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MOVIE URBAN LEGEND: The Joker was going to appear in “The Dark Knight Rises” until Heath Ledger’s tragic death altered those plans.
Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker in “The Dark Knight” highlights the trouble with overreacting to casting news before the film debuts. Tragically, before the film was released, Ledger passed away, leading his Academy Award to be presented posthumously. The character of the Joker died with Ledger, at least in the context of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. However, had Ledger not died, was the director planning to use the Joker in in the trilogy’s final film, “The Dark Knight Rises”?
As we have detailed many times over the years, rumors about would-be castings are quite common. As we noted recently, there’s still mystery about whether Christopher Walken’s character in “Batman Returns” was originally supposed to be Harvey Dent. Here, however, it would seem impossible not to spread rumors about the Joker’s possible future role in Batman films, as 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 consider when discussing Nolan’s plans for “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The first, and probably most important, is that there was no script written for “The Dark Knight Rises” at the time of Ledger’s death. There’s been significant confusion on this point, because David S. Goyer, who devised the story for both “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” did in fact write scripts for two Batman films featuring the Joker that would have followed “Batman Begins.” In 2005, he wrote about this possible third movie:
“The next one [the third movie] 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 primary basis for the legend that the Joker was set to star in the third Batman film before Ledger’s untimely death. However, that’s 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 wasn’t going to have Harvey Dent turn into Two-Face until the third film, which would feature the district attorney 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,” Nolan hadn’t committed to marking a third film. In fact, that was a driving force in condensing Goyer’s two film ideas, because he didn’t want the end to have loose threads. 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 wasn’t 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? I think that’s very likely. I just don’t believe there was ever a specific plan to bring the character back that was altered by Ledger’s death.
Therefore, the legend is…
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