Christopher Nolan didnât set out to make sequels. As the director of hit thrillers like Memento and Insomnia, his personal style never seemed to mesh with the idea of helming a mega-franchise. After reenvisioning the Caped Crusader with 2005âs Batman Begins, though, Nolan couldnât stop thinking about how his version of Batman would respond to the introduction of The Joker. The result was The Dark Knight, a hyper-real exploration of how chaos shakes up the mission of the righteous, complete with huge stars, incredible stunts, and an Oscar-winning performance by the late Heath Ledger. To revisit this landmark movie, which was released 10 years ago, here are 19 fascinating facts about The Dark Knight.
While it doesnât adapt any one specific story to the screen, The Dark Knight did draw inspiration from several specific Batman stories in the pages of DC Comics. When researching and writing the film, director Christopher Nolan and his brother, co-writer Jonathan Nolan, specifically went back to The Jokerâs very first appearance in 1940âs Batman #1 in search of how best to introduce the character. Co-writer David S. Goyer, himself a DC Comics contributor, also cites the classic stories The Long Halloween, The Dark Knight Returns, and The Killing Joke as keys to his research, with elements from each making their way into the film.
In addition to classic Joker stories like The Killing Joke, Nolan and star Heath Ledger drew on a diverse array of influences both in and out of comics to craft the filmâs version of the Clown Prince of Crime. Before attempting to write the character, the Nolan brothers revisited Fritz Langâs classic film The Testament of Dr. Mabuse as a study in how to write supervillains. Visually, Nolan also specifically cited the work of painter Francis Bacon as a touchstone for Jokerâs distorted view of the world.
As for Ledger, he famously locked himself away in a hotel room for weeks, experimenting with voices and mannerisms until he developed something he was satisfied with. Among his inspirations: Sex Pistols icons Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious and the anarchist character Alex from Stanley Kubrickâs classic film A Clockwork Orange.
The Dark Knight is the first Christopher Nolan film to be a sequel, and though Batman Begins ends with Gordon handing Batman the Joker card as a kind of setup for the next film, the director wasn’t exactly determined to return to Gotham City. Nolan and Goyer had ideas for how a trilogy of films would happen, of course, but after Batman Begins hit big, Nolan instead went off to make magician drama The Prestige. Ultimately, the lure of telling a Joker story proved too enticing for Nolan to pass up, and he eventually re-teamed with Goyer to begin mapping out the story that would become The Dark Knight.Â
âI didnât have any intention of making a sequel to Batman Begins and I was quite surprised to find myself wanting to do it,â Nolan told Empire Magazine. âI just got caught up in the process of imagining how you would see a character like The Joker through the prism of what we did in the first film.â
Though other stars like Adrien Brody expressed an interest in playing the filmâs key villain, Heath Ledger was the only name on Nolanâs wish list.
âWhen I heard he was interested in the Joker, there was never any doubt. You could just see it in his eyes,â Nolan told Newsweek. âPeople were a little baffled by the choice, it’s true, but I’ve never had such a simple decision as a director.âÂ
Because of the actorâs untimely death in January 2008, at the age of just 28, Ledger’s performance as The Joker has been somewhat mythologized by fans, so the idea that he kept a secret âJoker diaryâ while getting into character might sound apocryphal. In fact, Ledger really did make a diary while preparing to play the character. It included various clipped art (Alex from A Clockwork Orange figures heavily), stylized notes, and even lines from the script recopied in his own handwriting. In 2013, Ledgerâs father Kim revealed the diary in a documentary, and noted that his son did immersive work like this for every role but âreally took it up a notchâ for The Joker.
For the role of Bruce Wayneâs childhood friend and current Gotham City assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes, Nolan had to look for a replacement. Katie Holmes played the role in 2005âs Batman Begins, but opted out of the sequel ostensibly so she could act in the comedy Mad Money. So Nolan went in search of other actresses and ultimately decided on Maggie Gyllenhaal for the role. Gyllenhaal was the final choice, but she wasnât the only one. Other actresses up for the role included Rachel McAdams and Emily Blunt.
For many actors, the prospect of starring in a sequel to a hit film is a major draw. For others, the prospect of finally being a part of a Batman film would do the trick. For Gyllenhaal, who stepped in as Rachel Dawes, there was only one key reason to say yes: Christopher Nolan.
âWhen Chris approached me about the film, it was almost incidental that it was about Batman,â Gyllenhaal said. âI was lured into becoming intrigued by the character through the process of making the movie. From the very beginning, Chris was so interesting and engagingâand so interested in me and my ideas about Rachelâthat I wanted to be a part of it.â
Though The Dark Knight is unquestionably a Batman movie, Nolan and company didnât consider the Caped Crusader to be the filmâs main character.
âBruce Wayne was the protagonist of the first film,â Goyer said, âbut we decided early on that he would not be the protagonist of the second filmâthat, in fact, Harvey Dent would be.â
To that end, finding the right actor to play Gothamâs district attorney was crucial. Nolan ultimately chose Aaron Eckhart, who reminded him of Robert Redford, to play the part, but Eckhart wasnât the only star considered. Other potential Harvey Dents included Matt Damon, Mark Ruffalo, and Ryan Phillippe.
Batman fans werenât the only skeptics when it came to Nolanâs decision to deliver a new cinematic Joker. Michael Caine, who played Bruce Wayneâs loyal butler Alfred, was very apprehensive when Â Nolan told him The Dark Knightâs villain would indeed be the Clown Prince of Crime, namely because Jack Nicholsonâs performance as the character in 1989âs Batman still cast a very large shadow.
âYou donât try and top Jack,â Caine said.
When Nolan informed Caine that Ledger had been cast in the role, though, the film legend came around.
âI thought: âNow thatâs the one guy that could do it!â [laughs] My confidence came back. And then when I did this sequence with Heath, I knew we were in for some really good stuff.
Nolan deliberately resisted the idea of giving The Joker an origin story in the film, opting instead to portray him as a force of pure anarchy with no discernible motivation other than chaos. For this reason, the characterâs scarred faceâas opposed to the chemically-induced frozen grin given to the characterâs previous movie incarnationâhad no clear source. In fact, the character deliberately tells different stories to different characters to explain where the scars came from. As a result, prosthetics supervisor Conor OâSullivan was driven to take inspiration for the scars from real life. So, he used an actual man on the street as a reference.
âIÂ immediately thought of the punk and skinhead era and some unsavory characters I had come across during this time,â O’Sullivan recalled. âThe terminology for this type of wound is a âGlasgowâ or âChelsea smile.â My references had to be real. A delivery of fruit machines was made to the estate near my workshop and the man delivering them had a âChelsea smile.’ I plucked up the courage to ask him for a photo and he told me the story of how he had got his scars while being involved with âa dog fightâ; needless to say I didn’t pursue the matter, but the photos proved to be very useful reference.â
One of the most identifiable characteristics of Ledgerâs portrayal of The Joker is the way he almost constantly licks his lips inside and out, probing his scars with his tongue over and over again. It adds energy to the character as well as a certain menacing quality, but it apparently was not planned. According to dialect coach Gerry Grennell, who worked with Ledger on the film, that tic arose because the scar prostheticsâwhich extended into Ledgerâs mouthâwould loosen as he performed. So, he licked his lips repeatedly in an effort to keep them in place.
“The last thing that Heath wanted to do was go back and spend another 20 minutes or half hour trying to get the lips glued back again, so he licked his lips. A lot,â Grennell recalled. âAnd then slowly, that became a part of the character.
Though IMAX cameras are now on the verge of being used to shoot entire feature films, at the time The Dark Knight was made, the format was primarily used for documentary films to showcase things like the wondrous detail of nature. Nolan had longed for years to bring the format to features, and opted to use the ultra-heavy, ultra-expensive cameras to film several major sequences in The Dark Knight. Most famously, the filmâs prologueâfeaturing The Jokerâs bank robberyâwas filmed on IMAX and released early, in its entirety, as a teaser.
For the scene in which Bruce Wayne is hosting a fundraiser for Harvey Dent in his elegant Gotham City townhouse, Ledger and a group of Joker goons were meant to burst into the party via the elevator. Caine, as Alfred, was supposed to be there waiting to greet guests as the elevator doors opened, only to be frightened by the appearance of The Joker. Caine was there waiting, the elevator doors opened, and he was apparently so frightened by what he saw that any lines he was meant to deliver during the scene completely left his mind.
“I was waiting for Batman’s guests, but (the Joker) had taken over the elevator withâhe has seven dwarfs and … oh! wait until you see them,â he said while promoting the film. âSo, I’d never seen any of it and the elevator door opened and they came out and I forgot every bloody line. They frightened the bloody life out of me.â
Embracing the hyperrealism of his version of Batman, Nolan opted to do many of The Dark Knightâs biggest stunts practically rather than relying on CGI. That includes arguably the biggest and most visually staggering stunt in the film: When Batman uses steel cables to flip The Jokerâs 18-wheeler trailer over cab in the middle of a Gotham street. While another filmmaker might have opted to recreate the moment with computers or models, Nolan wanted to do it for real, on a real Chicago street. The task of pulling it off fell to special effects supervisor Chris Corbould, who ran tests in a more isolated area to ensure the flip wouldnât harm any member of the crew or any neighboring buildings. With the tests successful, the production was primed to film the stunt âŚ though Corbould still tried to talk Nolan into scaling it down.
âIt was a funny thingâand this is always the way working with Chrisâwhere he kept trying to talk me into a smaller vehicle,â Nolan said. âHe said, âCan’t it be one of those SWAT vans, not an articulated truck?!â I kind of went along with that for a while and we storyboarded it that way and kept talking about it. And I finally just went to him and said, âChris, you can do this, you’re fine. It’s gotta be a huge truck, it’s gotta be a big 18-wheeler,â and he went âOh, all right,â in that way he does, and he figured out a way to do it. Nobody had ever done it before and it was really a pretty amazing thing to watch.”
One of the most beautiful shots in the film finds Batman, cape billowing around him, perched atop Chicagoâs Sears Tower as he surveys his city. Itâs a gorgeous image, but also one that easily could have been carried out by a stuntman so Bale didnât have to take the risk. The star was having none of that. When he found out his stuntman Buster Reeves was preparing to perform the perch, Bale rushed to convince Nolan that he should be the one to stand 110 stories above Chicago for the helicopter shot.Â
âIt was important for me to do that shot,â Bale explained, âbecause I wanted to be able to say I did it.Â
Bale also opted to perform a similar stunt in which Batman stands on a ledge of the IFC2 building in Hong Kong. By then, he was quite comfortable with the height.Â
One of the great visual hallmarks of Nolanâs Batman films is the introduction of the Batpod, The Dark Knightâs sleek motorcycle. While it may look like an oversized version of any other bike, the pod didnât handle the same way, so a specially trained stunt driver was required. Jean-Pierre Goy was the man. He took to the vehicle immediately and trained for months to master the high-speed sequences required for the film. Bale, who was more than willing to volunteer to drive the Batpod, was ultimately only able to ride it when it was attached to camera rigs.
âJean-Pierre was the only one who could master it,â Bale admitted. âEverybody else just fell off instantly.â
For the scene in which The Joker sneaks into a panicked Gotham hospital to see Harvey Dent, Ledger dressed up in a nurseâs uniform. If you look closely, youâll see that the nurseâs name tag reads âMatilda.â Matilda is Ledgerâs daughter, who was born in 2005.
When The Joker and his goons crash Bruce Wayneâs fundraising party, almost everyone in the room is intimidated into silence. One man, though, is not. He tells The Joker âweâre not intimidated by thugs,â and The Joker then grabs him and holds a knife to his mouth. That man is Patrick Leahy, the Democratic U.S. Senator from Vermont. A lifelong comic book fan, Leahy has appeared in five Batman films to date, including 2016âs Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where he sat alongside actress Holly Hunter in a congressional hearing.
Weird lawsuits surrounding major motion pictures are nothing new, but The Dark Knight inspired a particularly strange one. In late 2008, after the film had opened to rapturous critical acclaim and enormous box office success, Huseyin Kalkanâthe mayor of Batman, Turkeyâsued Nolan and Warner Brothers for what he deemed a negative impact the film had caused on his city.
“There is only one Batman in the world. The American producers used the name of our city without informing us.”
Needless to say, given that Batman is still as popular as ever, the suit didnât go anywhere.
The Art and Making of The Dark Knight Trilogy, by Jody Duncan Jesser and Janine Pourroy