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Which Joker Was Better - Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton's Batman Movie or Heath Ledger in Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight?

Updated on September 26, 2018

There's no doubt that one of greatest villains ever created in the world of comics is the clown prince of crime - the Joker! His crazy and sadistic antics have tested Batman's metal time and time again. Without a great villain, you can't have a great hero.

Which brings me to this hub and why I'm asking which was the better Joker - Heath Ledger or Jack Nicholson?

I know it's a strange comparison, because Tim Burton's Joker in the 1989 Batman movie is a whole different beast than the Joker in Christopher Nolan's 2008 The Dark Knight. Yes, and both Jack Nicholson's and Heath Ledger's takes on the Joker were both phenomenal in their own unique ways.

Nevertheless, who says you cannot compare the two? That's like saying you can't compare KFC's original chicken to their "crispy" chicken. After all, everyone has favorites, right?

Now, don't get me wrong here. This comparison has nothing to do with the "acting." I think we all can agree that both performances were astounding, as I mentioned early. This comparison can range from how the Joker was written in both Batman movies and how "realistic" the character was captured on screen.

There's no doubt that if a character is written completely wrong, he just wont translate on screen well no matter who you get to play him or her. Ghost Rider, Catwoman, Elektra just to name a few comic movies that ruined really cool comic characters.

Was the way the Joker was written convincing? Which Joker was scarier?

Tim Burton's Joker

After all the rigorous hours of putting all that make up on to play the part, Jack Nicholson actually looked like the older Joker from the silver age comics. I'm sure we can all agree that Jack Nicholson did capture all the bombastic, crazy, evil silliness that makes up the Joker in the comic books.

Tim Burton's Joker was written and modeled off of the older Batman comics, and the character was more true to the Joker in those silver and early bronze age comics. However, here's the thing:

The Joker in Tim Burton's Batman was just silly. Sure, he was crazy as well, but he was just written silly. I'll make my points to back up my reasoning here.

The one thing I liked in Tim Burton's Batman was that it did depict one of the Joker's many origins in which he falls into a tank of chemical waste. That was cool to some extent. However, there are just some things within comic books that shouldn't be translated on screen.

Now, the character was written pretty dead on to how the Joker is in the comic book. He uses comedic weapons like his infamous flower squirter that squirts acid. It is his trade mark weapon, as well as his lethally charged electric joy buzzer, but realistically, those didn't have to be in the movie.

There's one word for that and it's campy! It wasn't really believable. I know they were trying to stay genuine to the character in the comic, but there's something's that work on screen and something's that are okay to leave out.

It would've been fine to leave out those silly weapons and have him use more realistic ones to cause mischief and mayhem. The aim for anyone writing the Joker is to have him appear truly frightening in an insane way. The Joker portrayed by Jack Nicholson didn't capture that. It captured totally insane in a goofy, silly way.

Another thing troubling about the way the Joker was written in the 1989 Batman film is that the Joker was surrounding by goofy henchmen. They didn't look real or convincing and were seen as incompetent. How can you have a frightening villain if he surrounds himself with incompetent henchmen? It just doesn't give off the right menacing air of plausibility.

Here's the big problem I had with the way the character was written in the 1989 Batman movie that ruined the Joker's character was the plot line about being smitten for Vicki Vale, played by Kim Basinger. It was quite silly to see the Joker try to woo her. Yes, his approach in wooing Vicki Vale was crazy and nutty but it was comical.

The Joker is anarchy incarnate, a homicidal maniac with no rules. The only thing he loves is causing complete and utter mayhem and destruction. I didn't get the whole deal with the Joker falling for Vicki Vale. That seemed to ruin the essence of the character's villainy.

Although there's no doubt that Jack Nicholson did an amazing job acting wise, the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman didn't frighten me. I wasn't laughing with him. I was laughing at him. I blame that on bad writing.

Christopher Nolan's Joker

Like most comic book geeks, I have to admit that I scratched my head when it announced that Heath Ledger was going to play the Joker in Christopher Nolan's follow up sequel The Dark Knight. I was a bit concerned.

However, after watching the movie, I was astonished at the fresh take on the Joker. The spin on the character was not all that strict to the comic book, and for once, I thought this was a good thing.

I was pretty shocked that Christopher Nolan's Joker was physically far off from the characters appearance in the comic book, and I thought this intriguing. I wasn't disappointed. The long straggly hair gave him a crazed sloppy look. I liked the fact that he wore make up, instead of being physically deformed by toxic waste. This added even more of scary, crazy kind of mentality to the character.

Another thing that was great was that his purple suit was darker and more moodier, unlike the overly bright purple Joker suit and colors Jack Nicholson wore. The suit in Tim Burton's Batman was a little too bombastic and over-the-top in terms of overly bright, annoying colors.

Although, I loved watching the origin of the Joker in Tim Burton's film, I thought it was brilliant that Chris Nolan didn't go through the Joker's origin. This gave the character total mystery. There was no previous profile to fall back on. That particular spin added even more unpredictability to the character and made him even more frightening.

Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker was unbelievably realistic and frightening. Here was a Joker that was just menacing. I loved how they kept his back ground shrouded in complete mystery, and the different stories he would tell about how he got his scars really left you wondering just how did he get those scars and if they had a hand in his psychosis.

Christopher and Johnathan Nolan definitely grounded the Joker in the real world, making him use real everyday weapons to add to the character being believable. Yes, they did stray from a lot of the character's comic book nuances, but that worked in their favor.

This Joker is definitely more frightening, and it's his believability that makes him just that more frightening. He also wasn't surrounded by idiotic henchmen, and would rather hinder Bruce Wayne's love interest than try to court her.

Heath Ledger gave the character an almost child-like quirk that made the Joker even more creepy. The part where he's walking down the street in that nurses uniform was brilliant. His walk was like a kid that was just so pleased with himself. Then he pushes the button on the controller continuously until the hospital finally blows up.

Another thing was great about this Joker was that his dialogue was smart. He bordered the line between intelligent and insane. There was a definite reasoning to his madness, which made him a scarier version of crazy, and the things that he said that were funny were done in a completely twisted and evil way.

One scene that captured this dark humor was when he walked in on the meeting of Gotham's mob bosses and did his magic trick of making the pencil disappear by ramming it through the skull of a goon that tried to restrain him. That's the sick humor that the Joker is suppose to have.

I have to hand it to Chris Nolan and Heath Ledger's Joker. Although not totally genuine to the comic book character, their Joker, in my opinion, definitely captured a more realistic, scarier, and truly frightening Joker.

In Conclusion

Now, I know which Joker is better is all subjective. I personally like how the Joker was portrayed in The Dark Knight better than in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman. I do love both movies for completely different reasons, but I think Chris Nolan nailed how the Joker is suppose to be - menacing, insane but intelligent, and just plain damn frightening.

Now, some fans may like how Tim Burton's Joker was more authentic to the actual character in the comic book. They may prefer that over realism or the character being believable in the real world. The character is a comic book character after all, right?

That's cool. No answer is right. It's all about what you prefer and like. Either way, vote for which Joker you liked better or thought was better for whatever reasoning you may have.

Which Joker Did You LIke Better?

See results

© 2012 Vic


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