You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

Now I'm fairly certain I've been saying that line for at least ten years, don't know where I heard it, but now someone pointed out I was referencing The Dark Knight and I honestly couldn't believe it when I googled the phrase and found nothing but Dark Knight sites.

That expression must be older than 2008. Right?

  • 1
    I would actually like it even more if this quote has been around longer than this movie. (just realized the movie is 5 years old)
    – Tablemaker
    Mar 19 '13 at 20:13
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    The quote reminds me of Hermann Göring's quote: "We will go down in history either as the world's greatest statesmen or its worst villains."
    – user842
    Mar 19 '13 at 21:54
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    Googling for instances of this quote prior to 2008 and excluding batman, the dark knight and harvey dent, results only in forum signatures, which aren't reliable since many boards render the signatures real-time.
    – phantom42
    Mar 22 '13 at 19:52
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    ...live long enough to see yourself become that which you most despise." This is the second half of the original quote...more or less. I can't cut through the dark night fog on Google. Grrr.
    – user20066
    Mar 30 '15 at 23:21
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    @Yannis Oh the dramatic irony of knowing, 80 years later, that he lost the title of "worst villain in history" to Mole Man. Sep 28 '15 at 17:57

It's highly likely that the quote originated from The Dark Knight movie. Apparently, Batman (and other super-heroes) was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher. A lot of aspects of Batman are inspired by Nietzsche's beliefs which would explain why the movies seem very philosophical at times.

Along with the fact that there seem to be no references to this quote prior to the movie release (or any variation of it), I conclude that it did in fact originate (at least main stream) from the movie.

There is also more proof of this in the book, Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul. While it doesn't specify the quote, it does discuss the connection between Batman and Nietzsche.

  • 4
    The closest quote of Nietzsche's is probably this one from Beyond Good and Evil: "He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you." en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Beyond_Good_and_Evil#Aphorism_146
    – raveturned
    Jul 23 '15 at 13:33
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    @raveturned: related quote by Buckminster Fuller : "Those who play with the devil's toys will be brought by degrees to wield his sword.".
    – Flater
    Jun 1 '17 at 10:16

This quote was attributed to Bill Finger who died in 1974, he was best known as the uncredited actual creator of Batman

  • 6
    The internet indeed attributes the quote to him, but I can't find any verifiable source. If you can, you get the upvote and the accepted answer and I might even create a new bounty just to give it to you because I care about this one. I could have sworn it was older than 2008 and I can't find proof. Like, where did he say or write this? Sep 9 '14 at 14:25
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    It's possible that the quote was posthumously attributed to him on the web simply as vindication and a statement against DC and Bob Kane.
    – Walt
    Sep 9 '14 at 16:31

Although this exact quote may have been first said in the dark knight many men have addressed the philosophy of the corruption of a good man's soul.

"He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -Frederick Nietzsche.


This quote does originally come from the film. Harvey coins the phrase (no pun intended) in response to Rachel's comment abot Caesar. He isn't using a common expression, but it does come off quite eloquently. Still it is very similar to the philosophy of Michael Foucault who criticized political and social figures who turn to abusing power for indulgent convenience.

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