Although DC’s box office has recovered from its negative streak with Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s surprising performance, the 15-year-old The Dark Knight still surpasses all of DC’s 2023 movies combined. The DCEU’s 16-movie run came to an end in 2023 with four solo movies with little to no connection to each other. Despite being centered around popular DC characters, each of these films struggled to capture audiences, and they failed to match DC’s projected earnings by a great margin – that is, until Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s box office broke the trend.
Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom reached the $400 million milestone at the box office on its sixth weekend in theaters, landing behind Justice League and Man of Steel in terms of worldwide earnings. This feat takes James Wan’s Aquaman sequel away from flop territory and provides the DCEU with a decently successful conclusion. Yet, when compared to previous DC successes, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom falls short even with help from all other 2023 superhero movies released by DC: Shazam: Fury of the Gods, The Flash, and Blue Beetle.
Together, Shazam: Fury of the Gods, The Flash, Blue Beetle, and Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom’s worldwide box office adds up to $945 million, whereas Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight stands at $1.1 billion. Taking inflation into account, The Dark Knight would stand at $1,415,000,000 – $470 million above all 2023 DC movies combined. Also, DC’s four 2023 fall behind Aquaman’s 2018 success, which remains at the top of DC’s highest-grossing movies with $1,150,000,000 worldwide.
A decade and a half after its release, what makes The Dark Knight such a special box office hit is that it didn’t have an established franchise behind it. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins had only made $375,000,000, and the director hadn’t yet helmed movies like The Prestige, Inception, and Interstellar. The MCU was just beginning with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk, while a birthing DC cinematic universe struggled to take shape with the ultimately doomed Justice League Mortal. To reach a billion dollars, all The Dark Knight required was a good word of mouth derived from its outstanding quality.
Other factors such as the use of IMAX cameras and Heath Ledger’s Joker performance in particular contributed in great part to The Dark Knight’s commercial success. Ledger’s untimely death prior to the movie’s release only reinforced the impact of his now iconic portrayal, which may have inspired audiences to check it out in theaters as soon as the movie came out. But once it made its first impression, The Dark Knight’s popularity skyrocketed and earned the film a box office record, eight Academy Award nominations, and the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor awarded posthumously to Heath Ledger.