You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Did Heath Ledger’s Death Help ‘Dark Knight’ Rise?

Frankly, I thought I was on to a big original thought when I began toying with the idea of writing about how Heath Ledger’s death elevated the current Batman theatrical franchise.

DKR-32613Until I began researching and found a piece on comicbookmovie.com a few months ago that essentially posed the exact same question.

Still, with “The Dark Knight Rises” about to open (and already favorably reviewed by my colleague Justin Chang), it is a discussion worth having, not so much to relive the circumstances surrounding Ledger’s death as to remind us of the tenuous place in the pop-culture universe comic-book-derived movies have occupied.

First, all the necessary disclaimers.

For starters, “Batman Begins” is a sensational movie — for my money, better than “Dark Knight” — and thus set the table for enhanced interest in its sequel. Christopher Nolan also upped the prestige ante by stocking the supporting cast with classy players like Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, serving notice this isn’t your average “Biff! Bam! Pow!” superhero.

Nolan also set both films in a largely realistic world, other than its protagonist — in essence creating a crime drama, only where the vigilante hero happens to wear a cape and cowl.

Finally, Warner Bros., to its credit, didn’t exploit the Ledger story in marketing the movie, and indeed DKR-22216rwent to great lengths to avoid the appearance of doing so. Everyone said, and did, all the right things.

Yet the current media being what it is, it was impossible for the death of a rising young star not to provoke enormous curiosity about his final role, culminating with a posthumous Oscar for best supporting actor.

As good as Ledger’s performance was, would a movie like “Dark Knight” have brought about such recognition without the tragedy connected to it? Historically, no — just as a lot of casual fans who wouldn’t know Bruce Wayne from Bruce Vilanch probably wouldn’t have rushed out to see a “comic book movie” (witness the ultimate differential in domestic grosses between “Dark Knight,” which earned $533 million, and the $206 million for “Batman Begins”) without the Ledger component.

None of this should detract from what Nolan and company have constructed, but it is an interesting commentary on our times.

Even with all the riches they’ve amassed through movies, comic books have still struggled to gain respect. It took a tragedy to help alter that equation, and contribute — exactly how much we’ll never know — to “The Dark Knight” rising as high as it did.

 

More Voices

  • Harvey Weinstein Trial

    Column: Documentarian Barry Avrich Ponders Whether Harvey Weinstein Will Be Convicted

    Frankly, I thought I was on to a big original thought when I began toying with the idea of writing about how Heath Ledger’s death elevated the current Batman theatrical franchise. Until I began researching and found a piece on comicbookmovie.com a few months ago that essentially posed the exact same question. Still, with “The […]

  • Janet Mock Pose

    'Pose' Writer Janet Mock on Making History With Trans Storytelling (Guest Column)

    Frankly, I thought I was on to a big original thought when I began toying with the idea of writing about how Heath Ledger’s death elevated the current Batman theatrical franchise. Until I began researching and found a piece on comicbookmovie.com a few months ago that essentially posed the exact same question. Still, with “The […]

  • Tony Awards Sightlines Column

    How to Produce the Tony Awards: 5 Unsolicited Tips

    Frankly, I thought I was on to a big original thought when I began toying with the idea of writing about how Heath Ledger’s death elevated the current Batman theatrical franchise. Until I began researching and found a piece on comicbookmovie.com a few months ago that essentially posed the exact same question. Still, with “The […]

  • Under the Silver Lake

    Cannes 2018's Hidden Thrill: The Opportunity to Find New Voices

    Frankly, I thought I was on to a big original thought when I began toying with the idea of writing about how Heath Ledger’s death elevated the current Batman theatrical franchise. Until I began researching and found a piece on comicbookmovie.com a few months ago that essentially posed the exact same question. Still, with “The […]

  • Kathryn Bigelow Kathryn Bigelow poses backstage

    It's Time for Action, Not Promises, to Get More Women in Filmmaking (Guest Column)

    Frankly, I thought I was on to a big original thought when I began toying with the idea of writing about how Heath Ledger’s death elevated the current Batman theatrical franchise. Until I began researching and found a piece on comicbookmovie.com a few months ago that essentially posed the exact same question. Still, with “The […]

  • Netflix Cannes

    Cannes vs. Netflix Defines Fight for Cinema’s Future

    Frankly, I thought I was on to a big original thought when I began toying with the idea of writing about how Heath Ledger’s death elevated the current Batman theatrical franchise. Until I began researching and found a piece on comicbookmovie.com a few months ago that essentially posed the exact same question. Still, with “The […]

  • Love Never Dies - Utica, NY

    Could 'Love Never Dies' Live Again on Broadway?

    Frankly, I thought I was on to a big original thought when I began toying with the idea of writing about how Heath Ledger’s death elevated the current Batman theatrical franchise. Until I began researching and found a piece on comicbookmovie.com a few months ago that essentially posed the exact same question. Still, with “The […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content