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Will Barry Keoghan outshine Heath Ledger’s ‘Joker’?

By Erin Hicks

Does Barry Keoghan’s Joker have a chance at outperforming Heath Ledger’s?

The Batman Part II is officially in the works and currently due to be released on October 2, 2026; where it is likely to be a big hit after ‘The Batman’ drew critics and praise when it came out two years ago. But if director Matt Reeves plans to play his own rendition on Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, then the main Villain will be the Joker in the second movie.

Barry Keoghan is the actor set to play this role in the new firm after playing high-profile roles in other films, such as Oliver Quick in Saltburn and George in Dunkirk. But Health Ledger helped to solidify what most people see as the Joker today; the Australian actor gaining praise for how he acted and capsulated the role in the Dark Knight.

Reviews from the 2008 film showed that many fans and critics believed that scenes without Ledger were boring or uninteresting; whilst his scenes were more memorable due to his quotes and personality. The overall performance was arguably unforgettable and Ledger’s name is still vastly known today, despite sadly passing away in January 2008 at the young age of twenty-eight years old.

In comparison Keoghan has a slightly smaller profile and is slowly solidifying himself as a ‘modern’ famous actor; his appearance in the ‘Please Please Please’ music video by Sabrina Carpenter keeping him currently relevant. However I do believe he can play an impactful Joker when combining his small cameo at the end of ‘The Batman’ with his other roles; for which the Irish actor has gained one BAFTA award and nominations for an Academy Award alongside two Golden Globes.

For example Keoghan’s most psychotic role could be considered to be in ‘The Killing of a Sacred Deer’; which is a movie that gives you dread and discomfort throughout due to unreal but uncertainty. The actor plays a character called Martin who starts as a teenage boy interested in cardiovascular surgery who visits a surgeon daily to learn about the role.

But we quickly learn that the surgeon killed Martin in surgery and must now kill one of his two children, or wife, to avoid all of their deaths by sickness. Keoghan’s calm and emotionless delivery helps to create a contrast from the character’s disturbing actions in the film as he seeks grisly revenge for his father’s murder; further managing to include a sinister unpredictability that adds to the tense and unsettling atmosphere during the movie.

This performance was first shown in 2017 and saw Keoghan grow prominence as an actor to a wider audience; but further proved to others such as myself that his ability to play a psychotic character is definitely feasible. Although his showing of a quietly sinister Martin would have to seriously contrast his portrayal as the outwardly chaotic Joker; the actor does outline his credentials in taking on a new side of any character across many genres.

It is a belief that is supported by a specific deleted scene from The Batman which shows an interaction between Batman and the Joker; where Keoghan’s makeup is extremely unique compared to past iterations of the character. He looks disfigured with hair loss and a disoriented face; making it seem like the clown makeup is trying to hide the horrific things under it rather than being a statement. This gritty take gave the Joker an unnerving and mysterious vibe during the scene with Keoghan portraying him as something more psychological than outwardly scary.

Although it is a deleted short scene, it does show fans including myself that the new Joker is something utterly different compared to past repetition of previous films. In my opinion Keoghan is an incredible actor and has an unique way of portraying villains, which will mean that the new Joker will definitely become popular and one of the best we have seen since Ledger’s portrayal of the character. However figures from ‘Letterboxd’ show there is still work to do for Keoghan if he wants to top the Dark Knight’s high ratings of 4.5 from five stars; The Batman currently rated as 4.06 out of five in comparison.

There is a lot of love and respect for both actors, but I feel that Ledger is almost unbeatable in his portrayal of this character unless Keoghan gives the greatest performance of his life to date. This will depend on whether the movie can offer more to its actors than The Batman did; whether it be moments of magic, good writing or a great story line. The deleted scene does offer fans such as me some hope that Keoghan has what it takes, but is it really enough?

PICTURED BY ALAMY (KDA6HB): Will Barry Keoghan’s portrayal of the Joker outperform Heath Ledger’s legendary performance?