Top Comic Book Adaptations: No. 2 – The Dark Knight

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thedarkknightThere are two eras in comic book film history; before The Dark Knight and after it.

Fair or not, Chris Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece was the first graphic novel adaptation to breakthrough to the mainstream not just in terms of popularity but in universal praise for its quality of excellence.

The film received eight Academy Award nominations and it is widely believed that the outrage over the Academy failing to nominate The Dark Knight for Best Picture was responsible for the expansion from five to 10 nominations in that category. The wins for Supporting Actor Heath Ledger and Best Sound Editing were the among the first Oscars for any comic book adaptation.

Ledger received over 20 acting awards for his portrayal of Joker which has gone down as not only one of the greatest villains in cinematic history but also as one of the best overall acting performances of the last 20 years. His tragic death casts a said shadow on all the recognition but any notion that these awards were given out of sympathy goes out the window when viewing his tour de force, spellbinding perfection in this role.

How fitting that arguably the most compelling antagonist in the history of comic books was also given the most compelling screen treatment.

The Dark Knight received a 94 percent favorable rating from the Rotten Tomatoes review aggregator and was named the 15th best film of all time in an Empire Magazine poll of readers, directors, and movie critics. It became only the fourth film in history (at the time) to gross over a billion dollars.

The Reader received a nomination for Best Picture that year. Slumdog Millionaire won. Though each excellent films in their own right, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Milk, and Frost/Nixon rounded out the nominees but none of those films have been remembered as being anywhere near as historically significant as The Dark Knight.

Still slighted, the second film in the Nolanverse is the most widely celebrated comic book adaptation ever. And it fully deserves all the praise it has recieved.

The dark and gritty tone is perhaps a bit oversold in discussions of the film, but it’s still worth noting the success of the movie in capturing the fear of chaos that so permeates our national consciousness post September 11. Questions about the morality involved with fighting terrorism, how far a society goes to keep themselves safe from crazy people, and even a look into the merits and dangers of surveillance make The Dark Knight an effective comment on the times without being preachy.

TDK is a more effective comment on the “post 9/11” era than any more “traditional” movie released in that time.

Where V for Vendetta hits the audience with its message over and over again, taking a clear position, The Dark Knight lays out a series of moral dilemmas and offers very few answers. Just like the Batman, the film lives in a morally gray area as best manifest in the origin story of Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey “Twoface” Dent.

When he muses that “you either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” he isn’t just foreshadowing his own future but making a comment on the entire idea of vigilantism even beyond people wearing capes and masks. People wearing badges and courtroom-suits are just as much to blame in The Dark Knight, the Joker’s nefarious “plans” incapable of coming to fruition without the corruption rooted in the system.

Before Occupy Wallstreet, or Black Lives Matter, or The Tea Party, The Dark Knight captured in art form the disillusionment with a broken system felt across all ideologies.

The Dark Knight is enthralling filmmaking on every level. The entire cast is top-notch, the story pulls from some of the best available source material while still telling an original narrative, the cinematography and sound are elite, and it has something to say. It has become the go-to example for fans of comics that these adaptations can move and challenge all of us. If you took away the cape, cowl, and clown paint this movie would be remembered like The Godfather.

Except it’s better.

Complete 35-part list for best comic book adaptations ever!

Part 1 – Daredevil / Part 2 – The Dark Knight / Part 3 – V for Vendetta
Part 4 – The Flash / Part 5 – Sin City / Part 6 – The Crow
Part 7 – Agent Carter / Part 8 – X-Men: Days of Future Past / Part 9 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Part 10 – Guardians of the Galaxy / Part 11 – X2: X-Men United / Part 12 – Iron Man
Part 13 – The Avengers / Part 14 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) / Part 15 – Superman (Richard Donner)
Part 16 – Hellboy / Part 17 – The Incredible Hulk / Part 18 – X-Men: First Class
Part 19 – Spider-Man 2 (Sam Raimi) / Part 20 – Thor / Part 21 – Ant-Man
Part 22 – The Dark Knight Rises / Part 23 – Spawn / Part 24 – Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. – Season Two
Part 25 – Avengers: Age of Ultron / Part 26 – Batman Begins (Christopher Nolan) / Part 27 – Captain America: The First Avengers
Part 28 – Batman (Tim Burton) / Part 29 – X-Men (Bryan Singer) / Part 30 – Spider-Man (Sam Raimi)
Part 31 – Smallville: Season One / Part 32 – Hellboy II: The Golden Army / Part 33 – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, 3
Part 34 – 300 / Part 35 – Man of Steel / Extra Part – Final Thoughts

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Drew Creasman

Drew Creasman (or DC for short) is a writer and podcaster for POP CULTURE SPIN, BMF SPORTS, and the Colorado Rockies SBNation affiliate Purple Row. He also works independently as a singer-songwriter in the Boulder and Denver areas. Drew is "analytics curious" and constantly seeks to understand as many different possible ways of looking at and understanding sports whether it be diving deep into the newest available numbers or casting them all aside for a moment and relying solely on the eyes.
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About Author

Drew Creasman (or DC for short) is a writer and podcaster for POP CULTURE SPIN, BMF SPORTS, and the Colorado Rockies SBNation affiliate Purple Row. He also works independently as a singer-songwriter in the Boulder and Denver areas. Drew is "analytics curious" and constantly seeks to understand as many different possible ways of looking at and understanding sports whether it be diving deep into the newest available numbers or casting them all aside for a moment and relying solely on the eyes.

10 Comments

  1. I guess I get to be the first person to point out that several comic book based movies won Academy Awards before the Dark Knight. Also, what graphic novel is The Dark Knight an adaptation of?

    • The Academy has historically slept on comic book adaptation movies and features in this area taking home hardware is rare. 1988’s graphic novel ‘The Killing Joke’ has been cited by Christopher Nolan as an inspiration for the ‘The Dark Knight’ and in particular for Heath Ledger’s joker – not positive if our writer Drew is referring to that exact graphic novel in his piece, but the point to take away is that all movies in this list of ours were made possible by comic books or graphic novels. Hopefully this clarifies, Zack. Thank you for reading.

    • Drew Creasman on

      I looked pretty hard over Oscar history and couldn’t find anything else but stuff can slip through the cracks. Other adaptations have been nominated, I didn’t see any other wins. Please feel free to paste links to any corrections here and I will update!

      The Dark Knight is an indirect adaptation of 1988’s “The Killing Joke” and the 1996 run “The Long Halloween” but isn’t directly taken from one story like say, X-Men: Days of Future Past.

    • Drew Creasman on

      Indeed, as I discussed in my write-up of that film, Superman was given an “honorary” Oscar in a category that did not exist. Much like “Lifetime Achievement” awards, these tend not to count on many lists. Same goes for the technical awards handed out pre-ceremony. Tim BUrton’s Batman took home one for Best Art Direction.

      Still, you are correct and it comes in the version of a film that I missed entirely and will be writing about soon: Men in Black. MIB was actually the first comic book movie to win an primetime Oscar and so the article has been edited. Same goes for “Road to Perdition” which I did not realize was a comic book adaptation and which I also have not seen.

      Interesting point on Killing Joke, and I think the adaptation there was more in terms of tone, especially the tenor of the Joker character. The concept of Batman being responsible for escalating the number of crazy people in Gotham — the main theme of The Dark Knight — comes directly out of Long Halloween.

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