Jack Nicholson's Most Iconic Roles: Batman, Chinatown, & One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
By: Domonique Cox-Salberg
Chinatown (1974): The Hard-Boiled Obsessive Detective
Coming off of the impressive Five Easy Pieces (1970) Nicholson’s turn as J.J. “Jake” Gittes in Chinatown (1974), proved he could authentically contribute to the neo-noir mystery genre. He donned an air of comic, lazy, very vulnerable complexity that enriched the film, and others like it. Moreover, during a time in film (the ’60s and ’70s) where happy endings were a rare commodity, and writers opted for complicated and gritty stories, Jack rose further among the best in the biz winning his first Golden Globe as the classic neo-noir thespian.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975): The Sacrificial Holy Fool
One of the only films to ever win the “Big Five” at the Oscars, is also among Jack Nicholson’s best work. Out of all his films, this may be the hardest to return to; it’s just so darn bittersweet. Mostly bitter. Enjoying the antics of Mac McMurphy and his piercing battle for power with the icy Mrs. Ratchet is just as satisfying as they are infuriating.
So, Nicholson playing the sacrificial holy fool, he plays the role with humor and explosive energy. His remarkable performance as the extroverted, life-loving McMurphy contrasted against the domineering stone-faced Nurse Ratchet has given us one of his finest performances.
The Shining (1980): Jack Torrence and The Man Playing Him, Made Psychopaths Cult
Jack Torrence. What more is there to say about what may be Nicholson’s most known role by fans and non-fans of his? Already a hit story published in 1977 by the famous author of horror, Stephen King, Nicholson’s performance elevated the story’s presence among the contemporary culture.
Not regarded as his most prestigious work, it still became a recognizable role in film history. It persisted in having an enormous presence on popular culture and the horror genre. His deranged and oddly disturbing take on Jack Torrence will be imitated and remembered for quite a long time. “Here’s Johnny!”
Batman (1989): The Role He Was Born To Play ‘Joker’
The caped crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) is a movie remembered for its impressive production design and Jack’s scene-stealing execution. Even with a forgettable plot, Nicholson stole the spotlight from Keaton’s Batman and revived the infamous character that would influence the Joker portrayals onward.
Nicholson took the zany humor from the first screen Joker, Cesar Romero, and added a dark touch to the character, which better matched the comic book counterpart. Plus, not many actors can capture the Joker’s laugh, for which Nicholson did with ease and satisfaction. Consequently, these roles at what has made Jack Nicholson a fan among women, men, directors, and critics for several decades.