Hollywood Flashback: 'The Dark Knight' Failed to Nab a Best Picture Oscar Nom in 2009

ONE TIME USE - 81st Academy Awards- Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight - Getty- EMBED 2019
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Years before 'Black Panther' became the first superhero movie nominated for the Academy Awards' highest honor, Christopher Nolan's Batman film landed eight noms, with one win for sound editing and a posthumous honor for supporting actor Heath Ledger.

One place where the King of Wakanda tops Bruce Wayne is on the Oscar ballot: While The Dark Knight in 2009 landed eight Oscar noms (and would win for sound editing and supporting actor) — one more than Black Panther received this year — the Marvel film scored a best picture nod that eluded the Batman pic.

Warner Bros. certainly did everything it could to secure one of the five available best picture noms for Dark Knight. The studio even went as far as to rerelease the film in January 2009 to remind voters what a fine job director Christopher Nolan had done. (Warners had many reasons to love the film, a $185 million production that had a worldwide gross of more than $1 billion. At the time, Dark Knight was the highest-grossing movie of all time not named Titanic.)

"Sometimes movies that have a lasting, meaningful impact are inexplicably overlooked for best picture awards," says Blair Rich, president of worldwide marketing at Warner Bros. "But that certainly doesn't change their significance and resonance."

Starting with Dark Knight's initial release in July 2008, it received an enormous amount of attention as a film and as a social indicator. (One Wall Street Journal op-ed drew a parallel between Batman and President George W. Bush and called Dark Knight "a conservative movie about the war on terror.")

Its profile grew even larger when Heath Ledger received a best supporting actor nomination for his performance as the Joker. The announcement came one year to the day of his death on Jan. 22, 2008, at age 28, from an accidental overdose of six prescription drugs. Though there have been many actors who have received Oscar nominations after they'd died — including Spencer Tracy for 1967's Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Ralph Richardson for 1984's Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, and James Dean for 1955's East of Eden and 1956's Giant — Ledger and Peter Finch, who starred in 1976's Network, are the only two to win posthumous Oscars.

This story first appeared in a February stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.