Well this one was a long time overdue wasn’t it? Ever since Joker came out there’s been a lot of buzz about it. I’ve already done a review on Joker so if you wanna look at that look in the related section at the end of this article. I’m sure you’ll find it. Nevertheless, the Joker has always been a comic book icon as Batman’s greatest rival. He’s come in many forms each bringing something different to the table and we’re here to rank them from worst to best. And yes I know there are going to be many versions of the Joker that I will probably miss on this list. If you think there’s one missing that deserves a place, feel free to ask and I’ll gladly answer. But this list takes a look at more of the Jokers who were a core part of their respective movies and shows. Whose movies and shows really left an everlasting impact because of them.
7. Jared Leto-Suicide Squad
The first cinematic take on the Joker since Heath Ledger, Leto had some big shoes to fill. Unfortunately, he measured up horribly and is without a doubt the ONLY person that made this character suck. He’s pretty much a side character in this movie and for a major DC character, this is not a good thing. He’s nothing more than an overly dramatic looking gangster that the movie could have pretty much done without and one that has little to no sense of the unique traits of his predecessors. The movie would have still been bad but he certainly wouldn’t be part of the problem. And thankfully neither Birds of Prey nor James Gunn’s Suicide Squad seems to be bent on bringing him back.
6. Ceasar Romero-Batman 1966 TV Series and Batman: The Movie (1966)
This Joker is probably the silliest one yet. Only this version of the character would escape prison through a baseball match or challenge Batman to a surfing contest or take on Alfred Pennyworth in fencing. But Romero’s performance gave such a devilish charm with a maniacal laugh well-fitting of the Joker and twisted but comedic ways of causing trouble. He’s a colorful goon that just wants to have a little fun and while definitely not the darkest take on the character, he embodies something special wild spirit that channels through many that succeeded him. In fact he portrays this so well to the point I’m willing to overlook the mustache there.
5. Cameron Monaghan-Gotham
In a time where we had the disappointment of Leto in the movies, Fox’s TV show, Gotham, which crafted the origin story for young Bruce Wayne and several villainous rogues he would fight in the future, gave us an origin story for Batman’s greatest foe. Monaghan’s performance took the best traits of several other legendary Joker characters that preceded him and combined them and he stole the show every moment. Anytime in an episode this guy was on screen or was set to do so in an upcoming episode you knew it was going to be good. However, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t problems. The direction they took his characters’ story in wasn’t always the right one. Also, they couldn’t use the Joker name and man his appearance in that last episode. Seriously what was up with that? He was perfectly fine before there was no need to change things. Regardless Monaghan’s performance was definitely far better than the silver screen deserved and he deserves a spot in the hall of Jokers.
4. Joaquin Phoenix-Joker (2019)
I know what you’re thinking as you read this: You put a great character from such a great movie on this level? How dare you! But hear me out first. To say Joaquin Phoenix nailed it as the lead, Arthur Fleck is an understatement. The man does well in making this movie his own and making his story feel like we’re hearing it for the first time (even though we haven’t seriously watch Taxi Driver or King of Comedy) and really making him into a frightening man inside and out through is actions, expressions, and movements. And he deserves to be nominated for that Best Actor Oscar when the award season comes around (though I will be very disappointed if he wins, he doesn’t show up in that makeup). But there are a couple problems I have with his story primarily being that this is supposed to be an origin story for Batman’s greatest foe and we do see an attempt to craft that with him meeting young Bruce Wayne, him finding out Thomas Wayne could be his biological father, and the movie being set in Gotham. But it really does not feel like this is supposed to be Batman’s greatest foe. If you were to take the aforementioned elements out and change them into anything else you would get the same result of a movie with the same person. If this movie was called “Arthur Fleck and the Clowns” there would be no difference. Giving your comic book characters the same name does not automatically make them the same character and it would honestly not surprise me if this movie started out as something with no connection to Batman lore. Heck even while it’s shown at the end Joker is seen as a hero among a bunch of rioters that’s not going be everlasting. Eventually people are going to forget about him and there are going to be better villains. I will say though that the move to make it seem like this whole thing was Arthur’s delusions was pretty clever and provides a lot of interpretation. It felt like the Joker name was just there to get a bigger audience. Sadly, there are no plans to do anything further with this and it’s too bad really. I can see Joaquin Phoenix as a guy who could take up the torch of this iconic character and go through the Joker adventures we know and love and maybe even some new ones but that will probably never happen. At the end of the day an amazing Joker in an otherwise mixed movie.
3. Jack Nicholson-Batman (1989)
As the first real dark take on this character, Nicholson did well to take the traits of the 1960s Joker to a dark and disturbing place. And boy he just having the time of his life playing this character. This Joker has so many one-liners that make him unique and he really did well showing the demented side of Jack Napier and differentiating it from his unhinged personality when he’s thrown into a vat of chemicals and becomes the Joker. But one of the interesting things is how he contrasts to Batman. We know all about the Joker including how he came to be, his relationships to his henchmen, Grissom, etc and just how theatrical he is but it plays in direct contrast to Batman who we know little, about who’s mostly in the shadows, and we spend little time discussing his stories but there’s just enough to draw interpretations while still leaving a sense of mystery. Both really feel like these unique other-worldly beings in the twisted world of Gotham. And this movie made the Joker a funny but creepy and frightening prankster that you can always see the definitely see the insanity but never can see it coming when it goes all out. And when he does he’s well worth it.
2. Mark Hamill-Batman the Animated Series, Batman Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman the Killing Joke, and others
Let’s face it you’ve seen this guy portray the Joker somewhere even if you don’t remember it. This is a Joker well capable of portraying a huge range of emotions everywhere he’s in. There is no Joker who can laugh better than this and despite being animated, and despite being animated unlike the rest of his brethren on this list, he’s well capable of showing his dark and sinister demeanor when it comes to just about anything. At the end of the day this is a Joker who can breathe life just by walking into the room and can make even the most boring of episodes on paper sound compelling. Hamill just has that kind of voice that’s just chewing the scenery (or rather the recording studio) everytime he speaks.
1.Heath Ledger-The Dark Knight
Yes I know it’s predictable but regardless of whether or not Ledger passed away soon after, this is still something that took us all aback. Ledger proved to be a horrifying on-screen presence psychologically cracking down on his opponents, hilariously taking huge delight in doing so, and having multiple backstories as to how he came to be. And unlike the other Jokers on this list he actually succeeded in a way in his motives. Much like Monaghan he took the best traits of the other Jokers that preceded him but unlike Monaghan he also provided a touch of his own. This is a sociopath that merely thrives on chaos but the ends he goes to achieve it are so fascinating it makes him truly disturbing. Ledger proved to be capable of providing so much to the Joker character that draws interpretations to what kind of man he is on his own, what kind of man he is among Gotham, and what kind of person he is to Batman even today. Maybe someday they’ll top him but not today.
At the end of the day these Jokers (well most of them sorry Leto) have contributed something to the character. And regardless of which one you think is best, I’m just happy to live in a world where all these guys exist. How do you rank the clown princes of crime? Any you disagree with? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.