This week marks the 10th anniversary of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a movie that is, at once, a Class-A crime movie, an action thrill-ride, a psychological thriller, and a summer blockbuster. Even more remarkable: the film succeeds on every level. It features some of the most incredible cinematography ever captured in Chicago, a zeitgeist-y debate about privacy and security in a post-9/11 world, a perfect showdown between two legendary foes: Batman and The Joker, thrilling action that never seems incessant. And of course: it features Heath Ledger as The Joker, a casting which was originally mocked on the internet, but ended up giving us probably the best villain in the history of cinema.
Immediately, The Dark Knight’s cultural impact was felt. The Joker was the Halloween costume of the year, the phrase “Why so serious?” entered the lexicon, so did “Some men just want to watch the world burn” and so did the final speech from Commissioner Jim Gordon says Batman’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
And at long last, a superhero movie was a serious Oscars contender. It was nominated for 8 Academy Awards and won two, including Heath Ledger’s posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor. Notably absent from its list of nominations was one for Best Picture, a snub seen as so egregious and out-of-touch that the Academy expanded the field of nominees for future ceremonies specifically to avoid similar instances in the future.
It also cemented Christopher Nolan as one of the best directors of our time. After Batman Begins and The Prestige, the world was interested. But delivering a spectacle like The Dark Knight was what clinched it.
And more personally: the movie inspired me to love movies in the first place. I was 15 years old when The Dark Knight hit theaters. I had loved Batman Begins three years earlier, and for the first time, I jumped online and followed a film’s production. Being from the Chicago suburbs, I would see on the news that they shut streets down for filming, which just further fanned the flames of my excitement. My parents agreed that my brother could take me with him to see it at midnight, and I was literally counting down the days. Years of anticipation led to…one of the most memorable nights of my life. There was such a buzz in the theater, people were cheering so loud that at times, it was a struggle to even hear the lines. My heart stopped when the “sky-hook” extracted Batman from a Hong Kong skyscraper, I watched in awe when a truck was actually flipped over, and I was entranced by the Joker’s final monolog, hanging upside down, explaining his backwards views on the world. Watching the movie in that theater, it all clicked. I understood finally understood how rewarding a trip to the theater could really be.
In 2008, I was heading into my freshman year of high school. The following day at football camp, so many of us were bleary-eyed from seeing Batman at midnight that our coaches just called it, and let us play flag football for fun instead of running sprints. 10 years later, the movie still brings with it all the excitement for being 15 years old and getting to stay out late to see a movie.
The Dark Knight is a decade old and re-invented the most popular movie genre in the entire world. For 10 years, every movie franchise, from Star Wars and Bond to Marvel and even Batman’s own DC, have tried to incorporate elements of The Dark Knight and aimed to finally top Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. None have succeeded.
I’m Evan Rook.