It’s been 10 years since The Dark Knight hit theaters in the summer of 2008, thrilling audiences and wowing critics. The second movie in director Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman films, The Dark Knight and the MCU’s Iron Man premiered in the same summer. The two films ushered in a new era of superhero movies, one that saw stories reach new heights of critical acclaim and fan engagement. The Dark Knight was so beloved, it even changed the Academy Awards. When the movie didn’t make the list of five Best Picture nominees, the next year the Oscar rules were changed to include 10 movies in the category — a move often attributed to the Academy’s snub of The Dark Knight.
Today, The Dark Knight is widely considered the greatest superhero movie of all time, a designation it shows no signs of giving up anytime soon. Starting with Batman Begins, Nolan grounded the story of the Caped Crusader in gritty realism. This approach reached its apex with the epic and tragic The Dark Knight, giving Nolan an opportunity to consider weighty issues that are still relevant 10 years later. The anniversary of The Dark Knight’s release is the perfect time to look back at the movie and consider the things that make it a timeless classic, as well as the things that haven’t stood the test of time.
20 TIRESOME: PLOT HOLES
Between all the kinetic action and the complex plot, it’s easy to overlook The Dark Knight‘s numerous plot holes. Yet, there are several throughout the film. Most obvious is the fact that the Joker would have to be omniscient to make many of his evil schemes work.
Additionally, Batman has a habit of stealthily showing up in the middle of the action. He does this in the bank vault at the beginning of the film and after the Joker crashes Harvey Dent’s fundraiser; an implausible feat even in the fiction of the film, given how many people he’d have to get past first. Similarly, the fact that no one on the street reacts to a school bus pulling out of the side of a building after the Joker’s bank heist defies logic.
19 TIMELESS: QUOTABLE DIALOGUE
The dialogue in The Dark Knight features several iconic lines that are quoted regularly. Observations like Alfred’s clear-eyed “Some men just want to watch the world burn,” and Harvey Dent’s prophetic “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain” have added to the cultural conversation about what it means to be a villain, what it means to be a hero, and where the intersection between the two lies.
Of course, the most famous line of all may be the Joker’s question “Why so serious?” The quote has since been referenced in pop songs and appeared in memes, making it a true and lasting staple as a movie reference.
18 TIRESOME: LENGTHY RUNTIME
At two and a half hours, The Dark Knight was an exceptionally lengthy film, especially for a comic-book movie at the time. Given its dark plot and heavy subject-matter, the runtime seemed justified when the movie came out. In hindsight, though, the extended length started a trend of unnecessarily long superhero films. While the DCEU tried to reign things in a little with Justice League, many of its extra-long movies would benefit from some liberal trimming.
In hindsight, even The Dark Knight itself could be shortened in places. The movie lingers a bit longer than necessary in a number of scenes and has several almost-endings where the movie could have stopped.
17 TIMELESS: SCIENCE IS PART OF SUPERHEROING
One of the fun things about The Dark Knight trilogy was its emphasis on the work that had to happen behind the scenes in order for Batman to do the things he does to stop criminals. A big part of the movie focused on the science and technology that Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox dream up and develop. These scenes showed that there was a lot more to being a superhero than wearing a costume and looking cool while beating up bad guys.
In a nod to the ongoing debate about the limits of technology and how much data it collects on individuals, the duo also developed a sonar surveillance system that could track cell phones. The plot let the movie weigh in on the debate about privacy and security in the digital age, even in its relative infancy.
16 TIRESOME: CHRISTIAN BALE’S BATMAN VOICE
Since his turn as the Caped Crusader, Christian Bale’s choice to speak in a low, gravelly voice as part of his Batman disguise has become the stuff of legend. With all the technology Wayne has at his disposal, it would seem like one of those devices could have been some kind of vocal modulator.
Not only does it sound like Wayne's manipulation of his voice hurts, it’s also difficult to understand. Plus, it’s one more thing Wayne has to remember while he’s busy going up against criminals. Given the thought that went into the rest of The Dark Knight, the issue of Batman’s voice came across as a strange — and ridiculous — oversight.
15 TIMELESS: AWARD-CALIBER FILMMAKING
Before he became a blockbuster filmmaker, Christopher Nolan generated buzz as the auteur who directed the movies Memento and Insomnia. He brought the same artistic sensibilities to the character of Batman. As a result, he made the world of The Dark Knight completely his own.
Nolan looked past the whiz-bang approaches to the character’s world that had often been employed by past filmmakers. Instead, he used his fantastical but grounded approach to tackle the story of The Dark Knight. In the process, he created something exciting and unique, applying his visionary artistry to all facets of Batman’s Gotham City.
14 TIRESOME: CONVOLUTED EVIL PLOTS
Throughout The Dark Knight, the Joker hatches and executes a series of evil plans that become increasingly more complicated and convoluted as the film continues. The Joker is all about mayhem and chaos, but he spends an awful lot of time planning every aspect of his dastardly plots down to the tiniest detail.
All that planning certainly keeps him one step ahead of Batman and Commissioner Gordon, but the plans get so complex (and apparently reliant on the Joker’s magical ability to predict the future) it becomes difficult for the audience to keep up with all his schemes. As the Joker himself observes at one point, he doesn’t “really look like a guy with a plan.” Yet, plan he does — more than anyone else.
13 TIMELESS: IMPORTANT SUPPORTING CHARACTERS
The Dark Knight’s world was populated by a number of supporting characters that play important roles in the story. While they don’t get as much screen time as the Joker or Batman, they make an impression nonetheless, and contribute to the richness and texture of the narrative.
Characters like Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, Alfred, and the Mayor have often been less than memorable in other Batman stories, given their lack of superhero swagger and hand-to-hand combat skills. In The Dark Knight, though, these characters had personalities and motivations all their own. By articulating their thoughts and opinions, these characters went beyond the typical Batman support staff and became important parts of the story in their own right.
12 TIRESOME: BRUCE WAYNE’S PUBLIC PERSONA
The few times we see Bruce Wayne out in public during The Dark Knight, he fully embodies the persona of a rich playboy with at least one beautiful woman on his arm. While it makes sense that Wayne would want to create a public persona as different from Batman as possible to keep his vigilante activities a secret, public Bruce Wayne comes across as over the top and dated.
While the Batman of the comics cultivated a similar public persona, with advances in equality and especially with the current #MeToo movement, Bruce Wayne seems like someone who’d spend most of his time settling harassment claims. Wayne’s alter-ego could have been different from Batman without including some of the more obnoxious parts of the persona.
11 TIMELESS: PRESTIGIOUS ACTORS
Nowadays, it’s common to see actors famous for independent films and prestige pictures turn up in superhero films, but that wasn’t always the case. When Christian Bale was originally cast as Batman in The Dark Knight trilogy, it was a surprise. Bale was known as a method actor who totally committed to diverse roles in a number of indies and smaller films, including American Psycho and The Machinist.
Bale wasn’t the only prestige actor to sign on either. The cast also included Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, and Morgan Freeman, all known for their award-caliber acting. Their casting showed what a group of highly talented individuals could do with the material.
10 TIRESOME: GLORIFICATION OF VIOLENCE
Comic-book movies traditionally include a lot of action and fighting, but that action is often surprisingly bloodless. The Dark Knight wasn’t so delicate about the consequences of violence. While the film still showed surprisingly little blood, violence does lead to terrible consequences, including gruesome deaths, injuries, and in the case of Harvey Dent, horrific disfigurement.
Yet, because the most fascinating character in the movie is the Joker, and the Joker has a blast wreaking violent havoc everywhere he goes, he makes violence look, well, sort of fun. The movie’s intense depiction of fighting, aggression, and crime — and the Joker’s obvious enjoyment of them — serves to glorify that violence.
9 TIMELESS: COMPLICATED CHARACTERS
The Dark Knight made both its hero and its villain complex and layered characters. Bruce Wayne is juggling multiple personas and competing goals while also clearly understanding what Batman can and can’t be for the citizens of Gotham City. Wayne seems to never sleep as he works to find a way to save the city.
Then, there’s the Joker. He’s a master manipulator, an unreliable narrator, and a guy with a point to prove. We never learn how the Joker became who he is, although he tells several stories about his past that may or may not be true. What we do know, though, is that the Joker is Batman’s other half, and he is doing everything in his power to keep it that way.
8 TIRESOME: THE FALL OF HARVEY DENT
The movie spends a long time building up what a stand-up guy Harvey Dent is. He is the epitome of integrity, symbolizing everything that Gotham City could be with the right people in charge. However, after the one-two punch of his girlfriend’s death and his disfigurement, Dent gives up his ideals almost instantly.
Of course, what happens to Dent is terrible and he has every reason to be angry. Not to mention, anyone with even a passing familiarity with the world of Batman knows that Dent eventually becomes the villain Two-Face. But Dent’s fall from grace happens so quickly in The Dark Knight, it’s jarring.
7 TIMELESS: EXAMINATION OF MORAL ISSUES
Throughout the movie, The Dark Knight offers a fascinating examination of several moral and ethical issues, including what makes a life worth saving, if honorable ends justify less than honorable means, and what makes someone a hero.
In addition, the key to the clash between Batman and the Joker is the question of whether people are basically good or basically evil. Throughout the movie, the Joker attempts to demonstrate that everyone is inherently evil. This is exemplified in the scene where he tries to force two ferry boats full of people to decide whether or not to blow each other up. The Joker believes the passengers will be easily manipulated to turn to the dark side. The choice the passengers make proves him wrong.
6 TIRESOME: BOMBASTIC MUSIC
Generally speaking, the composers of movie scores attempt to integrate their music into the movie in as unobtrusive a way as possible. Of course, there are scores audiences notice and love, but that music also is completely at home in the films in which they’re heard.
Then there’s Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight. The driving, clanging, banging music Zimmer composed isn’t altogether inappropriate for the gritty story of crime in Gotham. Yet, it’s also so overwhelming at times, it makes it hard to focus on the on-screen action. Zimmer’s score lets audiences know they've found themselves in a relentlessly bleak world instead of trusting them to come to that conclusion on their own. For better or worse, though, The Dark Knight’s background music is impossible to ignore.
5 TIMELESS: HEATH LEDGER’S ICONIC PERFORMANCE
Heath Ledger’s live-wire performance as the Joker has become the cinematic interpretation of the character to which all other cinematic interpretations must now measure up. While his tragic death several months before the release of The Dark Knight may have driven interest in the film, Ledger’s performance more than lived up to the scrutiny. Unrecognizable behind the make-up, scraggly hair and his raw talent, Ledger adopted a hunched physicality and odd verbal ticks that allowed him to completely disappear into the role.
Ledger’s performance is unforgettable, and makes what would have been a good movie, truly great. He still carries the distinction of being the one and only actor to win an Academy Award for a role in a comic-book movie.
4 TIRESOME: BARELY ANY FEMALE CHARACTERS
While there are many fantastic characters in The Dark Knight, most of them aren’t women. In fact, there are only two women that get any noticeable amount of screen time in the movie: Maggie Gyllenhaal as Bruce Wayne’s childhood friend, Rachel Dawes, and Monique Gabriela Curnen as Detective Ramirez.
While Rachel is a strong character, she’s unceremoniously dispatched when Gordon doesn’t arrive in time to foil one of the Joker’s plans. Ramirez's scenes are so brief, we never get much of a sense of who she is. The Dark Knight makes women largely disposable or irrelevant. They’re pawns in a larger game that the men are playing, and they suffer for it.
3 TIMELESS: SPEAKS TO REAL-WORLD ISSUES
While the movie occupies a reality in which crime fighters dress up as bats and villains put on clown make-up, The Dark Knight nonetheless spoke to several real-world issues that still resonate today. By using technology to invade people’s privacy to find the bad guys, the movie touches on the debate of privacy versus security.
In addition, the movie looks at the values espoused by political figures and how they can impact citizens, as well as the toll fighting crime and terrorism can take on an individual. The film also explores whether vigilante justice is a good thing or if justice is most effective when it’s meted out through official channels.
2 TIRESOME: REMOVED THE JOY FROM SUPERHERO STORIES
There’s no doubt that Batman is one of the darkest superheroes there is. However, The Dark Knight took that darkness to new heights, creating a bleak, crime-ridden world where the good guys don’t win and happy endings don't happen.
Although Batman is duty-bound to save citizens from the criminals plaguing Gotham City, he is portrayed as a loner who sacrifices everything and is rewarded with rejection by those he tried to help. In The Dark Knight, being a superhero is a burden. It’s a lonely, thankless existence that takes a psychological toll as people die and the hero is powerless to stop it. By removing hope from its story, The Dark Knight also removed the joy.
1 TIMELESS: TAKES SUPERHERO STORIES SERIOUSLY
When Tim Burton directed Batman in 1989, it evoked a dark, gritty world similar to that of The Dark Knight trilogy. Yet, that Batman series soon descended into brightly-colored camp. Nolan’s series, on the other hand, maintained a strong vision of Batman and the world he lived in, never letting up on its sober treatment of its subject.
By taking the Batman story seriously, Nolan created a film that had far more in common with crime thrillers than other comic-book movies. This approach led to The Dark Knight’s epic grandeur, where heightened characters and scenarios were played straight in recognizable settings, so they could reflect the harsh realities of our world. The film represents a turning point in our understanding of how powerful and intense superhero films can be.