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
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