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MFF Dumb Data: How Long Did it Take to Set Up The Joker’s Cash Pyramid in The Dark Knight?

September 20, 2019

There is a famous scene in The Dark Knight that features The Joker (Heath Ledger) burning an insane amount of money. Based on the character, and his motivations, it’s totally understandable why he’d burn billions of dollars (to watch it burn….). However, to show the world that he doesn’t care about money, he made his henchmen set up a 13-foot tall tiered pyramid of cash.

It’s a cool scene, in a great movie, that has confused me for well over a decade. How long did it take to setup the tiered pyramid of cash? A tiered pyramid of cash can’t be put together on a whim. The Joker (or his accountant) needed to know EXACTLY how much money they had, then, they needed to diagram the pyramid with 10 tiers, to make sure it worked. The Joker may be about “chaos,” but he also loves intricate plans that somehow work.

I’m not the first person to take a guess at the amount of money (here, here and here) that made up the pyramid. I know it’s a fool’s errand to figure out something that has no answer (that’s why I did it). Instead of focusing on the money, I wanted to focus more on how long it took to set it all up. I did my own math to make sure the answer was different from all the rest. Then, with my new total, I took a guess at how long it took to build. The answer is wrong… because no one will ever know the right answer. However, I’m happy with the total I came up with….even if it’s wrong.

He wanted a sweet slide.

In honor of this scene, I watched the clip way too many times and made sure to do way too much research/math to make sure the wrong answer was correct.

Here is what I know:

Here is what I’m guessing

  • The bottom tier of the cash pyramid is 13-feet high, and 20-feet long. (seems right to me)
  • It’s all cash. There isn’t a structure underneath the cash.
  • The pyramid is made up of $4,680,000,000 (46,800,000 – $100 bills). Which means the Joker’s henchman used 468,000 stacks of cash (4,680,000,000 / 10,000 = 468,000)
  • The length of each square tier goes like this (each is 30 cash stacks high) – 20, 18, 16, 14, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, and 7 feet
  • There are 107,640 stacks of cash on the bottom tier ($1,076,400,000). The bottom tier is 39 stacks of cash long and 92 wide (based on dimensions of $100 dollar bill). I did the same math for each smaller tier.
  • Based on the look of the pyramid, it would be impossible for the henchman to set up the pyramid by walking all over the structure, because cash would be falling everywhere. They must’ve used boom lifts or other large machinery.
The money goes everywhere.
  • The pyramid couldn’t have been improvised. It’s too organized. The Joker must’ve given them a blueprint. Also, they must’ve known how much cash they had.
  • 16 henchmen worked on the cash pyramid. Here is the breakdown. four henchmen in boom lifts on all four sides of the structure. four henchmen in scissor lifts taking the money to them. four henchmen restocking the scissor lifts with cash. Finally, four henchmen keeping the equipment charged and filling in whenever someone needs a break, because they are working around the clock.

How long did it take?

The first (and biggest) tier would be the easiest to build because all 16 henchmen are laying down the cash. If each of the 16 henchmen were able to lay down 60 straps of cash per minute, the bottom tier would only take around 2 hours.

Things start slowing down after the first tier because the henchmen can’t walk on the structure. This is where the boom lifts come into play. Four henchmen would start laying down all the money, while the crew in the scissor lifts stay close to help them restock their cash quickly. If the four henchmen on the boom lifts are able to keep the 60 stack per minute pace, the rest of the pyramid would take 25 hours to build. In the end, the total time spent on the pyramid would be 27 hours.

This sounds plausible because they had to use 468,000 stacks of cash to make a 10-tier pyramid. Also, you know that The Joker would be pissed if the thing looked like crap when he inspected it. The crew who set it up, knew it had to be perfect, so they built each tier carefully and expertly. They must’ve been keeping extra lifts charged, to make sure their build was as optimal as possible. Eventually, The Joker runs all over the thing, and makes it look messy. However, I think it was pristine when he first saw it.

Conclusion: It took 16 henchmen 27 hours to complete the cash pile that was eventually burnt. Impressive!

Quick note: Why did I go with boom and scissor lifts? I don’t see scaffolding or an underneath structure coming into play. The lifts were the most efficient way to build a giant cash pyramid. I’m probably wrong.

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