It’s hard to imagine anyone but Heath Ledger and Aaron Eckhart playing the Joker and Two-Face, respectively. But other actors were up for the roles.
While Christopher Nolan upended a lot of Batman movie conventions with The Dark Knight trilogy, he maintained the tradition of two primary villains per movie. Batman Begins revolved around Ra’s al Ghul and the Scarecrow, and The Dark Knight Rises revolved around Bane and Catwoman. The Dark Knight, the trilogy’s middle chapter, namesake, and crowning achievement, revolved around the Joker and Two-Face.
Heath Ledger, who won a posthumous Academy Award for the film, brought the greatest ever depiction of the Joker to the big screen, and Aaron Eckhart nailed the gradual decay of Harvey Dent’s “white knight” facade, but they weren’t the only actors considered for the roles.
10 Joker: Paul Bettany
Heath Ledger was always Christopher Nolan’s first choice for the role of the Joker, having been impressed by the range shown in his audition for Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins, but the studio reportedly had Paul Bettany waiting in the wings as a backup in case Ledger turned down the offer.
Of course, Ledger accepted, so Bettany wasn’t needed. He ended up playing a different comic book role for Marvel, Tony Stark’s virtual assistant J.A.R.V.I.S., who became Vision in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
9 Harvey Dent: Matt Damon
Matt Damon was approached to play Harvey Dent before Aaron Eckhart was cast, but had to turn down the role due to a scheduling conflict with true-to-life drama Invictus, in which he starred alongside Morgan Freeman.
Damon was later considered by Marvel for the role of Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home and featured as the Asgardian actor playing Loki in Thor: Ragnarok.
8 Joker: Willem Dafoe
Thanks to his gonzo performance opposite Robert Pattinson in The Lighthouse, Willem Dafoe has recently become a popular fan casting for the next Batman-adjacent Joker in the DCEU.
Funnily enough, Dafoe was under consideration for the role as far back as The Dark Knight’s development. With his ability to veer between harrowing pathos and outright lunacy, Dafoe would certainly make a great Clown Prince of Crime.
7 Harvey Dent: Hugh Jackman
Before Aaron Eckhart was cast as Harvey Dent, the role was offered to Hugh Jackman. Jackman, of course, is no stranger to comic book roles, having played Wolverine in the X-Men franchise.
The actor previously turned down other comic book roles, like Reed Richards in Fox’s first attempt at a Fantastic Four franchise, because of his commitment to the X-Men movies, so that may have been his reasoning for not playing Dent. He’d previously worked with Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale on The Prestige.
6 Joker: Adrien Brody
Adrien Brody was considered to play the Joker before Heath Ledger was secured in the role. Aside from Peter Jackson’s big-budget remake of King Kong, Brody has mostly avoided blockbusters, mainly appearing in smaller films by auteurs, like Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited and Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
Brody did play one action-oriented leading role in a franchise movie when he appeared in the Predator reboot, derivatively dubbed Predators.
5 Harvey Dent: Liev Schreiber
Liev Schreiber screen-tested for the role of Harvey Dent before Aaron Eckhart was cast. Schreiber ended up playing Victor Creed in the painfully generic X-Men Origins: Wolverine a year after The Dark Knight changed the game for superhero movies.
Schreiber has since landed his most iconic role as the eponymous fixer in Showtime’s Ray Donovan, while the rest of his impressive body of work speaks for itself.
4 Joker: Sam Rockwell
Sam Rockwell was one of the actors considered to play the Joker if Nolan’s top choice Heath Ledger turned down the part.
In addition to his acclaimed roles in smaller movies like Moon, Jojo Rabbit, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Rockwell would go on to play a different comic book movie villain, dancing goofball/Tony Stark wannabe Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2.
3 Harvey Dent: Ryan Phillippe
Ryan Phillippe did a screen test for the role of Gotham City’s “white knight” Harvey Dent before Aaron Eckhart was cast, as did Josh Lucas.
Phillippe was later one of the many actors under consideration for the role of Steve Rogers in Captain America: The First Avenger before the shortlist was narrowed down to John Krasinski and Chris Evans and the role was given to the latter.
2 Joker: Robin Williams
Robin Williams was considered for the role of the Joker. Williams previously played a psychotic killer for Nolan in Insomnia and nailed the role. Across his storied acting career, Williams gave both some of the funniest performances and some of the most poignant dramatic performances ever captured on film.
Interestingly, Williams was previously offered the role of the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie, but the offer turned out to be a bargaining chip to pressure Jack Nicholson to take the role. Upon discovering the ruse, Williams swore off ever working for Warner Bros. again.
1 Harvey Dent: Mark Ruffalo
Prior to the casting of Aaron Eckhart, Mark Ruffalo did a screen test for the role of Harvey Dent. In the same year The Dark Knight hit theaters, Edward Norton played Bruce Banner in his MCU debut in The Incredible Hulk, the franchise’s second installment.
Ruffalo ended up replacing Norton in the role of Banner starting with 2012’s The Avengers and continuing to 2019’s Avengers: Endgame and into the foreseeable future.
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