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Dark Knight Rises Tragedy: Will the Aurora Massacre Forever Mar the Batman Legacy?

Dark Knight Shooting, Century 16

So much sadness surrounding the movie theater shootings. Is this a permanent mark on the Batman legacy?
—Rich V., via the inbox

If you're asking whether Christopher Nolan's name will forever be associated with that of shooting suspect James Holmes, that's a stretch, at least, at this early hour.

However, cultural historians tell me, don't be surprised if the phrase "Dark Knight"—or even the word "Batman"—leads to a short-term, or even a long-term, association with the tragic shooting in Aurora, Colo.

Who Is James Holmes?

First of all, know this: This massacre, while the largest such shooting in American history, is not the first set of violent deaths to be associated with a motion picture.

The 1994 Woody Harrelson film Natural Born Killers—about a murderous couple that escapes from jail—has been blamed for spurring four major copycat sprees and a long list of other vicious crimes.

And other films, such as the gang-themed Colors, spurred scattered reports of violence at the time they were released.

Shooting Fallout: Gangster Squad Yanked, Costumes Banned

Today, few people associate Natural Born Killers or Colors with real-life crime; Woody Harrelson has done scads of projects since the mid-1990s, of course, and is more likely these days to be associated with his role in The Hunger Games than anything else.

But, experts tell me, the nexus between the Aurora tragedy and Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy is likely to produce a more lasting legacy.

"It will affect the franchise long-term," Fordham University media professor Dr. Paul Levinson tells me. "I don't know if it means that people won't want to see Batman movies, or if people will be more interested. But anytime there is a spilling over or a blending of what happens in the media world with what happens in real life, people are always extremely interested somehow."

Are Violent Movies to Blame?

Unlike, say, Harrelson, who has had a long career, the Dark Knight series is made up of only three projects, two of which now have associations with tragedy, if you include the death of supporting actor Heath Ledger following filming of the second installment.

Because of the limited number of Dark Knight installments, and the high number of deaths now associated with it, it's less likely that the trilogy will be able to shake itself free of the Aurora massacre, Levinson explains.

"You can almost say," Levinson says, "that the franchise is cursed."

PHOTOS: Movie Screenings Marred by Violence

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