“You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain,” Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) tells Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Natascha (Beatrice Rosen) during a scene from “The Dark Knight.”

Directed by Christopher Nolan, “The Dark Knight” interrogates what it really means to be a hero, how people become villains and how to determine the right choice in complicated circumstances — even when it means going against personal interests. It’s the second movie in Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

And it’s also just an entertaining movie. The Greatest Films rates it 97th on its list of best films ever and CinemaScore gave it an A score, per Indie Wire.

Director Steven Spielberg said to Deadline about Nolan’s film, “That movie would have definitely garnered a best picture nomination today.”

The film regularly tops lists of greatest superhero movies of all time from industry websites like Collider and Parade. So, on its 15th anniversary, here’s a closer look into “The Dark Knight” and why it is so highly rated.

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Why is ‘The Dark Knight’ so highly rated?

The main elements of “The Dark Knight” that make the film so good are character development and storytelling.

Character development in “The Dark Knight”

Three characters in particular make the film the masterpiece it is: Batman/Bruce Wayne, Harvey Dent and the Joker (Heath Ledger). Spoilers ahead, so feel free to skip this section if you haven’t seen the film.

Bruce Wayne, aka Batman, grapples with whether or not he should continue being the vigilante who protects Gotham. He’s in love with Rachel and sees his longtime ally Jim Gordon’s appointment to police commissioner and Harvey Dent’s success as district attorney as his ticket to leave Batman behind.

Even though Rachel and Harvey are in a relationship, Batman sees an opportunity to live the life he imagined with Rachel.

But that’s not what happens. Batman is put in a position where he not only has to continue being the Batman, but he also chooses to be seen as the villain. For him, it has to be enough that he knows he’s trying to save the city of Gotham even while the police begin a manhunt for him and those who once admired him turn on him.

Harvey’s character goes through a different journey.

When the audience meets Harvey, he’s a golden boy of sorts. With a perfectly pleated suit and a mile-high record of prosecuting the city’s mid-level mob figures, Harvey is actively positioning himself as a different kind of hero.

Instead of being a shadowy figure like Batman, Harvey does his work in the light. That is, until he becomes the villain.

When Rachel dies because she isn’t rescued in time and half of Harvey’s face is burned by the oil explosion, he becomes corrupt — like the Joker planned.

Harvey’s signature characteristic becomes tied to the coin his father gave him. At one point, the two-headed coin represented him making his own luck, and its symbolism shifted when Harvey shifted. It became the vehicle for his misdeeds and representative of his transformation.

Harvey’s character is something of a foil to both Batman and the Joker. Even though Harvey tries to be the hero in light while Batman is the hero in the dark, he fails. And although Harvey attempts to bring order amid the Joker embodying chaos, he fails.

Then, there’s the Joker himself. He’s one of the greatest supervillains of all time because he’s unpredictable, a mastermind and he has a relentless commitment to chaos.

Batman wants nothing more than to save Gotham whereas the Joker is committed to destroying Gotham, but not for money — he’s invested in the very idea of chaos. This changes his incentives.

In the film, there’s a scene where the Joker lights an absurdly high pile of money on fire and watches it burn. This moment embodies his commitment to chaos and shows the Joker can’t be bought or persuaded, which makes him difficult to influence and defeat.

The Joker also doesn’t use destruction as his main form of violence — he uses manipulation. He creates circumstances in which good people like Harvey become evil and push people to their limits to find what kind of person they’ll choose to be in the end.

That’s why the Joker places free citizens of Gotham and incarcerated citizens of Gotham on two different boats. He wants to see what they’ll choose when life or death is on the line.

Ultimately, both groups of people choose to sacrifice themselves and save the other group, so the Joker’s experiment fails. The Joker also fails to turn Batman into a villain, but he succeeds in corrupting Harvey Dent.

Storytelling in “The Dark Knight”

Another reason “The Dark Knight” is so highly rated is due to the film’s storytelling. There are several different plot lines like Harvey’s story, the love triangle between Harvey, Bruce and Rachel, Bruce’s grappling with whether or not to be Batman, the Joker’s origin stories and the Joker’s relationships with the city’s mob bosses.

All of these stories collide into each other and are broadly connected by themes like good versus evil, heroes versus villains, chaos versus order and crime versus justice.

What sets “The Dark Knight” apart is how subtle some of these connections are.

For example, no one really knows who the Joker is. The Joker changes his origin story based on who he’s talking to, his identity is concealed by makeup and he’s an elusive sort of figure. This is a mirror to Batman who actively conceals his identity and eschews public life, but the two aren’t a perfect match because they decide to be different people even with having some of these key similarities.

And that makes the story of “The Dark Knight” interesting. Whether or not a person becomes a hero or a villain isn’t quite the fatalism Harvey espouses, it becomes an active choice that characters in the story constantly have to make.

There are other great elements of the film like the score and the pace. What makes it most compelling is how characters have to choose over and over again who they’ll be.

When was ‘The Dark Knight’ released?

It was released on July 18, 2008.

‘The Dark Knight’ budget

“The Dark Knight” had a budget of $185 million, according to Box Office Mojo. It grossed a little over $1 billion worldwide.

‘The Dark Knight’ streaming platforms

“The Dark Knight” is streaming on Max.