July 16, 2009

The Dark Knight: Fun With History and Math

"James Cameron, you're Public Enemy #1 when I'm through with the Joker..."

One year ago tomorrow night, I, along with several million other people around the world, saw for the first time a movie that a majority of humanity considers to be one of, if not the, greatest motion pictures in the history of mankind. If you're already detecting sarcasm behind my hyperbole, consider yourself a sharp cookie.

The Dark Knight is arguably the greatest cultural phenomenon of this young millennium after Barack Obama's electoral victory. Generations from now people will tell their grandkids about how "nothing can top what we saw back in the summer of '08"; It will be remembered like a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic that nobody on the planet could escape. So, I figured it would be interesting one year later to revisit the insanity that began with Heath Ledger's tragic death in January of 2008, and culminated with the outrage following the 2009 Oscar nominations and ceremony.

The following numbers speak for themselves, but since I'm a fountain of opinion here I'll chime in with my own thoughts anyway - feel free to follow suit...

The number of times I have seen The Dark Knight: once in its entirety on opening night (non-IMAX); and once, only partially, during a free weekend preview of HBO.

33 and 4,366

The number of weeks The Dark Knight played in American movie theaters, and the number of American theaters in which it opened; the latter being the most of any movie in history. From July through March (yes, just a short four months ago, well after its December 9th DVD release) you could have enjoyed this movie at your local multiplex. According to Box Office Mojo, it closed its run on 54 screens after 9 months (231 days) in theaters, earning $102,067 in its final official weekend. Ostensibly afraid of cannibalizing the audience for its next big hit, Warner Bros. pulled The Dark Knight from theaters days before Watchmen opened (or more descriptively, "tanked") in more than 3,600 theaters. Bet somebody lost sleep on that decision.


The number of official websites for The Dark Knight:


The approximate number of people who, by my singular estimation, dressed up as Heath Ledger's Joker for Halloween 2008.


The current ranking of The Dark Knight on the IMDb's Top 250 Movies of All Time list. As you may remember, The Dark Knight debuted at and held the #1 spot for several weeks after its release as fanboys and overzealous voters essentially hijacked the site. It has received more votes than any other movie on the list other than The Shawshank Redemption, itself at the #1 spot due to a rabid cult following that led a campaign to permanently settle the Shawshank/Godfather rivalry a few years ago. That The Dark Knight was unsuccessful in its dethroning effort leads me to believe that Shawshank may be able withstand any threat from any movie for the foreseeable future.


The number of Heath Ledger fans who signed an online petition at The Ultimate Joker to "ask for the character to be withdrawn for good, to never again be used in any future Batman sequel".


The number of external reviews currently linked from The Dark Knight's IMDb page. You can easily add three zeroes to the end of that number to include reviews (two by me alone) from countless bloggers who did not submit their thoughts for linkage. But the number 481 is otherwise relatively meaningless...unless you consider it's a total greater than the reviews linked for The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, and Pulp Fiction (three of the six movies now ranked above it) combined.

This is my roundabout way of arguing that, proportionate to its first year of release, The Dark Knight has been reviewed and discussed more than any other movie in history. According to my math there is a 114% chance that your mother, cousin, co-worker, mailman, or granddaughter has an opinion on this movie, and just a shade under a 92% chance that they have reviewed it in their blog, community newspaper, or personal diary. For online consumption comparison purposes, here are the number of search results Google returns for the following queries: godfather review = 578,000 ; "citizen kane" review = 565,000 ; "pulp fiction" review = 1,770,000; shawshank review = 412,000.

If you Google "dark knight" review, you will be presented with 10,300,000 links to peruse; when this post is indexed you can make that 10,300,001.

94 and 82

The current Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic scores for The Dark Knight, respectively. Among the 41 RT critics considered the "Cream of the Crop", the score drops to 90%. The few Top Critics who dared offer a dissenting opinion on this film - Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal), Stephanie Zacharek (Salon.com), David Edelstein (New York Magazine), and David Denby (The New Yorker) - have received a combined 1,073 comments on their four Rotten Tomatoes review blurbs (click on their names to read the outrageous, eventually frightening comments), and have presumably had to change their home phone numbers and addresses. Seriously.

The remaining Top Critics received a combined 622 comments for their 37 positive reviews. Here are a choice few of the 17 comments for Manohla Dargis' review blurb:
  • "Ms. Dargis, this is, perhaps, the best review I've read on The Dark Knight. How many of them have I read? One-hundred and three."
  • "What the hell is going on with Rotten Tomatoes? If you click on the Top Critics it says there are 3 rotten reviews for Dark Knight but I only count 3!!...Sorry I mean I only count 2!!! Salon.com and David Denby."
  • "ya i'd have sex with this woman"

$533,345,358 and $1,001,921,825

The domestic and worldwide box-office totals (unadjusted for inflation) for The Dark Knight, ranking it #2 (Titanic) and #4 (Titanic, LOTR: The Return of the King, Pirates of the Caribbean 3), respectively. Scroll down here to view the full stunning list of box office records it currently holds. In context, the amount of money shelled out by people to see The Dark Knight in theaters was greater than the 2008 GDP of Liberia.


The number of countries in which The Dark Knight officially opened last summer, including nations from every continent but Antarctica (where it no doubt arrived closer to Thanksgiving). As unlikely as it is, I would not be totally surprised if someone, somewhere is right now seeing The Dark Knight in a theater somewhere off the Box Office Mojo grid.


The number of Academy Awards received by The Dark Knight, for Best Sound Editing and Best Supporting Actor. The film did not earn even a nomination for Best Picture.


The number of movies that will "coincidentally" be nominated for Best Picture beginning this year.

As you can probably tell from this breakdown (and feel free to add to the numbers, by the way), I'm firmly in the "Was it really that great?" camp at this point. To be clear - the historical record will undoubtedly show The Dark Knight to be one of the biggest movies in history, and as an entertaining blockbuster I still think it was nothing short of breathtaking.

But is it still taboo to propose that it wasn't and isn't one of the "best" movies in history, but perhaps just the best comic book/superhero movie? Is the evidence that strong that Christopher Nolan revolutionized the craft of film and created an artistic masterpiece to be studied and taught from in film schools for generations to come? Has the fate of humanity been altered because of this movie?

Did we all just simply swallow the hype?

Come out, come out, wherever you are, opinion revisers...


  1. It's all about the story.

    I said it then, i'll say it now - had this film been about a crazed mass murderer who didn't wear make-up, or a cop trying to bring him in that didn't wear a cape, there would be no argument about how good it was. Too many grown ups got distracted by its comic book origins to just take it in as a movie.

    I really think time will be kind to TDK, though a year out is a bit too hard to tell. It's in my all-time top ten, but as a somewhat conservative number eight.

  2. That's a pretty good defense, Hatter, but even as a cop vs. villain story I think I view it as merely "very good", as opposed to "extraordinary". There are also (as I wrote in my second review) many potential cultural issues to dissect from this movie, and people will always say it was a valid measure of the world as it was in 2008.

    But it's still easy for me to remain somewhat reserved on this one, to try to maintain some high (though maybe undefinable) standard of quality and/or importance. For what it's worth, I was also on the outside looking in for Iron Man, Star Trek, and actually even The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As pieces of pop art and entertaining blockbusters they may have all been outstanding, but I feel most people have taken the praise significantly further, to the point where if you don't understand the artistic/cultural/revolutionary relevance of this movies, well you might as well just take up quilting.

    It's a great movie and sure, the "best" comic book/superhero movie (which I still think is the primary lens, despite your point), but from the one shot I gave it that's as far as I can go with it.

  3. Jeez, if I wasn't already starting to dislike this movie, you kind of helped seal the deal! Yes, sarcasm noted, though I'm far from a sharp cookie. More crunchy on the edges but chewy in the middle and loaded with chocolate chips.

    Anyway...I gave TDK a solid 4 out of 5 stars in my review and I distinctly remember spending a long time in a more active than usual comments section defending a couple of modest complaints about the movie I had at the time rather than the other 90% of the review that was positive.

    That's one thing that annoys me about TDK is the level of group-think that it represented and the need of the majority to stamp out all traces of minority dissent. That's not channeling the power of the internet in a positive way in my opinion. It's dangerous and more than a little creepy.

    And I say this as a guy who is generally happier when people agree with him.

    I don't know though. I've seen the movie .3 fewer times than you have and I'm a little curious how I'll respond when I take another crack at it. The fact that I don't have much interest in taking that crack says a lot, but I can't really know until I see how it goes.

    There are just so many other things I need to see.

  4. Well, there are fans of the film and there are fans of the film. There's a distinction be made here about whether fans of it think it is taboo to discuss the film, and it is how internet trolls are ultimately responsible for saturating that type of fascist dialogue and then there are those who, well, are just the opposite. But fanboys will be fanboys. For them it is, and always will be, a taboo subject to discuss with no good results.

    I also find Craig’s first sentence a funny one; because fanboys and THE DARK KNIGHT have indeed become synonymous with each other, and some of the people who disliked these knee-jerk, reactionary fans tend to, by extension, start to paste those feelings on the film as well. For example, some couldn’t help to smirk a little at how Nolan and his team didn’t get nominated and thus make fanboys go mad. In essence, it has become The Fanboys’ film. Of course, critics of the film have cited the fanboys as some sort of image of what THE DARK KNIGHT is in order to degrade it; God forbid famous figures of the critical community actually liked it.

    I wish all of that would stop. As someone who doesn't consider himself a fanboy and thinks it is an imperfect great film – not a masterpiece or one of the greatest of all time, but that's nothing to always adhere to – I'm open to the discussion of the great and the bad. If only people could judge it on its own terms.

  5. It goes both was as you imply...to embrace it wholly as a fanboy is no worse than rejecting it utterly as a non-fanboy.

    Take the movie for what it is and enjoy it as such or don't.

  6. Thanks for stopping over and adding your thoughts, Villalba. Your last sentence really seals the deal; the movie is in the impossible position of being judged in a way that it may never have been made to be judged (I'd say the same about Slumdog Millionaire, also a major backlash victim). The fanboys really did take ahold of this movie and claim it as their own, which is unfortunate for all of the regular people who simply loved the movie for what it was (like the Mad Hatter). I wasn't one of the people who celebrated its Oscar snub just to see the fanboys riled up; I would have been fine with a nod for it and by that time I'd made peace with the fanboys.

    Craig, I actually looked back on your review as I was reading this because I remember it being one of the longest (if not the longest) you've written, followed by a solid 100+ comments. My understanding was that you felt it just didn't achieve its full potential, and in fact might have done better to take the gloves off completely and exist as a completely dark thriller. I'd really be curious as to what your reaction would be on a second go-round. During my 0.3 viewing I was deeply impressed by the cinematography, Ledger, and the outstanding score. But it just couldn't shake the comic book veneer for me (Bale's barking and Two-Face's shiny CGI face stood out as well).

    And yeah, the death threats and other disturbing comments on those four negative reviews is depressing on multiple levels.

  7. I had my stab at an R-rated superhero movie in Watchmen, and though I liked it better than a lot of people, it didn't really work either.

    TDK I felt was compromised by trying to have it both ways...it wanted to be adult and edgy but still make money off the toy buying kiddies.

    I don't know though. I definitely want to check it out again.

  8. I'll never be able to shake what Kent Beeson said of the film at the time:

    "Seven years ago, when the planes hit and the towers fell, America was confronted with evil, the likes of which few of us had ever witnessed before. But instead of simply enduring, we chose to inflict even more evil back onto the world. The people on the ferry are given the same choice. It's up to each of them -- the businessman, the mom, the tattooed convict, the warden, the ferry captain -- to take responsibility for facing the evil that confronts them, and whether or not they'll be complicit. No one's going to swoop in and make the choice go away. The message is clear: You have to believe in more than the Harvey Dents of the world. You have to believe in yourself."
    ~ Kent M. Beeson

    Maybe that's giving it a too much credit, but the point still stands. TDK was so very culturally viable, even if in a forced sort of way. Two wars, an economic crisis, a monumental Presidental election, the constant threat of terroism and 9/11, and now the Joker?? People just ate it up, not to mention with the death of Ledger and an unparalleled viral campaign.

    In terms of its quality, I've come to see it as Terminator 2: Judgment Day without the polish of James Cameron. It's a mess, yes, but a fun, off-the-chain visceral one.

    Here's the rest of Beeson's review: http://www.comixology.com/articles/93/Windows-on-the-World

  9. i still have zero interest in seeing this film. yeah guess i'm pure like that. ha ha.

    and that's zero interest in seeing this.repeat.

    awesome words on your end though... :)

  10. Glimmer, you still have the old fire! How are you buddy? Well, I am not much of a fan of this film either, even if the first theatrical viewing was somewhat successful. This film and superhero movies in general have not stayed with me at all.

    Wow, Daniel, you have REALLY laid out the complete picture here! No beating around the bush with this. Well, Michael Jackson's shattering and ultimely passing has now left this (and Obama's presidential victory) as runners-ups, methinks. Do you agree? Ledger's death had much to do with the fervant anticipation of THE DARK KNIGHT, but so many of the others factors you painstakingly deliniate all figure in to this equation. Thaose numbers at RT and MC aren't as impressive as WALL-E's, nor this year's UP, and are about equal to THE HURT LOCKER's. But that hardly compromises your argument, which likens TDK night as a cultural penonmenon of sorts, which it most certainly is.

  11. I get what you mean, Craig, and Watchmen definitely wasn't trying to make money off the toy buying kiddies.

    Thanks for the great comment, Pat, and link to Beeson's review. I guess I never gave enough thought to that ferry scene and the amalgamation of threats in relation to real life. But in one sense I still think the reaction was not to that aspect of TDK (which is a lot more interesting), but to the "coolness" of it, or to Ledger's performance, or to the IMAX-filmed scenes, or to Bale/Wayne's inner struggle. Maybe I've just listed the traits of a great movie, but as you mention, the "messiness" of TDK in a way prevents me from thinking it's once-in-a-lifetime movie.

    You also just gave me thought - what if Cameron had made TDK? Interesting to consider what would have been gained (FX) and lost (emotion, possibly).

    Thanks, Glimmer, and I think I said it before, but I love that you've held out on this one despite the unprecedented cultural pressure. People probably look at you like you have three heads - wear them proudly!

    Sam, it actually surprises me a bit to hear that this has faded for you. I know you didn't fully champion it last year but I thought you were a bigger fan than I. In any case, I certainly do agree that the trifecta of cultural phenomena that you mention are mostly on par with each other (and to be clear, these are cultural happenings, not geopolitical shifts like 9/11, the recession, etc.).

  12. i'm ok sam ! :)

    and thanks for reply daniel. :)

  13. The Ferry scene and the prisoner asking for the trigger MADE the third act of The Dark Knight as did Two Face's killing spree.

    "Ostensibly afraid of cannibalizing the audience for its next big hit, Warner Bros. pulled The Dark Knight from theaters days before Watchmen opened (or more descriptively, "tanked") in more than 3,600 theaters. Bet somebody lost sleep on that decision."

    Watchmen did not by any stretch of the imagination. It just did not do as well as projected.

    I had no idea The Shawshank Redemption was ranked #1. "You took the lord's name in vain. I tellin' the warden." "You'll be telling him with my baton up your ass."

    I had no idea about this online petition at The Ultimate Joker either. Somebody did some research. :)

    "Cream of the Crop"? Lol. How does one become said Cream?

    Edelstein, the coiner of Torture Porn. (http://film-book.com/torture-porn-why-this-horror-genre-moniker-is-a-misnomer/) Give me a break. What is funny is that the commenters start bashing New York and New Yorkers as well as if they are infected with blindness of some kind.

    "The number of movies that will "coincidentally" be nominated for Best Picture beginning this year."
    I do not know that this is a good thing, the number being raised. Many films that should not be there now will be.

    "But is it still taboo to propose that it wasn't and isn't one of the "best" movies in history, but perhaps just the best comic book/superhero movie?"
    It is not taboo in my book. The Dark Knight was not one of the best films in history. One of the best comic book movies, oh yeah. Take that Spidey.

    Many swallowed the hype. I did not.

    Great article Daniel.

  14. Thanks for the thoughts, Film-Book. I'll respond to a couple point by point.

    Re: Watchmen - "just did not do as well as projected". Alright, so maybe it didn't completely "tank", but it only made $107 mil on a $100 mil budget, and considering the hype (and 300's take), by some stretch of the imagination that could indeed be considered an utter failure.

    Re: The Ultimate Joker. Actually that came out in the news in a big way in the month or so after TDK was released. CNN was all over reporting about "Ledger fanatics" who created that site. As good as his performance was, there's no chance there will never be another Joker. This franchise will "live long and prosper"...hmm, just like another franchise that nobody said could be replicated...

    I don't know about the Cream of the Crop on RT (full disclosure, my reviews for the Star Tribune have landed me in that company, so it's obviously not filtered very carefully), but Edelstein is included on Metacritic, too, and they're considered the "experts" these days from what I can tell. (A lot of people hate RT as an aggregate site.) And you're right, a lot of those people did go nuts about the NYC connection, including Dargis'.

    Re: Best Picture noms. I haven't fully considered this whole idea, but my guy says it's completely unnecessary to add 5 noms. To make a drastic change they would just get rid of the nominations altogether - everything is up for consideration and it's a straight up vote.

    Re: best comic book films. Ugh, no argument about the Spider-Man movies, the last of which I found nearly unwatchable. I think I'm slowly giving up on these altogether. I'll probably seem them just to see them, but I really don't have any interest in the the upcoming Iron Man 2 and The Avengers and whatever else is in the pipeline. If they'll never be considered to be as good as TDK anyway, then I probably won't miss much.

  15. I'm more than willing to reconcile the "overhype" of TDK and any subsequent rating systems that may or may not have it placed "too high" in the canon of film for this reason: it showed the world that its possible to take a "comic book movie" and turn it into a completely adult, mature film that's just as entertaining as it is engrossing. It set a standard for comic book adaptations akin to the standard Star Wars set for sci-fi adventures. Are either really "the best movie of all-time" or anywhere near that label? Who knows - it depends on who you ask. But they were groundbreaking in their respective genres, and that's enough for me. The people that bitched about it not being one of the 5 Best Pic noms were dead-on; after all, in just five years, you likely won't be able to name 4 of them off the top of your head, but damn sure you'll remember that TDK wasn't one of them...

  16. See again, I think I disagree with the idea that TDK somehow transcended its comic book origins. That was really the idea behind my "Taking It Home" review of it, in that villains like the Joker don't really exist (nevermind superheros). As dark and relevant and symbolic as TDK was, I still saw it as a guy in a cape chasing a guy dressed like a clown and a guy with half of his face gone.

    I don't think it's any insult to TDK to just call it a great comic book movie (and like you say, even one that redefined the genre), but others seem set on categorizing it in a different place. In any case, I do agree with your last point about the nominations, and with the idea that TDK not being nominated may, in the long run, do more for strengthening its cult following/reputation than if it would have been nominated but lost.

  17. Sure, there's still a guy in a cape and a guy in makeup and whatnot, but the difference for me is that Nolan made you believe that it was not only set in the realest of worlds, but that such a thing could happen. With the character of Batman not possessing any superpowers, we can stretch our imagination to believe that he could exist much easier than the Hulks or Fantastic Fours of the world, and it's even easier to do so when there's not rollerblading idiots as villains.

  18. Interesting that you mention lack of superpowers because in my new Reel Life post (#6) I highlight a story about a bunch of people around us who actually consider themselves superheroes. To that end I'm wrong in saying people like this don't exist, and it is a lot more likely that some guy could live in a cave with a sweet car than it is that somebody has spider DNA.

    So let's just say TDK, despite being a comic book movie, is one of the most realistic of the genre. But still of the genre.

  19. I am still amazed at the performance that Heath Ledger gave in this movie. I had never really been a fan of his work prior to the Dark Knight film, but he displayed unbelievable talent and range and he will sorely be missed for his gifts.

  20. Thanks for stopping by, rakeback. I'd been a fan of Ledger prior to TDK and I was still impressed. He didn't sweep all those awards for nothing!


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