Christopher Nolan’s Joker – Greatest Villain in Cinema History?

Last night I saw the midnight screening of the Dark Knight at the new GardenWalk in Anaheim; it was sensational. I’m sure there will be review after review praising this film and I’m sure I’ll agree with what is said. I’m not going to write about the film in general. The question I’d like to raise is this: is Christopher Nolan’s Joker the greatest villain in Cinema History? Let’s go through and check:

Darth Vader – is now just a winy teenager. Even without the destruction of the Darth Vader character via the new 3 Star Wars episodes this Joker would give him a run for his money.

the Terminator – Unfortunately he’s only been a villain 33.4% of the time (he’s the hero of the 2nd and 3rd film). He falls behind the Nolan’s Joker as well.

Silas Lynch – from The Birth of a Nation, 1915. While he is worth mentioning, he falls behind the Joker as well – he’s not near as disturbing as the Joker, nor is he as evil.

the Wicked Witch of the West – she’s been made into the misunderstood good guy by “Wicked.”

Phyllis Dietrichson – in Double Indemnity, 1944. It’s true she’s crafty and can’t be trusted but compared to the Joker she’s like Mother Teresa. She causes nowhere near the level of destruction, and by comparison, she is not feared. The Joker strikes terror into th hearts of an entire city.

Henry F. Potter – from It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946. Just nowhere near the same level – I think you’d all agree.

Mrs. Iselin – from Manchurian Candidate, 1962. She’s on the list because she’s twisted and devious – the Joker has her beat in both categories.

CatwomanBatman Returns, 1992. Catwoman is probably the most comparable person on the list simply because she too comes from the Batman universe. The Joker will leave you disturbed and rattled. Catwoman is more of a typical superhero villain – almost playful. Joker wins, hands down.

Out of all the villains I can think of, the only one who truly rivals Nolan’s Joker is Hannibal Lecter. It’s a very close call but there are a few things to consider: think about the amount of havoc the Joker brought upon the city. Think about the volume of people who were terrified of him. Think about his motives. The most frightening thing about the Joker is that he really does not have any motives – he’s just a “dog barking at cars.” He loves doing what he does. Though it’s a close call, I believe the Joker wins again.

Heath Ledger was perfect and I’m not exaggerating. It’s fair to say (while we are on the Hannibal subject) that he gave an “Anthony Hopkins” worthy performance – he’ll go down in history.

So that’s my point – I think a strong case could be made for the Nolan Joker to be the greatest villain of all time. What say you?

-David May


7 comments so far

  1. Gillespie on

    A few things cloud my judgment right now – I just saw it and loved it and Ledger’s death is scewing many people’s opinions. But, I think time will tell. As people begin to watch it numerous times or years from now when people see it and don’t automatically know about the timing of Ledger’s death, we’ll get more of a sense of Nolan’s Joker’s standing among the greats.
    That being said, I think he just might be the greatest. When Nicholson played the joker – it was Jack Nicholson playing the joker. When Ledger does it – it’s just a twisted joker that looks nothing like other characters Ledger has done. Yes, the “Joker’s not really dead” scene gave us a good glimpse of how dark he is, but I really liked the questioning at the police station and especially the hospital scene. He scares you because he somehow convinces you to believe that EVERYONE is bad if given the right circumstances.
    I loved it when he just lies straight to Harvey’s face about everything and gets the most upright guy in Gotham to become a killer.

    My only guess for the next villain . . . catwoman. When Fox says “Should hold up pretty well against cats.” Now that Rachel is out of the picture, it should set it up for that typical catwoman temptress story.

  2. Harri Karri on

    The Joker wants chaos and to destroy mankind. That alone does not make him the best. What makes him the best is HOW he tries to accomplish his goals. Evil personified. The Joker is easily the greatest villain there will ever be. The movie was pure genius!

    BTW you might want to include Anton Chigurh of No Country and Alex from Clockwork Orange. Just my opinion.

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  4. Elizabeth on

    I totally agree with you on the Joker thing. What other Villian could do all those terrible acts and Actually Make Some Of Them Funny?

    You catch yourself laughing at the irony of setting a fire truck on fire and realise that a man who can make his mindset infectious is the scariest person imaginable…. or is that just me? 😛

  5. andy on

    Also did you think about the riddler he is a malignant narcissist with an ego that rivals or may even surpass that of the Joker. He commits his crimes in order to flaunt his intellectual superiority.Rumors of course are flying about what will transpire in the next Batman film. Check this one out from

    Johnny Depp is reportedly going to be a part of the next Batman installment playing the Riddler. And not only that, but execs want Philip Seymour Hoffman to play the Penguin.

    I doubt the truth in the penguin rumor, because I distinctly remember Christopher Nolan saying that he was against the idea of using the Penguin in his Batman films, because of the character being too ‘far fetched’, but you never know. Depp as the Riddler on the other hand seems a more likely possibility, a good counterpart to Christian Bale’s Batman. But a bad guy as good as Heath Ledger’s Joker is going to be hard to match even for Johnny Depp. It’s far too early to tell right now, but there is obviously going to be a sequel. The Dark Knight has already made $462.2 million worldwide!

  6. andy on

    Did you think about Freddy Koger, Michel Meyers, Jason, Bill The Butcher Daniel Day-Lewis, Gangs of New York (2002)Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates (1960, “Psycho”),Richard Thompson (Leland Orser) in The Bone Collector (1999)
    maybe even jeepers creepers when writing this look I know some of these guys are not as lunacies as the joker but I still think at lest some of them are mentioning. P.S. if misspelled some words I am sorry.

  7. Tim Samaniego on

    I don’t see any villain comparing with The Joker. Heath Ledger left the world on a stroke of brilliance, and I don’t see anybody else playing the character so perfectly. As mentioned above, I believe Hannibal Lecter to be the only villain how could possibly rival him, but I still see the Joker winning seeing as he has a more vicious nature. Hannibal follows a certain “code of conduct” whereas Joker lives in complete chaos. Its almost unfortunate that Chris Nolan brought the Joker into the series so early, as Heath set the bar so high. How do you follow up that act? I can’t think of any other batman villain as interesting as Joker, so I predict the series going down hill from here.
    RIP Heath Ledger

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