With the recent return of the Dark Knight to the big screen in Matt Reeves’ THE BATMAN, what better time to reassess two incarnations of Batman’s most formidable nemesis – the Joker? The character has been an iconic figure not only in the comics, but across various platforms including the popular 60s BATMAN TV show with Cesar Romero playing the role, in cartoons, and of course, on the silver screen! It’s hard to imagine that the character of the Joker was originally planned to be killed off during his initial appearance in 1940. However, editorial intervention spared him, and he has since endured many iterations and continues to be Batman’s greatest archenemy. The Clown Prince of Crime is a character so embedded in the minds of fans that everyone has an opinion on how he should be portrayed, for better or worse.
Jack Nicholson’s acting legacy is immense even before he donned the fake smile and zany antics of the Joker. With 2 Oscars under his belt, Nicholson had already established himself as an iconic performer with roles in Easy Rider, Chinatown, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Shining, and The Witches of Eastwick, to name just a few. So his casting as the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 BATMAN was met with intrigue. Could someone of his stature bring a suitably unhinged persona to the clown prince?
On the other hand, Heath Ledger had shown huge potential before his tragic and untimely death in 2008 from an accidental prescription drug overdose. The Australian actor started his career in the long-running, Down Under-set Home & Away before 10 Things I Hate About You catapulted him onto the global stage. Other very notable roles came in A Knight’s Tale, Monster’s Ball, The Four Feathers, and The Lords of Dogtown followed before his first career-defining moment and Oscar-nominated role opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain.
While both actors brought their own strengths to the role, which of these legends was able to most successfully take on arguably pop culture’s greatest villain ever? Jack Nicholson has a real penchant for playing mad men on-screen while Heath Ledger’s legacy prior to playing the Joker was slightly more grounded in comedic or gritty dramatic roles. So, slap on that chalk-white make-up and try not to fall into a vat of toxic chemicals because you know it’s time for… FACE OFF!
This episode of Face Off is written by Adam Walton, narrated by Chris Bumbray, and edited by John Nguyen. Watch previous episodes below, and let us know in the comments which Joker you prefer – Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger!