS] is the Joker." The character's appearance became a popular Halloween costume, and also influenced the 2009 Barack Obama "Joker" poster.[be]
Since its release, The Dark Knight has been assessed as one of, if not the greatest superhero films ever made,[bf] among the greatest films ever made, and one of the best sequel films. It is also considered among the best films of the 2000s,[bg] and in a 2010 poll of thirty-seven critics by Metacritic regarding the decade's top films, The Dark Knight received the eighth most mentions, appearing on 7 lists. In the 2010s, a poll of 177 film critics by the BBC in 2016 listed it thirty-third-best film of the 21st century, and The Guardian placed it ninety-eighth on its own list. In 2020, Empire magazine named it third-best, behind The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring (2001) and Mad Max: Fury Road (2015). It remains the highest critically rated Batman film according to Rotten Tomatoes, and is often ranked as the best film featuring the character.[bh]
It has remained popular with entertainment industry professionals, including directors, actors, critics, and stunt actors, being ranked fifty-seventh on The Hollywood Reporter's poll of the best films ever made, eightieth on Time Out's list of the best action films, and ninety-sixth on the BBC's list of the 100 Greatest American Films. The Dark Knight is also included in the film reference book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, and film critics James Berardinelli and Barry Norman included The Dark Knight on their individual listings of the 100 greatest films of all time. In 2012, Total Film named it the sixth most accomplished film of the preceding fifteen years, and a 2020 article by Empire named The Dark Knight as one of the films that defined the previous three decades. In 2020, Time Out named it the seventy-second best action movies ever made.
Ledger's Joker is considered one of the greatest cinematic villains, with several publications placing him second only to Darth Vader,[bi] The Hollywood Reporter named him the second best cinematic superhero performance ever, behind Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and Collider listed him as the greatest villain of the 21st century. In 2018, Entertainment Weekly wrote that there had not been another villain as interesting or "perversely entertaining" as the Joker, and Ledger's performance was considered so defining that future interpretations would be compared against it. Michael B. Jordan has cited the character as an inspiration for his character Erik Killmonger in Black Panther.[bj] The "pencil trick", involving the Joker making a pencil disappear by slamming a mobster's head on it, is considered an iconic scene, and among the film's most famous.[bk] Similarly, the character's dialogue, "why so serious?" is among the film's most famous and oft-quoted pieces of dialogue,[bl] alongside "you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain" (spoken by Dent), and "some men just want to watch the world burn," (spoken by Pennyworth), that were also used as part of popular memes.[bm]
The Dark Knight has remained popular with audiences in publicly voted rankings. Over 17,000 people voted the film into the top ten of American Cinematographer's "Best-Shot Film of 1998–2008" list, and listeners of BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra named it their eighth favorite film. Readers of Empire have alternatively voted it the fifteenth (2008), third (2014), and the fourth greatest film ever made (2020). The Dark Knight was also voted the greatest superhero movie by readers of Rolling Stone (2014), and one of New Zealand's favorite films (2015).
Main article: The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight was followed by The Dark Knight Rises (2012), the concluding chapter of The Dark Knight Trilogy. In the film's plot, Batman is forced out of his self-imposed retirement following the events of The Dark Knight and joins forces with Selina Kyle / Catwoman to take on Bane, a physically imposing revolutionary allied with the League of Shadows featured in Batman Begins. The film was a financial success, surpassing the box office of The Dark Knight, and was generally well-received by critics, but proved more divisive with audiences.