Did Heath Ledger’s Tragic Death Ruin Plans for the Joker to Appear in The Dark Knight Rises?

MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The Joker was going to appear in The Dark Knight Rises before Heath Ledger’s tragic death squelched those plans.

Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight highlights the fallacy of overreacting to casting news before the film debuts, as Ledger’s casting drew a lot of criticism that was soon reversed when the actual film came out.

Tragically, before the film was even released, Ledger passed away, leading to his Oscar win being a posthumous one. The character of the Joker died with Ledger, at least in the context of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films. However, had Ledger not died, was Nolan planning on using the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises, his final Batman film?

Read on to find out!

As we have detailed many times over the years, rumors about would-be castings are quite common. Like we noted in a recent Movie Legends Revealed, there is still mystery over whether Christopher Walken’s character in Batman Returns was originally supposed to be Harvey Dent. Here, though, it would seem to be impossible not to spread rumors about the Joker’s possible future role in Batman films, as Christopher Nolan seemingly made a distinct point to keep the character alive at the end of The Dark Knight.

However, there are two very important points to take into consideration when it comes to discussing Christopher Nolan’s plans for The Dark Knight Rises.

The first, and probably most important, point is that there was no script written for The Dark Knight Rises at the time of Ledger’s death. There is significant confusion about this point, because the screenwriter who came up with the story for both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises (as well as coming up with the story and co-writing the screenplay for Batman Begins), David Goyer, did, in fact, write two scripts for two separate Batman movies featuring the Joker that would have followed Batman Begins. In 2005, he wrote about this possible third movie

“The next one [the third movie – BC] would have Batman enlisting the aid of Gordon…in bringing down the Joker…but not killing him, which is a mistake they made in the first one

This, then, is the major basis for the legend that the Joker was set to star in the third Batman film before Ledger’s untimely death. However, that is not accurate, because what ended up happening was that Nolan took Goyer’s plots for the two scripts and condensed them into a single story. For instance, Goyer was not going to have Harvey Deny turn into Two-Face until the third film, which would be Dent prosecuting the Joker in a sensational trial. Therefore, the “third” movie was really the second movie and thus, there was no script for a third Batman movie at the time of Ledger’s death.

Secondly, at the time of the release of The Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan had not committed to doing a third film. In fact, that was a driving force in him condensing Goyer’s two film ideas, because he didn’t want the end to have loose ends. He wanted The Dark Knight to be able to serve as a final film if he ended there. Of course, the film was such a huge success that he pretty easily changed his mind, but even there, it was not until December 2008 that Nolan actually sat down and came up with a story outline for the third film.

Do I think that the Joker would have appeared in Nolan’s final film had Ledger not died? Yes, I think that that is very likely. I just don’t believe that there was ever a specific plan to bring the character back that was “ruined” by Ledger’s sad, untimely death.

Therefore, the legend is…

STATUS: False

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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