A backstory, either in film, video games or literature, is the narrative beneath the surface. A part of the world that can be told to the viewer through the unwritten.
When done correctly, a well told backstory is where the audience can really get engaged. We’ve seen the groundwork of the narrative, we know where a character comes from and what their intentions are. Yet, we don’t know what motivates these intentions. This gives us a chance to ponder, interpreting the story in our own way.
There’s quite a lot to the idea of a backstory. Some may see it as lore you need to extract from a short that came before the film, others may feel it’s more of a flashback sequence. You could argue about execution all day long but for the sake of this list, we’re focusing less on how and instead on how much and of what.
So, whether it’s drip fed throughout, dropped on us at the very end or hidden between dialogue. These are 10 films that gave us just the right amount of backstory, be it based around the world, atmosphere, character or their motivations.
10. The Dark Knight
Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is universally praised for its injection of realism and grit into the superhero genre. So much so that its dark tones are still poorly replicated to this day. Copycats aside, though, there's more than a handful of reasons why The Dark Knight was so successful, with backstory playing a huge part in that.
As expected, we see origins of Batman and Jim Gordon, alongside introductions to Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes. Where Nolan refused to budge on backstory, though, was with the film's main antagonist, The Joker.
The audience has seen it all before. Crazy, green hair, bit of makeup. You don't need to explain to viewers who, or more importantly, why he is. Instead, Nolan runs less with origin and more with The Joker's current actions.
We witness Joker running bank robberies, confronting the mob, taking boatloads of hostages and blowing up a hospital. Yet, at no point does he ever explain his reasoning outright. He's never forthcoming with information. The audience is told he's "a dog chasing cars" but what does that really mean? Maybe nothing, maybe everything.
Similarly, there are certain fake-outs given by Ledger's Joker that allow for interpretation from the audience. For example, he frequently mentions his scars but the way he received them is always different, depending on who he's talking to. This idea loosely calls back to The Killing Joke, in which The Joker likes his backstory to be multiple choice.