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Entertainment Earth

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"Why so serious?"

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THE DARK KNIGHT

The Dark Knight is a 2008 British-American superhero film directed, produced, and cowritten by Christopher Nolan. Based on the DC Comics character Batman, the film is the second part of Nolan's Batman film series and a sequel to 2005's Batman Begins. Christian Bale reprises the lead role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, with a returning cast of Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as James Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. The film introduces the character of Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Gotham's newly elected District Attorney and the consort of Bruce Wayne's childhood friend Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who joins Batman and the police in combating the new rising threat of a criminal mastermind calling himself "The Joker" (Heath Ledger).

Nolan's inspiration for the film was the Joker's comic book debut in 1940, the 1988 graphic novel The Killing Joke, and the 1996 series The Long Halloween, which retold Two-Face's origin. The nickname "the Dark Knight" was first applied to Batman in Batman No. 1 (1940), in a story written by Bill Finger. The Dark Knight was filmed primarily in Chicago, as well as in several other locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. Nolan used an IMAX camera to film some sequences, including the Joker's first appearance in the film. On January 22nd, 2008, some months after he had completed filming on The Dark Knight and six months before the film's release, Heath Ledger died from an accidental combination of prescription drugs, leading to intense attention from the press and movie-going public. Warner Bros. had initially created a viral marketing campaign for The Dark Knight, developing promotional websites and trailers highlighting screen shots of Ledger as the Joker, but after Ledger's death, the studio refocused its promotional campaign.

The Dark Knight was released on July 16th, 2008 in Australia, on July 18th, 2008 in North America, and on July 24th, 2008 in the United Kingdom. Considered one of the best films of the 2000s and one of the best superhero films by film critics the film received highly positive reviews and set numerous records during its theatrical run. With over $1 billion in revenue worldwide, it is one of the highest-grossing film of all time. The film received eight Academy Award nominations; it won the award for Best Sound Editing and Ledger was posthumously awarded Best Supporting Actor. The Dark Knight Rises, the final film in the trilogy, was released on July 20, 2012.

Before Ledger was confirmed to play the Joker in July 2006, Paul Bettany, Lachy Hulme, Adrien Brody, Steve Carell, and Robin Williams publicly expressed interest in the role. However Nolan had wanted to work with Ledger on a number of projects in the past (though he had been unable to do so), and was agreeable to Ledger's chaotic interpretation of the character. When Ledger saw Batman Begins, he had realized a way to make the character work that was consistent with the film's tone: he described his Joker as a "psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy." Throughout the film, the Joker states his desire to upset social order through crime, and comes to define himself by his conflict with Batman. To prepare for the role, Ledger lived alone in a hotel room for a month, formulating the character's posture, voice, and personality, and kept a diary, in which he recorded the Joker's thoughts and feelings. While he initially found it difficult, Ledger eventually generated a voice unlike Jack Nicholson's character in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film. He was also given Batman: The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, which he "really tried to read and put it down." Ledger also cited A Clockwork Orange and Sid Vicious as "a very early starting point for Christian [Bale] and I. But we kind of flew far away from that pretty quickly and into another world altogether." "There's a bit of everything in him. There's nothing that consistent," Ledger said, and added, "There are a few more surprises to him." Ledger was allowed to shoot and mostly direct the videos the Joker sends out as warnings. Each take Ledger made was different from the last. Nolan was impressed enough with the first video shoot that he chose to not be present when Ledger shot the video with a kidnapped reporter (Anthony Michael Hall).

After filming was completed, and Ledger died, and Nolan recalled, "It was tremendously emotional, right when he passed, having to go back in and look at him every day [during editing]. But the truth is, I feel very lucky to have something productive to do, to have a performance that he was very, very proud of, and that he had entrusted to me to finish." All of Ledger's scenes appear as he completed them in the filming; in editing the film, Nolan added no "digital effects" to alter Ledger's actual performance posthumously. Nolan has dedicated the film in part to Ledger's memory.

Heath Ledger was an Australian actor and director. After performing roles in Australian television and film during the 1990s, Ledger left for the United States in 1998 to develop his film career. His work comprised nineteen films, including 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), The Patriot (2000), A Knight's Tale (2001), Monster's Ball (2001), Ned Kelly (2003), The Brothers Grimm (2005), Lords of Dogtown (2005), Brokeback Mountain (2005), Casanova (2005), Candy (2006), I'm Not There (2007), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009). He also produced and directed music videos, and aspired to be a film director.

Production on the The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus was disrupted by the death of Ledger. Director Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) was presiding over concept art when he was informed by a phone call that Ledger had died. His initial thought about the production was: "The film's over, it's as simple as that." Although production was suspended indefinitely by January 24th, Gilliam initially wanted to "salvage" the film by using computer-generated imagery to make Ledger's character magically change his appearance, perhaps into another character. He also wanted to dedicate the film to Ledger.

Eventually, actors Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law were cast to replace Heath Ledger in certain scenes, portraying the new idea of transformed versions of Ledger's character travelling through magical realms, while the footage shot with Ledger would remain in the film as his character's "real-world" appearance. Gilliam told Entertainment Weekly, "Then we made the quantum leap: What if we get three actors to replace him? [...] Johnny was the first person I called. He said, 'Done. I'm there.' Same with Jude and Colin." Depp, a friend of Gilliam's who starred in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the aborted The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, had been compared to Ledger by cinematographer Nicola Pecorini. Law and Farrell had also been friends with Ledger. Initially, Tom Cruise expressed interest in being involved as another actor to replace Ledger, but Gilliam turned him down because Cruise had never been a close friend of Ledger. Gilliam stated, "I just wanted to keep this [in the] family, it's as simple as that. There were people even offering to come and help, they didn't know Heath. It had to be in the family somehow, I don't know why; it was my attitude."

In the summer of 2004, Ledger met and began dating actress Michelle Williams (left) on the set of Brokeback Mountain, and their daughter, Matilda Rose, was born on October 28th 2005 in New York City. Matilda's godparents are Ledger and Williams' Brokeback co-star Jake Gyllenhaal and Williams' Dawson's Creek castmate Busy Philipps. In September 2007, Williams' father confirmed to Sydney's Daily Telegraph that Ledger and Williams had ended their relationship.

Ledger wasn't they only new character in The Dark Knight. Along with returning cast members from Batman Begins, Christian Bale as Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as James Gordon and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox. Aaron Eckhart (right) came on board as Harvey Dent. Dent was the district attorney who is hailed as Gotham's "White Knight". His battle with the criminal underworld leaves him disfigured, transforming him into the murderer Two-Face bent on revenge. Wayne sees Dent as his heir, recognizing that Batman's war on crime will be a lifelong mission, which heightens the tragedy of Dent's downfall. Nolan and David S. Goyer had originally considered using Dent in Batman Begins, but they replaced him with the new character Rachel Dawes when they realized they "couldn't do him justice." Before Eckhart was cast in February 2007, Liev Schreiber, Josh Lucas, and Ryan Phillippe had expressed interest in the role, while Mark Ruffalo auditioned. Hugh Jackman was also considered for the part. Nolan chose Eckhart, whom he had considered for the lead role in Memento, citing his "extraordinary" ability as an actor, his embodiment of "that kind of chiselled, American hero quality" projected by Robert Redford, and his subtextual "edge." Eckhart was "interested in good guys gone wrong," and had played corrupt men in films such as The Black Dahlia, Thank You for Smoking, and In the Company of Men. Whereas Two-Face is depicted as a crime boss in most characterizations, Nolan chose to portray him as a twisted vigilante to emphasize his role as Batman's counterpart. Eckhart explained, "[He] is still true to himself. He's a crime fighter, he's not killing good people. He's not a bad guy, not purely." For Dent, Eckhart "kept on thinking about the Kennedys," particularly Robert F. Kennedy, who was "idealistic, held a grudge and took on the Mob." He had his hair lightened and styled to make him appear more dashing. Nolan told Eckhart to not make Dent's Two-Face persona "jokey with slurping sounds or ticks."

Maggie Gyllenhaal (left) was cast as Rachel Dawes, the Gotham assistant district attorney and Wayne's childhood friend. In Batman Begins, she tells Wayne that if he ever decided to stop being Batman, they would be together. She is one of the few people to know Batman's identity. Gyllenhaal took over the role from Katie Holmes, who played the part in Batman Begins. In August 2005, Holmes was reportedly planning to reprise the role, but she eventually turned it down to do Mad Money with Diane Keaton and Queen Latifah. Some internet buzz suggested then husband Tom Cruise pressured her to drop out of the film, but the biggest reason maybe have been time and scheduling. By March 2007, Gyllenhaal was in "final talks" for the part. Gyllenhaal has acknowledged her character is a damsel in distress to an extent, but says Nolan sought ways to empower her character, so "Rachel's really clear about what's important to her and unwilling to compromise her morals, which made a nice change" from the many conflicted characters whom she has previously portrayed.

Before the release of Batman Begins, screenwriter David S. Goyer wrote a treatment for two sequels which introduced the Joker and Harvey Dent. His original intent was for the Joker to scar Dent during the Joker's trial in the third film, turning Dent into Two-Face. Goyer, who penned the first draft of the film, cited the DC Comics 13-issue comic book limited series Batman: The Long Halloween as the major influence on his storyline. While initially uncertain of whether or not he would return to direct the sequel, Nolan did want to reinterpret the Joker on screen. On July 31st, 2006, Warner Bros. officially announced initiation of production for the sequel to Batman Begins titled The Dark Knight; it is the first live-action Batman film without the word "Batman" in its title, which Bale noted as signaling that "this take on Batman of mine and Chris' is very different from any of the others."

After much research, Nolan's brother and co-writer, Jonathan, suggested the Joker's first two appearances, published in the first issue of Batman (1940), as the crucial influences. Jerry Robinson, one of the Joker's co-creators, was consulted on the character's portrayal. Nolan decided to avoid divulging an in-depth origin story for the Joker, and instead portray his rise to power so as to not diminish the threat he poses, explaining to MTV News, "the Joker we meet in The Dark Knight is fully formed. To me, the Joker is an absolute. There are no shades of gray to him – maybe shades of purple. He's unbelievably dark. He bursts in just as he did in the comics." Nolan reiterated to IGN, "We never wanted to do an origin story for the Joker in this film," because "the arc of the story is much more Harvey Dent's; the Joker is presented as an absolute. It's a very thrilling element in the film, and a very important element, but we wanted to deal with the rise of the Joker, not the origin of the Joker." Nolan suggested Batman: The Killing Joke influenced a section of the Joker's dialogue in the film, in which he says that anyone can become like him given the right circumstances. Nolan also cited Heat as "sort of an inspiration" for his aim "to tell a very large, city story or the story of a city": "If you want to take on Gotham, you want to give Gotham a kind of weight and breadth and depth in there. So you wind up dealing with the political figures, the media figures. That's part of the whole fabric of how a city is bound together."

According to Nolan, an important theme of the sequel is "escalation," extending the ending of Batman Begins, noting "things having to get worse before they get better." While indicating The Dark Knight would continue the themes of Batman Begins, including justice vs. revenge and Bruce Wayne's issues with his father, Nolan emphasized the sequel would also portray Wayne more as a detective, an aspect of his character not fully developed in Batman Begins. Nolan described the friendly rivalry between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent as the "backbone" of the film. He also chose to compress the overall storyline, allowing Dent to become Two-Face in The Dark Knight, thus giving the film an emotional arc the unsympathetic Joker could not offer. Nolan acknowledged the title was not only a reference to Batman, but also the fallen "white knight" Harvey Dent.

While scouting for shooting locations in October 2006, location manager Robin Higgs visited Liverpool, concentrating mainly along the city's waterfront. Other candidates included Yorkshire, Glasgow, and parts of London. In August 2006, one of the film's producers, Charles Roven, stated that its principal photography would begin in March 2007, but filming was pushed back to April. For its release in IMAX theaters, Nolan shot four major sequences in that format, including the Joker's opening bank robbery and the car chase midway through the film, which marked the first time that a feature film had been even partially shot in the format.

For fifteen years Nolan had wanted to shoot in the IMAX format, and he also used it for "quiet scenes which pictorially we thought would be interesting." The use of IMAX cameras provided many new challenges for the filmmakers: the cameras were much larger and heavier than standard cameras, and produced noise which made recording dialogue difficult. In addition, the cameras had short film loads ranging from 30 seconds to two minutes and the cost of the film stock was much greater than standard 35mm film. Nevertheless, Nolan said that he wished that it were possible to shoot the entire film in IMAX: "if you could take an IMAX camera to Mount Everest or outer space, you could use it in a feature movie." In addition, Nolan chose to edit some of the IMAX sequences using the original camera negative, which by eliminating generation loss, raised the film resolution of those sequences up to 18 thousand lines.

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Warner Bros. chose to film in Chicago for 13 weeks, because Nolan had a "truly remarkable experience" filming part of Batman Begins there. Instead of using the Chicago Board of Trade Building as the location for the headquarters of Wayne Enterprises, as Batman Begins did, The Dark Knight shows Wayne Enterprises as being headquartered in the Richard J. Daley Center. While filming in Chicago, the film was given the false title Rory's First Kiss to lower the visibility of production, but the local media eventually uncovered the ruse. Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times commented on the absurdity of the technique, "Is there a Bat-fan in the world that doesn't know Rory's First Kiss is actually The Dark Knight, which has been filming in Chicago for weeks?" Production of The Dark Knight in Chicago generated $45 million in the city's economy and created thousands of jobs. For the film's prologue involving the Joker, the crew shot in Chicago from April 18th to April 24th, 2007. They returned to shoot from June 9th, 2007 to early September. Noticeably, unlike Batman Begins, less CGI was used to disguise Chicago. Many recognizable locations were used in the film, like the Sears Tower, Navy Pier, 330 North Wabash, the James R. Thompson Center, Trump International Hotel and Tower, LaSalle Street, The Berghoff, Randolph Street Station, and Hotel 71. An old Brach's factory was used as Gotham Hospital. The defunct Van Buren Street post office doubles as Gotham National Bank for the opening bank robbery. Several sequences, including one car chase, were shot on the lower level of Wacker Drive. The Marina City towers also appear in the background throughout the movie.

Pinewood Studios, near London, was the primary studio space used for the production. While planning a stunt with the Batmobile in a special effects facility near Chertsey, England in September 2007, technician Conway Wickliffe was killed when his car crashed. The film is dedicated to both Ledger and Wickliffe. The following month in London at the defunct Battersea Power Station, a rigged 200-foot fireball was filmed, reportedly for an opening sequence, prompting calls from local residents who feared a terrorist attack on the station. A similar incident occurred during the filming in Chicago, when an abandoned Brach's candy factory (which was Gotham Hospital in the film above) was demolished.

Filming took place in Hong Kong from November 6th to 11th, 2007, at various locations in the CBD, including Hong Kong's tallest building at the time, the International Finance Centre, for the scene where Batman captures Lau. The city's walled city of Kowloon influenced the Narrows in Batman Begins. The shoot hired helicopters and C-130 aircraft. Officials expressed concern over possible noise pollution and traffic. In response, letters sent to the city's residents promised that the sound level would approximate noise decibels made by buses. Environmentalists also criticized the filmmakers' request to tenants of the waterfront skyscrapers to keep their lights on all night to enhance the cinematography, describing it as a waste of energy. Cinematographer Wally Pfister found the city officials a "nightmare," and ultimately Nolan had to create Batman's jump from a skyscraper digitally.

The film introduces the Batpod, which is a recreation of the Batcycle. Production designer Nathan Crowley, who designed the Tumbler for Batman Begins, designed six models (built by special effects supervisor Chris Corbould) for use in the film's production, because of necessary crash scenes and possible accidents. Crowley built a prototype in Nolan's garage, before six months of safety tests were conducted. The Batpod is steered by shoulder instead of hand, and the rider's arms are protected by sleeve-like shields. The bike has 508-millimeter (20-inch) front and rear tires, and is made to appear as if it is armed with grappling hooks, cannons, and machine guns. The engines are located in the hubs of the wheels, which are set 31/2 feet (1067 mm) apart on either side of the tank. The rider lies belly down on the tank, which can move up and down to dodge any incoming gunfire that Batman may encounter. Stuntman Jean-Pierre Goy doubled for Christian Bale during the riding sequences in The Dark Knight.

Nolan designed Two-Face's appearance in the film as one of the least disturbing, explaining, "When we looked at less extreme versions of it, they were too real and more horrifying. When you look at a film like Pirates of the Caribbean – something like that, there's something about a very fanciful, very detailed visual effect, that I think is more powerful and less repulsive." Framestore created 120 computer-generated shots of Two-Face's scarred visage. Nolan felt using make-up would look unrealistic, as it adds to the face, unlike real burn victims. Framestore acknowledged they rearranged the positions of bones, muscles and joints to make the character look more dramatic. For each shot, three 720-pixel HD cameras were set up at different angles on set to fully capture Aaron Eckhart's performance. Eckhart wore markers on his face and a prosthetic skullcap, which acted as a lighting reference. A few shots of the skullcap were kept in the film. Framestore also integrated shots of Bale and Eckhart into that of the exploding building where Dent is burned. It was difficult simulating fire on Eckhart because it is inherently unrealistic for only half of something to burn.

Batman Begins composers Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard returned to score the sequel. Composition began before shooting, and during filming Nolan received an iPod with ten hours of recordings. Their nine-minute suite for the Joker, "Why So Serious?," is based around two notes. Zimmer compared its style to that of Kraftwerk, a band from his native Germany, as well as bands like The Damned. When Ledger died, Zimmer felt like scrapping and composing a new theme, but decided that he could not be sentimental and compromise the "evil [Ledger's performance] projects." Howard composed Dent's "elegant and beautiful" themes, which are brass-focused.

Costume designer Lindy Hemming described the Joker's look as reflecting his personality, in that "he doesn't care about himself at all"; she avoided designing him as a vagrant, but still made him appear to be "scruffier, grungier," so that "when you see him move, he's slightly twitchier or edgy." Nolan noted, "We gave a Francis Bacon spin to [his face]. This corruption, this decay in the texture of the look itself. It's grubby. You can almost imagine what he smells like." In creating the "anarchical" look of the Joker, Hemming drew inspiration from such countercultural pop culture artists as Pete Doherty, Iggy Pop, and Johnny Rotten. Ledger described his "clown" mask, made up of three pieces of stamped silicone, as a "new technology," taking less than an hour for the make-up artists to apply, much faster than more-conventional prosthetics usually requires. Ledger also said that he felt he was barely wearing any make-up.

Designers improved on the design of the Batsuit from Batman Begins, adding wide elastic banding to help bind the costume to Bale, and suggest more sophisticated technology. It was constructed from 200 individual pieces of rubber, fiberglass, metallic mesh, and nylon. The new cowl was modeled after a motorcycle helmet and separated from the neck piece, allowing Bale to turn his head left and right and nod up and down. The cowl is equipped to show white lenses over the eyes when the character turns on his sonar detection, which gives Batman the white eyed look from the comics and animation. The gauntlets have retractable razors which can be fired. Though the new costume is eight pounds heavier, Bale found it more comfortable and not as hot to wear. The depiction of Gotham City is less gritty than in Batman Begins. "I've tried to unclutter the Gotham we created on the last film," said production designer Nathan Crowley. "Gotham is in chaos. We keep blowing up stuff, so we can keep our images clean."

In May 2007, 42 Entertainment began a viral marketing campaign utilizing the film's "Why So Serious?" tagline with the launch of a website featuring the fictional political campaign of Harvey Dent, with the caption, "I Believe in Harvey Dent." The site aimed to interest fans by having them try to earn what they wanted to see and, on behalf of Warner Bros., 42 Entertainment also established a "vandalized" version of I Believe in Harvey Dent, called "I believe in Harvey Dent too," where e-mails sent by fans slowly removed pixels, revealing the first official image of the Joker; it was ultimately replaced with many "Haha"s and a hidden message that said "see you in December."

During the 2007 San Diego Comic-Con International, 42 Entertainment launched WhySoSerious.com, sending fans on a scavenger hunt to unlock a teaser trailer and a new photo of the Joker. On October 31st, 2007, the film's website morphed into another scavenger hunt with hidden messages, instructing fans to uncover clues at certain locations in major cities throughout the United States, and to take photographs of their discoveries. The clues combined to reveal a new photograph of the Joker and an audio clip of him from the film saying "And tonight, you're gonna break your one rule." Completing the scavenger hunt also led to another website called Rory's Death Kiss (referencing the false working title of Rory's First Kiss), where fans could submit photographs of themselves costumed as the Joker. Those who sent photos were mailed a copy of a fictional newspaper called The Gotham Times, whose electronic version led to the discovery of numerous other websites.

The Dark Knight's opening sequence, (showing a bank raid by the Joker) and closing montage of other scenes from the film, was screened with selected IMAX screenings of I Am Legend, which was released on December 14th, 2007. A theatrical teaser was also released with non-IMAX showings of I Am Legend, and also on the official website. The sequence was released on the Blu-ray Disc edition of Batman Begins on July 8th, 2008. Also on July 8th, 2008, the studio released Batman: Gotham Knight, a direct-to-DVD animated film, set between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and featuring six original stories, directed by Bruce Timm, co-creator and producer of Batman: The Animated Series, and starring veteran Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy. Each of these segments, written by Josh Olson, David S. Goyer, Brian Azzarello, Greg Rucka, Jordan Goldberg, and Alan Burnett, presents its own distinctive artistic style, paralleling numerous artists collaborating in the same DC Universe.

After the death of Heath Ledger, Warner Bros. adjusted its promotional focus on the Joker, revising some of its websites dedicated to promoting the film and posting a memorial tribute to Ledger on the film's official website and overlaying a black memorial ribbon on the photo collage in WhySoSerious.com. On February 29th, 2008, I Believe in Harvey Dent was updated to enable fans to send their e-mail addresses and phone numbers. In March 2008, Harvey Dent's fictional campaign informed fans that actual campaign buses nicknamed "Dentmobiles" would tour various cities to promote Dent's candidacy for district attorney.

On May 15th, 2008, Six Flags Great America and Six Flags Great Adventure theme parks opened The Dark Knight roller coaster, which cost $7.5 million to develop and which simulates being stalked by the Joker. Mattel produced toys and games for The Dark Knight, action figures, role play costumes, board games, puzzles, and a special-edition UNO card game, which began commercial distribution in June 2008.

Warner Bros. devoted six months to an anti-piracy strategy that involved tracking the people who had a pre-release copy of the film at any one time. Shipping and delivery schedules were also staggered and spot checks were carried out both domestically and overseas to ensure illegal copying of the film was not taking place in cinemas. Despite these precautions a pirated copy was released on the Web approximately 38 hours after the film's release.

Warner Bros. held the world premiere for The Dark Knight in New York City on July 14th, 2008, screening in an IMAX theater with the film's composers James Newton Howard and Hans Zimmer playing a part of the film score live. Leading up to The Dark Knight's commercial release, the film had drawn "overwhelmingly positive early reviews and buzz on Heath Ledger's turn as the Joker."

In the United States and Canada, The Dark Knight was distributed to 4,366 theaters, breaking the previous record for the highest number of theaters held by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End in 2007. The number of theaters also included 94 IMAX theaters, with the film estimated to be played on 9,200 screens in the United States and Canada. Online, ticketing services sold enormous numbers of tickets for approximately 3,000 midnight showtimes as well as unusually early showtimes for the film's opening day. All IMAX theaters showing The Dark Knight were sold out for the opening weekend.

Based on 289 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 94% approval rating from critics. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times described The Dark Knight as a "haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy." He praises the performances, direction, and writing, and says the film "redefine[s] the possibilities of the comic-book movie." Ebert states that the "key performance" is by Heath Ledger, and pondered whether he would become the first posthumous Academy Award-winning actor since Peter Finch in 1976. Ledger ultimately won the Oscar. Ebert awarded the film four stars (out of four) and named it one of his twenty favorite films of 2008.

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone writes that the film is deeper than its predecessor, with a "deft" script that refuses to scrutinize the Joker with popular psychology, instead pulling the viewer in with an examination of Bruce Wayne's psyche. Travers has praise for all the cast, saying each brings his or her "'A' game" to the film. He says Bale is "electrifying," evoking Al Pacino in The Godfather Part II, and that Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent is "scarily moving." Travers says the actor moves the Joker away from Jack Nicholson's interpretation into darker territory, and expresses his support for any potential campaign to have Ledger nominated for an Academy Award. Travers also said that the filmmakers move the film away from comic book cinema and closer to being a genuine work of art, citing Nolan's direction and the "gritty reality" of Wally Pfister's cinematography as helping to create a universe that has something "raw and elemental" at work within it. In particular, he cites Nolan's action choreography in the IMAX-tailored heist sequence as rivaling that of Heat (1995). Manohla Dargis of The New York Times wrote "Pitched at the divide between art and industry, poetry and entertainment, it goes darker and deeper than any Hollywood movie of its comic-book kind." Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, "Every great hero needs a great villain. And in 2008, Christian Bale's Batman found his in Heath Ledger's demented dervish, the Joker."

Emanuel Levy wrote Ledger "throws himself completely" into the role, and that the film represents Nolan's "most accomplished and mature" work, and the most technically impressive and resonant of all the Batman films. Levy calls the action sequences some of the most impressive seen in an American film for years, and talks of the Hong Kong-set portion of the film as being particularly visually impressive. Levy and Peter Travers conclude that the film is "haunting and visionary," while Levy goes on to say that The Dark Knight is "nothing short of brilliant."

On the other hand, David Denby of The New Yorker said that the story is not coherent enough to properly flesh out the disparities. He said the film's mood is one of "constant climax," and that it feels rushed and far too long. Denby criticized scenes which he argued to be meaningless or are cut short just as they become interesting. Denby remarks that the central conflict is workable, but that "only half the team can act it," saying that Bale's "placid" Bruce Wayne and "dogged but uninteresting" Batman is constantly upstaged by Ledger's "sinister and frightening" performance, which he says is the film's one element of success. Denby concludes that Ledger is "mesmerising" in every scene. The vocalization of Christian Bale's Batman (which was partly altered during post-production) was the subject of particular criticism by some commentators, with David Edelstein from NPR describing Bale delivering his performance with "a voice that's deeper and hammier than ever". Alonso Duralde at MSNBC, however, referred to Bale's voice in The Dark Knight as an "eerie rasp", as opposed to the voice used in the Batman Begins, which according to Duralde "sounded absurdly deep, like a 10-year-old putting on an ‘adult’ voice to make prank phone calls".

Mystery writer Andrew Klavan, writing in The Wall Street Journal, compared the extreme measures that Batman takes to fight crime with those U.S. President George W. Bush used in the War on Terror. Klavan claims that, "at some level" The Dark Knight is "a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W. Bush in this time of terror and war." (WTF? George Bush is no Batman!) Reviewing the film in The Sunday Times, Cosmo Landesman reached the opposite conclusion to Klavan, arguing that The Dark Knight "... is a long and tedious discussion about how individuals and society must never abandon the rule of law in struggling against the forces of lawlessness. In fighting monsters, we must be careful not to become monsters. The film champions the anti-war coalition's claim that, in having a war on terror, you create the conditions for more terror. We are shown that innocent people died because of Batman – and he falls for it."

According to David S. Goyer, the primary theme of The Dark Knight is escalation. Gotham City is weak and the citizens blame Batman for the city's violence and corruption as well as the Joker's threats, and it pushes his limits, making him feel that taking the laws into his own hands is further downgrading the city. Roger Ebert noted, "Throughout the film, [the Joker] devises ingenious situations that force Batman, Commissioner Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent to make impossible ethical decisions. By the end, the whole moral foundation of the Batman legend is threatened."

Other critics have mentioned the theme of the triumph of evil over good. Harvey Dent is seen as Gotham's "White Knight" in the beginning of the film but ends up becoming seduced to evil. The Joker, on the other hand, is seen as the representation of anarchy and chaos. He has no motive, no orders, and no desires but to cause havoc and "watch the world burn." The terrible logic of human error is another theme as well. The ferry scene displays how humans can easily be enticed by iniquity.

Most notable among the nominations were Heath Ledger's almost complete sweep of over twenty awards for acting, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture, and the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. The Dark Knight also received nominations from the Writers Guild of America (for Best Adapted Screenplay), the Producers Guild of America, and the Directors Guild of America, as well as a slew of other guild award nominations and wins. It was nominated for Best Film at the Critics Choice Awards and was named one of the top ten films of 2008 by the American Film Institute.

The Dark Knight was nominated for eight Academy Awards, breaking the previous record of seven held by Dick Tracy for the most nominations received by a film based on a comic book, comic strip, or graphic novel. The Dark Knight won two awards: Best Supporting Actor for Heath Ledger and Best Sound Editing. It was additionally nominated for six others, these being Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Mixing, Best Visual Effects, Best Makeup, and Best Film Editing. Heath Ledger was the first posthumous winner of the Best Supporting Actor award, and only the second posthumous acting winner ever (Peter Finch posthumously won the Best Actor award for his performance in the 1976 film Network). In addition, Ledger's win marked the first win in any of the major Oscar categories (producing, directing, acting, or writing) for a superhero-based film. Notably, Richard King's win in the Sound Editing category blocked a complete awards sweep of the evening by the eventual Best Picture winner, Slumdog Millionaire. Although it did not receive a Best Picture nomination, the show's opening song paid homage to The Dark Knight along with the five Best Picture nominees, including host Hugh Jackman riding on a mockup of the Batpod made out of garbage. In spite of the film's critical success, the film was noticeably absent from the Best Picture nominee list, prompting controversy and led many to criticize the Academy Awards for "snubbing" the film. There was speculation that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences later changed their number of Best Picture nominees to ten, instead of the traditional five, because of the film's omission. In a question-and-answer session that followed the announcement, the Academy's then president Sidney Ganis said; "I would not be telling you the truth if I said the words Dark Knight did not come up."

The Dark Knight opened on Friday, July 18th, 2008. It set a record for midnight showings, by earning $18.5 million from 3,040 theaters. The Dark Knight became the fourth film in history to gross more than $1 billion worldwide and the highest-grossing film of 2008 worldwide, the second-highest-grossing superhero film, the second-highest-grossing film based on comics and the fourth highest-grossing film of all time in North America. Adjusted for ticket-price inflation. In contrast to Avatar and Titanic, both which grossed more than The Dark Knight in North America and had slow but steady earnings, The Dark Knight broke records in its opening weekend and slowed down significantly after its first few weekends.

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Visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan's sequel to the highly successful "Batman Begins" sees Batman (Christian Bale) as he raises the stakes in his war on crime. With the help of Lieutenant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman sets out to dismantle the remaining criminal organizations that plague the city streets. The partnership proves to be effective, but they soon find themselves prey to a reign of chaos unleashed by a rising criminal mastermind known to the terrified citizens of Gotham as 'The Joker' (Heath Ledger).
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