How The Dark Knight Became the Biggest Movie In the History of Ever

So it may have been marketed and hyped to a near-exhausting degree, but people were undaunted in seeing The Dark Knight in theaters this weekend, making it the highest-grossing first weekend for a movie ever. The record-setting number, $155.4m, is a bit padded, I'm sure, by increasingly high ticket prices and the record-breaking number of screens that the Batman epic flickered on, Friday-Sunday. But mostly I think we can chalk up the film's mega-success to just a perfect fever pitch of buzz; bordering on too loud, maybe, but tantalizingly so. Everyone wanted to see this movie to prove the hoopla right or wrong. (For my money it was right. Mostly.) So what exactly contributed to this insane zeitgeist? We'll take a look at three factors after the jump.

1) Quality's In

The damn thing got a lot of good reviews, plus had monumentally good word-of-mouth ever since Christian Bale flipped over that Joker card at the end of Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan is a smart director, with wholly entertaining, if moody and grim, sensibilities. Bryan Singer's two X-Men movies were similarly literate (well, for superhero movies) treats that thrilled fans and impressed critics (especially the second one.) Both of these directors had strong indie backgrounds before they made the leap to big budget fantasias, and it shows in nearly every frame. I mean, look at the execrable mess that was Brett Ratner's X-Men: The Last Stand. It may have barreled through the box offices successfully enough, but that particularly hacky hack's ruining of the trilogy will never be one for the books. It's already forgotten. People can recognize quality. Good is good.

2) The Joker & The Dead Gay Cowboy

Yes, Heath Ledger is in the movie. Yes he's wonderfully good in it. Yes he is also dead. And the Joker is one of America's favorite villains-funny, menacing, very macabre. Ledger's performance is a grim triumph, and his untimely death only emboldened his Joker's lurching creepiness. It was almost like watching a zombie. A terrifically talented actor zombie. And c'mon, who isn't curious to run out and see that on opening weekend? Whether your curiosity was morbid or artistic or some combination of both (which I suspect it was for most of us), it was a must-see performance, especially this first weekend. You just had to form your own opinion so you could herald it to friends and neighbors, didn't you? God knows I did!

3) Dark Indeed!

Frankly, people like a little dark meat once in a while. Look at the apocalyptic angst of Wall-E or the shaky-camera personal emotion of Hancock. People have been gravitating toward murkier fare this summer. And in the case of a comic book movie, darker is usually better because, well, nerds think it's cooler. Who the hell wanted to see Speed Racer this spring, with all its bright candy colors and clapping monkeys? Even the Hulk couldn't get past his inherent cheesiness to make much of a dent in the summer season. Really, in terms of chatter and impact, only Iron Man and TDK were bona fide smashes this season. Iron Man because of the way it mitigates its inherent darkness (gun running! the Middle East!) with stark (heh heh) humor, and TDK for how it embraced the darkness wholly and sort of fell into a pit with it (albeit a glorious, zippy pit). These are dark times, blah blah, etc etc.

OK, so that's that. Big movie. We'll see if it has a major Cloverfield-style second weekend drop-off, or if it will blunder on, crushing The X-Files and other sorry, misguided pieces of August detritus that lie in its path. Either way, can we stop talking about it now?