The Dark Knight Rises turns 10 this week, while its predecessor The Dark Knight was released precisely 14 years ago. Something that nearly linked the two films is Heath Ledger’s Joker, until the actor’s tragic death. Here we speculate on what might have happened had he lived.
The Dark Knight is a towering achievement in superhero cinema. The second installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy pitted the caped crusader against Joker, and Heath Ledger’s performance was one for the ages.
Dominating every scene in which he appears, The Dark Knight was Joker’s movie, and that terrifying portrayal helped propel the movie to more than $1 billion worldwide. It also earned Ledger a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Ledger passed away while the film was being edited, however, and with Nolan unwilling to cast someone else in the role, The Dark Knight was the last we saw of Joker in this particular Batman trilogy. But there was a time when the character had a two-movie arc.
Original plans for the Batman trilogy
Around the time of the release of Batman Begins, writer David S. Goyer spoke of potential plans for Joker.
Speaking to Premiere Magazine (via ComingSoon), Goyer said: “The next one would have Batman enlisting the aid of [Commissioner] Gordon and [Harvey] Dent in bringing down the Joker… but not killing him, which is a mistake they made in the first one.”
Read More: Why is The Dark Knight Rises so divisive?
Then speaking of a trilogy, Goyer added: “In the third, the Joker would go on trial, scarring Dent in the process.”
Those plans obviously changed when The Dark Knight was green-lit, as while Joker is somewhat responsible for Dent’s injuries, they happen via booby-trap rather than an attack in court.
Heath Ledger wanted to play Joker again
At the time of his death, rumors circulated that playing Joker had taken a toll on Heath Ledger. But watching the documentary I Am Heath Ledger, it’s clear that he loved playing the “Clown Prince of Crime.”
Indeed, while promoting the doc, his sister Kate Ledger told news.com.au: “He was a really happy person and he had huge plans for his future. I spoke to him the night before [he died] and we were laughing and joking.
“He was so proud of what he had done in Batman. And I know he had plans for another Batman. He loved working with Chris Nolan and Christian Bale and Gary Oldman. He just had the best time ever doing that film.”
Sadly, he never got to put those plans into practice, and his death changed the course of the movies.
The part Joker might have played in The Dark Knight Rises
The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t written until after both Heath Ledger’s death, and the release of The Dark Knight, by which time the decision had been taken to excise Joker from the story.
Last summer however, The Hollywood Reporter asked David S. Goyer how Joker might have played into the story they ended up with, and more specifically the sub-plot where Bane releases prisoners from Arkham Asylum.
“Obviously, that would have completely changed the polarity of the third film,” Goyer said. “It’s true we didn’t discuss the third film until two or three months after The Dark Knight had come out. Chris wasn’t interested [in discussing] what might happen in the next film. He always wanted to focus on the film in hand. He didn’t want to lay any groundwork for something that may or may not happen.
“But it’s a logical assumption that the Joker would have been released, and it’s certainly interesting to think of what would have happened if we had done that.”
Different journey, same destination
That said, even if they came up with a way to have both Bane and Joker running around Gotham City, the film’s final image would have remained the same.
Speaking to Empire Magazine before the release of Dark Knight Rises, Goyer explained that Bruce Wayne finding happiness was always the intention.
“The final scene of The Dark Knight Rises is exactly [the] scene we talked about [when Christopher Nolan and I started the trilogy]. It remained completely unchanged. We both knew in our hearts that we were onto something special. I have to tell you, having finally seen everything strung together a little while ago and seeing that scene, I got a complete lump in my throat.”
So while the journey may have been different had Heath Ledger lived and Joker laughed another day, the destination would very much have stayed the same.