Jack Nicholson’s 10 best characters, ranked by intelligence
Hollywood suffered another major loss recently when director and producer Bob Rafelson died at the age of 89. Rafelson is credited with many things, most notably launching the career of multi-award winning actor Jack Nicholson and collaborating with him on several films.
Most of Nicholson’s film characters are iconic and Rafelson will forever be remembered for his work in bringing some of them to life. But among Nicholson’s many great characters, some of them can be considered the smartest in terms of IQ and general decision-making.
10 The Joker – Batman (1989)
To reverse injuries sustained during an accident at a chemical plant, criminal Jack Napier undergoes reconstructive surgery. When the procedure fails, he transforms into one of Batman’s greatest villains, the Joker, and begins terrorizing the residents of Gotham City.
The Joker’s rise to the top of Gotham’s underworld is commendable. However, it can only be described as vicious but not intelligent. This is because most of his plans fail. Whether it’s luring Batman to Old Gotham Cathedral with the intention of killing him or contaminating beauty products with the nerve toxin Smylex to kill people, nothing the Joker does results in the desired result.
9 Jack Torrance – The Shining (1980)
Author Jack Torrance moves in with his family when he gets a job as a winter janitor at the Overlook Hotel. There, after a long time of isolation, disturbing dreams and writer’s block, he begins to show murderous tendencies.
One of the best horror villains of the 80s is also one of Nicholson’s least intelligent characters. The main sign that Jack is not the greatest of thinkers is that as a would-be murderer, Jack does not have a concrete plan to corner his victims, who are his son and his wife. He simply acts out of anger, and as a result, his son tricks him into following a false trail, causing him to freeze to death.
8 JJ “Jake” Gittes – Chinatown (1974)
The PI is hired by a woman to follow her husband whom she suspects of being unfaithful. After finding evidence and publishing it, he discovers that the woman who hired him is not actually the man’s wife.
Jake is to be commended for his ability to gather information very quickly. However, he falls in the intelligence ratings simply because he is easily fooled by people who want to bring the husband down as part of a water supply conspiracy. As he strives to redeem himself, he fails, and one of his assistants sums it all up with the classic quote: “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
7 President James Dale – Mars Attacks! (1996)
President Dale in Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! finds himself in a difficult spot when several flying saucers from Mars land on Earth. Instead of fighting the Martians, he tries to be friendly with them.
President Dale might be one of the funniest movie presidents, but his decision-making skills leave little to be desired. His choice to go against the advice of the military generals and adopt diplomacy in the face of aggression unfortunately backfires. Despite giving the Martians a warm welcome, they not only try to kill him, but also launch an attack on Nevada.
6 Colonel Nathan R. Jessup – A Few Good Men (1992)
The commanding officer of US forces stationed at Guantánamo Bay orders a weak soldier to be given difficult assignments, so that he may fail and be discharged. Sadly, the soldier dies, so Jessup tries to cover up the evil plan.
Intelligence is closely tied to the ability to control emotions, but that’s something Jessup struggles to do. Initially, he does a great job of covering up his involvement, but when challenged by a competent lawyer, he falls apart. There is no doubt that the Colonel could have walked if he had kept his composure, but his decision to rant against the lawyer ends up being his undoing.
5 Melvin Udall – As Good As It Gets (1997)
The best-selling novelist’s life becomes complicated when he becomes attached to a neighbor’s dog. At the same time, he also falls in love with a waitress who works at his favorite restaurant.
Melvin makes some bad decisions throughout the film, such as paying for the waitress’s son’s expensive treatment, which drains his cash reserves. However, it is not too low because it is extremely creative. Whether it’s sketching or making up stories on the fly, Melvin does it with ease.
4 Will Randall – Wolf (1994)
In one of Nicholson’s most underrated performances, Will begins to show werewolf characteristics after being bitten by a wolf he accidentally hit with his car. Meanwhile, he tries to get his job back as editor-in-chief after being demoted by a new boss.
Great thinkers are able to function even on their worst days and that’s what Will is able to do after being disoriented as a result of the bite. The editorial employee has great intuition and high levels of awareness. Paying able to put pieces together better than anyone, he can quickly tell that his wife is having an affair with Stewart (the man who took her job) and that Stewart backstabbed her to get the job. His investigative skills are also excellent as he is able to figure out that Stewart is a murderer. Even more commendable is his master plan to get his job back.
3 Garrett Breedlove – Terms of Endearment (1983)
A widow’s relationship with her daughter is complicated when the daughter marries a man of whom the mother does not approve. When playboy neighbor Garrett enters the scene, things get more complicated.
Some careers are hard to get into without a high IQ and Garrett is long as a NASA engineer confirms that he is smart. During his relationship with the widow, he treads carefully, backing away when things get too heated and returning when things are calm. He is also shown to give great advice and through him, the widow manages to cope with her loss with ease.
2 Randle McMurphy – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)
After being sentenced to prison, McMurphy feigns insanity in order to be sent to a mental institution, where he will avoid hard labor. There, McMurphy confronts the tyrannical nurse Ratched who heads the place.
McMurphy’s betrayal is commendable because it’s not just a one-time thing. He always comes out on top during his power plays with the head nurse. He is also a great escape artist, who can go out and back in as many times as he likes.
1 Frank Costello – The Departed (2007)
In The deceased, Frank Costello has a long run as the boss of the Irish mob in Boston. He is soon forced into action when he discovers that there is an informant within his organization.
The world of organized crime tends to be extremely violent with many victims and the fact that Costello manages to stay alive into old age makes him smart and cautious. His decision to plant a mole within the Massachusetts State Police also benefits him greatly. Also, Costello’s business strategies appear to be far superior to ordinary mob extortion practices. An example is the sale of computer microprocessors to a Hong Kong triad. The big twist in the film’s third act even sums up his intelligence much better.
Next: 10 of the best directors Jack Nicholson has worked with