Widely considered to be one of the best Batman films (if not the best comic book film) ever made, The Dark Knight was the second part of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. It was critically acclaimed, appearing on more critics’ top ten lists than any other film in 2008, with the exception of WALL-E, and receiving eight Academy Award nominations, including a posthumous Best Supporting Actor win for Heath Ledger's now legendary performance as the Joker.
Here are a few facts about the film that Roger Ebert said redefined “the possibilities of the comic book movie”.
While filming in Chicago, the film was given the fake title “Rory’s First Kiss” to lower the visibility of the production. Of course, this ruse lasted all of two seconds. Good try though!
The Dark Knight was the first comic book movie to hit a billion dollars in box office. Unsurprisingly, it was not the last.
Christian Bale’s much-parodied growl wasn’t entirely his decision. His real voice during filming was more toned down but, on Nolan’s orders, was made rougher and grittier during post-production. Yes, kids. That was on purpose. Don’t mock.
In the film, Bruce Wayne drives a Lamborghini Murcielago, which is Spanish for “bat”. The car costs around $400,000, which is Spanish for “a lot more than you can afford”.
Despite all of his praise for Ledger's performance, Michael Caine was actually very skeptical that anyone could fill Jack Nicholson's shoes as the Joker.
As he said, "You don't try and top Jack". But then, Nolan cast Ledger, and Caine thought "Now that's the one guy that could do it"! Make up your mind, Michael!
During the scene where the Joker crashes the party in Bruce Wayne's penthouse, an older gentleman briefly stands up to him, saying "We're not intimidated by thugs". The Joker then grabs a hold of him and sticks a knife in his mouth.
Well, it turns out that that man was Senator Patrick Leahy, who has represented the state of Vermont in the Senate for more than 30 years. Leahy is a huge Batman fan, and he's actually appeared in several Batman TV shows and movies, most recently in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Christopher Nolan and Warner Bros. were likely surprised when they discovered they were being sued by... Batman. The city of Batman, Turkey that is. The city's mayor allegedly thought that the film would have a negative impact on his town, saying "There is only one Batman in the world. The American producers used the name of our city without informing us". I hate to say it, but if you had to poll the world on the "only" Batman, I have a feeling they'd vote for the Dark Knight.
Though The Dark Knight is its own, unique story, it drew inspiration from several different Batman comics. Specifically, much of the Joker's characterization was taken from the 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke, which provided the villain's origin. Harvey Dent's descent into madness also came from the comics, this time from a series called The Long Halloween.
It's widely believed that The Dark Knight changed the Oscars forever. Though Ledger did posthumously win the award for Best Supporting Actor, the film was notably snubbed from the Best Picture nominations (Slumdog Millionaire won that year, by the way, but I think we all know which film has stood the test of time). There no small controversy surrounding The Dark Knight's snub, and it's widely believed that the expansion of the category from five films to ten happened because of it. So next time you're struggling to watch all of the Best Picture nominees before the ceremony, you can thank Christopher Nolan.
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They designed a new Batsuit for this film and it was constructed from 200 unique pieces of rubber, fiberglass, metallic mesh, and nylon. This Batsuit was an improvement on the version from Batman Begins and allowed Christian Bale to be more agile in his performance, and it was reportedly much more comfortable. No word on if Bale could use the BAThroom.
In the film, Bruce asks Lucius Fox to design a new Batsuit with a head that swivels.
This is a reference to older Batsuits which had a solid headpiece, preventing the actors from being able to turn their heads and instead requiring them to turn their entire torsos to look at their targets like they had slept funny the night before.
So many famous performances in history seem to have been done by method actors like Daniel Day-Lewis or Marlon Brando, who stays in character all the time while filming.
Hedger was the exception to the rule, in this case. In fact, his co-stars in the film often mention his remarkable restraint. He would never do the Joker voice or laugh like the villain unless the cameras were rolling, keeping his truly disturbing behavior locked in until the right moment.
When Christopher Nolan was casting Batman Begins, he was in talks with Ledger to get him to play the role of Bruce Wayne, and therefore Batman. Maybe Ledger had a thing against superheroes, because he once turned down the chance to play Spider-Man, and he turned this part down too.
But when Ledger saw the final product, he immediately regretted it, and chased down Nolan to sign on for the part of the Joker in The Dark Knight. In my opinion, it all worked out in the end.
For most of his career, Christopher Nolan has focused on a specific project, then moved on.
Think Memento, The Prestige, Dunkirk, Inception, etc. This was initially his plan with Batman as well, and he never had any intention to create a sequel to Batman Begins. However, one thing brought him back: the Joker. While Batman Begins ends with Commissioner Gordon handing Batman the Joker's card, Nolan didn't think that he'd be the guy making the sequel. However, the allure of making a film about a character as compelling as the Joker was too much, and he eventually caved and started work on The Dark Knight.
Despite persistent rumors that the part of Rachel Dawes was recast because of Katie Holmes' acting ability, the actress actually walked away from the film by choice.
Before settling on Maggie Gyllenhaal as her replacement, both Rachel McAdams and Emily Blunt were also considered.
Most people probably think of The Dark Knight as a movie about Batman and the Joker, but according to Christopher Nolan himself, the movie is mainly about another character: Harvey Dent. The film was really about the rise of Two-Face, and Dent’s descent gave the film the emotional weight that the unsympathetic Joker could not provide. Nolan acknowledged that the title was not only a reference to Batman, but to the fallen “white knight” that was Harvey Dent.
The BatPod was introduced in this film, and it is an actual working motorcycle.
It was highly unstable, and only Jean-Pierre Goy (Christian Bale’s stuntman) was capable of balancing the bike, commenting that he had to “nearly unlearn how to ride a motorcycle”. Bale wanted to do some shots on the BatPod himself, but the team refused, fearing for his safety.
Michael Caine believes that Ledger’s Joker is better than Jack Nicholson’s. "Jack was like a clown figure, benign but wicked, maybe a killer old uncle. He could be funny and make you laugh. Heath's gone in a completely different direction to Jack, he's like a really scary psychopath.
He's a lovely guy and his Joker is going to be a hell of a revelation in this picture". Well said, Michael. Well said.
When the Joker pays a visit to Bruce Wayne’s penthouse, Heath Ledger’s performance was so frightening that Michael Caine forgot his lines.
To prepare for his role as the Joker, Heath Ledger sequestered himself in a hotel room for six weeks, developing the character’s various tics and the sadistic laugh. He based the Joker’s appearance on the chaos of Sid Vicious with the psychosis of Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange.
One of the many things that made Ledger's performance as the Joker so complete and haunting was the way that he constantly licked his lips.
Well, apparently this wasn't just to look creepy—Ledger had prosthetics glued to his face to complete the look, and they didn't stay on very well, so he constantly licked his lips in an effort to get them to stay in place. It may have been practical, but the image of the Joker flicking at his scars with his tongue is now seared into the memories of Batman fans everywhere.
The Joker was Heath Ledger’s final role before he died. He died before the film was released, but he had filmed all his scenes in principal photography and completed all of his post-production duties, so his death did not require any changes to be made in the film.
When they filmed a chase scene on Lake Street, the Chicago PD received several 911 calls from citizens stating that the police were in pursuit of a dark vehicle of unknown make or model. Can people not recognize the batmobile?!
There are plenty of little details that most viewers would have missed if they weren't looking closely.
For instance, when the Joker takes over driving the semi after the first driver is killed, the bullet holes on the windshield form a smiley face.
While the production team was filming the chase scene with the Joker and the SWAT vans, they destroyed an IMAX camera, one of only four such cameras in the world at the time.
The camera cost $500,000 to replace. Or, roughly the cost of a 300 square foot basement apartment in Manhattan.
They actually destroyed another one of those cameras during the filming of the sequel, The Dark Knight Rises, when Catwoman’s stunt double accidentally drove the BatPod into it. That’s why they shouldn’t let cats drive.
The character of Coleman Reese, who attempts to reveal the identity of Batman in the film, is an allusion to The Riddler.
Much like E. Nygma sounds like “enigma,” Mr. Reese sounds like “mysteries”.
Heath Ledger was always one of director Christopher Nolan’s first choices for the role. Many other actors were afraid to take on the role for fear they couldn’t live up to Nicholson’s portrayal. But Nolan selected Ledger because “he’s fearless”.
Many people expected to see the origin of the Joker character in the film, but instead, the film presented him as a fully formed character.
This was a deliberate choice on the part of the writers because they wanted to present the Joker as “an absolute”. Rather than being a sympathetic character that we've seen gone through hell to become a monster, instead all we get is the monster.
While Batman and the Joker engage in quite a bit of violence, there are only three instances where blood is shown on-screen.
Former President Barack Obama used the film to explain how he understood the role and growth of ISIS: "There's a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting... These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order.
Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. ISIS is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That's why we have to fight it”.
Ledger won 32 Best Supporting Actor/Best Actor Awards for his role, including the Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, SAG, and Critic’s Choice awards. He only lost two awards for which he was nominated.
The Satellite Award went to Michael Shannon for Revolutionary Road and the London Film Critics’ Circle Award went to Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler.
Ledger’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar win was the first time an Academy Award has gone to someone playing a comic book character. But that’s only because the entire cast of Fantastic Four was robbed.
Christian Bale admitted that he did not gain as much muscle for this film as he did for Batman Begins (2005) in part to fit into the new Batsuit, which was leaner and more flexible. But also because it’s a lot of work.
In order to get the bus to crash backwards into the bank, they had to take it apart, reassemble it inside the building (an abandoned post office), conceal it behind a fake wall, and then propel it backwards with an air cannon.
After his death, there was a surge of fabricated stories about Ledger, including one that stated he designed his makeup for the Joker. Although this is not the case, he was an active part of the design process. For example, when the makeup artists were putting on his makeup, Ledger would contort his face into clownish expressions, letting the makeup crease and creating the impression that it had been caked on for days.
The two homemade videos that the Joker sent to GCN in the film were directed by Ledger himself. Nolan supervised the first one (which involved the murder of the fake Batman) and he was so impressed with what Ledger did that he just let him do the second one himself.
Remember when the Joker walked out of the hospital flipping a detonator switch, but the bomb doesn't go off for a second? That wasn't actually intended. The bomb was supposed to detonate right when he hit the switch, but a pyrotechnics error delayed the explosion, so that scene was just a genius improv by Ledger.
Ledger went off-script several times while filming if he thought it was something the Joker would really do, leading to iconic moments like that one. He was also improvising when the Joker gives Commissioner Gordon that eerie slow clap.
The distinctive wounds on the Joker’s face in The Dark Knight actually have a specific name. They are called a “Glasgow Smile," and apparently the film's prosthetics supervisor, Conor O'Sullivan, took real-life inspiration when making the look. O'Sullivan says that he once encountered a deliveryman with the brutal scars.
When asked about it, the man simply said he got them from a "dogfight". Doesn't sound like the guy that you ask too many questions, so we'll leave it at that.
If you go back and watch The Dark Knight carefully, you can actually see a heartbreaking tribute Ledger left for his daughter. When the Joker is disguised as a nurse in the hospital, look at his name tag closely:
it says “Matilda,” his daughter’s name.
One of the ways Ledger got into character was by putting together a scrapbook filled with inspiration for the Joker, which he made in part during his time isolated in the hotel room. The contents of this journal have been much discussed in the media—but they truly are disturbing. In its pages, Ledger wrote from the perspective of the Joker, who finds humor in geniuses who become mentally handicapped, among other horrific things.
The journal also contained stills from Stanley Kubrick’s eerie thriller A Clockwork Orange, photos of clown makeup, and pictures of hyenas. On the last page of the chilling “Joker diary,” he scrawled the words “BYE BYE”.
Part of the PR campaign involved sending out cakes, purportedly from the Joker, which contained cell phones that would vibrate.
The cakes had wires sticking out, giving them the appearance of bombs. One news station received the cakes, believed it to be an actual terrorist act, and evacuated the entire building. Really? Nobody could see that coming?
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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