Back in 2008, Warner Bros. were on top of the world with their big-screen adaptations of DC Comics characters. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight had just grossed them $1 billion worldwide, and their closest rival Marvel made half that with Iron Man, so as far as Warner Bros. were concerned, they were winning.
However, when Nolan concluded The Dark Knight trilogy in 2012, it was outgrossed by The Avengers, and Warner Bros. panicked – this crazy “shared universe” idea that Marvel had might actually work. So, they started their own, the DC Extended Universe, completely from scratch, which may have been a mistake. Here are 10 Ways The DCEU Would Be Different If It Started With The Dark Knight Trilogy.
10 Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be Batman
The Dark Knight trilogy ended on a perfectly hopeful note. Alfred spotted Bruce Wayne alive and well in Paris after he saved Gotham City from an atomic blast, but it was left ambiguous as to whether or not he was really there. Meanwhile, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s cop character back in Gotham, Blake (whose real name was Robin), was discovering the Batcave and likely taking on the mantle of “Batman.”
If this had been the beginning of DC’s own cinematic universe, Christian Bale’s portrayal of Bruce Wayne wouldn’t be the franchise’s Batman – Gordon-Levitt’s Blake would be. The door would be open for Bale to return, but that would ruin The Dark Knight Rises’ ending.
9 Everyone would get a trilogy before the Justice League movie
When Justice League came out in 2017, Superman and Wonder Woman were the only characters who had starred in even one standalone movie beforehand. Batman had a co-starring role in Superman’s sequel. The Flash, Aquaman, and Cyborg all had solo movies promised (and only one of them ended up actually getting one), but we hadn’t gotten to know them before they joined the ensemble team-up – and Green Lantern wasn’t even there!
The Dark Knight trilogy showed that to endear viewers to characters, they need an epic trilogy with a tone that’s perfectly suited to them. If everyone in the Justice League got their own trilogy before the team-up movie, the DCEU would’ve been both differently structured than the MCU and far more interesting.
8 Nolan wouldn’t have rushed it
It’s likely that if The Dark Knight trilogy was used as the basis of the DCEU, Warner Bros. would have brought on Christopher Nolan as the sort of godfather of the franchise, the same job that Kevin Feige has in the MCU or Warner Bros. eventually hired Zack Snyder to do. If Nolan was in charge, he would’ve spaced out the movies more.
He wouldn’t have crammed them all in, leading to movies like Suicide Squad and Justice League feeling rushed. His Dark Knight movies released over the course of seven years, giving the films time to develop and become all-time classics and let the character grow.
7 There would be no Batman v Superman
If The Dark Knight trilogy kicked off the DCEU, there would’ve been no Batman v Superman, which we can probably all agree would be a good thing. Whether the DCEU’s Batman ended up being Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne or Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, there’s no way he would’ve been able to take on Superman.
He got torn to shreds by dogs and put out of commission by Bane, a regular dude with above-average strength, so there’s no chance he would’ve been able to fight Superman. Batfleck was shown to have better gadgets and fighting skills than Bale’s Batman, so he proved to be a match for Supes.
6 The movies wouldn’t necessarily all be grounded
A lot of DC fans object to the hypothetical scenario of The Dark Knight trilogy starting the DCEU, because those movies have a grounded tone that wouldn’t be suited to more fantastical characters like Superman and Aquaman. However, their movies wouldn’t have to share The Dark Knight trilogy’s tone.
Those movies had the perfect tone for Batman; the other characters’ movies would just have to be equally perfect for them. Marvel’s movies all have the same tone, but the DCEU could’ve had a disparate range of tones. These days, Warner Bros. seem to think they have to pick one – dark tone or light tone – but maybe they could have both. Lord knows the comics do, and following the comics has worked out for Marvel.
5 Batman would be the DCEU’s founding father, not Superman
The DCEU started with Man of Steel, so as far as that franchise’s fictional world is concerned, Superman was the world’s first superhero, and he was the anchor that introduced other characters like Batman and Wonder Woman into the mix.
If The Dark Knight trilogy was the beginning of the franchise, then he would be that anchor. Justice League might not have been too different, since the plot involved Batman putting the team together. This felt disingenuous, since Batman is sort of a lone wolf, so maybe a Nick Fury type – let’s say Amanda Waller – would recruit him and the others instead.
4 Batman wouldn’t be old and grizzled
The Batman we meet in the DCEU is ripped straight from the pages of The Dark Knight Returns in the worst way possible. He’s old and grizzled and bitter and on the brink of retirement. The Dark Knight Returns earned this after years of comics explaining why he would be bitter and angry as he got older.
Batman v Superman hit the ground running with this Batman. He’d already faced his greatest foes, lost to a couple of them (“HAHAH, joke’s on you, Batman!”), and spent his days contemplating retirement. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake character was young and optimistic – he was still yet to face his defining enemies.
3 There would be no Joker in the DCEU
One of the best things about Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is that its second chapter gave us the definitive on-screen version of the Joker, courtesy of an Oscar-winning Heath Ledger. Ledger was hoping to reprise his role in the sequel to The Dark Knight, and if it had been the start of a franchise, maybe he would’ve eventually gotten his own movie and Suicide Squad-style team-ups.
However, Ledger’s tragic and untimely death would make this impossible. It’s one thing to introduce new Jokers in a separate franchise, but recasting Ledger’s Joker within the same franchise would’ve been a step too far and fans would’ve rejected it, so if The Dark Knight trilogy was canon in the DCEU, then the shared universe would have no Joker.
2 The DCEU could’ve evolved away from The Dark Knight’s gritty tone
It’s often said that The Dark Knight was too gritty and realistic to be a part of a shared universe containing an alien god and an Amazonian warrior, but what a lot of people forget is that Iron Man was also gritty and realistic.
The MCU has evolved away from that tone, taking baby steps towards including wizards and nanites and talking trees and cosmic overlords. The DCEU could’ve slowly introduced aliens and superpowers into the gritty world that Christopher Nolan established. And let’s not forget that The Dark Knight trilogy had mystical ninjas and a Batwing – it wasn’t that realistic.
1 The franchise would be on stronger ground
The Marvel Cinematic Universe started on very strong ground with Iron Man. The DC Extended Universe started with Man of Steel, and Man of Steel was no Iron Man. Iron Man stands on its own as a fantastic movie with terrific acting, vibrant action set pieces, and engaging character development and it leaves you wanting more, whereas Man of Steel is a deeply flawed movie that runs out of steam before it’s over.
If the DCEU started with The Dark Knight movies, Christopher Nolan’s weighty, unparalleled, Oscar-winning masterpieces, then it would’ve kicked things off with a jumping-off point as strong as Marvel’s.