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Heath Ledger's Joker named most iconic movie moment of the last 21 years

Tom Butler
Senior Editor
Heath Ledger as Joker in The Dark Knight. (Warner Bros.)

To celebrate 21 years of aggregating film reviews, the Rotten Tomatoes website has been polling its readers to determine the best movie moment that happened on its watch since the site launched in 1998.

Over 25,000 RT fans voted in the poll, and Heath Ledger’s entire performance as Batman’s adversary Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight topped the poll “by a serious margin”.

Thanos’ reality-altering “snap” with the Infinity Gauntlet in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War came in second place, while Haley Joel Osment’s “I see dead people” line in 1999’s The Sixth Sense came in third.

In the run up to the poll, Rotten Tomatoes conducted a series of deep dive interviews into the 21 iconic movie moments competing for the honour, each offering a fascinating look into the filmmaking process behind the indelible scenes.

Talking to Susan Bonds, the marketing exec behind The Dark Knight’s groundbreaking viral campaign that first revealed Ledger’s Joker to the world, and makeup artist John Caglione Jr. who workshopped the Batman villain’s look with the Aussie actor, the interview is a treasure trove of insight - watch it below.

Caglione Jr. says a specific note from director Chris Nolan helped to nail the look for Joker, setting Ledger’s portrayal a world apart from that of Cesar Romero’s in the TV series and Jack Nicholson’s in Tim Burton’s 1989 film.

“We started playing with makeup on Heath and experimenting with a very decaying, kind of broken-down makeup,” the Oscar-winning makeup artist told Rotten Tomatoes.

Read more: Ledger asked Bale to punch him for real

“At first, the lines were very clean and very clownlike. And I had to go against the grain and break down this character. I remember when Chris brought in books of Francis Bacon paintings, these very blurry images. That really set the tone and set us in a direction of really just muting down and degrading the makeup.”

Heath Ledger as Joker in The Dark Knight. (Warner Bros.)
A Sotheby's employee stands in front of Francis Bacon's 'Untitled (Pope)' painting at the auction house's London office.

“Our riff on it was that it had to be a very organic-looking makeup,” he adds, “like this guy is putting on makeup and maybe sleeping in his clothes for a week. His hair is kind of oily and greasy, and he doesn’t take off his makeup for like, three to five days.”

The performance was iconic and Ledger was rewarded with a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2009. Ledger sadly died on 22 January, 2008 before the film was released. His death was ruled as an accident “resulting from the abuse of prescribed medications."

Since Ledger’s turn in The Dark Knight, two brave actors have attempted to play the Clown Prince of Crime in a live action film - Jared Leto in Suicide Squad and Joaquin Phoenix in the upcoming Joker.

Read more: Ledger wanted Joker return

The full list of the 21 Most Memorable Movie Moments from the last 21 years is below, ranked by public vote.

  1. The Joker from The Dark Knight

  2. The Snap from Avengers: Infinity War

  3. “I see dead people” from The Sixth Sense

  4. Carl and Ellie in the opening of Up

  5. Avengers assemble in New York from Marvel’s The Avengers

  6. The government lobby scene from The Matrix

  7. Gollum talks to Smeagol from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

  8. “No Man’s Land” from Wonder Woman

  9. The upside-down kiss from Spider-Man

  10. Juan teaches Chiron to swim from Moonlight

  11. “Santa, here? I know him!” from Elf

  12. Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort duel from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2

  13. “Remember me?!” from Mad Max: Fury Road

  14. The chest-waxing scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin

  15. The bridesmaids get food poisoning from Bridesmaids

  16. London is deserted from 28 Days Later…

  17. A kiss in the rain from The Notebook

  18. Satine’s entrance from Moulin Rouge!

  19. Crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma

  20. Heather’s confessional from The Blair Witch Project

  21. “Cars don’t fly!” from Furious 7

Todd Phillips’ Joker is coming to U.K. cinemas on 4 October. Watch a trailer below.