Jack Nicholson | A Legacy

jack nicholson

Name: Jack Nicholson

DOB: 22 April 1937

Nationality: American

Acting appearances: 75

Oscars: 3

Jack Nicholson turned 80 (!) earlier this year, and to celebrate we will be looking at some of the notable performances throughout his illustrious acting career.

Arguably one of the greatest actors of our time, he has appeared in some of the best and most memorable movies ever made. With his devilishly striking good looks and unmistakable voice, he has become an icon of cinema and pop culture worldwide, gaining 3 Academy Awards and a further 9 nominations amongst others. He continued to set the bar higher and higher as he gained experience in the film industry, and his peak years in film are matched by few others.

the cry baby killer


A baby-faced Nicholson made his first film appearance in The Cry Baby Killer, at the young age of 21. It’s not the first film that springs to mind when you think of Nicholson’s career, and not commonly known to be his debut – many often wrongly think his first appearance to be The Little Shop of Horrors.

Nicholson plays Jimmy Wallace, a young delinquent who believes he has committed manslaughter when out with some local hoodlums. He proceeds to take many people hostage while the police surround him and attempt to rescue those Jimmy has taken captive.

Very much a cult film of the era, it was extremely hard to get hold of until 2006 when it was finally released on DVD; however this is still hard to get your hands on outside of the US.



Out of many brilliant performances by Nicholson, his portrayal of R P McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is easily his finest, and landed him his first win at the Oscars for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

In a film filled with so much beauty and pain, Nicholson is the shining light that carries the film, and is the powerful force which drives it along to its incredible finale.

McMurphy is a criminal who pleads insanity, and when institutionalised he helps the terrified patients stand up to Nurse Ratched in a bid to save themselves from her horrid ways, and rebel against her. It is a heart-breaking yet funny film which is a firm favourite of many, and is a standout piece in one of the golden eras of cinema.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is one of those films which stays with you forever, and Nicholson’s involvement is undeniably a big part of its success. He is a perfect fit for his role, and his unique features and persona match the themes of the film so impeccably.

the shining


When you think of Jack Nicholson, it’s hard to not immediately picture him as Jack Torrance, the homicidal caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, axing his way through a door whilst Shelley Duvall screams in terror.

A Stephen King classic expertly adapted by Stanley Kubrick, The Shining is revered as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. It follows Jack Torrance and his wife and young child as they move into the Overlook Hotel for the winter months as the new caretakers. As Jack discovers the hotel’s darkest secrets, and his son has terrible visions, Jack unravels and becomes hell bent on terrorising his family, whom have no escape.

Though Nicholson was already an established actor, it was his role as Jack Torrance which propelled him into becoming a pop culture icon. Everyone knows the line “Heeeeere’s Johnny” – a famously improvised line from Nicholson – and who would have thought how famous a quote it would become. The image which comes with it is almost as famous as the line itself, and is one which almost everyone recognises, whether or not they have seen the film.

It was Nicholson’s dynamic personality and undeniable facial animation which allowed him to thrive as Jack Torrance. Completely unravelling and letting loose as an actor mirrored the breaking down of the main character’s sanity in the progression of the film, leading up to its creepy ending. He is absolutely terrifying and extremely powerful.

jack nicholson joker


By this point in his career, Nicholson was one of the most famous men alive. His career was at its peak and he had already gained numerous awards to his name. It was time for him to have a bit of fun, and get involved in the Hollywood machine, and he landed a starring role in one of the first great superhero movies of our time. The original Batman (1989) movie from Tim Burton was a playful, gothic masterpiece, and Nicholson’s role as the Joker made it that extra bit fantastical.

It was the first portrayal of the Joker that gained any true acclaim. Again, Nicholson’s unique facial features made him the perfect man for the job. His comedic flair truly came to light and he looked to be completely enjoying himself.

Partnered up with Tim Burton’s signature style and costume designs, Nicholson’s Joker is one of the most famous villains in the superhero genre. Despite Heath Ledger’s exceptional portrayal of the same character, Nicholson’s own efforts cannot be taken away. With his blood red smile, and bright purple and green clothing, he was a cartoonish delight with the most evil of tendencies.

jack nicholson wolf


We all have guilty pleasures, and when admiration for an actor is so strong, you can’t help but love all that they are in. Wolf (1994) is our guilty pleasure of Nicholson’s career. It’s one of many predictable werewolf tales told in Hollywood – but one starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer was always going to be a hit amongst audiences, even if it’s not quite up there in terms of critical acclaim.

And if you don’t like the film, you can’t deny that you must have watched it just to get a glimpse of Pfeiffer’s gorgeous werewolf eyes…


Whilst this may be a mere snippet of his career, you cannot deny the impact Jack Nicholson has had on the film industry. Do be sure to check out the remainder of his back catalogue (especially those from the 70s and 80s) if you haven’t done so before.

His other notable performances include Chinatown, As Good as It Gets, About Schmidt, A Few Good Men, Easy Rider, and Terms of Endearment.




The following two tabs change content below.

Kim Higson

Kim Higson is a graduate of Film Studies who has had a passion for film her whole life. She has grown up seeking the strange and obscure side of the art form and has a particular love for horror, independent and world cinema. Kim now spends most of her free time on the hunt for something new to see, whether a brand new release or a forgotten gem, and reading up on all the latest in film news. Today, Kim has partnered her love of film and writing to bring you the very best in film and TV.

Latest posts by Kim Higson (see all)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *