The Dark Knight may be the most recognizable and influential superhero film of all time. With its unique blend of action, drama, and comedy, and a protagonist that is both sympathetic and relatable, the film introduced a new audience to the world of superheroes and cemented the stardom of its two main stars, Batman and Heath Ledger’s iconic Joker.

The Making of Dark Knight

The Dark Knight was an ambitious undertaking, not just because of its $250 million budget and A-list cast, but also because its creators were determined to redefine comic book movies and give them a more sophisticated and mature feel. Director Christopher Nolan and his screenwriter, Jonathan Nolan, aimed to shed light on the darker aspects of humanity and show the world that these stories could be used to explore existential and moral questions in an adult manner.

Over the years, Christopher Nolan has spoken about the influence of his favorite author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, on The Dark Knight. The Russian writer’s work was on display in several of Nolan’s previous films, including Memento and The Prestige, and he continues to be cited as an influence today.

The Most Influential Film Of All Time

Since its premiere, The Dark Knight has consistently appeared on lists of the greatest films of all time, such as these:

  • Top 50 Superhero Movies
  • Top 100 Action Films
  • Top 100 English-Language Films
  • Top 100 American Films
  • Top 100 Horror Films
  • Top 100 Comedy Films

The Dark Knight is also one of the few films to ever achieve worldwide box-office supremacy. As of January 2020, the film is the all-time highest-grossing at the global box office, earning over $1.7 billion USD.

Key Influences On The Dark Knight

While many of Nolan’s previous films were heavily influenced by comic books and graphic novels, The Dark Knight drew from a variety of sources to create something that was both uniquely his own and also groundbreaking.

The film’s producers and costume designers went to great lengths to ensure the authenticity of its period details. The production design departments, in particular, took inspiration from the 1940s Golden Age of comic books and worked hard to achieve the right tone by paying close attention to details such as cars, clothing, and architecture. Similarly, the filmmakers drew from real-life incidents, situations, and persons to create the film’s dramatic story beats and dialogues. For example, the scene in which Harvey Dent is poisoned and turned into Two-Face is based on the actual story of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassin, James Earl Ray.

Key Influences On The Joker

The character of the Joker was perhaps the most influential part of The Dark Knight. Influenced by the work of British playwright and actor, William Shakespeare, the Joker is described by Batman as “a symbol of anarchy… [who] appeals to the lowest forms of human desire,” (Nolan 1966).

Shakespearean actor and former heavyweight champion of the world, Jack Johnson, was originally offered the role of the Joker, but he turned it down due to creative differences. Heath Ledger was subsequently cast in the role, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The Dark Knight does not simply reflect the influence of its two lead male characters; the entire film was conceived as a reaction to many of the clichés associated with comic book heroes and their cinematic counterparts.

While comic books are frequently associated with crime and villainy, The Dark Knight turns this notion on its head. Throughout the film, the audience is introduced to a world in which the bad guys are no longer faceless outsiders but are instead people just like us, with families, hopes, and dreams just like we do. Moreover, the film’s final scenes see the Joker and Batman united in a passionate embrace, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.

Comic books and graphic novels are frequently associated with escapism and child-friendly entertainment, yet The Dark Knight stands as a testament to the transformative power of literature and art. In an interview with The Guardian, Christopher Nolan said of his film:

“A film can hold a mirror up to society and say ‘this is what you see when you look in the mirror. This, in a nutshell, is who we are,’ and that’s what we tried to do with Batman… We tried to show a dark side to what we consider to be a very idealistic and hopeful character, the superhero. We tried to make him as human and relatable as possible, so that when the scene requires him to kick ass or shut up, the audience knows exactly what character they’re seeing. But we also wanted people to be able to identify with him, to feel as if he was someone they might have known in real life.”

More information about the film can be found in our guide to The Dark Knight: Everything you need to know.