The Dark Knight is still regarded as one of the best superhero movies ever made. Although Marvel has dominated the conversation in the years since the film's release, Christopher Nolan's look at darkness in Gotham city is still widely beloved. The making of the film was embroiled in some controversy, largely surrounding the death of Heath Ledger. All of that evaporated once the film was released, though. Instead, it was replaced by a considerable amount of awe around what the film had accomplished.
Because it's been more than a decade since the film was released, there are those who have started to poke holes in it. Some people think there's too much plot. Others will just tell you it's overrated for one reason or another. While there are certainly plenty of arguments to be had about the film, its achievements are worth celebrating, as is the process that led to its creation. With that in mind, here are a few behind-the-scenes secrets about The Dark Knight you may not know.
Scattered throughout The Dark Knight are videos of the Joker doing demented things. They come when he has kidnapped an important figure, and needs to explain the next phase in his plot. As it turns out, Heath Ledger directed those clips in order to ensure that they were from the Joker's perspective.
Although Christopher Nolan oversaw and supervised the process, he was so happy with the clips that came from Heath that he barely touched them. Heath's understanding of the character even extended to how the character might direct a totally frantic homemade video. That's when you know you've gone as deep as you can into a character.
Although Heath Ledger's Joker is a terror, there's one touching tidbit buried in one of the character's key scenes. As the Joker blows up a hospital after impersonating a nurse, we see that his nametag says Matilda, which just so happened to be the name of his daughter. This tribute is touching, of course, but it's also a little disturbing given the context.
It's cool that her dad was willing to pay tribute to his daughter. It's unfortunate that the only way he could do so in the context of his movie was to pin her name on his chest seconds before he blows up a hospital.
Before Heath Ledger turned in an iconic Joker performance, Jack Nicholson also played the infamous comic book villain. In many ways, Heath's performance in The Dark Knight wouldn't be possible if Jack hadn't introduced his version of the character.
Although he was 71 when The Dark Knight was filming, Jack was still furious that he wasn't asked to reprise his role. As Jack told MTV, "I’m furious. They never asked me about a sequel with the Joker. I know how to do that. Nobody ever asked me."
One of the most disturbing moments in The Dark Knight comes when Batman is hurling the Joker around an interrogation cell, and the villain seems almost totally unphased. According to Christian Bale, Heath Ledger was actually being hurt in that scene, and his laughter in response felt genuine.
As it turns out, Heath was so committed to the role that he was willing to actually hurt himself just to make it feel more real for audiences. There's a reason this performance won him a posthumous Oscar. No one has ever been this committed to a comic book performance, and the on-screen results pretty much speak for themselves.
It would be easy to assume that, because Heath Ledger's depiction of the Joker is so intense, and he did a lot of method acting to play the character, he may have stayed in character even when cameras weren't rolling. That would have been incredibly scary for other members of the cast, in part because the Joker isn't someone you want to have to give directions to.
Although Heath did use method acting, he didn't stay in character when they weren't filming. Instead, he would joke around with the rest of the crew, and take smoke breaks. He was a normal actor who just happened to have green hair and lots of white makeup on his face.
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One interesting detail that unites every villain in Christopher Nolan's Batman universe is how we meet them. In all three films, the central figure disguises themselves as a henchman before revealing their actual identity. This is certainly a clever ploy, and it's one that's easy to miss when you're first watching the trilogy.
Even so, it's the kind of touch that makes every movie in the series feel unified without being too obvious. Batman's villains are, for the most part, remarkably cunning. As it turns out, they also have some very similar ideas for how to sneak up on or surprise their enemies.
Although there are plenty of comic books to turn to when looking for inspiration for the Joker, the Nolan brothers went to a slightly less obvious place to say something new about the character. That inspiration came from a 1933 German film called The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. The film tells the story of Dr. Mabuse, an insane criminal who escapes the asylum he was being held in and leaves chaos in his wake.
Their goal was to create a version of the Joker that was more true to the character's roots. He wasn't here to pander to children, he was here to frighten them.
Although there's a lot of plot to get through in The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger was given a fair amount of freedom when it came to improvising his lines and character beats. Many of the character's most iconic lines were adapted or entirely unscripted.
Other things were unscripted as well, including the moment when the Joker joins in the applause for Commissioner Gordon's promotion. Although that wasn't originally in the film, Chris liked it so much that he made room for it. Heath clearly had a deep understanding of the character he was playing and seemed to know what to do in every scene almost instinctively.
The opening sequence of The Dark Knight ends with a school bus crashing into a bank to carry the Joker and his funds to safety. As it turns out, getting that bus to crash through that building was not as easy as it might seem.
An entire separate bus had to be manufactured for the interior shots of the bank so that it would look like the back of a bus had really smashed through the walls of a bank. Apparently, Bank walls are a lot sturdier than you might imagine them to be, and buses are a little bit more fragile.
The 1995 crime film Heat is widely regarded as one of the best in the genre, in part because of the way it turns its setting into a key character in the story. Christopher Nolan wanted to do something similar in The Dark Knight in order to give the city plenty of weight and texture.
Chris also aped some of Heat's structural choices. In many ways, The Dark Knight is as much a crime film as it is a comic book movie. It's thrilling no matter how you see it, and that's in part thanks to the movie's influences outside of comics.
The Dark Knight was an enormous blockbuster, and one major factor in the film's success was that it looked like almost nothing else in theaters at the time. As it turns out, that was because The Dark Knight was one of the first movies ever shot for the IMAX format.
There were four expansive action scenes that Christopher Nolan decided to shoot in IMAX, and his choice to do so made the film one of the most immersive blockbusters ever released in theaters. IMAX has become far more common in the years since the movie's release. At the time, though, it was groundbreaking.
Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker is widely regarded as one of the best in the history of comic book movies. When you consider the lengths the actor went to for the role, that shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Because he came onto The Dark Knight pretty early in the filming process, he was able to spend more than a month preparing.
During that time, Heath locked himself in a hotel room, studying source material and practicing different voices. He also spent a lot of his time journaling. When he left the room, he had the character ready to go.
In the run-up to Christopher Nolan's decision to direct three Batman films, he had meetings with a number of people, including Heath Ledger. In fact, Chris was interested in Heath as a potential Batman, but the actor took himself out of the running. At the time, he told the director that he wasn't interested in "this kind of movie."
After seeing Batman Begins, though, Heath realized that Chris's take on the character was worth exploring. That's what convinced him to take the role of the Joker and turn in a truly iconic performance. The rest, as they say, is history.
Although the Joker's worn makeup look came from makeup artist John Caglione Jr., Heath Ledger had a lot of input into how the character should look. Many of the initial designs for the character looked too clean, even when John made intentional efforts to make the character feel more distressed and worn-down.
Eventually, they landed on a look that made it seem as though the Joker had been wearing the makeup for days on end, which feels incredibly true to the character we meet in the film. Say what you will about the villainous figure, but it doesn't seem like he's too terribly concerned with his own appearance.
Heath Ledger and Christopher Nolan's vision for the Joker was different than anything that had been done with the character before. It's understandable, then, that Warner Bros. was initially a little hesitant about the new approach. They didn't know if Heath could pull off the part, given that his last major role had been playing a cowboy in Brokeback Mountain.
Fortunately, the studio trusted the people involved enough to let them take creative control. We all know what happened next. The movie made oodles of money, and Heath won an Oscar for the performance. Sometimes, studios just need to have a little bit of blind faith.
Every superhero movie is obviously inspired by comic books. That's where most of these characters come from, after all. For The Dark Knight, though, the Nolan brothers were being influenced by a few comic book series in particular. The first was Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, which explored the psychology behind the Joker.
The film also refers to Batman: Year One, which explores the relationship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon, and Batman: The Long Halloween, which tells Harvey Dent's story. All of these pieces come together almost seamlessly in the final film, which manages to use the best elements from every work it references.
One of the reasons The Dark Knight was the first movie to film with IMAX cameras is that they are incredibly big and incredibly expensive. Breaking one at the time would have been a fairly big deal, in part because there were only a few in existence.
Apparently, that's just what happened on the set of The Dark Knight when the crew was filming the SWAT team chasing after the Joker. Most of the time, stunts look more dangerous than they actually are. In this case, though, there was definitely some real damage done as a result of some on-screen action.
Because Christian Bale is constantly transforming his body, it can be hard to pin down exactly how old the actor is. As it turns out, when he was initially cast as Bruce Wayne, he was just 30 years old. That makes him the youngest actor to ever play the caped crusader.
That may be a shock to some, considering that 30 is not all that young by Hollywood standards. Of course, by the time Christian had wrapped up the series in 2012, he was in his late 30s, so it's good that he got an early start. That probably helped with the constant transformations he was putting his body through.
For a PG-13 movie, The Dark Knight is pretty violent. People get killed in a wide variety of ways, including one gruesome death by pencil. For all that violence, though, there is almost no blood anywhere in the film. Blood only appears in a few key scenes, including when we see Harvey Dent's Two-Face for the first time and when the hounds attack Batman.
That lack of blood was likely necessary in order to keep the film at a PG-13. Given the many things we do see, it's impressive they were able to keep it accessible to the widest audience possible.
One of the funniest thing about the Batman suits is that, although most versions of it seem fairly protective, there are also ways in which it's restrictive. For example, in 1989's Batman, Michael Keaton couldn't turn his head at all. He may have looked cool, but it wasn't actually very practical for a fight.
The very first Batman suit that allowed its wearer to turn their neck freely comes in The Dark Knight, and only after Bruce specifically asks for it. You would think that would be a pretty basic requirement for a crime-fighting dude wearing a mask, but apparently not.