Commentary – Is The Dark Knight Really ‘The Best Film of All Time’?

What a loaded question. And so presumptuous. And yet it gets asked by so many people. Part of what inspired me to write this was Jim Emerson’s blog entry concerning this very subject. He, of course, seems to like The Dark Knight a lot less than I did. But something he references from Ty Burr just plain makes a lot of sense. Burr said, in response to teenagers that asked him if it was the best movie ever,

“I cracked wise in most cases, saying, no, it’s the best movie this month, or this summer.”

One movie that I continually think of in terms of the dominance of The Dark Knight is Titanic. Like The Dark Knight, Titanic broke numerous box office records, spinning into an out of control onslaught that couldn’t be stopped. It went on to win, as we all know, a tied-record 11 Academy Awards.

The Dark Knight is also on what appears to be an unstoppable onslaught. It’s a box office juggernaught, that’s for sure. As I write this, Box Office Mojo currently has The Dark Knight‘s total gross a mere $9 million short of ousting Star Wars as the number two top-grossing film of all time, below Titanic. Industry analysts project The Dark Knight to make around $520 million in its total box office run. I personally think it can do better.

But when has the box office ever been the judge of “greatness”, besides being a measure of what the American people will go and see? And considering some of the filth that makes an easy $100 million at the box office, that’s not saying a lot.

Of course, The Dark Knight has also received gowing reviews. Not only (and obviously) from audiences, but also from critics. Rotten Tomatoes currently has it as the highest-rated super hero film of all time, with a 94%. Until recently, it was the highest-rated film on IMDb. Though, considering the fact that votes for The Godfather seemed to greatly increase ever since the arrival of The Dark Knight, one can regard the fact that it’s even dropped (actually, tied) with skepticism.

But the thing of it is, what judges a movie’s greatness? It’s true that some can see a newly-released film and know, without a doubt, that it’s great. But that’s quite rare, and true greatness is even rarer. In a way, true greatness can only be judged through an historical lense. A film still currently in theaters can be called “great for its time”, which I truely believe The Dark Knight to be; but it’s difficult to say that The Dark Knight is a greater film than, say, Fargo, or Casablanca. Those have stood the test of time.

The question then is: will The Dark Knight? I certainly don’t think that Titanic‘s greatness of its time has really held up as well as many others, even those of more recent years, have. But The Dark Knight is not Titanic. I cannot say that, compared to the many other great films released throughout the 20th Century, that The Dark Knight is on par. But for its time; for its decade; for its century, it has certainly made an impact. I personally believe that the impact will still be felt years from now. Of course, who am I to say? In the end, only time will tell.

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