Will Heath Ledger Win an Oscar for The Joker?

Heath Ledger Joker PictureI haven’t seen many blogs discussing this, so I thought I’d raise the question: Could Heath Ledger win an Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker in the upcoming Batman movie The Dark Knight? At the very least, could he receive an Oscar nomination?

The thought is unlikely – after all, action movies – especially action movies based on comic books featuring a man dressed up in a rubber bat suit – are hardly critical fodder for nominations of any sort outside of a few technical awards such as editing and visual effects. Jack Nicholson didn’t receive any major awards, or nominations, for his portrayal of Batman’s arch nemesis – and yet he was praised for his performance and is, at least for a few more months, still considered to have the best comic book villain performance ever.

But… is Academy Award recognition, whether it be through a win or a nomination, that unreasonably for the late Heath Ledger, who died earlier this week from an apparent drug overdose? Let’s look at the possibilities:

  • Heath Ledger already has an Oscar nomination for his excellent performance in Brokeback Mountain. Repeat nominees often have a better chance.
  • Heath Ledger was a good looking guy, and in his upcoming role, he plays a disfigured psychopath. Oscar voters love good-looking people who make themselves ugly (though this tend to applies more to women than men).
  • The Dark Knight is a comic book movie, yes, but of all of the comic book movies that could have had a chance at award nominations, Oscar or otherwise, Batman Begins is the most serious, dramatically significant, character-driven film of them all. Expectations are that The Dark Knight is going to have the same brooding, dark approach to it that the previous film had.
  • The Dark Knight is directed for Christopher Nolan, who so far has yet to direct a bad movie. Popular, critically favored directors can help elevate a film and its actors.
  • The buzz around Heath Ledger’s performance, even before his death, was and is huge. Snippets of his performance that have been seen in trailers and clips have been downright terrifying.
  • It looks like Heath Ledger has transformed himself into the villain of villains, and will do what no other actor has done: to overshadow Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of The Joker.
  • Some people are blaming Heath Ledger’s death on his devotion and submersion into his role as The Joker; the actor was apparently only sleeping a couple hours a night because The Joker was so disturbing and evil. It is possible that Ledger overdosed on sleeping pills. Essentially, it is possible that Heath Ledger “died” as a result of playing The Joker.
  • Heath Ledger is dead. Let’s face it – the emotional vote is in his favor.

To push on my last point a little more, madbeast.com says there are six actors to be nominated for acting Oscars posthumously:

  • Jeanne Eagels received a Best Actress nomination months after dying of a Heroin overdose.
  • James Dean received two nominations after his fatal car crash.
  • Spencer Tracy received his ninth Best Actor nomination after dying.
  • Peter Finch died of a heart attack some say was a result of an exhaustive effort to win the Oscar for Network. After WINNING THE AWARD, his costar and fellow nominee William Holden said, “If the son of a bitch
    hadn’t died, I could have won my second Oscar.” Hmm…
  • Ralph Richardson died five months before his Tarzan movie was released; he was subsequently nominated.
  • Massimo Troisi died a day after completing Il Postino; he received nominations for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.


So, again, we realize that a Batman film is an unlikely place to find an Oscar-winning performance in any way or form, but actors have been nominated posthumously before. The Dark Knight comes out in the summer, not a very good time to showcase an actor’s capabilities for Oscar voters, but the film will be hitting DVD sometime before Christmas, and it will hit big. Every voter will see the movie, and every voter will be reminded of Heath Ledger’s death.

Until that day, who knows, but it’s certainly an interesting prospect. What do you think?

By Erik Samdahl
Related categories: Awards & Oscars
Tags: , , , , , ,


  • Ryan

    Excellent post. I’ve been telling my friends and co-workers the same thing. I think The Dark Knight is going to meet and surpass the expectations of fanboys and critics.

  • Heath Ledger was an awesome actor from Brokeback Mountain to the joker.I think he should win and the award should eaither go to Michelle Williams or the Leger family.Ledgers death goes to show Hollywood has it’s own problems anywhere from poor Anna Nicole to Brittany Spears these people are only human and yes Ledger should win and his family should be proud he worked really hard in the short life he had.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for this insightful post. I told my husband this exact same thing last week; he looked at me like I had two heads. The buzz was huge before his death. While it’s unfortunate that he died, I think even more people will see the film now, especially in light of his trouble sleeping and other emotional issues with playing a role that Ledger himself called pure evil, devoid of any humanity. We’ll only know when the film comes out if it is a role deserving of accolades, but the odds in this case are certainly stacked in favor of nominations for many awards this time next year.

  • robot12

    At the moment he’s having the biggest buzz for an Oscar nod.
    so let’s face it he is a serious contender right now.
    And the release of the dvd on xmas, could help a lot the campaign for the Oscar nod in supporting actor and technical/artistic nods…well that helped Crash.
    because Crash was released on march/april, the dvd came on october/november LionsGate did campaign sending the dvd to the members of the Academy and the rest is history.
    So yes he has a chance.

  • Aaron S.

    I really appreciate the fact that there are other people that see more to Heath Ledger’s performance than just your typical summer blockbuster villain. What Heath Ledger did was something I have never seen before. The way he took the role with such care and effort from method acting to citing books such as Clockwork Orange is a phenomenal thing you will see in most actors these days. I can see how unique and incredible his portrayal of the Joker was just by watching the trailers and TV spots. I believe he should be nominated for an Oscar, if not win one, but even if this does not happen his performance will go down in film history.

  • Alex R

    I think Heath Ledger will give a solid performance as the joker. By what I’ve seen and heard, he truly has made the role his own. Even if The Dark Knight is a comic book based movie, it should be noted that the Academy Awards is to showcase the very best of talent, whether it’s best director, best actor, best supporting actor, etc. The fact is, Heath Ledger is a versatile talent and if he can go from a cowboy in Brokeback Mountain to Batman’s arch nemesis; that proves that he has what it takes to win that Oscar. But Oscar voters should simply overlook the fact that Ledger will be playing in a superhero film and look closely at his performance. Because, I think by what I saw Heath Ledger’s Joker will definitely be the most remembered Joker and will be up there with Hannibal
    Lecter. I hope he gets nominated for this role and skepticism aside, superhero film or not, this is definitely an Oscar deserving performance.

  • Hi Alex and Aaron,

    Thanks for your comments. Agreed 100%. Heath Ledger’s Oscar buzz is now on the Yahoo homepage… pretty rare for such definite buzz to happen so early in the year.


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  • Mary

    I also believe that Heath Ledger will win an oscar for this performance. I mean, let`s face it, lots of people will actually see the movie cause he’s in it and the fact that he’s no longer with us is determinant.

  • Chris

    I belive heath will win or at the very least get nominated for this. I mean come on this is the BEST i’ve ever seen the Joker portrayed

  • Dice

    He should win an oscar for this definately. best villan i’ve ever seen and i hate the batman series. He made the film his own. Far better than Jack. Heath Ledger R.I.P

  • Nancy

    History has been made, period.

  • B A Farrow

    to prove that heath ledgers preformance is not only oscar worthy but will live on as legend as well myself and im sure many other creative people will be inspired by heath’s joker to go on and create their own projects i hope mine is worthy of this new joker whom i have fallen madly for

  • At age 48 I have had my years of watching many movies, most of them on the serious, auto-biographical, real life drama side. I tend to admire the works of Pacino, Streep, “Jack”, Denzel, Hanks, Hopkins….(you get the picture). I will say this, Heath Ledger as “The Joker” in his last acting role will go down as one of the all time outstanding works on screen. If you haven’t seen this movie and utlimately do, you will find yourself waiting for him to re-appear again & again as he “grabs your attention” every second he is in view. The Academy should really look at what this so very talented young man gave to all of us fans, as good a performance as you will ever see on film. So sad he left so soon….”Thank you Heath”.

  • Cammie

    Saw the movie at the Drive-In last night. Ledger stole the show. He was brilliant. Speaking as a writer, I want to remind everyone just how difficult it is to stay in character, especially an “evil” character, for any amount of time. It is exhausting, emotionally and physically. Once the character becomes real, you find yourself understanding his or her twisted motives much more than you want to. You question your own sanity because you are able to force yourself to become this character, a character you find morally repugnant, yet strangely sympathetic. You are afraid that you won’t be able to leave the character’s behind – that it will attach itself to your mind like an alternate personality. Sometimes it can be fun, especially if you like to unleash your dark side once in a while, but its also frightening. I have done this while writing stories, coming back to a character day after day, channelling evils that I’m not so sure I will be able to just slough off when the last sentence is written. Ledger was the last and best Joker. No one will ever be able to follow that performance. As much as I loved him and everything Batman, I was profoundly shocked and disturbed by his performance in a way I haven’t been since Schindler’s List. He most richly deserves an Oscar nomination, and I will always regret the loss of one of the brightest stars of my generation. He was going to be great.

  • john

    Heath Ledger was an amazing actor. He played the Joker with disconcerting realism. I will be amazed if he doesn’t at least get nominated for an Oscar with that stunning performance.

  • Alex

    i think he should win an oscar for his performance in the dark knight. he made the movie. everyone else sucked. i woudnt have even bothered seening it if i hadnt heard how good the joker was. just picture the dark knight without the heath ledger as the joker. any good? i think not. could any other actor even try to do that voice? ptsh…no. good luck finding another joker!

  • Hi Alex. Really, everyone else sucked?

  • david morganist

    this is one of the greatest performances by an actor ever!

  • Brett

    Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker far surpassed any actor’s portrayal of any homicidal sociopath. This is not a bad thing; Quite the opposite. Mr. Ledger, from a speculation point of view, did lose himself in his role, and died as a direct result. However, this does not, NOT, negate the fact that Heath Ledger deserves not only a nomination, but I believe he has already won the Oscar his role in “The Dark Knight”.

  • taylor

    heath ledger most definently deserves to be rewarded for his amazing acting as the joker in christopher nolan’s,Dark Knight

  • heath ledger deserves the oscar for his performacne as the joker
    in the “Dark Knight” from what i have seen, he was just exellent
    he’s great actor.

  • Kevin

    I believe that Heath Ledger does deserve at least an Oscar nomination for his role in the Dark Knight. Although, yes, Jack Nicholson did an outstanding performance when playing the first Joker, I think that his performance was still edging towards the comical side of the batman movies during that time. Heath Ledger brought forth a completely new and unknown character that the Joker was created with, insanity. Many actors try to pull this psychopathic feature off, but very few can. There have not been many actors to show that true gift of “creepiness” since the role that Anthony Hopkins portrayed in The Silence of The Lambs. Although there will be much emotion involved with the decision of this possible nomination, I believe that Heath Ledger brought back that “creepiness” that is not seen much in the Hollywood industry, and for that he deserves at least the nomination itself. Of course, this is only my opinion.

  • It seems like an almost foregone conclusion that Ledger will win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. At the time of this article, I thought it wasn’t too farfetched for a nomination – but little chance for a win.