Ten years later, 2008’s The Dark Knight is still considered the gold standard of superhero movies. Directed by Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk) and written by Jonathan Nolan (Westworld), this movie was the second installment in what would later be referred to as “The Dark Knight Trilogy,” which also includes 2005’s Batman Begins and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Like Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992), Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight revolutionized the superhero genre on the big screen, showing that these properties could be taken seriously, be considered for Oscar wins, and still earn massive amounts of money at the box office. Ever since the introduction of the highly-successful shared universe that is known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Warner Bros. has tried to live up to The Dark Knight’s standards while also trying to replicate the scope of the MCU. Needless to say, it has been a challenging time for the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) to manage to do both in recent times.
After ten years, another superhero movie has yet to be as well-received by critics and audiences alike the way that The Dark Knight was, which even earned the movie two Academy Awards in 2009, including a Best Supporting Actor award for Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker.
There is much more to The Dark Knight than the commonly known facts behind its production. In hindsight, Christopher Nolan took many risks to make this movie. Fortunately, it all paid off, with $1 billion at the box office and massive love from critics and fans.
These are 20 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of The Dark Knight.
20 HEATH LEDGER DIRECTED THE JOKER’S HOMEMADE VIDEOS
The Dark Knight features two homemade videos that are recorded by the Joker and seen by all of Gotham through the GCN channel. In real life, Heath Ledger took it upon himself to direct those videos, giving them an amateur quality that would have otherwise been hard for experience director Christopher Nolan to achieve. According to reports, Nolan supervised the shoots, but allowed Ledger to direct them by himself.
Thus, the Joker’s amateur video showing a fake Batman, as well as the one with the hostages and statement, were literally directed by Heath Ledger, rather than Christopher Nolan. As it is widely known, Ledger was extremely invested when it came to his portrayal of the Joker, so it makes sense that he – the Joker – would take over the directing of those videos.
19 JACK NICHOLSON WANTED TO REPRISE HIS ROLE AS THE JOKER
Jack Nicholson played the Joker in 1989’s Batman, which was directed by Tim Burton. He is not only responsible for changing the way that the character would be portrayed on-screen going forward, but he also added an extra level of menace to the Joker that had not been seen before. In many ways, Jack Nicholson had a significant impact on the performance that Heath Ledger would deliver nearly 20 years later.
Jack Nicholson was quite bothered about not being called to portray the Joker in The Dark Knight.
By 2008, the actor was already 71 years old, which was probably a determining factor regarding his ability to play the Joker, who is considerably younger than that. However, Nicholson was still not pleased, saying: “I’m furious. They never asked me about a sequel with the Joker. I know how to do that. Nobody ever asked me.”
18 HARVEY DENT TOOK OVER THE JOKER'S EMOTIONAL STORYLINE
One of the crowning achievements of The Dark Knight was giving fans a version of the Joker that was ruthless and unapologetic. The character never learned a lesson and was never redeemed in any way.
From the moment that the Joker is introduced in the film until the last scene that he is seen, this character looks and acts the same. On the other hand, Harvey Dent was portrayed as a character who went through changes.
According to Christopher Nolan, there was – at one point in the script – a sort of story arc for the Joker.
During an interview, the director explained: “We wanted him to be absolutely threatening in what he represents as a force of anarchy and chaos. That’s really the reason for Harvey Dent’s prominence in the film. It’s his story that has to provide the emotional backbone of the film.”
17 HEATH LEDGER ACTUALLY HAD FUN PLAYING THE JOKER
In hindsight, it is hard to believe that Heath Ledger was having fun portraying the Joker. He was certainly committed to the role, but many fans credit the character – and The Dark Knight movie itself – for having deteriorated the actor’s mental state.
Well, according to Heath Ledger himself: “Joker so far is definitely the most fun I’ve had with any character. He’s just out of control. He has no empathy. He’s a sociopath, psychotic... clown. And I’m just thoroughly, thoroughly enjoying it.”
In January of 2008, months prior to the release of The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger was found alone inside his apartment. According to reports, he was a victim of a mix of prescription pills.
16 MICHAEL CAINE SAYS CHRISTIAN BALE IS THE BEST BATMAN EVER
There are six main actors that have played Batman throughout the character’s many years on the big screen: Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck. In 2017, after Ben Affleck was already wearing the Bat-suit on-screen, Michael Caine gave out an interview talking about the legacy of The Dark Knight, in which he played Alfred Pennyworth.
Speaking about Batman movies in general, Michael Caine said: “Oh yeah, I’ve seen all the Batman mens, men. I’ve seen them all. I think by a long way, Christian is the best Batman I’ve ever seen.” So, there you go! Legendary actor Michael Caine has no doubt about who the best version of Batman is.
15 THE STUDIO DID NOT UNDERSTAND THIS VERSION OF THE JOKER AT FIRST
Despite the fact that Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the Joker was a massive success in 1989’s Batman, Warner Bros. was not too sure about the direction and Christopher and Jonathan Nolan were taking with the character in The Dark Knight. According to Jonathan, “the studio didn’t get it.”
It also does not help that Christopher Nolan decided to cast Heath Ledger, who was better known at the time for his role in Brokeback Mountain. While that film had been well-received by critics and even nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award, it was hard to see how a conflicted cowboy would transition into the Clown Prince of Crime.
Thankfully, the Nolan brothers stuck to their guts, yielding what would later be considered the greatest live-action Joker of all time.
14 KATIE HOLMES DOESN'T REGRET LEAVING THE DARK KNIGHT
Katie Holmes played Rachel Dawes in 2005’s Batman Begins, being set up as what would be Bruce Wayne’s love interest in the trilogy. However, when it came time to return for 2008’s The Dark Knight, the character was recast, bringing Maggie Gyllenhaal into the fold.
This sudden switch between actresses caused the press to speculate whether Christopher Nolan had deliberately made the change himself.
However, the director stated that he was “disappointed” that Katie Holmes was unavailable to come back. Years later, while promoting her film All We Had, Holmes remarked on that decision during an interview, saying: “It was right for me at that moment, so I don’t have any regrets. I think that Maggie did a wonderful job.”
13 CHRISTIAN BALE ACTUALLY HURT HEATH LEDGER DURING FILMING
You know the scene in The Dark Knight where Batman beats the Joker inside the police department’s interrogation room? The Joker begins to laugh, seemingly unbothered by violence and pain. Well, according to Christian Bale, that was really how Heath Ledger was acting while filming that scene.
According to Bale, Ledger was “egging” him on, and telling him to keep going.
“He was slamming himself around, and there were tiled walls inside of that set which were cracked and dented from him hurling himself into them,” Bale said.
This is yet more proof of how committed Heath Ledger was to the role of the Joker, even willing to get hurt in order to authentically channel how the character would be acting.
12 THE MOVIE WAS NEVER MEANT TO BE THE JOKER’S ORIGIN STORY
When a character is introduced in a superhero movie, writers and directors often go into autopilot and craft an “origin story” that explains how that character came to be, how they gained those superpowers, and when they decided to become a hero or a villain. This trope is so tired that, by the time that 2017’s Spider-Man: Homecoming was released, Marvel Studios felt that the character had been introduced too many times already, and skipped the entire “origin” storyline.
The Joker, a world-famous villain, needed no introduction.
Yhankfully, Christopher Nolan decided to not explain any of the character’s background in The Dark Knight. “We never wanted to do an origin story for the Joker in this film,” Nolan has stated. Instead, we saw the Joker in his rawest form – ruthless and unchanging.
11 WHY HEATH LEDGER WAS CAST AS THE JOKER
By 2007, when The Dark Knight began filming, Heath Ledger was known for portraying William Thatcher in 2001’s A Knight’s Tale and for playing Ennis Del Mar in 2005’s Brokeback Mountain. While he had certainly gathered enough attention from critics and audiences alike, it is safe to say that Heath Ledger was not an A-list actor in Hollywood-- unlike his Dark Knight co-stars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman.
So how did Heath Ledger land on Christopher Nolan’s radar? According to the director, he had met with Ledger “several times” for other projects, but nothing had materialized into a role. Then, the actor heard that Nolan was looking for someone to play the Joker, and expressed his desire to get the role.
When they met, Nolan saw that Ledger understood the “psychological concept” behind the Joker, and decided to hire him based on that notion.
10 THE COMIC BOOKS THAT INSPIRED THE MOVIE
Like most Batman movies, The Dark Knight was not inspired by any single comic book. However, that is not to say that director Christopher Nolan and his brother, Jonathan, did not borrow certain storylines from a few pieces of source material.
Overall, The Dark Knight was largely inspired by three well-recognized Batman comic books. Firstly, there is 1988’s Batman: The Killing Joke, written by Alan Moore, which introduced a new take on the Joker that explored the psychology behind that evil man. Secondly, there is 1987’s Batman: Year One, written by Frank Miller, which explored the relationship between Batman, Gotham’s vigilante, and James Gordon, a Gotham police officer. Lastly, there is 1996’s Batman: The Long Halloween, which tells the story of how Harvey Dent became Two-Face.
9 THE HIGHEST-GROSSING BATMAN MOVIE OF ALL TIME
Collectively, the Dark Knight trilogy grossed over a billion dollars at the domestic box office. When adjusted for inflation, these numbers surpass $1.5 billion domestically. In any case, at least half of that amount was earned solely by 2008’s The Dark Knight. The movie grossed $158 million on its opening weekend, totaling $688 million over time (not counting its 2012 re-release). This makes The Dark Knight the highest-grossing film of its trilogy, as well as the most lucrative Batman movie of all time.
With a budget of mere $185 million, it is safe to say that The Dark Knight blew way past any expectations. So much so that, by the time The Dark Knight Rises was produced, the film received a much bigger budget of $250 million.
8 THE JOKER’S PERSONALITY WAS INSPIRED BY DR. MABUSE
When Jonathan Nolan set out to write The Dark Knight, director Christopher Nolan gave his brother an assignment: to watch The Testament of Dr. Mabuse before writing the Joker. This 1933 German film directed by Fritz Lang is centered around an insane criminal called Dr. Mabuse, who escapes the asylum he was in to create chaos everywhere he goes.
Besides The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Christopher Nolan was also very adamant to journalists about the fact that they wanted The Dark Knight’s Joker to be a more faithful representation of the character’s early appearances in the comic books, when stories catered less to children.
Despite being rated PG-13 in the United States, it is safe to say that there is nothing kid-friendly about the movie’s Joker.
7 The writer change from Batman Begins
David S. Goyer is a well-known writer within the comic book movie industry, having been responsible for the Blade trilogy, Man of Steel, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. When it comes to his work alongside Christopher Nolan, Goyer was responsible for writing the Batman Begins script.
It is a common misconception that he was responsible for The Dark Knight script.
In truth, David S. Goyer is credited for having created the story of The Dark Knight, but did not actually write the movie’s script. Instead, it was Jonathan Nolan who wrote the film. The same thing goes for The Dark Knight Rises, the trilogy’s third installment, for which Goyer only received a “story by” production credit.
6 THE MOVIE’S GROUNDBREAKING VIRAL MARKETING
2008 was a year where Internet campaigns began to gain momentum, from politics to Hollywood. As such, The Dark Knight pioneered what would later become the standard marketing campaign for several blockbusters.
During the 15 months that preceded the film’s release, Warner Bros. shared online pamphlets of Harvey Dent running for office (and the Joker’s modifications to those pamphlets), distributed dollar bills that the Joker had written on, and created a website for Gotham Cable News (GCN).
Most of all, it launched the iconic “Why So Serious?” campaign.
Pictures of the Joker and the “Why So Serious?” saying quickly became Internet memes, which turned The Dark Knight into the first major motion picture to have had a truly viral online marketing campaign.
5 IT'S THE BEST REVIEWED BATMAN MOVIE OF ALL TIME
From 1966’s Batman: The Movie to 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there have been about ten live-action movies in which Bruce Wayne was featured as the central character. Even taking all of those movies into consideration, there is no comparison: The Dark Knight is the highest-rated Batman movie of all time.
On Rotten Tomatoes, The Dark Knight has a score of 94%.
It's then followed by The Dark Knight Rises (87%) and Batman Begins (84%). The highest-rated live-action Batman movie outside of this trilogy is 1992’s Batman Returns, which has a Tomatometer score of 81%.
On the lower end are 1995’s Batman Forever (39%), 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (27%), and 1997’s Batman & Robin (10%).
4 THE HEAT INSPIRATION
1995’s Heat, starring Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, is one of the most well-respected movies about bank robberies in the history of cinema. Thus, it came as no surprise when Christopher Nolan mentioned the movie as a reference point for The Dark Knight.
Specifically, it served as an inspiration for the opening scene, which featured the Joker robbing a bank with a team of thieves.
However, from a more general standpoint, Christopher Nolan also credited Heat for serving as a template for world-building in a movie. After citing Michael Mann by name, Nolan said: “If you want to take on Gotham, you want to give Gotham a kind of weight and breadth and depth in there.”
3 THEY IGNORED THE JUSTICE LEAGUE MOVIE
Mainstream audiences may not know, but 2017’s Justice League had been in development at Warner Bros. since February of 2007, when Michel and Kieran Mulroney were hired to write a script for what was then referred to as Justice League of America. The other DC Comics movie that was in production at Warner Bros. during that time was 2008’s The Dark Knight.
Despite this being before our era of shared cinematic universes, it was not completely unheard of for superhero properties to be somewhat connected.
For instance, 2003’s Daredevil and 2005’s Elektra had been a recent example at the time.
However, it is clear that The Dark Knight was not made with having the Justice League of America movie in mind whatsoever. When asked about the upcoming JLA project, Nolan simply replied, “To be perfectly honest, it’s not really something I’ve thought about much.”
2 IT WAS THE FIRST MAJOR MOVIE SHOT FOR IMAX
In 2018, almost esingle big-budget mainstream blockbuster is made with the IMAX format in mind. However, back in 2008, that was not necessarily the case. In fact, very few movies were actually released in IMAX back then, and the ones that were, were not particularly shot taking the format into consideration.
On the other hand, Christopher Nolan had always been an avid advocate of the format. When given the budget for The Dark Knight, the director decided to bring the expensive IMAX-ready cameras to the set, shooting some of the most important scenes of the film.
In total, four scenes from The Dark Knight were shot with IMAX cameras, including the bank robbery sequence in the beginning of the movie. This turned The Dark Knight into the first major motion picture to be shot for IMAX resolution.
1 THE JOKER’S THEME SONG IS REALLY JUST TWO NOTES
Hans Zimmer is one of the busiest and most well-respected music composers in Hollywood. Famous for his work in The Lion King and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Zimmer has been a longtime collaborator of Christopher Nolan, having worked with the director since 2005’s Batman Begins.
When it came time to score The Dark Knight, there was no doubt that Christopher Nolan would tap Hans Zimmer once again, yielding what would become the character’s “Why So Serious?” theme song. What many hardcore fans do not know is that the entire song is based around only two notes. Zimmer believed that there was no need for any added fluff around the theme for what is such an iconic character already.
Do you have any other trivia to share about The Dark Knight? Let us know in the comments!