The Dark Knight revolutionized Hollywood when it premiered 10 years ago, but the industry seemingly learned the wrong lessons from the film. To say Christopher Nolan's comic book film is one of this generation's defining titles would be an understatement.
Upon its release in 2008, The Dark Knight was hailed as one of the greatest movies ever made (not just one of the best superhero films) and became a box office phenomenon. In its domestic run, it earned $534.8 million and was a realistic challenger for Titanic's then-all-time record. It even changed the fabric of the Oscars, after its infamous Best Picture snub led to a field expansion in 2009.
Of course, when something strikes a chord to this effect, it's going to leave a sizable impression on the landscape. The movie business is a copycat league, and executives definitely took notice of The Dark Knight and tried to do whatever they could to replicate its success. Undeniably, Dark Knight has a lasting legacy on film and arguably remains the bar for its genre, but a case can be made people took the wrong things away from it in their attempts to find a hit.
- This Page: The Problem With The Dark Knight's Legacy
- Page 2: How Hollywood (and Marvel) Learned From The Dark Knight
Nolan's Approach Doesn't Work For Everything
The Dark Knight trilogy (which started with Batman Begins in 2005) was noted for a grounded and realistic style that explored what Batman would really be like if he existed in our world. Just about everything Bruce Wayne used was inspired by real-life technology, which helped allow the gadgetry feel real. Batman is one of the few superheroes where this approach makes sense, as he doesn't have any powers. Nolan was able to play down some of the more fantastical elements of the comics and earlier film adaptations in a logical manner and still stay true to the source material. By all accounts, The Dark Knight is a crime drama that just happens to have Batman and the Joker in it.
Batman Begins kicked off Hollywood's gritty reboot trend (Casino Royale came out shortly after), but this trend didn't really grab hold of the industry until post-Dark Knight. In the following years, several franchise revivals tried to put the Nolan spin on the property, but none achieved the same level of success. Some, such as Dracula Untold, Fantastic Four, and The Amazing Spider-Man series, flamed out and killed their respective franchises before they had a chance to really begin. Others, like Star Trek Into Darkness (which borrows elements from Dark Knight) and Man of Steel (a Nolan-produced Superman reboot) were polarizing due to their handling of pop culture icons. The main issue of this is that "dark and gritty" is not a tone that works for every character. It fits Batman, but not Spider-Man. There's a reason why Tom Holland's enthusiastic, lighter take on Peter Parker is thriving while Andrew Garfield's is no more.
As typically happens when a landmark film opens, rival executives took the wrong lessons from it. The Dark Knight didn't connect with people because it was a realistic take on Batman. It earned $1 billion worldwide and received widespread acclaim because Nolan was able to tell the story he wanted and took the characters seriously. That last point is key. It doesn't mean the film has to be a somber drama a la Logan in order to be "serious" - it just means the film shouldn't be reduced to a joke. It's possible to make a fun, entertaining blockbuster that's true to the spirit of the character and doesn't make him or her a laughingstock. Spider-Man: Homecoming is one of the best representations of Peter Parker onscreen. Batman and Robin is a borderline parody people have to apologize for.
Because of its haphazard application, the "dark and gritty" aesthetic wore thin fairly quickly and is no longer en vogue. Despite The Dark Knight's standing as one of the greatest films, its influence isn't as widely felt as it was just a handful of years ago. Of course, part of this is the cyclical nature of the business. Trends come and go as passing fads, and executives move on to the next one after milking the previous one dry. However, this isn't to say The Dark Knight has no lasting legacy on the industry - even as another superhero movie trend passes it in terms of cultural relevance.