Forty years ago in 1978, Richard Donner’s Superman was released in cinemas, the first ever big-budget superhero film to hit the big screen.
Studio Warner Bros. were certainly taking a risk with the movie but they hoped the recent success of Star Wars had renewed an interest in science-fiction and fantasy.
Luckily it had making Superman not only a critical success, but a massive hit at the box office.
Igniting a comic book boom in the world of film, before long our cinemas were populated by countless superhero movies.
From the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) to the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), to X-Men and Fantastic Four as well as independent projects including The Crow, Kick-Ass and Watchmen, we just can’t escape superhero films.
Now in 2018 we truly are in an age of superheroes with Avengers: Infinity War becoming the biggest superhero film ever made as the first to gross over $2 billion globally breaking numerous records.
Superhero films have never been more popular and there are plenty more on the way as cinematic universes continue to expand and more comic book characters are picked up for adaptations by studios.
However, although I may not be a fortune teller, I can confirm none will ever surpass the dizzying heights reached by Christopher Nolan’s masterful The Dark Knight.
Ten years on The Dark Knight (2008) is still the greatest superhero film of all-time and always will be.
You can watch a trailer for the movie here:
Now don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of fantastic superhero films including Logan, The Avengers, Tim Burton’s Batman and so the list goes on, but none triumph over The Dark Knight which is pure perfection from start to finish.
While Nolan broke new ground with 2005’s Batman Begins making a superhero film grounded in reality not fantasy, The Dark Knight took things even further testing limits and showing what the genre could do.
In fact, watching The Dark Knight it is clear Nolan didn’t want to make just another superhero movie, he intended to make a brilliant film and he succeeded.
The result was a modern day masterpiece which will be considered as being one of the greatest films ever made, not just the best superhero movie of all-time.
Nolan is like a master conductor ensuring all of his instruments from story, to sound, visuals and performances hit the right note playing in perfect symphony.
There is not one wrong step taken or note not quite reached – The Dark Knight is pretty much flawless.
This was recognised not only by critics and audiences, but importantly by the Academy which made it the most nominated superhero film in Oscar history, receiving eight nominations with two wins.
Famously the late Heath Ledger received a posthumous award for Best Supporting Actor for his iconic performance as The Joker, a villain like no other.
Much has been said on Ledger’s astonishing portrayal which has led to his Joker being voted the greatest movie villain of all time on numerous occasions, but he deserves all the praise he has been given.
The cartoonish character of The Joker could have easily posed a problem for the gritty realistic world Nolan built for The Dark Knight.
Yet despite staying true to the comic books being a Joker we can accept, Ledger’s villain fits into Nolan’s Gotham perfectly.
In fact one of the reasons Ledger’s Joker is so compelling is because he is there as a result of Batman proving to be a real test for the hero.
With his motives and background remaining shrouded in mystery, The Joker is truly terrifying just wanting to ‘watch the world burn’ as Alfred tells Bruce Wayne.
Without The Joker, Batman would never have become The Dark Knight as he learns he has limits and is not the hero he thought he was.
Wayne soon realises Batman and The Joker are mirror-images of each other, both results of a chaotic world that feeds off disorder.
As Ledger’s Joker tells Batman, ‘you complete me’.
While Ledger’s performance is certainly the most memorable, the rest of the cast are just as fantastic.
Michael Caine, Christian Bale, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman and Aaron Eckhart all put in captivating supporting performances.
Eckhart in particular deserves applause for his astonishing performance as Harvey Dent, the definition of an anti-hero.
As Harvey tells Bruce, ‘you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain’, Dent shows how the ‘cruel world’ of Gotham can corrupt anyone.
Both Harvey and Bruce fight evil but by becoming Two-Face, Dent shows what future may lie ahead for Batman.
Perhaps even more tragically, Harvey represents the one thing Bruce secretly desires, an escape from the cape and cowl with Dent being a legitimate successor to Batman.
But The Joker takes this away from him, as well as his beloved Rachel, destroying any chance Bruce had of living a normal life.
The Dark Knight is relentless in every way possible; tragic, gritty and exhilarating as Nolan is unafraid to take risks including killing love interest Rachel, a shock move which chimes perfectly with the story.
The dramatic elements are perfectly balanced by stunning action centrepieces including the spectacular truck-flip, the striking bike-spin and that famous scene at the hospital with The Joker.
Nolan and his team wanted to make everything as real as possible using classic special effects rather than digital ones bringing in teams of stuntmen, pyrotechnic experts and prop makers.
This hard work paid off though as The Dark Knight really is a spectacle, especially since Hans Zimmer’s haunting score and Wally Pfister’s gritty cinematography work in harmony with the action.
What makes The Dark Knight truly relentless though is how it tests audiences, opening up conversations about humanity, crime and heroism.
This is perhaps the most groundbreaking aspect of the film as Nolan encourages us to think about how we would act in these scenarios, as most overtly seen with the ferry dilemma.
The way Nolan engages audiences in this way took The Dark Knight from being a great film to a perfect one.
And I’m sorry future superhero films, but there is just no way you can top perfection.
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Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.