Since 1940, the Joker has served not only as Batman’s most recognizable foe, but as perhaps the definitive comic book villain. With his emerald green hair, chalk white skin and cackling laugh, the Joker is an enigma that defies identification. Having been portrayed in a number of different films, shows and games, the Joker has had many iconic appearances on the big (and small) screen. As such, I find it only fitting to rank the five top performances. Without further ado, here are the top 5 Jokers!
5. Jared Leto (Suicide Squad) (2016)
Suicide Squad was a divisive film already and Jared Leto’s depiction of the Clown Prince of Crime left few satisfied and many disappointed. Personally, I feel into the latter’s camp. The Joker does not wear golden grills on his teeth, nor is he tattoed like a Hot Topic shopper. The performance itself wasn’t much better. In other media, the Joker has a tumultuous relationship with sidekick Harley Quinn, while here, he legitimately cares for her. Although I’m normally open to different interpretations of a character, there are times where it doesn’t pan out. This is one of them.
4. Jack Nicholson (Batman) (1989)
The fact that Jack Nicholson ranks fourth on this list isn’t a mark against his acting abilities. It’s just that there are three more dynamic portrayals of the Joker that he ends up lower on the list. That being said, there were many things to enjoy about 1989’s Batman, Nicholson’s performance is one of them. Depicting the common backstory of the Joker gaining his appearance via a fall into a vat of chemicals, Nicholson runs wild on screen, screeching with laughter at every possible turn. Above all, the performance is pure fun and sometimes, that’s all that’s needed.
3. Caeser Romero (Batman) (1966)
The Adam West Batman series is famously known for being the epitome of over the top campiness and Caeser Romero’s portrayal of the Joker does not fall short. He provides a formidable challenge to West in terms of hamming it up to the camera and his costume manages to be appropriately corny and 60s-esque. He doesn’t have the complexity of the next two portrayals, but once more, he’s a fun take on a classic villain.
2. Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight) (2008)
It may be a surprise that the late Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker only comes up second on this list, but that’s because there’s an even better portrayal sitting at number one. Besides, while I’m a massive fan of Ledger’s portrayal, he deliberately was written to be a departure from the comic version, with an emphasis on more stripped-down, complex motives and more realistic, less colorful weapons. As a self-described “agent of chaos”, the Joker utterly wreaks havoc across Gotham City, challenging Batman endlessly to “break his code”. Will he succeed, or will the Bat save the day?
1. Mark Hamill (Batman: The Animated Series) (1992)
There is no superior portrayal of the Joker to Mark Hamill’s. He has the right amount of manic energy, zany eccentricity and genuinely terrifying diabolicalness to keep the audience on their toes. While other versions of the character either forgot the comical side or the terrifying one, Hamill manages to nail both perfectly, to chilling effect. All in all, he’s the definitive portrayal to me.