Prior to Heath Ledger’s sudden and tragic passing in 2008 at the age of 28, the Australian born actor was on his way to becoming one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. From starring alongside Rose Byrne in the indie film Two Hands to winning an Academy Award for his portrayal of the Crown Prince of Crime in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, Ledger’s dedication to his craft could only be matched by a handful of actors in the game.
Seeing as today is the late actor’s 40th birthday, rather than dwell on what could have been and all the awards he undoubtedly would have won, we decided to spend some time highlighting Ledger’s impressive filmography instead. So without further ado, here is our list of Heath Ledger’s 15 greatest performances. Enjoy!
15. The Order (2003)
Synopsis: A young Catholic priest adheres to a rare form of the faith. When he learns of the strange death of his mentor, he travels to Rome with a fellow priest and a woman – who once tried to kill him during an exorcism – to investigate the mystery. What he finds is the truth behind the myth of the Sin Eater, an immortal figure who takes on the sins of the damned to ensure their passage into Heaven.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Shannyn Sossamon, Mark Addy, Peter Weller, Benno Fürmann, and Francesco Carnelutti
Director: Brian Helgeland
14. Candy (2006)
Synopsis: A fatherly chemistry professor (Geoffrey Rush) indulges two young lovers (Heath Ledger, Abbie Cornish) in their ever-increasing heroin habits. Eventually, the pair, an artist named Candy and an aspiring poet named Dan, become caught in a harrowing downward spiral of drug dependency and failed efforts to get clean.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Luke Davies, Abbie Cornish, Geoffrey Rush, Noni Hazlehurst, Tony Martin, and Tom Budge
Director: Neil Armfield
13. Casanova (2005)
Synopsis: With a reputation for seducing members of the opposite sex, regardless of their marital status, a notorious womanizer discovers a beauty who seems impervious to his charms. However, as he continues to pursue the indifferent lady, he finds himself falling in love.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Natalie Dormer, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Oliver Platt, Charlie Cox, Lauren Cohan, and Helen McCrory
Director: Lasse Hallström
12. The Four Feathers (2002)
Synopsis: The story, set in 1875, follows a British officer (Heath Ledger) who resigns his post when he learns of his regiment’s plan to ship out to the Sudan for the conflict with the Mahdi. His friends and fiancée send him four white feathers which symbolize cowardice. To redeem his honor he disguises himself as an Arab and secretly saves the lives of those who branded him a coward.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Kate Hudson, Wes Bentley, Michael Sheen, Djimon Hounsou, Alex Jennings, Kris Marshall, Lucy Gordon, James Cosmo, and Rupert Penry-Jones
Director: Shekhar Kapur
11. Two Hands (1999)
Synopsis: Nineteen-year-old strip club promoter Jimmy (Heath Ledger) is just scraping by in the red-light district of Sydney. When local crime lord Pando (Bryan Brown) offers him a shot at working for his syndicate, Jimmy jumps at the chance to deliver a costly package. But, when Jimmy gets jacked by a couple of kids, he’s indebted to the dangerous gangster for $10,000. Running out of time, he schemes to rob a bank to save himself and a beautiful girl he desires (Rose Byrne) from a gruesome demise.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Rose Byrne, Tom Long, David Field, Bryan Brown, Steven Vidler, and Susie Porter
Director: Gregor Jordan
10. Ten Things I Hate About You (1999)
Synopsis: Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles) is beautiful, smart and quite abrasive to most of her fellow teens, meaning that she doesn’t attract many boys. Unfortunately for her younger sister, Bianca (Larisa Oleynik), house rules say that she can’t date until Kat has a boyfriend, so strings are pulled to set the dour damsel up for a romance. Soon Kat crosses paths with handsome new arrival Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger). Will Kat let her guard down enough to fall for the effortlessly charming Patrick?
Cast: Julia Stiles, Heath Ledger, Andrew Keegan, Larisa Oleynik, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Krumholtz, Gabrielle Union, Allison Janney, and Larry Miller
Director: Gil Junger
9. The Brothers Grimm (2005)
Synopsis: The Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm (Matt Damon) and Jacob (Heath Ledger), are dysfunctional schemers who go from town to town putting on shows that convince inhabitants they are getting rid of demons. After one such scam, a mysterious man called Cavaldi (Peter Stormare) brings them to a French general, who persuades them to battle the evil that has kidnapped 10 girls from a small village. During the investigation, the cynical Wilhelm and sensitive Jacob see things that point to real magic at work.
Cast: Matt Damon, Heath Ledger, Monica Bellucci, Lena Headey, Peter Stormare, Jonathan Pryce, and Mackenzie Crook
Director: Terry Gilliam
8. The Patriot (2000)
Synopsis: A widowed farmer, with a brave but brutal military past, decides not to join up when the British arrived in 1776. However, when his son enlists and is later captured by the enemy, the former soldier must abandon his new-found pacifist principles in order to rescue his oldest child and forms a regiment of Carolina patriots, whose guerrilla tactics prove pivotal to the US war effort.
Cast: Mel Gibson, Heath Ledger, Jason Isaacs, Joely Richardson, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Lisa Brenner, Gregory Smith, Logan Lerman, Tchéky Karyo, Tom Wilkinson, Adam Baldwin, and Chris Cooper
Director: Roland Emmerich
7. Brokeback Mountain (2005)
Synopsis: In 1963, rodeo cowboy Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) and ranch hand Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) are hired by rancher Joe Aguirre (Randy Quaid) as sheep herders in Wyoming. One night on Brokeback Mountain, Jack makes a drunken pass at Ennis that is eventually reciprocated. Though Ennis marries his longtime sweetheart, Alma (Michelle Williams), and Jack marries a fellow rodeo rider (Anne Hathaway), the two men keep up their tortured and sporadic affair over the course of 20 years.
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anna Faris, Randy Quaid, Linda Cardellini, Anne Hathaway, Scott Michael Campbell, David Harbour, and Kate Mara
Director: Ang Lee
6. The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)
Synopsis: Dr. Parnassus (Christopher Plummer), the leader of a traveling show, has a dark secret. Thousands of years ago he traded the soul of his daughter, Valentina, to the devil. Now the devil has come to collect his prize. To save her, Parnassus must make a final wager: Whoever collects five souls first will win Valentina. Tony (Heath Ledger), a man saved from hanging by Parnassus’ troupe, agrees to help collect them, with his eye on marrying Valentina.
Cast: Heath Ledger, Lily Cole, Colin Farrell, Jude Law, Johnny Depp, Verne Troyer, Andrew Garfield, Christopher Plummer, Richard Riddell, and Tom Waits
Director: Terry Gilliam
5. I’m Not There (2007)
Synopsis: Several actors portray legendary singer-songwriter Bob Dylan at different stages in his personal life and career. In 1959 a guitar-strumming youth (Marcus Carl Franklin) rides the rails, calling himself “Guthrie.” Then a man named Jack (Christian Bale) emerges in New York’s Greenwich Village, followed by “Robbie (Heath Ledger),” Jude (Cate Blanchett) and other personalities.
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Ben Whishaw, Julianne Moore, Richard Gere, Michelle Williams, Marcus Carl Franklin, Bruce Greenwood, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Kris Kristofferson
Director: Todd Haynes
4. A Knight’s Tale (2001)
Synopsis: Peasant-born William Thatcher (Heath Ledger) begins a quest to change his stars, win the heart of an exceedingly fair maiden (Shanynn Sossamon) and rock his medieval world. With the help of friends (Mark Addy, Paul Bettany, Alan Tudyk), he faces the ultimate test of medieval gallantry — tournament jousting — and tries to discover if he has the mettle to become a legend.
Cast: Shannyn Sossamon, Heath Ledger, Mark Addy, Rufus Sewell, Paul Bettany, Laura Fraser, James Purefoy, and Alan Tudyk
Director: Brian Helgeland
3. Lords of Dogtown (2005)
Synopsis: A drought in 1970s Southern California has an unexpected side effect: as people empty their swimming pools, a group of teen surfers from the Dogtown area of Venice Beach move in with skateboards, and a new sport is born. Based on a true story, this film follows “Z-Boys” skate team members Stacy Peralta (John Robinson), Tony Alva (Victor Rasuk) and Jay Adams (Emile Hirsch), plus manager Skip Engblom (Heath Ledger), as their fearless “pool surfing” leads to fame, fortune — and misfortune.
Cast: Emile Hirsch, Heath Ledger, John Robinson, Victor Rasuk, Michael Angarano, Nikki Reed, Rebecca De Mornay, William Mapother, Vincent Laresca, Elden Henson, Mitch Hedberg, Stephanie Limb, Mike Ogas, Don Nguyen, Melonie Diaz, and Eddie Cahill
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
2. Monster’s Ball (2001)
Synopsis: Hank Grotowski is a prison guard whose son, who works on the prison’s death row, commits suicide. Grotowski spirals into depression until one night he helps Leticia Musgrove’s injured son. When he dies, the couple are united by grief, but as their relationship develops, he learns he and his son were party to the execution of her husband.
Cast: Halle Berry, Billy Bob Thornton, Heath Ledger, Sean Combs, Milo Addica, Peter Boyle, Mos Def, Coronji Calhoun, and Will Rokos
Director: Marc Forster
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
Synopsis: With the help of allies Lt. Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman (Christian Bale) has been able to keep a tight lid on crime in Gotham City. But when a vile young criminal calling himself the Joker (Heath Ledger) suddenly throws the town into chaos, the Caped Crusader begins to tread a fine line between heroism and vigilantism.
Cast: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Aaron Eckhart, Cillian Murphy, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Michael Jai White, David Dastmalchian, and Ng Chin Han
Directed by: Christopher Nolan