Joker Features Major Reference to Heath Ledger's Dark Knight Performance

Joker honors quite a lot of Batman lore in its origin story of how the Caped Crusader's greatest nemesis came to be - and not just from the comic book page, but the big screen, as well. Ever since Batman has become a big movie star, the Joker has inevitably become one as well, and the actors that have portrayed the villain n movies have each become iconic in their own right. Heath Ledger's Joker in The Dark Knight is so beloved that fans didn't believe anyone could surpass it, and Joker makes sure to pay respect to one of the most iconic moments in Ledger's Joker performance.

Warning: Major Joker Spoilers Follow!!!

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The climatic act of Joker sees Arthur Fleck go on the late night talk show "Live! With Murray Franklin" in full Joker makeup, after committing a string of brutal murders. Murray wants Arthur to be on the show in order to mock his epic crash and burn at a local comedy club, but Arthur has other ideas. He confesses live on air to being the infamous clown killer the cops are pursuing, and after a testy exchange with Murray over the morality of his crimes, Arthur shoots the TV star in the head with all of Gotham watching. Arthur is promptly arrested and taken into police custody, and this is where we get a nice little ode to Heath Ledger's Joker from The Dark Knight.

The cops are driving Arthur to the station, while Gotham is busy erupting into mass chaos, as Murray Franklin's murder on live TV proves to be the tipping point in Gotham's festering, bubbling, class war. A weary Arthur is leaning against the window in the back of the police car, peering up on at the skyline of Gotham City passing by. The shot is a wonderful reversal of The Dark Knight's iconic "Cop Car Scene," in which Heath Ledger's Joker turns the tables on his police captors, and escapes custody in a police car, while leaning out the rear window with his head tilted up to the sky, tasting the sweet, wild, freedom of his chaotic malevolence.

In similar fashion to that moment in The Dark Knight, Arthur's moment of tranquility is shattered when the cop car gets rammed, and a mob of clown-masked rioters pull Arthur from wreck, laying him on the hood of the police cruiser with god-like reverence. Arthur awakens just as Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down in a nearby alley, as "Arthur" is fully reborn as "Joker," and celebrates with his mob of acolytes by performing his ballet-like dance on top of the cop car, with Gotham burning in the background.

The best part about this reference is that Ledger and Phoenix were actually friends in real life. Both found their careers opening up in big ways during the early 2000s, and they knew and respected one another for their respective acting talents. So, this moment form Phoenix in Joker could arguably be seen as nice, touching ode to his late friend, which would make it all the more sweet.

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Did you catch this Heath Ledger Dark Knight reference in Joker? Spot any others? Let us know in the comments!

Joker is now in theaters. Upcoming DC Movies include Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) on February 7, 2020, Wonder Woman 1984 on June 5, 2020, The Batman on June 25, 2021, The Suicide Squad on August 6, 2021, and Aquaman 2 on December 16, 2022.