One of the defining plot points in Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” is the lack of backstory for Heath Ledger’s Joker. The villainous clown tells different stories about how he got his infamous scars at various points throughout the film. Not giving a backstory for the Joker was an idea forged by David S. Goyer and Nolan, the “Batman Begins” writers who share a story credit on “The Dark Knight.” At Comic-Con@Home (via The Playlist), Goyer revealed there was internal studio pushback to the decision.
“I do remember when we were talking about, ‘Well, what if the Joker doesn’t really have an origin story?’ Even after the success of ‘Batman Begins,’ that was considered a very controversial thing,” Goyer said. “We got a lot of pushback. People were worried.”
Nolan and Goyer’s idea won out in the end, but it’s easy to understand why a major studio like Warner Bros. would have reservations about not including a backstory for the movie’s primary villain. Nearly every comic book film provides some explanation for the origins of its villain. Warner Bros. itself got into the Batman movie business with Tim Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” both of which include well drawn-out origin stories for villains such as Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Danny DeVito’s Penguin, and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman.
Considering “The Dark Knight” is one of the best reviewed comic book films of all time, it’s safe to say Nolan and Goyer made the right decision. Goyer only has a story credit on the 2008 comic book epic. The script is credited to Nolan and his brother, Jonathan Nolan. Goyer conceived the story for “Batman Begins” on his own, but the critical and commercial success of Nolan’s first Caped Crusader outing wasn’t enough to convince the studio to just let the collaborators do whatever they want in the sequel. Goyer would return to crack the story with Nolan for “The Dark Knight Rises.”
While Warner Bros. allowed “The Dark Knight” to go without a Joker backstory, the studio would later find massive success by crafting an entire feature around the villain’s backstory with Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix’s “Joker.” The origin story movie earned over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, making it, given its lower-than-usual budget, the most profitable comic-book movie of all time.