10 Most Memorable Moments From The Dark Knight
By Jeff Grantz
When Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise hit theaters in the summer of 2005, it was coming off of the 8-year-spanning dark ages that followed the release of Joel Schumacher’s horrendous second Bat-film. Batman & Robin was thought to have killed the franchise for good, but Nolan was able to pull off the unthinkable with Batman Begins: he took a character that a lot of non-comic fans (like Schumacher) might dismiss as campy kid’s stuff and delivered a film that finally realized the gravitas that true Batman fans knew was there all along. However, that was nothing compared to what came next…
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since the release of The Dark Knight. I remember being out of my mind excited after that final scene in Batman Begins, in which Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman) summoned Batman (Christian Bale) to the roof of the GCPD with their brand new Bat-Signal to inform him of a new criminal with “a taste for the theatrical.” Looking back, that calling card was the very first inkling that Nolan and company truly had something special planned for us next.
I remember the following three years to be a truly exciting – and tragic – time as we eagerly awaited every morsel of information we could get our grubby little hands on. I remember the speculation. Who’s gonna play the Joker? (my choice was Crispin Glover, who was yours?). I remember the backlash upon Heath Ledger’s casting. The Knight’s Tale guy is the Joker? Dude from Brokeback Mountain? Mr. 10 Things I Hate About You? I remember the intrigue when we finally started to see what the actor was bringing to the role. And sadly, I remember the heartbreak when it was reported that Heath Ledger had tragically passed away at the age of 28. Thankfully, by that time, we had already seen enough of his take on Joker to realize just how remarkable his performance was going to be. There was a lot on the line going into July 18, 2008, but no matter how high I cranked up my expectation, the film delivered and then some.
The Dark Knight is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s arguably one of – if not the – greatest comic book film ever made. It changed the game for superhero storytelling and taught us that these characters can be taken seriously. It spawned or inspired countless later superhero films and TV shows, from the darker take on Superman in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel (and the direction taken by practically all subsequent DC films to this point) to Arrow on The CW. This film left a mark that we are still living in the shadow of to this day, a decade later.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the 10 Most Memorable Moments from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (in chronological order)…
10. “Whatever Doesn’t Kill You Simply Makes You Stranger.”
I remember waiting in line to see I Am Legend in IMAX opening night for the sole purpose of seeing TDK’s opening bank heist scene a whole SEVEN months before the film would eventually hit theaters. While superhero origin stories can be fun, I always feel that it’s way more exciting to hit the ground running and TDK did just that with one hell of an opening sequence that is on par with the likes of James Bond or Indiana Jones films.
First impressions are important, and The Joker certainly gave a good one here, even though we don’t see Ledger’s face until the final moments of the scene. We are introduced to this maniacal madman and are shown not only how ruthless he is, but how brilliant as well. The scene is made even better by the fact that all of the goons he hired to pull the job off spend the entire scene talking about this mysterious Joker guy, not realizing he’s right there alongside them the whole time. As each step in his master plan is successfully executed, he successfully executes the guy who performed the task, until there’s no one left to go splitsies with on the haul. This is a wonderfully rendered depiction of what it’s like working for the Joker of the comics: he might need something from you, but the guy isn’t really big on loyalty.
The Dark Knight Rises continued this trend, and while Nolan certainly went bigger with Bane’s introduction in that film’s plane-hijacking opening, certainly a fantastic sequence, bigger does not always equal better.
9. “That’s More Like It.”
While the scene featuring Batman’s first appearance in the film is more often than not remembered for the “hockey pads” line (one that, for some reason, is one of the go-to’s for mocking Christian Bale’s Batman voice, along with “Swear to me!” and “I’m Batman” from Begins), I will long remember it as the first modern day superhero film to really get on board with something that comic book movie fans were long hungering for: continuity.
Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow is the first big screen Batman villain to ever return for a sequel. I’m not really a big fan of the villains being killed off in superhero movies, because I love the fact that, in the comics, they always come back, no matter what. Dr. Jonathan Crane was a perfect character to do something like this with too. Having a bad guy who we all know is very familiar with the Batman is always a great way of illustrating how the city as a whole has reacted to him. Some thugs might talk a big game, but only those who have actually crossed paths with him before really know how feared the man should be. I love the certainty with which Scarecrow utters, “That’s not him,” as the fake Batmen break up the drug meet, and the fear in his voice when he definitively states, “That’s more like it,” after the Batmobile crashes its way into parking structure.
Besides, Murphy’s performance in Batman Begins was terrific, so he more than earned himself a small cameo in this film, as well as its sequel.
8. “How About a Magic Trick?”
Fully understanding Joker’s place in Gotham’s criminal underworld is important. Plus, the man not only likes to make an entrance, he likes to leave an impression, and he does just that in record time in the scene where he interrupts the Salvatore Maroni (Eric Roberts), Gambol (Michael Jai White) and the rest of the crime lords’ secret daytime meeting.
Obviously, everyone remembers the pencil trick (“Ta-da! It’s gone.”), but like with any great sleight-of-hand artist, the trick is only meant to drawn us in while something else is happening altogether. This is a scene that people remember, for the most part, because of the violent nature of it, but there’s so much more to it than that.
We’re drawn into the incredible performance that Heath Ledger was giving in this role – a role he posthumously, but deservedly won the Best-Supporting Actor Oscar for – but we’re also getting an insight into what makes this character tick. He’s the kinda guy who walks around with a couple dozen grenades in his jacket. We get to see how this character is planning on making a name for himself in this town. Simply stated: “Kill the Batman.” One man declaring war on the Batman is insane, but it’s a job this man is perfectly suited for.
7. “You Wanna Know How I Got These Scars?”
Personally, I am of the firm belief that The Joker does not need an origin story (sorry, Todd Phillips). In the comics world, the only thing that ever dared to come close to being considered a canonical origin for the Joker was Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s The Killing Joke, and even in that, Moore left himself a little wiggle room, with Joker’s line, “If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!” His proclamation that even he sometimes remembers it happening one way and sometimes another was excellently worked into Joker’s shtick in this film.
The first story Joker tells Gambol, about his abusive alcoholic father cutting his mother’s, then his face, is horrific, and might make the character somewhat sympathetic, if it was to be believed. In addition to the line I’ve plucked to title this entry, this first scene also features a couple other instantly famous lines, like “Let’s put a smile on that face,” and of course, the iconic, “Why so serious?”
The second story, Joker tells to Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) when he crashes the Dent fundraiser at Bruce Wayne’s apartment. When he grabs the man that he says reminds him of his father, you think he’s about to go into the whole drunk dad spiel again, but this time, his story’s a bit different, with a tale of a gambling wife cut up by loan sharks and his twisted way of cheering her up. And, of course, this scene is wonderfully capped off with the Joker’s line to Rachel, “You got a little fight in you, I like that,” met with Batman’s, “Then you’re gonna love me.” This was an excellent first face-to-face meeting between these two historic adversaries.
6. “Come on, hit me!”
Sometimes, a Batman film is all about the spectacle. The Hong Kong gliding sequence earlier in the film is a beautifully-photographed example of this, but nothing says spectacle like flipping a big ass 18-wheeler in the middle of the street. And doing it practically, no less! Now, that’s what going to the movies is all about!
This entire chase sequence – where the Joker attempts to get his hands on Dent who publically proclaimed himself to be the Batman – is fantastic. The truck flip is epic, but the following events are what make this scene one of my favorite Joker vs. Batman moments in the whole film. The game of chicken Joker plays with Bats is so indicative of how unhinged the villain really is. There was no way Batman was going to win that one. Also, I’ve always loved the little trip Joker does immediately after getting out of the flipped truck where his gun goes off randomly.
And, of course, there’s the awesome conversion from the Tumbler to the Batpod that, granted, feels a bit like they’re trying to sell toys, but isn’t that like 90% of a Batman movie’s job?
5. “To Them You’re Just a Freak, Like Me.”
While the previous entry is, in my opinion, one of the best Batman/Joker action sequences in the film, the interrogation is their best performance-based scene. Straightforward dialogue scenes between the Caped Crusader and the Clown Prince of Crime are always favorites of mine, on screen or in print, whether it’s Bale and Ledger, Keaton and Nicholson, or Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. These types of scenes are always the introductory course for their relationship, and this one is no exception.
Needless to say, Ledger and Bale both give incredible performances in this scene, as does Oldman. Each and every thing Joker says about how similar the two of them are unnerves Batman more and more, because Joker knows just how to press all of Batman’s buttons. The truth is, Joker might understand Batman better than anyone. Even in a verbal back and forth, though, things with Bats and Joker still tend to get physical (“Never start with the head, the victim gets all fuzzy.”), but as Gordon says, “He’s in control.” Though, when the threats start to get a little closer to home, that’s when the chairs get jammed under doorknobs.
Of course, the scene’s sets up the devastating choice that Joker gives Batman – to save the woman he loves or the hero his city needs – getting Batman out of his way while he makes his escape. After all, he planned on getting caught all along. Now, that’s a criminal genius.
4. “You Either Die a Hero, or You Live Long Enough To See Yourself Become the Villain.”:
For the most part, I’ve barely touched on Aaron Eckhart’s phenomenal turn as Harvey Dent in this film. Whenever people complain about comic book movies having too many villains, I always point to this film as a shining example of just how to pull this kind of thing off.
For the most part, Dent’s fall from grace is so beautifully done. Sure, there were some liberties taken on the part of the filmmakers in regards to Two-Face’s origin, but we’ve already seen how stupid the original looked in Batman Forever (Really, a single sheet of paper can perfectly shield half of his face from acid?). The origin here is made much more impactful with Rachel’s death, not to mention it plays so much better into Two-Face’s theme of the 50/50 chance and making choices (a theme that the film is pretty heavy on aside from just Dent’s involvement – see next entry). The real cherry on top, however, comes in the hospital scene that follows soon after.
As a whole, Two-Face’s quest for vengeance from the ones that played some part in Rachel’s death is really well executed. My only qualm, and my only issue with this film in the slightest, is that they killed off Two-Face. This was especially disappointing seeing as how they wouldn’t be able to have him nor the Joker return in The Dark Knight Rises. Not only could Dent have been a great recurring villain in the series if not for his demise, but Batman’s decision to take the fall (both figuratively and literally) for Dent’s crimes led to him spending 8 years on the shelf between this film and the next. This was my biggest problem with TDKR, because Batman, especially a Batman whose only been doing it a year, would not take 8 years off under any circumstances. Not when his city needs him. But at the time that this film came out, I didn’t yet realize just how disappointed I would be in this story point in just three years time.
3. “Some Men Just Wanna Watch the World Burn.”
The above line from the story that Alfred (Michael Caine) tells Bruce perfectly encapsulates the Joker’s whole m.o. (it also happens to be another of the film’s highly quoted lines). He isn’t after riches. All of his favorite things come relatively cheap. What he wants is complete and utter anarchy. The anarchy part is on full display in the scene with the two ferries – one carrying civilians, the other, prisoners – with a bomb on each and its detonator onboard the other.
Also, I’ll always remember the scene where Joker burns the money, if only for the Joker’s joyful slide down the giant mountain of cash. His burning the money is his declaration to the criminal underworld that Gotham City belongs to him now. Hell, by this point, this film belongs to him. Seriously, you mention The Dark Knight to me, the first thing I think about is Ledger’s Joker. Batman almost takes a backseat in his own film, but hey, that’s pretty much the case whenever these two share the screen together.
2. “I’m a Dog Chasing Cars…”
The Joker’s brilliant manipulation of a vulnerable Harvey Dent in the hospital scene is yet another one of those great glimpses into the mind of a maniacal agent of chaos. In every conceivable way, the Joker is responsible for the birth of Two-Face in this film. He orchestrated all of the events leading to this moment, were Dent lies in a hospital bed and he utilizes the power of suggestion to arm Dent and point him in his desired direction.
There are so many incredible lines of dialogue in this film, but there are a few that I think are simply perfection. Joker’s speech here is expertly summarized by his line about being a dog chasing a car and not knowing what he’d do if he ever actually caught one. To me, the car in question is Batman. He can play the mastermind all he wants, but even he doesn’t know what he wants from Bats in the grand scheme of things. All he knows is that he’s fun. The fact that he delivers this whole speech while dressed as a female nurse is delightful. It’s something I could easily see the Joker of the comic books or even Mark Hamill’s animated Joker doing.
Almost as an added bonus, the hospital scene crescendos into one of those true movie magic moments when, after Joker exits the hospital and hits the trigger, the final, big real-life explosives didn’t go off, so Ledger stayed in character while the cameras rolled on before they finally detonated and he could make his big exit. They had one chance to get that shot right and that one little hiccup made the scene that much more iconic.
1. “You and I Are Destined To Do This Forever.”
The film’s big finale, set opposite the two ferries Joker turned against one another, features a scene not all that dissimilar to the finale of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. Batman lays siege upon a tall building and it all ends with one hell of a physical altercation between the two. Batman is always an impressive fighter, but Joker doesn’t always cut the mustard in that regard if not portrayed correctly. With the Joker utilizing the dogs and dual-wielding blunt weapons, it is perhaps the best fight scene ever between the two characters. At the end, he plummets over the side, only this time around, Batman saves him.
The Joker’s final speech as he hangs upside down from an under-construction building sums up the Batman/Joker relationship perfectly: “I think you and I are destined to do this forever.” If the interrogation scene is the introductory class, this line is the thesis statement. What Joker tells him about their relationship – how neither one can kill the other, because of Batman’s moral code and Joker just finding him too much fun – is everything you need to know about these two characters. No matter the medium, Batman and the Joker have such a co-dependent relationship it’s crazy… like, literally crazy. They need each other. Okay, so one more so than the other, but still.
Joker’s destiny line is made all the more heartbreaking by Ledger’s death and the simple fact that this would be the only time we would ever get to see Heath Ledger’s Joker and Christian Bale’s Batman share the screen together. But damn, it was good while it lasted.
So, that’s my list, as tough as it was to narrow it down to just 10 moments. So many more could have made this list, moments big – such as the Joker’s attempt on the Mayor’s life at Commissioner Loeb’s funeral (he loves a good parade, doesn’t he?) or his videos sent to news outlets (which Ledger directed himself) – and small – like Joker clapping at Gordon’s promotion or even Lucius Fox’s (Morgan Freeman) chat with the would-be blackmailer Mr. Reese (an apparent Riddler nod: E. Nygma/Enigma, Mr. Reese/Mysteries. Get it?).
Now, it’s your turn. Tell us what your favorite moments are from the film. Leave a comment or reach out on Twitter (you can find me @Jeff_Grantz). And if you haven’t already, celebrate the tenth anniversary of a true cinematic classic and revisit The Dark Knight today.