In 1989, a little movie called Batman directed by Tim Burton, swept the nation while bringing The Caped Crusader and his ultimate foe, The Joker, to the big screen for a new generation of fans.
Michael Keaton landed the titular role and Jack Nicholson signed on to portray the most popular and psychotic villain in comic book history. Not only did Nicholson nail the role, but his quirky performance stole the show, especially in certain scenes that we will never forget.
He started out as mobster, Jack Napier, and completely transformed himself into the Clown Prince of Crime right before our eyes. It was a cinematic feat that not many actors can handle.
Not only was he a kooky criminal, but he was easily the funniest cinematic version of The Joker we've seen yet -- or maybe since, even with many iterations of the character.
We almost had to remind ourselves not to root for him, as we hysterically laughed at his perfectly-timed puns and one-liners even as he laid on the pavement dying.
The film itself was very... well, Tim Burton. It was wacky and outlandish, but that's what cemented Jack Nicholson and his version of The Joker in our minds for years to come.
With that said, let's delve into 5 reasons why Jack Nicholson's Joker is so iconic...
First Cinematic Version
Other than Cesar Romero, who played a live-action version of The Joker on television in the early '60s, we didn't see a cinematic adaptation until Jack Nicholson came along.
He's well known as being the very first "Movie Joker" who was responsible for introducing the maniacal Batman villain to mainstream audiences and a new generation of fans.
Romero ended his career as The Joker in 1968 when Batman: The TV Series came to an end and the live-action Joker was put to rest for a good 21-years.
Not only did Jack Nicholson revive the character, he also put a much darker spin on him, which at the time was more faithful to the comic books.
In other words, he was The Joker than fans were waiting for to see onscreen.
Batman jump-started a new era of mass hysteria and general hype for the prolific comic book characters. It made a killing at the box office with over $400-million. Anyone and everyone was talking about The Joker again.
Even though his origin story was a little different...
In Batman, The Joker started out as local mobster Jack Napier - a cranky, grumpy, mean-spirited man who for some reason enjoyed flipping a deck of cards around his office.
The deck of cards did save him from being killed, as it stopped a bullet from entering his heart because they were in his chest pocket.
Napier was a vain, humorless criminal with his fancy suits and trophy girlfriend. As a youngster, he turned to a life of violent crime on the streets of Gotham and alluded to murdering his own parents.
Speaking of parents, when Napier was climbing the ladder of the local crime organization, he and his partner in crime mugged Bruce Wayne's parents at gunpoint, shooting them both in cold blood.
He look at a young Bruce and asked, "Tell me, kid, have you ever danced with the devil by the pale moonlight?" As Napier ran from the scene he told a devastated Bruce that he would see him around.
Little did he know that he would meet up with Bruce Wayne years in the future as Batman and The Joker.
Napier transformed into The Joker when his boss Grissom, ordered a corrupt cop to murder him at Axis chemicals for stealing his girlfriend. However, Batman (who actually tried to save his life) and Commissioner Gordon got in the way, preventing Napier from being killed, but he still ended up falling into a vat of acid.
He washed out into Gotham Bay through some drainage pipes and was permanently ruined. His hair was green, his skin was white, and his lips were ruby red. He tried to get his face fixed by a plastic surgeon, but ended up with that iconic permanent smile instead.
He snapped and became The Joker...
For those of us that were lucky enough to see Batman in the theater, we couldn't stop starring at The Joker. He was so mesmerizing that our eyes refused to focus on anything else while he was on the screen.
Nicholson's character naturally demanded attention with his loud, colorful, and psychotic demeanor. So much so, that we forgot that Batman was also there.
Half the time we were just trying to figure out what on earth he was saying or doing, like when he and his goons did a fabulous song and dance number while vandalizing a museum. The purpose of this ridiculous scene was purely to entertain the audience, bring in a lighter tone for a few minutes, and allow Nicholson to define his Joker.
Tim Burton clearly had his own creative vision for the film and Jack Nicholson's Joker brought it to life. In the end, he clearly overshadowed our hero. Think back - What scenes do you remember the most from Batman? Are they mostly Joker scenes or Batman scenes? Point proven.
Some were even rooting for the villain instead of the hero because his performance captured our attention more than Batman's did.
The parade sequence is easily the most ridiculous stunt that any Joker has ever pulled on the big screen. It easily stands out in our minds as an iconic moment.
The Joker announced on television that he would be reigniting the previously cancelled Gotham City's 200th Anniversary Parade and promised to toss $20-million dollars into the crowd.
He arrived in style sitting atop of a flashy float like a king, blasting music and dancing...again.
After throwing his fake cash into the crowd, he released the parade balloons that he filled with gas to kill the entire city.
Nice trick, Joker!
Batman arrives and stops the show and saves the citizens, more like ruins the show for all of us that were enjoying the moment. But, the Joker responded with shooting down the Batwing with the most insane looking long-barelled revolver we've ever seen.
His tactical trick was ruined, but he still got what he wanted - a face-off with Batman and a gargoyle...
Sometimes, I Just Kill Myself
Out of all the Jokers, people quote Jack Nicholson's version the most.
Sometimes people even quote him without having any idea where the saying came from. He killed the audience with his hilarious one-liners, puns, schticks, and mumbled phrases. This Joker was easily the most comedic, so much so, that we still quote him on a daily basis over 20 years later.
When he finally faced off with Batman after the parade stunt, he asked a stone gargoyle, "What are you laughing at?" then put on fake glasses before saying, "You wouldn't hit a man with glasses, would ya?" before he plunged to his unfortunate death on the pavement below.
Even as he was lying there dying from the impact, he said "Sometimes, I just kill myself." He died a humorous death and we all felt a little sad inside as he gave his last laugh.
You can watch a clip from the final scene below; Here's a list of his best original and iconic quotes:
- "This town needs an enema!"
- “I thought I was a Pisces!”
- “Never rub another man's rhubarb”.
- "And where is the Batman? HE'S AT HOME WASHING HIS TIGHTS!”
- “The pen, is truly mightier than the sword!”
- “I'm of a mind to make some mookie.”
- “Gotham City. Always brings a smile to my face.”
- “Haven't you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?”
And finally his last spoken words...
“Sometimes I just kill myself!”