Mars Attacks And 4 Other Great Jack Nicholson Performances You May Have Forgotten About

Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks
(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Everybody has seen Jack Nicholson movies. And I mean everybody. Even if you only LIKE movies (I said like, not love), then you’ve still seen at least one Jack Nicholson performance. Be it Joker in the Batman cast,  Jack Torrance in the classic horror movie The Shining, or Colonel Nathan “You can’t handle the truth!” Jessup in A Few Good Men, you’ve seen Jack Nicholson act in at least one movie. It’s just science. That said, have you ever seen him act in Mars Attacks!?  

Maybe? Possibly? But, here’s the thing; I don’t want to talk about the Jack Nicholson movies that EVERYBODY has seen. I want to talk about the ones that only a few people have seen, or rather, the ones that aren’t always brought up in conversation time and time again. Because Jack Nicholson has had a long and storied career, and I thought it best to get into some of the other great Jack Nicholson performances that you might have actually forgotten about. How many of these hidden gems have you seen lately? 

Jack Nicholson as President in Mars Attacks

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Mars Attacks! (President James Dale / Art Land) 

As if Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! didn't have enough characters in it already with its massive ensemble, Jack Nicholson plays TWO roles, one who is a sleazy land developer named Tom Land, and the other who is a peacenik President of the United States named James Dale. Mars Attacks! is a very silly film (one where a dove representing peace gets zapped out of the air by an alien laser beam), and Jack Nicholson grins, winks, and mugs his way through all of it, being humorous as hell, but also still playing it as straight as possible. 

My favorite moment in the entire film is when Nicholson (as President Dale) gives an impassioned speech to the Martians in the war room, where he genuinely asks them why they all just can’t get along–with a Martian even shedding a tear–only for the Martian to troll Nicholson and do him dirty. That said, the scene wouldn't even work if Jack Nicholson didn't ham it up the way only Jack Nicholson can. God, I love Mars Attacks! I need to write more about it someday. 

Jack Nicholson in Prizzi's Honor

(Image credit: 20th Century Fox)

Prizzi's Honor (Charley Partanna)  

It's kind of strange that a lot of people don't really talk about Prizzi's Honor all that much today, since it was pretty huge back in 1985. Jack Nicholson even scored an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, and he won the Golden Globe that year for his role as a hitman who has to take out (Take out, as in "blam, blam!") somebody close to home.  

Prizzi's Honor is a strange film in that it's an extremely dark comedy and unlike anything else, besides maybe The Departed, in Jack Nicholson's catalogue. Nicholson puts on a pretty convincing Italian accent, and he plays both slow-witted and quick-witted, often in the same scene. Prizzi’s Honor is a great, often under-looked performance that you need to watch if you haven’t seen it yet.    

Jack Nicholson in Something's Gotta Give

(Image credit: Sony Pictures Releasing)

Something's Gotta Give (Harry Sanborn) 

You know how much I love Jack Nicholson? So much that I would even sit through a romantic comedy starring him and Diane Keaton, Amanda Peet, and Keanu Reeves. Not only that, but I saw Something's Gotta Give in the theater, all by myself. That's how big a Jack Nicholson fan I am. 

In this film, Jack Nicholson plays an aging playboy who only hooks up with women much younger than himself. But, after he has a heart attack while with a younger woman (who turns out to be Diane Keaton's character's daughter), he gets a doctor's order for bed rest, and ends up with an older woman (Keaton), whom he manages to fall in love with. The film is refreshing in that it portrays older actors in roles that are not only romantic, but even sexy, which is a rarity in Hollywood, and it's pulled off with aplomb by the masters, Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. 

Jack Nicholson in The Witches of Eastwick

(Image credit: Warner Bros.)

The Witches Of Eastwick (Daryl Van Horne) 

Co-starring Susan Sarandon, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Cher, The Witches of Eastwick actually makes you feel sympathy for the devil. One of George Miller's great films that isn't Mad Max-related, The Witches of Eastwick features Nicholson in one of his most unhinged performances as a lothario who just so happens to also be the devil.   

The great thing about this performance, though is that Nicholson gets his comeuppance in grand fashion from the witches throughout the movie, which only makes him angrier and angrier (which makes his hair wilder and wilder). This goes on until he is an absolute powder keg, just ready to explode. I know everybody loves to mention Jack Torrance when it comes to crazy Jack Nicholson performances, but for my money, there's no better Jack Nicholson out-there performance than as Daryl Van Horne in The Witches of Eastwick.  

Jack Nicholson in Wolf

(Image credit: Columbia Pictures)

Wolf (Will Randall) 

And lastly, in Wolf and the role that inspired this article, Jack Nicholson plays a book editor who turns into a werewolf after being bitten by one. Former Catwoman, Michelle Pfeiffer, also costars in this flick as a love interest who doesn't seem to mind that her new lover creeps around at night and tears people apart in Central Park every now and then.

This is probably my favorite oft-forgotten Jack Nicholson performance since he’s completely committed to playing a werewolf. His character starts off mild-mannered, only to transform into the suave Jack Nicholson that we love to see in all of his movies, and it's just a pleasure to watch the master ham it up as an overgrown wolf. It's a shame he never starred in any Marvel movies. I have a feeling he would have made for a great Beast. At least, I think he might have been a little better than Kelsey Grammar, who may or may not return to the role of Beast. But, you know. I guess we'll likely never know. 

And, that's the list. How many of these often overlooked Jack Nicholson films have you seen? For news on the best Jack Nicholson movies or the 2022 new movie release dates, make sure to stop by here often.           

Rich Knight
Content Producer

Rich is a Jersey boy, through and through. He graduated from Rutgers University (Go, R.U.!), and thinks the Garden State is the best state in the country. That said, he’ll take Chicago Deep Dish pizza over a New York slice any day of the week. Don’t hate. When he’s not watching his two kids, he’s usually working on a novel, watching vintage movies, or reading some obscure book.