The Dark Knight, one of Heath Ledger’s best movies, has recently made its debut on Netflix, and already the film is the #7 most-watched film on the streaming service. The streaming giant offers a ton of content, so the fact that so many fans are revisiting the film is a testament to its staying power.
Originally released in 2008, Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight quickly became one of the most beloved Batman movies of all time. Heath Ledger’s magnetic turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight turned heads and wowed audiences, becoming the definitive big-screen interpretation of a character who has terrified comic fans and moviegoers for decades.
The story behind Heath Ledger’s casting in The Dark Knight is also incredibly interesting. Jonathan Nolan, the director’s brother and a co-writer on the film, was shocked by Nolan’s decision to cast Ledger as the movie’s big bad. But Christopher Nolan moved forward with the decision and promised a knock-out performance, and holy crap did we get one.
By the time the credits rolled, Heath Ledger’s Joker had been apprehended and soundly defeated by Batman. The Caped Crusader had thrown him off a building before saving him and leaving him to the law. However, as is always the case with the Clown Prince of Crime, it’s never a complete, or “clean,” win. The Joker has more contingencies than cards, and his artful molding of Harvey Dent into the misguided, murderous Two-Face was, as he put it, his “ace in the hole.” And it definitely was. So, Batman may have put the brilliant criminal behind bars yet again, but the Joker came out on top in a really terrifying way. It’s for this reason that the Joker ends up making the movie’s ending complex and worthy of endless discussion.
Sadly, Heath Ledger never experienced the praise or accolades he garnered with his Joker performance. He died of an accidental overdose on medications at age 28 on January 22, 2008, mere months before The Dark Knight hit theaters. The world would feel his absence in the days, months, and years that followed, mourning the loss of a bright young actor who had so much skill and charisma.
In addition to The Dark Knight, Heath Ledger left behind an impressive resume of films that include the fabulous but underrated A Knight’s Tale, The Brothers Grimm, Brokeback Mountain, Lords of Dogtown, and many other overlooked movies. He had an incredible career, and we can only imagine just how far he would’ve gone if he were still around today. That being said, The Dark Knight was far and away the biggest film he ever made and when people think of him, they often think of his unhinged, maniacal super-criminal from the aughts. And why wouldn’t they? It was a career-defining role that may never be topped, and other actors, try as they might, just didn’t fit the role as perfectly as Ledger did.
Heath Ledger’s jaw-dropping performance in The Dark Knight helped catapult the film to the top spot at the box office. The movie grossed over $1 billion at the global box office and $534.8 million domestically. It also received eight nominations at the 81st Academy Awards. Ledger posthumously won the coveted Best Supporting Actor award. Last year, the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry announced its intent to preserve the film for its significance in popular culture. Let’s be real, though: If the Library of Congress was not going to preserve the movie, fans absolutely would. It is too important and too beloved for time to wear it down.
Other, more recent interpretations of the Joker have attempted to blaze new trails and tread new ground, but none of them have even touched the weight or brilliance of Heath Ledger’s performance. Heck, not even Jared Leto’s de-tatted Joker in Zack Snyder’s cut of Justice League comes close to resonating quite like Ledger’s short tenure in the Clown’s shoes did.
Even though he has been gone for over 13 years, Heath Ledger has left his mark on our culture. His impact on both Hollywood and the Batman mythos will likely be felt for decades to come, and it will be exciting to see how his role continues to shape the Joker in the coming years.