1931, City Lights. 1941, Citizen Kane. 1957, 12 Angry Men. 1972, The Godfather. 1994, The Shawshank Redemption.
2008, The Dark Knight.
Every so often, a movie comes out that convinces a large portion of cinephiles that it belongs in the conversation for greatest movie ever made, and sparks a conversation among the rest. Christopher Nolan crafted a masterpiece, in which he was helped by all of his most frequent recurring collaborators. Michael Caine has acted in 7 of his movies, Wally Pfister shot 7, Lee Smith edited 7, Hans Zimmer scored 6 and Nathan Crowley has been the production designer on 7. All of them, plus movie-specific actors Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart, did some of the best work of their careers, leading to this work of exceptional technical skill.
But beyond just how well made it is, the movie’s longevity has to do with its cultural impact. 2014’s Whiplash was impeccably crafted too, but that’s not going to inspire the conversations in 2024 that The Dark Knight does now. So what are these conversations? What makes this movie stand out even among other great films of its decade? Here are some opinions.
- Kristopher Tapley, for Variety, writes about the impact the movie had on the the Oscars. In 2009, the film missed out on a Best Picture nomination because there were only five nomination slots, and those were reserved for more Oscar-friendly movies like holocaust drama The Reader. That led the Academy to expand to 10 slots, and while we saw some impact of that decision in the next 2 years, with movies like Avatar and Inception competing for the coveted prize, the number of mainstream entertainment blockbuster nominees has diminished since then. That said, we still see movies like Mad Max: Fury Road and Dunkirk recognised every so often, so the impact is certainly felt.
- Richard Newby, for The Hollywood Reporter, writes about the lessons studios and filmmakers took from The Dark Knight’s success, and how the movie’s legacy is tarnished by the fact that these were not the right lessons. It is clear that many other franchises have since tried the approach of rebooting with more realism and grit, and this tactic has been applied often with no regard for whether it suits that specific franchise. While I agree that it’s not smart to claim that The Dark Knight was successful simply because it was dark, I do think there are those who have used that approach to great success elsewhere. Newby mentions the Planet of the Apes trilogy as the only good example of this trend, but I’d like to mention that even though Skyfall and Logan are not reboots, they did essentially the same thing to their worlds and characters, and did it well. Both movies would have been very different if they did not live in a post-Dark Knight world.
- Alan Zilberman, for The Washington Post, writes about the influence the Joker has had on toxic elements of movie fandom, specifically arguing that modern online trolling might have its roots in people who found something admirable in the villain and emulated his quest for chaos. The most interesting point he raises is the trolls’ desire to see people get angry, to the point where they often even say things they don’t believe, simply to infuriate. Movies like The Dark Knight, Fight Club and The Wolf of Wall Street always run the risk of making the “bad” persona so charming and alluring that people can’t resist the temptation to emulate it.
There are many more thinkpieces, some with the same talking points as these, others dissecting the greatness of Heath Ledger’s performance or why no superhero movie since has been able to live up. Still others are discussing the way the movie addressed post-9/11 concerns about the war on terror and how the movie’s politics hold up today. And 10 years later, there will be many more articles. Whether you think the The Dark Knight has had a positive impact on cinema or negative, one thing is undeniable: we as a culture won’t stop talking about it anytime soon.