Every Heath Ledger performance, ranked
The year 2022 marks 30 years since Heath Ledger’s first (albeit uncredited) film appearance, but it was a career cut short by his death 14 years ago. On what would have been his 43rd birthday, we look back at the burgeoning work he left behind – work that earned him a posthumous Oscar win and an ever-growing legion of devoted fans.
Heath’s early work consisted of small roles in Australian feature films interspersed with television roles (including a stint on home and away)before bursting onto the Hollywood scene with the cult classic 10 things i hate about you. From there he worked steadily, partnering with famed Agent of Chaos, director Terry Gilliam, twice: first on the astonishing The Brothers Grimmand later, on his last film, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Highly adept at portraying all sorts of extreme characters, it’s understood that Heath carried their impact heavily; with speculation that his dedication to playing the Joker may have played a role in his eventual death.
Is Heath Ledger the greatest actor of his generation? Probably. He was an incredible movie star, and an amazing talent. His untimely death means we have no idea what projects he would have worked on as he got older; or even if he would have continued to work in front of the camera or preferred to go behind. There are reports that Heath, an avid chess player since childhood, had worked on a adaptation of The Queen’s Bet (which more recently, in a separate project, was turned into a Netflix series starring Anya Taylor-Joy). We can only imagine what it would have been like.
What we do not do You have to imagine the 19 feature films in which he played. Without further ado, here are all of Heath Ledger’s movies, ranked.
19. Clown (1992)
This early ’90s Aussie film has a “wink and you’ll miss it” role for Heath, in this mundane story about an adopted child who dreams of becoming a circus clown. His role was so small that it doesn’t even appear in the credits.
18. Paws (1997)
Another 90s Australian family film for Heath. This time around it’s an anonymous college student who plays Shakespeare’s Oberon in a comedy that sees a tech-savvy talking dog team up with two college students to stop some “bad guys” from getting an important computer disk. . Heath’s performance isn’t bad – there just aren’t many.
17. The Patriot (2000)
This 18th century war photo from the director Roland Emmericha guy who is known for making very exciting films (Independence Day, Two days later), is surprisingly dull. Heath plays the eldest son of a retired war hero (Mel Gibson), who defies his father’s wishes and joins the Continental Army. Despite a thoughtful performance, Heath’s fresh and serious portrayal doesn’t do enough to keep the film from sinking under its own weight. Even its low-key death scene (spoiler!) can’t get over the fact that the film is nothing more than a vehicle for Mel to dress up as an American hero.
16. Black Rock (1997)
black rock is Heath’s first officially credited feature, and this time he appears for more than one scene. Although he only has a small role, there’s a hint of the future star here in his performance as teenage Toby Ackland. This teen thriller caused some controversy in his native Australia for being based on an actual murder, but that didn’t hurt Heath’s career prospects; just two years later, he would star in the mega-hit, 10 things i hate about you.
15. The Order (2003)
In this horror film, Heath teams up with director Brian Helgeland and actors Mark Addy and Shannyn Sossamon – with whom he previously worked on The story of a knight. order sees Heath play Alex Bernieri, a conflicted and demon-fighting priest, with enough skill. The character’s inner turmoil is evident without being exaggerated. The problem is that once again Heath is disappointed by the rest of the film: jerky plot, mediocre script and questionable special effects.
14. The Four Feathers (2002)
With a cast that reads like a who’s who of early 2000s British TV and film, Heath was in excellent company in this war movie. In The four feathers, Heath plays a cowardly aristocrat who resigns from his military post on the eve of being sent to war in Sudan, ultimately being ostracized by his friends and family. Heath is, as always, excellent in this role, but the film doesn’t center his character as much as it should. We are treated to a number of scenes between Heath and Michael Sheen though, which are brilliant.
13. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
It is impossible to discuss this film without dwelling on Heath’s death. He died halfway through filming, so director Terry Gilliam had to find a way to finish without his lead. Heath gives an eclectic performance as Tony Shepard, a former criminal who is rescued by Dr. Parnassus’ troupe. But the rest of the movie is as you’d expect, especially in the scenes where it’s clear Heath has been replaced.
12. Two Hands (1999)
A comic gangster movie in which Heath stars alongside Rose Byrne, David Field and Susie Porter. Released in 1999, the same year as 10 things i hate about you, it was technically Heath’s first starring role. This suits him: he is comfortable occupying this space and plays the comedy with lightness.
11.Ned Kelly (2003)
Based on the 1991 novel our sunHeath is once again teaming up with Gregor Jordan (director of Two hands), this time with Orlando Bloom. Heath plays the eponymous Ned Kelly, legendary Australian bushranger, giving him the chance to lean into his natural Australian accent and physique. At over 6 feet, he puts that height to good use in this area; giving us a rare gruff and intimidating performance.
10. Monster Ball (2001)
In this award-winning film, Heath holds firm alongside Halle Berry’s masterpiece as Leticia Musgrove, a widow dating the man who executed her husband. Heath is the most violent we’ve seen in this film, which culminates in a truly shocking scene. It’s a dramatic turn, and damn close to one of his best.
9. Candy (2006)
Heath has returned to leading man territory in this poignant Australian romance drama. It’s the quirky love story of a heroin-addicted couple who can’t extrapolate their love for each other from their drug addiction. Heath is magnificent as Dan, the handsome, desperate lover. The energy between her Dan and that of Abbie Cornish Candy is electric, and as always, Heath’s performance grounds the film.
8. I’m Not Here (2007)
Todd Hayne’s musical drama film portrays Bob Dylan as six distinct characters, each embodying a different aspect of the musician. I am not here is widely known for Cate Blanchett’s gripping performance, for which she was nominated for an Oscar, but our boy does good here too. This set navigates between versions of Bob – from Cate, to Heath, to Ben Whishaw, to Christian Bale and repeat. While the other actors seem content to make impressions of the famous entertainer, Heath tries to capture his essence. His performance has hints of James Dean about it – an energetic young superstar with the world at his feet.
7. The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Heath’s first collaboration with acclaimed director Terry Gilliam produces a stunning performance in a film that’s as messy as it is beautiful. Heath is wonderful in The Brothers Grimm, playing the eldest of two con artists brothers (Matt Damon plays the young businessman). Heath’s natural charms are hidden behind large glasses and a long wig, which he twirls around like an absent-minded schoolgirl when talking to a woman he wishes to woo. This gives him space to play someone clumsy and cluttered; proof that he knows how to step into a role and make it his own.
2005 was a big year for Heath – each of his four released films being either critical hits or box office hits. The underrated casanova is no exception. Heath plays the infamous lover with warmth, charm and wit.
5. The Lords of Dogtown (2005)
A tour de force of a movie, which is often considered the quintessential skate movie. Based on a true story and written by one of the protagonists (Stacey Perolta), Heath plays Skip, a Svengali-type surf shop owner who puts together a skateboard team. Heath knows the stars of the show are the young skaters, and his performance supports them, rather than overwhelming them here. He’s charming and odd as the leader of this gang — so much so that the fake teeth he wears for the role only occasionally seem shocking. Change the dentures, and that role would go up a few rungs.
4. A Knight’s Tale (2001)
Heath’s first outing with director Gregor Jordan is arguably a true fan favorite. In The story of a knightit flexes the same active muscles it uses in casanova to represent the charming and mischievous William, servant of a knight. A hint of comic genius, a lot of levity; he and the film are a timeless joy to behold.
3. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Considered Heath’s standout performance, this film, also starring Julia Stiles and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, was a modern Shakespeare retelling. Tame the shrew. It’s fun, energetic and surprisingly deep. Heath’s turn as the charismatic anti-hero, Patrick Verona, could have seen him portray the character in a manipulative way, turning him into someone inimitable. Instead, Heath’s decision to play it with subtle charm, openness and a laid-back air gave Patrick hidden depths; an approachable bad boy. Coupled with his good looks and Australian accent, Heath helped launch a thousand teenage crushes and the careers of the film’s three young stars.
2. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Heath does some of his best work here in Ang Lee’s 60s queer romance. In Brokeback Mountain he plays Ennis Del Mar, the confused cowboy who finds himself married to Michelle Williams’ Alma, but in love with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Jack Twist. Heath’s low-key, Oscar-nominated performance centers on men and their love. He’s at his best here, capturing the character’s sensitivity and anger, confusion and despondency, without once going wrong. The fact that he didn’t win the Oscar for this performance is a travesty in itself.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath’s turn as the unhinged Joker in Christopher Nolan’s comic book masterpiece is surely one of the most shocking and lived-in performances by any actor on screen. With a cast of top talent, it would have been easy to see Heath overshadowed, but instead The black Knight belongs to him. His maniacal performance stays with you long after the film is over. It’s hard to believe that in a film over 2.5 hours Heath is only on screen for 33 minutes. The strength of his performance makes it impossible to separate the man from the film today. It’s a bittersweet performance, leaving us in awe of what could have been. If Heath had made more films, what dizzying heights could he have reached?