The Dark Knight (2008) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight came out in a very busy 2008 and easily became the biggest film of the year.  Even though competition was strong from Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and surprising blockbuster Iron Man, Batman was able to once again smash records much like in 1989.  Biggest day, biggest weekend, fastest to $200 million etc… The Dark Knight was making money at a faster rate than any movie before it and by the end of the year the film was the 2nd biggest film in history (not including inflation).  Why was it so big?  Was it really because of the untimely and unfortunate death of co-star Heath Ledger?  While there might be some morbid people out there that went to see this film for that reason alone I don’t believe that made that much difference in the final grosses. Here are my five reasons why the movie was such a success.

  1. The movie was what fans of Batman deserved.  By the time The Dark Knight was released fans of the Caped Crusader had already watched the campy 60’s TV show and four Batman films in the 80’s/90’s that got more wrong than right.  Yet at the same time Warner Brothers was making a mint on the Michael Keaton Batman films. Warner Animation created Batman: The Animated Series, which was a breath of fresh air for all fans.  In this cartoon Batman and his rogues felt right and the world of Gotham City felt lived in.  If asked in the mid 90’s what the best Batman film was most big fans would say without pause Mask of the Phantasm. This might have been a cartoon but it understood Batman and the world he inhabits.  Nothing came close to this cartoon until Batman Begins was released in 2005.  Begins was the first movie to understand the psyche of Bruce Wayne and make him an actual character and not a stopgap person to follow in-between Batman action scenes.  With the foundation of his character and reasoning behind his actions now set The Dark Knight was able to expand the world without having to set up character or motivations.   Gotham no longer felt like a sound stage but a city.  Both heroes and villains had reasons for their actions no matter how sinister they were. Also for once the action happened for a reason and not because the script dictated it.  For the first time people could easily put a movie into the discussion of the best Batman tales ever told next to the Frank Miller and Alan Moore stories of the past.
  2. The good will from Batman Begins flowed over into this filmBatman Begins was not that big of a hit when it came out.  It opened OK and thanks to some good legs made a hair over $200 million in the US.  This is by no means a disaster but Spider-Man made over twice that a few years before and the original Batman movie made more than that over 10 years before.  There were still a lot of people burnt by Batman and Robin and didn’t give this movie a chance.  When people finally did catch up to the film on DVD or TV they found not a great comic book movie but a great movie PERIOD.  The love for the film grew and grew over the years between the release of Begins and Dark Knight so that by the time the sequel was released many more people were anxiously looking forward to the movie than the first time around.
  3. Even before his death the buzz for Heath Ledger’s Joker was huge. There were whispers from the beginning that his portrayal of Joker was a once in a lifetime performance.  When Ledger unfortunately died the buzz got louder and more people were interested in seeing what he was going to do with the most iconic character in Batman’s rogue gallery.   Even without the black cloud that hung around the performance Ledger crafted a villain worthy of being in the discussion with the best that have ever graced the screen. Take away the tragic circumstances and I think that Ledger still would (and should have) won the Oscar.  His performance was that good.  We finally had the Batman that fans deserved with this series and The Dark Knight created the Joker that they hoped for, one that can stand toe to toe with Batman and not flinch
  4. The movie was a great film and that should not be overlooked. Yes the film was a perfect representation of Batman. It had a tour de force performance from Heath Ledger as the Joker but beyond everything else it was a great film.  If I would have gone into the film without any knowledge of the film I would have thought the movie was a new crime film directed by Michael Mann. It was edited and shot crisply and felt real and raw.  No one involved in the film took it easy or didn’t give their all because “it was a comic book film” the actors, writers, director and crew went out to make a great film and they succeeded.  Their hard work was rewarded because audiences LOVED the film. And audiences weren’t the only ones. Critics gave it rave reviews, which helped build the buzz for the film weeks before its release.  Audiences were anxiously awaiting this film that had been anointed weeks before its release “THE GREATEST THING EVER MADE”.  With these lofty expectations it would not have been difficult to be disappointed but the film lived up to the expectations.  People were raving about the film and seeing the film over and over again.  The movie played well through the rest of the summer becoming the 2nd biggest film ever at the box office at that time.  If the movie was only good or enjoyable the movie would not have reached such heights. The Dark Knight was not only a film you had to see in the theatre but also it was one you had to see more than once.
  5. It is Batman. You take reasons 1-4 and add it to this and you have a recipe for a huge film.  Forget Superman or Spider-Man, which I love both; I believe Batman is the most popular and recognizable comic character in pop culture.  He has been the star of TV, movies, cartoons, books and more.  Ever since the 90’s a cartoon starring him has been on the air.  Looking at the most popular and beloved comic books of all time there will always be a lot of Batman on that list.  People like the character, like the world and like the villains.  Everyone knows who Batman/Bruce Wayne is, they know his story and they never get tired of him.  Superman Returns underwhelmed because it was a movie starring an icon that didn’t give audiences what they wanted.  Superman needs to do certain things in a movie and when he didn’t do them in the film people were ambivalent of the film.  Batman in The Dark Knight was exactly what people wanted and that got them excited.  It was Batman as Batman should be.  No matter what form of the character is your favorite whether it be dark and brooding, the great detective or the action hero in a cool car it was on screen and people flocked to it for that reason.  It is a no brainer how to make a popular Batman film it just took 6 movies to get the formula right.

I look at a lot of the films as I have been doing the Thirty Years at the Top and for the life of me cannot understand how or why they made so much money.  This is a problem I do not have with The Dark Knight. Here is a movie that gives something for everyone.  It is a great film, an action picked summer blockbuster and a comic adaptation that gives love and respect to its creation.  It is rare you get a film that appeals to as many people as this film, but when all pieces fit together you get something as special and as big as The Dark Knight.

Posted by Ryan

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