The Dark Knight and Genre

How would you classify The Dark Knight with respect to genre?

1)      Is it an adaptation?

One could answer yes and simply say (taking the easy way out) that all art borrows from other art, particularly, representational art. On the other hand, one could argue no and assert that it is a work in its own right and too distinct from any supposed single source for it to fit in so neatly to the aforementioned category.

2)      Is it a superhero film?

There are people who have argued against this in the past because of their definition the term superhero. If a superhero must have superpowers in order to be such, then Bruce Wayne does not fit the bill. However, one could venture a yes based on Wikipedia’s conception of such:

A superhero film, superhero movie, or superhero motion picture is an action, fantasy and science fiction film, which is focused on the actions of one or more superheroes; individuals who usually possess superhuman abilities relative to a normal person and are dedicated to protecting the public. These films are almost always action-oriented.

3)      Is it an action movie?

The Dark Knight does contain an exorbitant amount of action sequences, but it does lack some of the things individuals might associate with the genre. Batman does not save the girl, vanquish his enemy, or triumph at the conclusion. In addition, I tend to think of action films as relying more on explosions than plot and characters. In this vein, I would say that The Dark Knight does not fit into my conception of an action film.

4)      Is it a crime film?

This is a rather broad category with many subgenres, and hence, we will have to address any number that may or may not apply to The Dark Knight. First, dealing with the overarching genre, one could say that The Dark Knight is a crime film because it contains a great deal of such and focuses on the lives of criminals. In addition, it appears to glamorize different types of crime in varying degrees. Nevertheless, is it also a heist film, a film noir and/ an example of neo-noir?

A heist film?

The film does begin with a heist scene, and the implications of this crime are perceived throughout the movie. Yet, when I reflect on serious and comedic heist films that I’ve seen in the past, The Dark Knight is different. Though this is of course arguable, I do not think of the Joker as the protagonist or the main character, and in all of the heist films that I have watched it is usually those who have committed the crime that are the focus.

Is it a film noir?

This genre is still subject to debate among scholars. Some argue that it blurs with melodrama or hard-boiled detective stories, and others have argued that it is limited to a particular time period as well as style in cinema. We could suggest that The Dark Knight has certain thematic and visual elements comparable to film noir, but perhaps, neo-noir is more an appropriate categorization? This subgenre, due to its progenitor, is also shrouded in contention. Robert Arnett states that “Neo-noir has become so amorphous as a genre/movement, any film featuring a detective or crime qualifies.” Though it has been argued that The Dark Knight is an example of neo-noir, can we really place it in any category that is still being defined?

5)      Is it a thriller?

Like the crime genre, it is also a relatively broad category. It can be loosely understood as a film in which a character faces a perilous problem or a mystery and sustains the tension in order to provoke and emotional response in the viewer. Wikipedia details its standard elements:

  • The      protagonist(s) faces death, either their own or somebody else’s.
  • The force(s)      of antagonism must initially be cleverer and/or stronger than the      protagonist’s.
  • The main      storyline for the protagonist is either a quest or a character who cannot      be put down.
  • The main      plotline focuses on a mystery that must be solved.
  • The film’s narrative      construction is dominated by the protagonist’s point of view.
  • All action      and characters must be credibly realistic/natural in their representation      on screen.
  • The two major      themes that underpin the thriller genre are the desire for justice      and the morality of individuals.
  • One small,      but significant, aspect of a thriller is the presence of innocence in what      is seen as an essentially corrupt world.
  • The      protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) may battle, themselves and each other,      not just on a physical level, but on a mental one as well.
  • Either by      accident or their own curiousness, characters are dragged into a dangerous      conflict or situation that they are not prepared to resolve.

If this is how we understand the thriller genre than The Dark Knight seems to fit in such, and if this is so, it likely meets the criteria of one of its subgenres, crime thriller, as well.

6)      Is it a drama?

Though an exceptionally broad category, when I think of drama, the characters and situations that come to mind are usually less extraordinary than those depicted in The Dark Knight. I would be inclined to say that though The Dark Knight contains dramatic elements, it does not fit into the overarching genre or its subgenres.


Bazin conveyed that “the true aesthetic differentiations” are to be made “within genres themselves” (“Adaptation, or the Cinema as Digest,” 26). Having delved though the aforementioned genres, is this possible here? Keep in mind that, IMDB identifies The Dark Knight as a “crime,” “drama” and “thriller” film. What do you think?

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4 Responses to The Dark Knight and Genre

  1. Interesting trying to classify the film. I wonder how we would make sense of another piece of the puzzle: that this film is part of a “trilogy”? Should it be able to stand alone, or do we need to see it in context with the other two?

    • Dana Choit says:

      I haven’t seen the first film or the last one. I saw The Dark Knight when it first came out on dvd and then again for this week. I borrowed the film from my brother-in-law last weekend when we were hanging out all day. He was trying to get me to watch the first one so I could understand all the background, but we never got to watch it that night and I just went home with the dvd. I already have the basic idea of how batman became batman, but it didn’t seem all that necessary to me that I watch the first film first, but then again I don’t very much about the batman lore.

  2. It’s definitely an adaptation, but I don’t think that it is an adaptation from the comic per se. It’s an adapted comic book, drama, thriller, heist movie, and superhero movie. Movies fall into these categories because of the qualities they share. Though you won’t here people comparing Batman as a heist movie to *The Bank Job* or some such film. Nor will you see batman as a drama compared to *The English Patient*, because it’s more recognizable genre is Superhero. Part of that comparison isn’t based solely on the movie, but on people comparing how cool Batman is compared to Superman, etc.

    Though as a comic book adaptation It seems more of a adaptation of the other film adaptations. Barman is well know and doesn’t really need the comic anymore; it really just needs the most identifiable characteristics from the previous TV and film adaptations and boom you have a batman movie. The movies and TV show have evolved the original into something new. *Most* people have been introduced to Batman and Superman and Spiderman through TV and film rather than the comics, so while the comic have an auric quality, they’re really not useful.

  3. Raj says:

    It’s a Batman movie. It’s whatever Gotham needs it to be.

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