The Dark Knight is often considered to be one of the greatest superhero films ever made. On aggregating review website Rotten Tomatoes, The Dark Knight has an approval rating of 94%, based on 338 reviews, with an average score of 8.59/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Dark, complex and unforgettable, The Dark Knight succeeds not just as an entertaining comic book film, but as a richly thrilling crime saga." Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating based on reviews from top mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 84 out of 100, based on 39 critics, indicating "universal acclaim." CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade cinemagoers gave the film was "A" on an A+ to F scale; audiences skewed slightly male and older.
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, awarding four out of four stars, described The Dark Knight as a "haunted film that leaps beyond its origins and becomes an engrossing tragedy." He praised the performances, direction, and writing, saying the film "redefine[s] the possibilities of the comic-book movie." Ebert stated that the "key performance" is by Heath Ledger; he pondered whether he would become the first posthumous Academy Award-winning actor since Peter Finch in 1976. The Oscar was awarded to the late Ledger. Ebert ranked this as one of his twenty favorite films of 2008.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone wrote 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 praised 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, that Eckhart's portrayal of Harvey Dent is "scarily moving," and that Oldman "is so skilled that he makes virtue exciting as Jim Gordon." Travers says Ledger 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 says 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." BBC critic Mark Kermode, in a positive review, said that Ledger is "very, very good" but that Oldman's turn is "the best performance in the film, by a mile"; Kermode felt Oldman was deserving of an Oscar nomination. Film critics Barry Norman and James Berardinelli included The Dark Knight in their rankings of the top 100 films of all time.
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 "mesmerizing" 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."
The Dark Knight was ranked the 15th greatest film in history on Empire's 2008 list of the "500 Greatest Movies of All Time," based upon the weighted votes of 10,000 readers, 150 film directors, and 50 key film critics. Heath Ledger's interpretation of the Joker was also ranked number three on Empire's 2008 list of the "100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time." In June 2010, the Joker was ranked number five on Entertainment Weekly's "100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years." Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker ranked second on The Hollywood Reporter's list of Greatest Superhero Movie Performances of All Time, behind Hugh Jackman's performance as Wolverine. Paste magazine named it one of the 50 Best Movies of the Decade (2000–2009), ranking it at number 11. In 2016, Playboy ranked the film number five on its list of 15 Sequels That Are Way Better Than The Originals. The Dark Knight was included in American Cinematographer's "Best-Shot Film of 1998–2008" list, ranking in the top 10. More than 17,000 people around the world participated in the final vote. In March 2011, the film was voted by BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 1Xtra listeners as their eight favorite film of all time. On the March 22, 2011 television special Best in Film: The Greatest Movies of Our Time, The Dark Knight was voted the second best action film while the Joker, as portrayed by Ledger, was voted the third greatest film character.
In 2012, Total Film ranked The Dark Knight as the sixth most accomplished film of the past 15 years, writing that "Christopher Nolan's psycho-operatic crime drama was its decade's most exciting blockbuster – and its most challenging." In 2014, Time Out polled several film critics, directors, actors and stunt actors to list their top action films. The Dark Knight was listed at 80th place on this list. A few years later the same magazine ranked it 15th on their "The 100 best movies of all time" list. In 2014, The Dark Knight was ranked the 3rd greatest film ever made on Empire's list of "The 301 Greatest Movies Of All Time" as voted by the magazine's readers. The film was also included and ranked 57th on Hollywood's 100 Favorite Films, a list compiled by The Hollywood Reporter, surveying "Studio chiefs, Oscar winners and TV royalty." The Dark Knight ranked 96th on BBC's "100 Greatest American Films" list, voted on by film critics from around the world. It was also voted as one of New Zealand's favorite films in a 2015 poll. It was ranked the 33rd best film of the 21st century by 177 film critics, polled by BBC in 2016, and was included in The Guardian's 2019 list of "The 100 best films of the 21st century". In 2020, Empire magazine ranked it the third best film of the 21st century.
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". Klavan supports this reading of the film by comparing Batman—like Bush, Klavan argues—"sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past." Klavan's article has received criticism on the Internet and in mainstream media outlets, such as in The New Republic's "The Plank." Reviewing the film in The Sunday Times, Cosmo Landesman reached the opposite conclusion to Klavan, arguing that The Dark Knight "offers up a lot of moralistic waffle about how we must hug a terrorist – okay, I exaggerate. At its heart, however, 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 – that sort of thing. 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." Benjamin Kerstein, writing in Azure, says that both Klavan and Landesman "have a point", because "The Dark Knight is a perfect mirror of the society which is watching it: a society so divided on the issues of terror and how to fight it that, for the first time in decades, an American mainstream no longer exists."
Former U.S. president Barack Obama used the film to help explain how he understood the role and growth of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). "There's a scene in the beginning in which the gang leaders of Gotham are meeting ... These are men who had the city divided up. They were thugs, but there was a kind of order. Everyone had his turf. And then the Joker comes in and lights the whole city on fire. ISIS is the Joker. It has the capacity to set the whole region on fire. That's why we have to fight it."
Themes and analysis
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, and how that could lead to potential disaster.
The inclusion of a character like the Joker, one who refuses to play by the traditional rules of villainy, has led some critics and scholars to identify The Dark Knight's depiction of violence as a clear allegory for the use of force in response to global threats in post-9/11 America. For example, in a controversial article for the Wall Street Journal, Andrew Klavan contends that "Like [George W. Bush], Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past."
The Dark Knight is described as a neo-noir film by some authors.
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 for the 81st Ceremony, 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 leading 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."
A British-American production, the film was nominated for the 2009 Goya Award for Best European Film. It had a nomination in Japan for the 2009 Seiun Awards under the Science Fiction category with a Japan Academy Prize Award for Best Foreign Film.
The Dark Knight earned $534.9 million in North America and $469.7 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $1 billion. Worldwide, it is the 46th highest-grossing film, the highest-grossing film of 2008, and the fourth film in history to gross more than $1 billion. It made $199.7 million on its worldwide opening weekend, which ranks 34th on the all-time chart. Box Office Mojo estimates that the film sold over 74.26 million tickets in the US in its initial theatrical run.
In order to increase the film's chances of crossing $1 billion in worldwide gross and of winning Oscars, Warner Bros. re-released the film in traditional and IMAX theaters in the United States and other countries on January 23, 2009. Before the re-release, the film's gross remained at $997 million, but following the re-release, the film crossed the $1 billion-mark in February 2009.
The Dark Knight opened on Friday, July 18, 2008. It set a record for midnight showings, earning $18.5 million from 3,040 theaters (a record first surpassed by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince). The midnight opening included $640,000 from IMAX screenings. It was then shown on 9,200 screens at a record 4,366 theaters (a record first surpassed by Iron Man 2), also setting an opening and single-day record gross, with $67.2 million (both records first surpassed by The Twilight Saga: New Moon), and an opening weekend record, with $158.4 million (first surpassed by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2). The weekend per theater average of $36,283 stands as the fifth-largest of all time. It sold an estimated 22.37 million tickets during its first weekend with 2008's average admission of $7.08, meaning the film sold more tickets than Spider-Man 3, which sold 21.96 million with the average price of $6.88 in 2007. Additionally, the film set an IMAX opening weekend record, with $6.3 million (a record first surpassed by Star Trek). It achieved the largest Sunday gross with $43.6 million and the largest opening week from Friday to Thursday with $238.6 million (both records surpassed by Marvel's The Avengers). It also achieved the largest cumulative gross through its third and fourth day of release (both records first surpassed by Deathly Hallows – Part 2) and so on until its tenth day of release (records surpassed by Marvel's The Avengers). Moreover, it was the fastest film to reach $100 million (a record first surpassed by New Moon), $150 million and each additional $50 million through $450 million (records surpassed by Marvel's The Avengers), and $500 million (a record first surpassed by Avatar). Finally, it achieved the largest second-weekend gross (a record first surpassed by Avatar).
It has grossed the fourth largest Saturday gross ($51,336,732). On its first Monday, it grossed $24.5 million, which stands as the largest non-holiday Monday gross and the fourth largest Monday gross overall, and on its first Tuesday, it grossed another $20.9 million, which stands as the largest non-opening Tuesday gross and the second largest Tuesday gross overall. Notably, it topped the box office during the second biggest weekend of all time in North America (aggregated total of $253,586,871) and it was the only 2008 film that remained on top of the box office charts for four consecutive weekends.
The Dark Knight is the highest-grossing film of 2008, the second-highest-grossing superhero film, the second-highest-grossing film based on comics, and the fourth highest-grossing North American film of all time. Adjusted for ticket-price inflation though, it ranks 28th. 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.
Outside North America
Overseas, The Dark Knight is the highest-grossing 2008 film and the fourth-highest-grossing superhero film. It premiered in 20 other territories on 4,520 screens, grossing $41.3 million in its first weekend. The film came second to Hancock, which was screening in 71 territories in its third weekend. The Dark Knight's biggest territory was Australia, where it grossed $13.7 million over the weekend, setting a record for the largest superhero film opening. It topped the weekend box office outside North America three consecutive times and four in total. Citing cultural sensitivities to some elements in the film, and a reluctance to adhere to pre-release conditions, Warner Bros. declined to release the film in mainland China. Its highest-grossing market after North America was the UK, Ireland, and Malta, where it earned $89.1 million. Also, in Australia, it earned of $39.9 million, still remaining in the all-time Top 10 of the country. The five highest-grossing markets outside North America also include Germany ($29.7 million), France and the Maghreb region ($27.5 million) and South Korea ($25.0 million).
The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc in North America on December 9, 2008. Releases include a one-disc edition DVD; a two-disc Special Edition DVD; a two-disc edition BD; and a Special Edition BD package featuring a statuette of the Bat-pod. The BD/iTunes version presents the film in a variable aspect ratio, with the IMAX sequences framed in 1.78:1, while scenes filmed in 35 mm are framed in 2.40:1. The DVD versions feature the entire film framed in a uniform 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Disc 2 of the two-disc Special Edition DVD features the six main IMAX sequences in the original 1.44:1 aspect ratio. Additional IMAX shots throughout the film that are presented in 1.78:1 on the Blu-ray release are not, however, included in the DVD's special features. In addition to the standard DVD releases, some stores released their own exclusive editions of the film.
In the United Kingdom, the film had combined sales of 513,000 units on its first day of release, of which 107,730 (21%) were Blu-ray Discs, the highest number of first-day Blu-ray Discs sold. In the United States, The Dark Knight set a sales record for most DVDs sold in one day, selling 3 million units on its first day of release – 600,000 of which were Blu-ray Discs.
The DVD and Blu-ray Disc editions were released in Australia on December 10, 2008. Releases were in the form of a one-disc edition on DVD; a two-disc edition on DVD; a two-disc edition including a Batmask on DVD and BD; a two-disc Batpod statuette Limited BD Edition; a two-disc BD edition; and a four-disc Batman Begins/The Dark Knight pack on DVD and BD. As of December 19, 2008, the DVD release is the top selling film in the Australian DVD Charts and is expected to break the Australian sales record set by Finding Nemo.
The movie also sold Blu-ray copies worth 370 million yen (US$4.1 million) in Japan, placing it 3rd out of 10 in the top 10 overall Blu-ray category.
In March 2011, Warner Bros. offered The Dark Knight for rent on Facebook, becoming the first movie ever to be released via digital distribution on a social networking site. Users in the United States were able to use Facebook Credits to view the film. The Dark Knight was released on 4K UHD Blu-Ray on December 19, 2017.