Jack Nicholson: Col. Jessup vs. The Joker

One actor. Two film roles. You tell us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, a few words defending the “character” of each…

The case for The Joker

“Wait till they get a load of me!” So said the Joker back in 1989 to reinvigorate the superhero genre. While Heath Ledger earned an Oscar for his more recent take on the character, Jack played the over-the-top jester with a venomous relish deserving of the top billing that he demanded for Batman. He also absconded with a cool $60 million thanks to the royalty deal stipulated in his contract. Batman’s nemesis gave us plenty of one-liners to quote while dominating the screen whenever he made an appearance, and it’s still one of the best all-time screen villains. And that’s no joke.

The case for Colonel Jessup

In just a few scenes, Jessup chews up and spits out the mirthful maniac. A Few Good Men’s no-nonsense marine commander is incredulous that anyone—especially one in a “faggoty white uniform” with a “Harvard mouth”—would dare question his authority: “I run my unit how I run my unit…I eat breakfast 300 yards from 4000 Cubans who are trained to kill me, so don’t think for one second that you can come down here, flash a badge, and make me nervous.” And we haven’t even touched the classic courtroom scene. The Joker a better character than Col. Jessup? You can’t handle the truth!

Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!

  • Stacy

    Have to go with Colonel Jessup here-too many unforgettable lines to pass him over.

  • Bonnerace

    I like Nicholson’s characterization of the Joker. However, Col. Jessup was truly great.  It was one of those parts that really makes you hope the guy gets it.

  • Marty

    I liked Nicholson’s role as Col. Jessup better than the Joker role.

  • taj83

    Both were great parts for him but his portrayal of the Joker came first and further showed his versitility as an all-around actor.  AFGM had some great quotes but I use many more from Batman in general.
    wait till they get a load of me
    what this town needs in an enema
    you,…are my number one,….a guy
    I’ve been dead once already. It’s very liberating. You should think of it as, uh… therapy.
    but, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs
    Where does he get those wonderful toys?
    Never rub another man’s rhubarb
    I am the world’s first fully functioning homicidal artist
    And the hits just keep on coming!

  • Movie Fan

    If you’ve ever been around hardcore military, you’ll know his portrayal of Colonel Jessup is spot on.

    • agenteightysix

      I picture Col Jessup as a younger man being exactly like the character portrayed by Keifer Sutherland.

  • Lorri

    How can you compair?  It’s like apples and oranges.  But having said that, I’ve seen both and am just as impressed with either one.  However, I saw Batman first, so I suppose I relate a bit more to that movie.  They are just very different roles that pay homage to a very talented and versatile actor.  Kudos to every fim the man has been in!


    Col Jessup..BY FAR!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/Bryankr Bryan Ruffin

    Any time you want to hate a character as much as we did the Col., that says a lot for the true acting abilities of that person. Jack really nailed it in this one!

  • Rob in L.A.

    I thought that Robert Eroica Dupea (“Five Easy Pieces”) or J.J. Gittes (“Chinatown”) or R.P. McMurphy (“One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”) or even Buddusky (“The Last Detail”) would be considered more iconic roles for Nicholson.  Or am I just showing my age?

    • http://www.moviefanfare.com/ Jason Marcewicz

      Not showing your age, Rob. There are plenty of Nicholson performances worthy of Character Witness debates, this was merely the first. Rest assured we’ll see more from Jack in future posts!

    • Ralph Hudnall

      There were some great lines in both, but, for me, nothing beats “I want you to hold it between your knees”, from Five Easy Pieces.

  • Aaron

    Can’t decide between two great performances/films. Two different genres,one serious,the other comedic,but equally effective.

  • rogerscorpion

    ‘Chinatown’ is my all-time favorite film.
    I think Jack’s best performance, though, was in ‘Ironweed’. Not a grin in the entire film.

  • Tom K.

    #1 – McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. #2 – Col. Jessup in “A Few Good Men”.

  • Misterauto5

    Jack topped all these performances as Melvin Udall, in AS GOOD AS IT GETS. What an insanely delightful character. Probably the number one romantic comedy of all times.

  • Capoman

    SM1 Bedusky, The Last Detail. To really appreciate this character one has to have been in the Navy. This is the only movie I’ve ever seen where the Sailors looked, acted, & talked like Sailors. Starting with BMCM Mater at Arms in Norfolk. After looking at other posts, most all of Jack Nicholson’s characters have been good. I started with Easy Rider in 1969. Although I tried to watch Carnal Knowledge again the other night & I just can’t get through it. I saw it when it was in theaters when I was younger, but it hasn’t improved with age. At least for me.

  • speedle24

    I loved the Jessup character the most, but Jack’s best performance may have been Chinatown.

  • L.D.

    loved the joker-it’s ‘as good as it gets”.