Heath Ledger had an extremely impressive career before his tragic death in 2008. There is no question that he would have gone on to create even more memorable characters if he had not passed away so suddenly. Ledger had a charisma and ability to transform into his characters that made him stand out among many actors. He could play a heartthrob just as easily as he could play a villain, as we saw in his portrayal of Joker in The Dark Knight. Ledger had an emotional range that created dynamic performances for many years. At the same time, the documentary I Am Heath Ledger showed us that he had a loving and adventurous personality.
Ledger was born in 1979 in Perth, Western Australia and started acting at an early age in school plays. Ledger left school to travel across Australia to pursue an acting career, taking parts in film and television along the way. He rose to international fame after starring in the teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You. After that, Ledger took several iconic film roles that showcased his sheer talents and capabilities. Ledger left behind an impressive career that has inspired many actors. Let’s take a look at his best performances, ranked.
8 10 Things I Hate About You
In this modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Ledger plays Patrick Verona, an Australian “bad boy” who wins the heart of Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles). The world was introduced to the charm and talent of Ledger though this film and audiences will never forget his iconic scene when he sang on the high school bleachers. It was easy to see that Ledger had the charisma and talent to be an A-list actor. Ledger convincingly played a “bad boy” with a big heart, and the entire world fell in love with him early in his career.
7 The Patriot
In The Patriot, Ledger plays Gabriel Martin, the kind-natured and brave son of Benjamin Martin (Mel Gibson) during the Revolutionary War. Playing opposite of a superstar like Mel Gibson would be daunting and challenging to many, but Ledger did it with ease. He exudes passion as a young man determined to fight for his country and he ended up being one of the most memorable parts of the film. Ledger proved himself as a major Hollywood contender with The Patriot, destined to do great things.
6 Ned Kelly
Ledger, once again, transforms into his character as the outlaw, Ned Kelly, who fought against an oppressive government. Ledger exudes passion and fury from start to finish and convincingly plays a desperate man fighting against injustice. At the same time, we see a terrific character arc created by Ledger, as he goes from a man living a quiet life to an outlaw on the run. The emotional range of Ledger is on point in Ned Kelly, and he convincingly portrays the heroic role.
5 Lords Of Dogtown
Although his character of the California surfer, Skip Engblom, was a supporting role, Ledger is a scene-stealer in Lords of Dogtown. Ledger totally encapsulates the character from his voice to his eccentric personality. We see, through Ledger’s performance, the passion that Skip had for the freedom and rebellion that the surf culture represented. His performance in this film, once again, proved his capabilities of transforming into his characters physically and emotionally.
It is no easy feat for an actor to honestly capture the persona of a heroin addict. In the 2006 film, Candy, Ledger pulls it off by playing the drug-addicted character, Dan, opposite Abbie Cornish. Ledger gives a real and gritty performance and portrays the desperate and hopeless life that comes with drug addiction. At the same time, his chemistry with Cornish was stellar. Ledger shows you the dual personalities of addiction and recovery and the roller coaster ride that addiction actually is.
3 Monster’s Ball
Ledger’s performance in Monster’s Ball is subtle and shows you his ability to capture a character through his emotions and physicality. In many of the scenes, Ledger is able to communicate so much while saying so little. He portrays a hopeless and broken character who has been beaten down emotionally from his father (Billy Bob Thornton) his entire life. This film is another example of Ledger’s sheer capabilities of stealing every scene that he is in. Although his character tragically commits suicide in the first act, you feel his soul lingering throughout the entire film.
2 Brokeback Mountain
Ledger deservingly earned his first Oscar nomination for his role in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Ledger plays Ennis Del Mar, a cowboy spending decades hiding his relationship with Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenaal). Through his performance, Ledger perfectly captures a man living a life of quiet desperation. He is a submissive, subtle character, making his blasts of emotion that more captivating. Ledger delivers the final line of the film with such power and emotion, there is no doubt that he was one of the greats.
1 The Dark Knight
It should be no surprise that Ledger’s performance as Joker in The Dark Knight lands the #1 spot on this list. Ledger is almost unrecognizable as the sadistic villain. He is untouchable in every scene and his performance will go down as one of the best portrayals of a comic book villain in history. Ledger adds so much to his character from a creepy voice, to notable physical quirks seen throughout the film. At the same time, Ledger offers comedic moments throughout his performance. Ledger’s portrayal of Joker was a pure example of an actor completely transforming into a character. Ledger would go on to win a posthumous Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.
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