Jack Nicholson turns 82 today.
For close to 60 years, Jack Nicholson has been a part of the fabric of mainstream Hollywood. From 'Easy Rider' in 1969 right up to his remake of 'Toni Erdmann', Nicholson's unique delivery and inimitable persona has played a role in some of the most iconic moments in cinematic history.
With that in mind, we've tried to distill down six decades of work into five scenes that captured Jack Nicholson's incredible range and performance.
Take a look.
5. 'BATMAN' - "Oooh, I got a live one here!"
There is no comparing Jack Nicholson's performance as Joker to Heath Ledger's. Or Jared Leto's. Or even Cesar Romero's from the TV series. They are all so diametrically opposite and distinct that you might as well be talking about two completely different characters. Where Ledger took inspiration from 'A Clockwork Orange' and Francis Bacon, Nicholson used his own brand of black humour to make Joker a reality.
This scene is relatively inconsequential in the story. However it shows how even under makeup, Nicholson bursts through. With Tim Burton's oddball sensibility coalescing with him, they created the benchmark for comic-book villainy. Even though this scene is incredibly messed up - Joker literally electrocutes a man alive for questioning him - it showcases both the comedic timing of Nicholson and how disturbing he could be.
4. 'THE SHINING' - "He's a very wilful boy."
On the surface level, 'The Shining' is about a man slowly going insane in a luxurious hotel and trying to murder his family as a result. Leaving aside the theories about time-warps, Indian burial grounds, Stephen King hating Kubrick's changes, what the movie is really about is how ineffective Jack Nicholson's character is as a father and husband. From the start of the 'The Shining', we see his indifference to his son and downright dismissive attitude to his wife.
As the story progresses, it becomes clear that he was abusive to his son. He resents his wife for even having him in the first place. That kind of toxicity just bubbles under the surface, but it begins to spill over when - completely divorced from reality - Jack meets Delbert Grady at the Gold Room soiree and has a conversation with him that it is both utterly terrifying and completely enthralling. There's so much going on in Nicholson's performance here.
3. 'ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST' - "Cheswick, you're voluntary?"
Like 'Cool Hand Luke' or 'Easy Rider', 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' is a movie about resisting authority. 'Cool Hand Luke' was somewhat overt and pointed while 'Easy Rider' was a general rejection of societal norms. 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest' brought the theme into less recognisable territory -but the beats are still there.
Nicholson is perfectly cast as the irascible but good-natured McMurphy who has so far ambled through life. He runs up against Nurse Ratched, played with steely force by Louise Fletcher. The movie is essentially a struggle against one another. This scene shows that in spite of all of McMurphy's foul-mouthed behaviour and general shittiness, he's actually a good and empathetic person who can't understand how people would want to make themselves suffer.
2. 'AS GOOD AS IT GETS - "Give me a compliment or I'm leaving..."
Although Nicholson might be more readily associated with his outsized performances in 'Batman' or 'A Few Good Men', it's the smaller moments that really show what an incredible actor he is. 'As Good As It Gets' is a movie about small moments that leave a big impact. Playing Melvin Udall, a successful author who suffers from OCD and is an all-purposes misanthrope, Nicholson won one of his three Oscars for the role.
The central crux of the movie is the will-they-won't-they relationship with Helen Hunt. It culminates in this scene right here. It starts off as another potential comedic moment - it is genuinely hilarious, by the way - and ends up as a touching and emotional moment in which someone who can't reach people tries to articulate their love.
1. 'A FEW GOOD MEN' - "We follow orders, son. We follow orders or people die. It's that simple."
Although this scene might be reduced to just the famous line from Cruise and Nicholson, it's important to take it into the wider context to get the full impact. Nicholson's character, Col. Jessup, is seen as an implacable and utterly in-command presence. He's never questioned, he's never wrong and he never loses his temper. He even jokes and laughs the first time he's questioned before he enters the courtroom. Yet, here, we can see that the mask is beginning to slip and that, as Cruise's character pointed out earlier, he's pissed off that he has to explain himself. The way that Nicholson explodes out of himself is incredible. The sheer level of disgust he has marks it out as one of the best dramatic portrayals you're ever likely to see.