On paper, The Dark Knight wasn’t a hit. Christopher Nolan’s 2005 reboot Batman Begins underperformed at the box office. Though bolstered by the iconic history between Batman and The Joker, Nolan’s approach to the sequel was to turn an emerging heartthrob into an anarchical demon, and dropping him into a Heat-inspired crime picture that looked nothing like comic-book movies before it (even Begins). Heath Ledger’s shocking death six months before release was another curveball, complicating a portrayal of absolute darkness with meta-textual readings. With a reported price tag of nearly $180 million, The Dark Knight was a risk — the last thing any Hollywood executive is looking for.
The film cleared a bar and then some, grossing more than $1 billion worldwide, building cult worship from love from fans and critics alike, and earning a surprising Oscar push from Warner Bros. Pictures, resulting in Ledger’s posthumous Best Supporting Actor win. Even with the aura around the villainous performance, it’s hard to argue that a singular element made The Dark Knight resonate with such a large audience — it was the rare blockbuster puzzle where every piece seemed to click.
But how? Or why? On the occasion of The Dark Knight’s 10th anniversary, Polygon is dedicating a week to investigating Nolan’s pointillist work of pop art. Whether you think it’s a masterpiece or an inflated work of hype, the film survived superhero oversaturation and a faster, furiousier brand of action movie to remain a monolith of the genre. A decade later, we’re still quoting Ledger’s Joker. We’re still talking about “gritty reboots.” We’re still wishing there’d be more 18-wheeler truck flips in movies. WHY SO SERIOUS about a Batman movie? Because there’s so much to talk about, still. Read on for our full coverage of The Dark Knight at 10: