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Most moviegoers agree Christopher Nolan created something special with The Dark Knight trilogy. In fact, fans are still discovering new details about Nolan’s Batman films. But perhaps its greatest gifts are actors Christian Bale and Heath Ledger. As it turns out, the Batman-Joker dynamic in The Dark Knight is so palpable because of the competition behind the scenes.

Christian Bale at a press conference for 'The Dark Knight'
Christian Bale at a press conference for ‘The Dark Knight’ | KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images

Christian Bale stars in ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy

After Batman & Robin fell short, Warner Bros. was hesitant to rush back into a new Batman movie. In fact, it didn’t happen until Nolan came onboard with Batman Begins nearly a decade later. It was only the director’s second studio movie after 2002’s Insomnia. Having never made a blockbuster, even Nolan admitted he had no idea what he was looking for.

Ultimately, Bale — who played an investment banker with a killer nightlife in American Psycho — caught his attention. The actor brought the same duality to his Bruce Wayne/Batman that he did to American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. And together, Bale and Nolan reinvented how moviegoers saw Batman. And a new franchise was born when Batman Begins hit in 2005.

As Batman in ‘The Dark Knight,’ he faced stiff competition

With The Dark Knight, Nolan set out to create a villain just as compelling as Bruce Wayne. And Ledger wildly committed to his version of the Joker. Bale once revealed — in an interview included in the new book 100 Things Batman Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (via The Hollywood Reporter) — whether he felt threatened Ledger might upstage him. 

“No, [I wasn’t worried]. Not at all. Because it was exactly the point that I had a problem with in all of the other Batman movies. … I’d never found him to be intriguing at all. Whereas these graphic novels depicted him as by far the most fascinating of them. I feel like we gained that back with Batman Begins, that he’s a character with substance. So I have no problem with him competing with somebody else. Because that can only make for a better movie, if you have these other fascinating characters arriving on the scene too.”

Bale isn’t underestimating how his first Batman film played into the character’s history. Quite plainly, the task in Batman Begins was to rehabilitate the superhero as a credible big-screen leading man. And most fans would agree Ledger’s Joker only heightened the thrill of the series. That interrogation scene alone proves Bale and Ledger’s screen chemistry.


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In the end, what is the best superhero trilogy really?

Judging by its commercial and critical performance, fans might be quick to identify Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy as the best superhero trilogy ever made. After all, the middle film was so impressive that Ledger won an Academy Award, a first for a comic book film. And Ledger changed things forever, setting the stage for Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker win.

Then again, the ongoing comic book movie boom ensures The Dark Knight trilogy will have plenty of competition going forward. DC and Marvel fans alike will continue to debate whether Nolan’s movies trump all other superhero trilogies. But it’s hard to deny their special place in cinema history.