Heath Ledger The Joker

It’s been ten years since ‘The Dark Knight’ arrived in theaters, shattering box office records and redefining many audience members’ sense of just what a comic book movie could be. But the movie’s impact didn’t end there. It also introduced audiences to the Joker, as played by Heath Ledger.

It’s easy to forget now, but Ledger’s casting was greeting with a fair bit of skepticism among the fanbase (“Really? The guy from ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ’10 Things I Hate About You’? Him?”), though this was nothing new for Bat-fans. In fact, it was practically a replay of the reaction to the news that Michael “Mr. Mom” Keaton would be stepping into the shoes of the Dark Knight himself a generation earlier. And, like Keaton before him, Ledger won over those skeptics, crafting an unforgettable performance and even earning a posthumous Academy Award in the process.

So apparent was Ledger’s impact from the moment the first footage of his Joker was released that speculation abounded that he would return in the third installment. Even Ledger’s untimely death in January 2008 couldn’t quite put an end to the idea, with rumors persisting that the character would be included in some form right up to the day ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ was released four years later.

It turns out there was a good reason for that. While some rumors persist simply because fans wish they were true, others have a grain of truth. This, it seems, is one of the latter. Speaking with news.com.au, Ledger’s sister Kate claims that Ledger himself told her of plans to appear in future Batman films. Whether this is indicative of anything more than loose talk between actor and director is difficult to say, but not unlikely given that Christopher Nolan would almost certainly have been more focused at the time on finishing ‘The Dark Knight’ than developing its sequel. Though, of course, it’s entirely likely he at least had a sense of what he wanted to do. Kate Ledger’s comment reads as follows:

“He was so proud of what he had done in ‘Batman’. And I know he had plans for another ‘Batman’. He loved working with Chris Nolan and Christian Bale and Gary Oldman. He just had the best time ever doing that film. When he came home at Christmas, he couldn’t wait to tell us all about it, and he was doing the voice and laughing, showing me all the rushes. We had a great time.”

Would ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ have benefitted from an appearance by Ledger’s Joker? Well, presumably it would have been a very different film had that even been an option. So the real question may well not be whether or not the movie would be better, but whether or not the Joker himself is better off for having only appeared in a single film. Had he reappeared, it could have proven too much of a good thing, diminishing the impact the character had in ‘The Dark Knight’.

But what do you think? Would an appearance by Ledger’s Joker (in some parallel world where that was possible) have benefitted ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ or would it have been better to leave well enough alone and not risk diminishing returns? Let us know in the comments.