Top six jokers in cinematic history


Photo courtesy of Me Pixels

The Joker has been played by dozens of actors in movies, TV shows, and video games. As each actor is assigned the role, the character is approached in a unique and memorable way.

The Joker, one of the most iconic villains in cinematic history and a long-time fan favorite from DC Comics’ repertoire, has been interpreted by dozens of actors since the original series, “Batman,” in 1966. Since then, the clown prince of crime has been presented as a cheesy comic relief, a demented pshycopath and everything in between. Factors including interpretation, dark humor, alignment with the comics and presentation of outright insanity have been considered in the following ranking of top six actors who played the Joker in cinema.

6. Jared Leto (“Suicide Squad,” 2021) – Good start…
Jared Leto’s role as the Joker in “Suicide Squad” (2021) was the first since Heath Ledger’s iconic perfomance as the clown from 2008 to 2012, which set a very high bar for Leto to hurdle. To this day, “Suicide Squad” is the only film that gives focus to Joker’s manipulation of Harley Quinn, and Leto plays this side of the Joker flawlessly. Unfortunately, the Joker’s role as a side character limited Leto’s opportunities to fully present his interpretation of the clown. His appearance embraces the scary side of the Joker with metal teeth, piercings, tattoos, buzzed-cut green hair and pale skin. Despite his exceptional performance as the Joker, the film’s lack of focus on the character prevents Leto from developing a three-dimensional character and ranking higher on this list.

5. Cesar Romero (“Batman” TV Show, 1966-1968) – Pure comic-relief
As the first person ever to play Joker on film, Cesar Romero had unlimited options on where to take the character in “Batman,” and he decided to take the name to heart. While lacking character depth, Romero’s Joker was on camera solely for laughs, which was well appraised in the 1960s. It is difficult to recognize Romero’s dedication to the role, however, since he painted over his mustache instead of shaving it off. Romero’s casting as the Joker is undoubtedly a classic, but was not as jaw-dropping as other interpretations.

4. Mark Hamill (“Batman: The Animated Series,” 1992-1995) – Turned to the dark side
Mark Hamill’s casting as the Joker in “Batman: The Animated Series” was a shocker, given that he played legendary hero Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars,” but his performance more than proved his mastery in voice acting. Hamill strikes a near-perfect balance between humor and outright insanity with his witty remarks and cackly laugh. Despite the show being made for children, there are a few dark and twisted moments where Hamill reveals the disturbing side of the Joker. Unfortunately, Hamill’s lack of physical presence prevents him from ranking in the top three, but his voice performance deserves the utmost respect.

When ranking the top three, the choice varies based on what the viewer wants to see from the actor’s interpretation of the Joker. The top three actors interpret the character in truly intriguing and entertaining ways. The Joker’s portrayal as a hilarious yet disturbing psychopath is presented perfectly by these actors.

3. Joaquin Phoenix (“Joker,” 2019) – “How about another joke, Murray?”
As the latest take on the Joker—ignoring Barry Keoghan’s cameo appearance in the closing moments of Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” (2022)—Joaquin Phoenix played the character in a way no one expected. Undoubtedly the darkest version of the clown, Phoenix played Arthur Fleck (the Joker), an impoverished member of the Gotham lower class who struggles to rise in society due to his mental illness in the movie, “Joker.” The film presents the story of Arthur’s constant beating, physical and mental, by his society and his eventual breakdown that leads to the rise of the Joker persona. Phoenix’s interpretation of the man behind the makeup was Oscar-winning and is well known as one of the most realistic takes on the character.

2. Heath Ledger (“The Dark Knight” trilogy, 2008–2012) – “Why so serious?”
No, he did not lose his mind while preparing for the role, but he did go to extreme lengths to prepare for the ultimate antagonist. Reading many Batman comics and locking himself in a hotel room were included in his preparations, which gave results on film. Up until the release of “The Dark Knight,” the Joker’s smile had been portrayed as makeup or surgically implanted, but never self-cut. Ledger’s Joker is disturbing, funny and terrifying from his first appearance to his last. His psychopathic nature is flawlessly displayed through dark humor, violence and magic tricks.

1. Jack Nicholson (“Batman,” 1989) – “If you gotta go, go with a smile!”
Until the 2008 film “The Dark Knight,” Jack Nicholson stood as the prime example of how the Joker should be portrayed, a comic relief with a twisted undertone. When Nicholson played Jack Napier, the man who became the Joker, viewers could tell that he was already at the edge of insanity, which made his transformation all the more enjoyable. Since director Tim Burton wished to present a Joker more true to the comics, Nicholson had dyed green hair, pale white skin, black fingernails and a grin appearing to be surgically-implanted.. Despite his silly appearance, Nicholson was still able to give off creepy vibes in every scene he was in.