The Dark Knight is arguably the greatest DCU film of all time and unarguably one of the best superhero movies ever made. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that over the years, fans have started to mythologize the production of the film.
Now, a lot of these stories involve the Joker actor, Heath Ledger, which is hardly surprising. Ledger’s portrayal of the DC villain was one of the greatest performances of recent years, and the actor’s tragic death shortly after production wrapped has fueled a number of urban legends about the Batman movie.
Now, the majority of these rumors have about as much substance to them as Gentlemen Ghost. (There’s a DC character reference you didn’t expect.) Still, there’s one story that gets told so often that it’s spoken about on some corners of the internet as though it’s an actual fact. Well, call us the Party Pooper (The newest and greatest Batman villain of all time) because we’re here to burst some balloons.
Specifically, this balloon is hospital-shaped because it involves the scene where The Joker blows up Gotham General. You’ll know the scene well; it’s iconic. The Joker’s walking away from the facility, seemingly having turned Harvey Dent to the dark side, when he presses a button, and…nothing really happens.
Flabbergasted, The Joker turns around and starts thumbing the detonator when suddenly a huge explosion tears through the building, and the Harlequin of Hate is forced to flee before the inferno consumes him. It’s cool and shows the Joker’s anarchic approach to villainy. Nothing really well-planned out — he just wants to put on an impressive show.
Now, the oft-reported myth is that all of that was improvised. Not the explosion, of course, but Ledger’s disappointed reaction to the bomb detonation was real, as he expected the explosion to be more impressive, only to be shocked when the real fireworks began.
This is complete fiction. There’s absolutely zero chance that any director or producer would let an actor improvise near pyrotechnics, especially when you consider the insurance costs involved in such a big stunt. Don’t take our word for it. Listen to Christopher Nolan, who knows a thing or two about The Dark Knight.
“[The special effects supervisor Chris Corbould] and his guys, working very closely with the demolition team, they were able to come up with a scenario in which Heath [Ledger] could actually be walking out of the building,” Nolan explained on the DVD feature, Gotham Uncovered: Creation of a Scene [via Snopes].
“What Chris worked out is if we put in a little beat where the first set of explosions stops as if something has gone wrong, and the Joker just takes a second to look around, surprised, like the audience is surprised, then the major demolition comes in, and he jumps straight in the school bus,” he continued. “In that way, he was able to come up with a practical scenario in which we could actually take a principal actor, walk him out of a building that’s about to be destroyed, and literally drop a building to the ground.”
So there you have it: an urban legend put to bed. If you want to know more of our thoughts about the Dark Knight, check out our guide to ranking all the Batman actors. We’ve also got an in-depth article explaining how to watch all the DC movies in order and how to watch the Batman movies in order.