I’ve already discussed how so far the marketing for The Dark Knight Rises has been a little underwhelming, but irrespective of this I still think there are some key factors which will prevent The Dark Knight Rises ever being as successful as its predecessor.
Firstly I’ll address the elephant in the room... The Heath Ledger/Joker effect and why there are so many reasons why this primarily propelled The Dark Knight to its huge financial success.
In terms of pure marketing it doesn’t really matter what actor plays the Joker, the Joker as a character is already hugely recognisable and is not only Batman’s most famous villain, but he is arguably THE most famous comic book villain there is. Any film with Batman facing off against the Joker is going to be successful, he is the big gun (any villain afterwards is never going to have the same brand recognition).
So you already have this huge established character and then Heath Ledger comes a long and delivers one of his best acting turns of his career. Rumours continually leak from the filming that “You won’t believe what Heath is doing with the character” “It’s incredible!” “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen”. The hype from his performance alone builds huge anticipation for the movie.
Then the first teaser trailer and inclusion of The Dark Knight opening scene (before I Am Legend in late 2007), shows the public Heath Ledger’s interpretation of the Joker and basically confirms the rumours and hype are true. Heath Ledger is incredible as the Joker.
At this point the film is already the most anticipated of 2008, but then the tragic death of Heath Ledger in January 2008 takes everything to a completely new level. Mainstream media outlets reporting his death prelude every news story with some information on The Dark Knight (press coverage that many films would never get), if you didn’t know there was a Batman sequel coming out you did now. Then rumours allege that the performance is so powerful it drove him over the edge (I completely disagree with that but it got huge news coverage) and various other theories that kept the story going.
Warner Bros themselves treated the death with dignity and didn’t use it in any way to market the film, they balanced this by acknowledging the passing but never linking it to The Dark Knight. To be honest they didn’t have to, the press were doing this for them. The public also knew this was the late actor’s final full performance, and that alone will boost box office.
So in summary, you have the world’s most famous villain being played by an Oscar winning actor in his final performance before his untimely and much publicised death. Although it may be hard to accept, the fact of matter is that these things combined promise box office gold.
At this stage even if the film was terrible it would still have been successful, yet it wasn’t bad it was exceptionally good. Most heralding it as the best superhero movie ever made and with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 94% it’s one of the highest rated films of all time. The story was intense and kept audiences on the edge of their seats, with twists and turns throughout it was an amazing cinema going experience. So much so that many people saw it multiple times and for any film to make over a billion dollars, people need to see it multiple times.
Although Heath Ledger was the stand-out, all the other actors involved* delivered really strong performances with Aaron Eckhart playing Harvey Dent/Two-Face extremely well and holding the films narrative together. Although his turn as Two-Face was not used in any of the marketing to keep it a secret, once the film was released this added another “well-known” villain to the mix to support repeat views. If anything I think some people went to see it again just to see if they could work out how they did the special effect of his burnt face.
I think that’s another potential problem with The Dark Knight Rises, the villains are relatively unknown to the public. You’re going from Joker and Two-Face to Talia Al Ghul and Bane, apart from the enthusiasts the majority of the public will not know these names, so marketing them to people becomes much harder.
I know you have Selina Kyle (potentially Catwoman) but so far everything we’ve seen or read does not reference her as Catwoman and the first promo images are not recognisably Catwoman either. They could just be a woman in black leather with some hi-tech glasses. At least with Joker and Two-Face Nolan made them realistic and gritty but also kept very close to the original comic-book designs. The jury is still out on whether Anne Hathaway is right for the role as well.
There’s still a year to go so this may be a bit pre-emptive but The Dark Knight had an absolutely amazing viral marketing campaign a summary of which can be viewed here. This also built hype, engaged audiences in the release of film and encouraged them to promote it themselves.
Before The Dark Knight there were hardly any story spoilers released or photos of shooting, this mystery of the films plot also in turn built more hype. Yet the third films shooting has been so public, most of us have worked out key parts of The Dark Knight Rises story already. This destroys a lot of the suspense, and if you don’t like what you’re seeing also lowers your excitement for the movie.
Even if Chris Nolan and his brother Jonathon have an amazing story and produce an amazing film with The Dark Knight Rises, the fact that they’re playing with lesser known villains and all the other factors discussed above I think it will never be as successful as The Dark Knight.
*Although Christian Bale played a great Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine & Gary Oldman deliver strong supporting work for Alfred and Commissioner Gordon I haven’t mention them as all these actors/characters will be reprised in The Dark Knight Rises.
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