Heath Ledger vs. Jack Nicholson as The Joker

These two men have undertaken the difficult task of bringing to life the greatest comic book super villain of all time. With wildly different interpretations, each has given Batman a very different foe to face off against. From their different origins, to looks, weapons choices, mannerisms, intensity and insanity, the differences are greater than the fact that they are both played off as a dangerous and unpredictable foe. Join WatchMojo.com, and in this installment of Versus, we’re pitting Heath Ledger against Jack Nicholson to see who’s the better Joker.
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Heath Ledger vs. Jack Nicholson as The Joker


Written by Max Lett.

Talk about split personalities. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and in this instalment of Versus, we’re pitting Heath Ledger against Jack Nicholson to see who’s the better Joker.

Round 1: Makeup & Munitions


In this corner we have the zany, the kooky, the psychopathically irrational…Jack Napier! Probably closer in appearance to the comic book iteration, Nicholson’s Joker has bleached white skin, pouty red lips and a penchant for purple crushed velvet. He uses all manner of gag weapons, which inevitably turn out to be lethal.

And in this corner we have the dark, the brooding, the facially disfigured…Ledger Joker! This season’s clown-prince-of-crime is sporting the always-trendy Chelsea grin, long straggly green hair and skin foundation that’s just a shade too light. In lieu of exploding whoopee-cushions, this Joker prefers good old fashioned knives, firearms and pyrotechnics.

Coming in just under the wire, Ledger’s version steals the win with a look that says: “You wanna know how I got these scars?”

Winner: Ledger 1 / Nicholson 0

Round 2: Closest to the Comics


Jack Nicholson surprised everyone by proving that a 52-year-old man could still prance around onscreen as a gaudy super-villain. While this detracts somewhat from the ageless comic book version, Nicholson stayed faithful to the Joker with a combination of well-tailored clown suits and gag weapons.

Rather than limiting himself to the time-honored image we still hold dear, Heath Ledger made the Joker his own by introducing a lot of grungy, anarchic elements. His version is completely insane and often contradictory, and for that he will always be remembered. Unfortunately, originality doesn’t win this round.

With a technical K.O., Jack Nicholson comes in on top for his faithful depiction of the character.

Winner: Ledger 1 / Nicholson 1

Round 3: On-Screen Origins


In 1989’s “Batman,” the Joker starts off as common crook Jack Napier, who’s slowly climbing the ranks of Gotham’s seedy underbelly. He’s eventually set up by his boss and comes face-to-mask with Batman. This encounter ends with Napier falling into a vat of chemicals which alter his appearance and shatter his mind.

In 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” Ledger’s Joker comes out of nowhere and describes conflicting accounts of how he came to be disfigured. There’s no background info on him and he has no close ties in Gotham City. This gives the character more gravitas and threat. But again, you don’t get points in this round for deviating from the source material.

The winner: take it away Jack.

Winner: Ledger 1 / Nicholson 2

Round 4: Maniacal Mannerisms


Nicholson’s Joker was bursting with all manner of crazy catchphrases. He danced around like a nut and stoles scene from Michael Keaton’s Batman with frenetic glee.

But summer of 2008 was rife with the low hum of constantly quoted Ledger lines. Not only did he steal scenes, he stole the whole movie with his maniacal cackle and loping grace. We gotta give this round to Heath Ledger.

Winner: Ledger 2 / Nicholson 2

Round 5: Intensity & Insanity


Jack Nicholson plays Jack Nicholson in pretty much every role he’s ever had. This is a great thing because Nicholson is basically a nut and so’s the Joker. His performance was exactly what you’d expect from the actor; crazy, intense and at times terrifying.

All kinds of stories circulated about how Heath Ledger prepared for his role. He purportedly shut himself up for days on end in an effort to fully flesh out a character that is fundamentally insane. The result was a portrayal that has yet to be topped and can probably never be imitated.

Ledger wins this round by a long shot.

Winner: Ledger 3 / Nicholson 2

Verdict:

By a score of 3 to 2, the winner is Heath Ledger’s Joker. Crazy is as crazy does, but in this battle of psychopathic criminals, Ledger’s version is a special kind of magic.

Did our verdict just drive you nuts? Be sure to debate in the comments, and subscribe to WatchMojo.com for more entertaining versus battles.
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