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The Dark Knight is one of the best all-time comic book movies ever made. Not only that, it won two Oscars and 157 other awards, and was the third-highest rated film on IMDB with over 2.5 million votes (behind only The Shawshank Redemption and The Godfather).
Check out the best quotes from The Godfather here.
Plus, as the first comic book movie to reach over $1 billion worldwide, The Dark Knight was also a major financial success for its time.
In addition to all that, it also features arguably the best live-action performance of The Joker, played by the posthumous Heath Ledger who unfortunately died six months before the film was set to be released.
Co-written by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer (who wrote Dark City, Blade, and co-wrote Batman Begins), the film has been heralded as a masterpiece of the written craft and even inspired the book Batman and Philosophy due to its introspective look at morality and order versus anarchy and chaos.
Fourteen years after its original release, I decided to sit down and rewatch the film.
Upon this latest rewatch, I personally came to appreciate the nuances of the storytelling and how ahead of its time it was in terms of the issues we would be facing today, particularly around surveillance, power and morality, and the appeal of anarchy and chaos as a guiding principle for a villain.
After all, it’s the things that we can’t control that scare us the most – and The Joker is one hell of a fright.
With all that said, The Dark Knight’s genius writing, directing, and performances have inspired some of the best quotes of any modern film.
Here are the best 12 quotes from the film’s iconic villain, along with some backstory and context to help you understand what makes them so good.
12. “Whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you… stranger.”
This line is iconic as it’s the first line Heath Ledger utters on screen as “The Joker.”
It’s at the beginning of the film during the clown bank heist. The clowns have infiltrated the bank, and have slowly been turning on each other one by one. The last one left, Bozo, is loading the money into the bus, when the bank teller gives him a stern warning.
Bank Manager: Think you’re smart, huh? The guy that hired youze, he’ll just do the same to you. Oh, criminals in this town used to believe in things. Honor. Respect. Look at you! What do you believe in, huh? WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN?
Bozo puts a gas grenade in the Banker’s mouth.
Bozo: “I believe, whatever doesn’t kill you, simply makes you…”
And then he takes the mask off, revealing The Joker’s face paint.
The reason this is one of the best quotes in the movie, despite the fact that it’s the first time we reveal the Joker to the audience, is because it hints at The Joker’s twisted ideology.
You see, the Joker as interpreted by Heath Ledger, the Nolans, and Goyer, has a worldview that values anarchy and chaos.
While the Joker acts crazy and performs in theatrically crazy ways, he actually adheres to a pretty strict belief that chaos and anarchy is the only true system of governance, and everything less than full anarchy is foolish and must be destroyed.
More importantly, when he says “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stranger” he is revealing his cards. In fact, he has experienced intense psychological trauma himself and uses “strangeness” as a coping mechanism.
In essence, the character of the Joker does exactly that – he survives his past trauma and tackles Gotham’s whole system of government using strangeness to his advantage.
11. “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it!”
One of the best scenes in the film is when Joker goes to visit Harvey Dent in the hospital. Prior to this scene, the entire hospital has been evacuated due to a bomb threat Joker put out in order to stop a whistleblower from outing who Batman really is.
As the hospital is nearly emptied, Joker kills the police detail protecting Dent and sits down with him for a heart to heart.
Obviously, this doesn’t go over well with Harvey, since half his face was burnt off due to a fire Joker set that simultaneously killed his fiancé. So Joker has to use his words carefully in order to accomplish his goal – turn the “white knight” of Gotham into an agent of chaos, like him.
Here’s how the scene plays out:
The Joker: “You know. I don’t want there to be any hard feelings between us, Harvey. When you and, uh…
Harvey Dent: “Rachel!”
The Joker: “Rachel were being abducted. I was sitting in Gordon’s cage. Now, *I* didn’t rig those charges.”
Harvey Dent: “Your men. Your plan.”
The Joker: “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I’m a dog chasing cars. I wouldn’t know what to do with one if I caught it! You know, I just… *do* things.”
Here’s the full scene:
Speaking of turning Harvey Dent into an agent of chaos…
10. “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos.”
This quote comes a little later in the scene. After Joker convinces Dent to listen to his side of things, there comes a turn in the narrative. Harvey Dent wants revenge, but he’s willing to hear Joker’s case.
The reason is because Harvey Dent is fair. Dent represents a fire and brimstone type of moral authority that tries to work towards justice inside an unjust system. Batman works towards the same goal, but he does it outside the system.
Joker works towards the opposite goal. In Joker’s opinion, the system can never be fair or just, so why try to work with the system at all? Who needs the system? Instead, anarchy and chaos is the only true system. Here’s how the scene plays out:
The Joker: “I just did what I do best. I took your little plan and I turned it on itself. Look what I did to this city with a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets. Hmmm? You know… You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying! If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan”. But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”
Joker hands Harvey Dent a gun and points it at his own head.
The Joker: “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!”
This final argument is what gets through to Harvey Dent. Not only is Joker giving him an opportunity to take his revenge, but he’s also more or less convinced him that 1. the current system is not fair and that 2. his system, chaos, and anarchy, is actually fairer.
With the gun to Joker’s head, Harvey Dent pulls out his double-sided coin, with one side charred. He decides to flip a coin in order to decide what to do with Joker. And when the coin lands face up on the “good” side, he indeed lets Joker go.
He has essentially given up his own moral code and has decided to follow “chance” instead, which turns him into the villain Two-Face.
The funny thing about Two-Face as a villain is that he’s quite literally two-dimensional, which makes the next couple of scenes with him feel very hollow. Chaos driven by the flip of a coin isn’t as interesting as chaos driven by the whims of a clown.
However, by giving Joker the lines that plant the seed that lead Harvey Dent to become Two-Face, it gives both of them much more compelling character arcs.
In the case of Joker, he accomplishes his goal to shatter the illusions of the “justness” of Gotham’s system of law and order, and sets in motion a series of events that bring Batman’s own system of moral order as close to breaking as it ever gets (in the film universe, that is).
9. “Everything burns!”
So far, the Joker’s motivation has been pretty straightforward – he steals money from the mob, then blackmails them to pay him to kill Batman. For instance, when he first meets the mobsters, he has this exchange:
The Chechen: What do you propose?
The Joker: “It’s simple. We, uh, kill the Batman.”
Salvatore Maroni: “If it’s so simple, why haven’t you done it already?”
The Joker: “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”
However, once Joker faces off with Batman twice, he has a change of heart. So when he next meets the Chechen, who seems to be the only mob boss left in town willing to work with him (or left alive), its fitting that he has a giant pile of money in front of him.
To the mobsters, this money is what all of this has all been about. But not to the Joker. So when the Chechen asks what he’s going to do with his share of the money, Joker has the perfect answer for him.
The Chechen: “Joker-man, what you do with all your money?”
The Joker: “You see, I’m a guy of simple taste. I enjoy dynamite, and gunpowder, and gasoline!”
Then he pours gasoline on the giant pile of money.
The Chechen: “What the…?”
The Joker: “Ah-ta-ta-ta-ta. And you know the thing they have in common? They’re cheap.”
As the Chechen freaks out, the Joker gets deadly serious.
The Joker: “Tell your men they work for me now. This is my city.”
The Chechen: “They won’t work… for a FREAK!”
The Joker: “A freak… Why don’t we cut you up into little pieces and feed you to your pooches? Hmm? And then we’ll see how loyal a hungry dog really is. It’s not about money… it’s about sending a message. Everything burns!”
So what makes this quote so good? This is the moment where Joker reveals that he is no longer motivated by money – in fact, he never was. Instead, he’s motivated by something deeper – a desire to disrupt the system of order that runs Gotham.
First, he targets the mob and disrupts their social hierarchy as the top of the criminal side of Gotham’s law and order system. It’s no longer cops vs robbers, but order vs disorder.
Then, he disrupts the public order by instilling panic with public threats of terrorism. At first, he uses this terror to convince Gotham to turn on Batman, but after his confrontations with Batman, he realizes Batman is the real prize, and he will next use the public to try to break Batman.
Right after this scene, he calls into the talk show where the whistleblower is about to out Batman and threatens that he’ll blow up a hospital if the whistleblower isn’t killed within an hour.
In this way, he’s turned the public on Batman’s “order” to try to break his belief system. When he says “everything burns” and that it’s about sending a message, his intention is to literally burn the town down trying to prove his point… he just starts with a pile of money first.
Check out the scene here:
8. “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”
Joker says this to Batman while Batman is interrogating him. This is after Joker has been captured and Lt. Gordon lets Batman into the interrogation cell.
They’ve just realized that Harvey Dent has gone missing, and so Batman’s objective is to find him, while Joker’s secret is that not only has Harvey Dent fallen into his trap, but the trap is intended to break Batman’s “one rule.”
Here’s how the scene plays out:
The Joker: “You have all these rules and you think they’ll save you!”
Batman: “I have one rule.”
The Joker: “Oh, then that’s the rule you’ll have to break to know the truth.”
Batman: “Which is?”
The Joker: “The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules…. And tonight you’re gonna break your one rule.”
Batman: “I’m considering it.”
The Joker: “Oh, there’s only minutes left, so you’re gonna have to play my little game if you wanna save one of them.”
The Joker: “You know for awhile there, I thought you really were Dent. The way you threw yourself after her.”
Batman can’t take it, and throws him around the room.
The Joker: “Look at you go! Does Harvey know about you and his little bunny?”
Batman throws him against the two way mirror.
Batman: “Where are they?”
The Joker: “Killing is making a choice.”
Batman: “Where are they?”
The Joker: “Choose between one life or the other. Your friend, the district attorney, or his blushing bride-to-be…”
Batman beats him mercilessly, but Joker just laughs.
The Joker: “You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with! Nothing to do with all your strength!”
Here’s the clip from where this sequence starts:
What makes this scene so powerful? The Joker says it himself – he has the upper hand, an ace up his sleeve so to speak, and even though Batman has the Joker in custody, he hasn’t won – in fact, the opposite.
He’s essentially lost because the Joker is about to make him pick between saving Rachel or saving Harvey Dent. No matter who he chooses, someone is going to die – which means Batman will have to break his one rule.
This is Joker’s way of proving his point – that the only sensible way to live is with no rules, because rules can’t save you.
And to make that point even stronger, when Batman thinks he’s arrived to save Rachel, he’s been tricked once again, as he finds Harvey Dent inside.
7. “…Do you know how I got these scars?”
This line is a variation of what Joker repeats multiple times throughout the film. It’s a theatrical bit he does to intimidate, toy with, and ultimately terrify his prey – and have fun while he does it.
It’s a very iconic line throughout the film, so it’s worth mentioning on this list for the multiple times it shows up. But since we’re going to reveal its other utterances in other quotes, we’ll focus only on the last time it shows up.
When Joker faces off with Batman at the end of the film, his gleefully evil line meets its match when he tries to pull this line on Batman. Check it out here:
The Joker: “It’s a funny world we live in. Speaking of which, do you know how I got these scars?”
Batman: “No! But I know how you got these!”
Batman proceeds to fire his gauntlet blades into Joker’s face. Ouch!
Check it out here:
6.”Do you want to know why I use a knife?”
Throughout the movie, Joker uses theatrical monologues to tease and taunt his prey. When he’s left alone in the interrogation cell with a veteran cop, he knows he needs to get out of the room somehow so he can blow the trigger to a bomb hidden inside one of his henchmen.
While the veteran cop named Detective Stephens is sure that Joker won’t get through to him, Joker tries anyway.
Here’s how he “twists the knife” (emotionally speaking):
The Joker: “Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the… little emotions. In… you see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So in a way, I know your friends better than you ever did. Would you like to know which of them were cowards?”
This of course is too much for Stephens, and he can’t help himself. He wants to beat the hell out of the little twerp, but because he gives himself over to his worst desires, Joker gets the upper hand and uses him as a hostage to escape while Batman and Gordon are trying to save Harvey and Rachel.
Check out the scene here:
5. “Now I’m always smiling!”
When the Joker crashes the fundraiser in search of Harvey Dent, he feasts his eyes on Rachel, Dent’s betrothed (although she hasn’t officially said yes yet).
What follows is an entertaining exchange that goes from creepy to terrifying, and ends with my favorite moment from the film.
Here’s how it goes down.
The Joker: “Well, hello, beautiful. You must be Harvey’s squeeze. And you *are* beautiful. Oh, you look nervous. Is it the scars? You want to know how I got ’em?”
He grabs Rachel’s head and positions his knife in her mouth.
The Joker: “Come here. Hey! Look at me. So I had a wife. She was beautiful, like you. Who tells me I worry too much. Who tells me I ought to smile more. Who gambles and gets in deep with the sharks. One day, they carve her face. And we have no money for surgeries. She can’t take it. I just want to see her smile again. I just want her to know that I don’t care about the scars. So… I stick a razor in my mouth and do this…”
The Joker mimics the act of slicing his mouth open with his tongue. Its creepy.
The Joker: “…to myself. And you know what? She can’t stand the sight of me! She leaves. Now I see the funny side. Now I’m always smiling!”
At this point, Rachel’s had enough and knees him in the groin, which of course he laughs off. This leads to my favorite moment in the entire film:
The Joker: “A little fight in you. I like that.”
Batman: “Then you’re gonna love me.”
And then he swoops into action. For some reason, this moment plays like a hilarious bit, whether intentional or not. But it’s a great introduction to Batman vs Joker, and it’s quite the fun time.
Check out the full scene here:
4. “I had a vision of a world without Batman…and it was so… boring.”
When the Joker calls into the newscast to threaten the whistleblower, Coleman Reese, he reveals his true feelings for Batman in this great quote.
The Joker: “I had a vision, of a world without Batman. The mob ground out a little profit and the police tried to shut them down, one block at a time. And it was so… boring. I’ve had a change of heart. I don’t want Mr. Reese spoiling everything, but why should I have all the fun? Let’s give someone else a chance. If Coleman Reese isn’t dead in sixty minutes then I blow up a hospital.”
The reason this quote is so good is because it’s the latest manifestation of Joker’s goal to turn Gotham against Batman, only this time he’s doing it in the service of keeping Batman “in the game” so to speak. Because without Batman, what would he do with himself?
Check out the scene here:
3. “Why so serious?”
The Joker and the gangster Gambol have beef. While a minor character in the film, it’s clear from the moment these two meet that they are diametrically opposed.
In a prior scene, Joker offs one of Gambol’s men as a show of force. He does this primarily to establish dominance, and of course, Gambol takes it personally. So he puts out a bounty on whoever brings the clown to him dead or alive.
Well, he gets what he asks for when Joker arrives in a body bag. Gambol unzips the bag and finds the Joker’s face staring back at him. But then the Joker sits up and sticks a blade in his mouth.
See, Joker just so happens to be playing another joke on Gambol in order to get him by surprise.
The following scene takes place, which leads to what is probably the most iconic line from the film:
“The Joker: “You wanna know how I got these scars? My father, was a drinker, and a fiend. And one night, he goes off crazier than usual. Mommy gets the kitchen knife to defend herself. He doesn’t like that. Not. One. Bit. So, me watching, he takes the knife to her, laughing while he does it. He turns to me and says, “Why so serious?” Comes at me with the knife. “WHY SO SERIOUS?” He sticks the blade in my mouth… “Let’s put a smile on that face… why so serious?”
After turning to stare at the rest of Gambol’s men, he twists the knife in Gambol’s mouth and kills him.
Check it out here:
Why is this quote so iconic? Despite Ledger’s perfect (and perfectly terrifying) delivery, the monologue points to the trauma inside Joker that drives his point of view.
He has adopted chaos as a response to some kind of trauma, and while we can never be sure if any of the stories he shares throughout the film are honest about that trauma, it’s clear that he will weaponize all kinds of trauma in order to inspire fear in others.
At the same time, he’s taking his trauma into his own hands and crafting whatever narrative he wants so that he wields the power behind it instead of it wielding power over him.
Not only that, but he sees it as a way to have fun with his victims in his own twisted, evil way. He has a love for theatrics if nothing else, after all.
2. “See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”
While “Why So Serious” is the most iconic standalone line from the film, in my opinion, there’s one more line that completely sums up the relationship between Joker and Batman.
When the police finally “catch” Joker with Batman’s help, Lieutenant Gordon brings the Bat in to help them interrogate Joker. This is of course a highly unconventional collaboration between Batman and the police, so the cameras have to be shut off for plausible deniability.
Once the two are face to face, Batman and Joke face off in what is likely the second-best scene in the film. However, this run of dialogue between the two of them might be the most iconic, best quote in the entire film, which we’ll explain below.
Batman: Then why do you want to kill me?
The Joker: “I don’t, I don’t want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You… you… complete me.”
Batman: “You’re garbage who kills for money.”
The Joker: “Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.”
Check out the scene in context here:
So why is this the best Joker quote in The Dark Knight? Because it not only perfectly encapsulates the relationship between Batman and Joker, but the relationship between chaos and order.
Let’s break that down further: See, Batman is a tragic hero born from trauma. He becomes an unconventional source of order and justice in a world where the system of rules and justice has been broken for a long time.
Batman forms as a reaction to that lack of true justice, and he works in parallel to push the system closer to operational. By working outside the system, he pushes the system to be better. He represents a true moral order, just not one tied down by laws and regulations.
Joker, on the other hand, is the opposite reaction to that same system. He sees the brokenness of the rules-based system and laughs in its face. To him, there is no true moral authority – only chaos. And so, in reaction to the lack of moral order, anarchy is the only system that makes sense to him.
In a way, Joker is also a natural reaction to Batman. As Batman tries to push the system back towards a true moral order, Joker tries to pull Batman and the rest of the subjects stuck in the system to see his perspective: that there can be no moral order.
Joker also sees something in Batman that Batman can’t see: that his existence is in essence, a chaotic anomaly to the system. He can’t actually exist within it, therefore the system will inevitably try to destroy him, too.
So not only does Joker find Batman’s existence an existential challenge to his ideology (anarchy) worthy of trying to break, but he also finds a kinship in him, as two freaky peas in a freak pod. They are, to borrow from Two-Face, two sides of the same coin.
1. “Madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”
While I wouldn’t say this is the best quote in the film, it’s important to save it for last. That’s because it’s The Joker’s final line in the film, and it sums up his underlying character and character arc brilliantly.
I’ll give you a little secret: While more screenwriters focus on the character arcs of their protagonists, the best movie villains ever written have their own character arcs.
Joker’s arc begins with a quest to kill Batman, essentially for fun and profit, but as the film goes on, he discovers that his true goal is to upset the natural order of Gotham and prove his ideological point of view is superior to Batman.
While he finds himself unable to break Batman, he accepts a consolation prize: Gotham’s white knight.
Here’s the quote in context – it’s the final scene between Joker and Batman, where Batman has seemingly foiled all of Joker’s plans to break Batman, his polar opposite. Joker couldn’t even convince Batman to kill him, as Batman couldn’t help but save him before he plummets to his death.
Dangling upside down on Batman’s grappling hook, he and Batman have the following exchange:
The Joker: “Oh, you. You just couldn’t let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren’t you? You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness. And I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”
Batman: “You’ll be in a padded cell forever.”
The Joker: “Maybe we can share one. You know, they’ll be doubling up, the rate this city’s inhabitants are losing their minds.”
Batman: “This city just showed you that it’s full of people ready to believe in good.”
The Joker: “Until their spirit breaks completely. Until they get a good look at the real Harvey Dent, and all the heroic things he’s done. You didn’t think I’d risk losing the battle for Gotham’s soul in a fistfight with you? No. You need an ace in the hole. Mine’s Harvey.”
Batman: “What did you do?”
The Joker: “I took Gotham’s white knight and I brought him down to our level. It wasn’t hard. You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push!“
This cuts to the core of the Joker’s underlying motivations. His belief system is rooted in the idea that anyone could end up like him if they’ve been through what he’s been through. Throughout the film, he plants little hints of traumatic backstory that explain away his illness.
Check out the scene here:
Of course, these are all breadcrumb trails to nowhere, as he tells a different story every time and his true backstory is never revealed.
The 2019 film Joker tries to present its own interpretation of how The Joker came to be and paints a pretty convincing picture of how a man who aspires to be a comedian and make the world laugh but struggles with mental illness in a society that doesn’t provide proper mental health care could wind up feeling abandoned to the point where he feels seen only through violent outbursts of revenge and anger.
With all the varied interpretations of Joker’s backstory, the only consistent thread we know for sure is that his past traumas cause him to adopt madness as a coping mechanism and chaos as an ideological standpoint to justify his actions.
If you’re interested in the origin of the Joker and his ideology, The Killing Joke comic book written by Alan Moore (that was later adapted into an animated film) explores the psychology behind this line of thinking more in-depth, as the Joker tries to break Lieutenant Gordon and shares his views on memory, madness, and how anyone could end up like him with just one bad day.
And that’s it! Those are the top 12 best Joker quotes from The Dark Knight explained!
Grant Harvey is a freelance writer, screenwriter, and filmmaker based out of Los Angeles. When he’s not working on his own feature-length screenplays and television pilots, Grant uses his passion and experience in film and videography to help others learn the tools, strategies, and equipment needed to create high-quality videos as a filmmaker of any skill level.