Heath Ledger Remembered: The Late Actor’s Best Roles

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April 4 would have been Heath Ledger’s 38th birthday. In 2008, the film world was stunned to learn of the Australian actor’s premature death, aged just 28. His absence is still keenly felt; here was an actor seemingly finding a groove of all of his own, and his absence is still keenly felt. As this sad anniversary approaches, we look back at some of his most memorable appearances in film.

Two Hands

Heath ledger

As Jimmy

Ledger made his first splash in movies in this crime movie from his native Australia. He plays Jimmy, a young man in thrall to a local gangster played by Bryan Brown after he loses $10,000 of his cash. Gregor Jordan's film never got much attention outside Australia, but stands as one of Ledger's best and his is a hungry early performance that was a marker of things to come.

10 Things I Hate About You

Heath ledger

As Patrick Verona

After a reasonably successful career in Australian TV and film, Ledger broke through internationally in this modern retelling of The Taming of the Shrew. He’s a delight as the slightly mysterious but fun-loving Patrick; his rendition of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You still stands as a teen movie classic moment. Ironically, given that it’s the film that brought him success, this also steered Ledger toward the pin-up status that lead him to briefly quit Hollywood.

Read Empire's review of 10 Things I Hate About You.

A Knight’s Tale

Heath ledger

As William Thatcher

He might be the leading man in this chirpy medieval romance with modern twists, in which he plays a peasant lad looking to become a champion jouster, but Ledger felt very much part of an ensemble. The limelight was often stolen by more amusing characters like Paul Bettany’s Geoffrey Chaucer or Mark Addy’s Roland. The occasional discomfort he shows at being the centre of the film means it’s not one of Ledger’s finest performances, but it is one of his most enjoyable movies.

Read Empire's review of A Knight's Tale.

Monster’s Ball

Heath ledger

As Sonny Grotowski

His appearance in Marc Forster’s take on racial tension and salvation is only a small one, but it’s effective. He plays the unloved son of Billy Bob Thornton’s grizzly prison guard, stuck in a job he’s acquired through family habit rather than any kind of desire. A tragic character, he’s the sort of man that casting directors were rarely keen for Ledger to play in lead roles in his earlier days.

Read Empire's review of Monster's Ball.

Ned Kelly

Heath ledger

As Ned Kelly

One of Ledger’s least seen movies this, but one in which he looks most comfortable. The film itself is by-the-numbers biopic of the Australian outlaw who became something of a national hero, but Ledger (along with a career best Orlando Bloom) sinks into the role. If you want to see the start of his more brooding leading man persona, this is the one to watch.

Read Empire's review of Ned Kelly.

The Brothers Grimm

Heath ledger

As Jacob Grimm

Daffy, bookish romantic Jacob Grimm is a real curio in Ledger’s career. Half of a duo of paranormal con men, along with brother Will (Matt Damon), it’s a role that’s unapologetically daft and often delightfully silly, a caricature of the type that took Johnny Depp to his more interesting heights. It was obviously an experience he relished, since he re-teamed with director Terry Gilliam for The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus, the film he was still working on at the time of his death.

Read Empire's review of Brokeback Mountain.

Brokeback Mountain

Heath ledger

As Ennis Del Mar

This was the film that set Ledger on the path he’d always intended to walk: that of an actor, not a movie star. The role of a Ennis Del Mar, a married farmhand who spends his life fighting against his love for Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal), was one that many actors in Hollywood refused to touch. Ledger approached it with all the subtlety it deserved, turning in a performance where a storm of emotions bubbled just beneath the often silent surface and was rightly Oscar nominated for his efforts.

Read Empire's review of Brokeback Mountain.


Heath ledger

As Dan

Now divorced of his image as a commercial blockbuster leading man, Ledger freed himself up to do smaller indie movies like this thoroughly grim but impressive account of a romance between a couple as addicted to heroin as they are to each other. Ledger’s chemistry with co-star Abbie Cornish carries the film through its darkest moments and it ranked as one of his proudest performances.

Read Empire's review of Candy.

I’m Not There

Heath ledger

As Robbie Clark

The character name says Robbie Clark, but Ledger, like the rest of the starry cast of this movie, is playing a single shard of the personality of music legend Bob Dylan. Ledger is ‘Famous Dylan’, in the guise of an actor who’s professionally lauded but in the midst of a decaying marriage. It was Cate Blanchett who got the Oscar nomination for playing another piece in the Dylan puzzle, but Ledger could easily have been standing alongside her.

Read Empire's review of I'm Not There.

The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger as The Joker

As The Joker

Ledger’s casting as the classic Batman villain came with initial wobbles. Online outrage abounded from Batfans who could only see Jack Nicholson in the role. But Ledger – whose preparation included locking himself in a hotel room for a month to work on voice and posture – made the role his own, earning universal praise and a posthumous Academy Award. It's a fitting epitaph to an actor who will be sorely missed.