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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?

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    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, 2013 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, 2013 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, 2013 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, 2015 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, 2015 at 17:57

5 Answers 5

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+50

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.

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    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, 2015 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, 2017 at 10:16
  • It's insane this has so many upvotes. Batman didn't become dark and brooding until the 1980s. And most comic book characters aren't remotely philosophical -- in fact "comic book character" is a term used to describe two dimensional characters. Jan 20 at 2:26
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This quote was attributed to Bill Finger who died in 1974, he was best known as the uncredited actual creator of Batman

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    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, 2014 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, 2014 at 16:31
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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.

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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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I agree that it's almost difficult to believe, but sometimes Hollywood coins a phrase that really resonates.

Another example of a phrase that everyone uses but which came from a modern day movie: "bucket list" from the film The Bucket List (2007). Nobody had ever used that phrase before the film was produced.

Source: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-origins-of-bucket-list-1432909572

So the phrase you pulled out does indeed appear to have originated in The Dark Knight. There is simply no other earlier source for that quote anywhere.

Kudos to Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan for coining something that seems to get truer with each passing year.

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