Not only has the Joker been the biggest, baddest, and best Batman villain since way back in Batman # 1 from way back in 1940, the Clown Prince Of Crime has become one of American Pop Literature’s most enduring villains, as well. No matter the creative team behind the Joker story being told, someone almost always brings something new to the character and his mythology. If not new, then a frenetic energy unmatched by most bad guys.
He seemingly always has Batman’s number. Or is that the other way around? Does the Joker even care about labels like that? Heck no! He just loves to bother the Caped Crusader and all of the Bat-Family. When the stories being told are more geared for kids, he’s a merry prankster looking for a few quick yucks before Batman catches him. The more grown-up-oriented stories feature him as downright imposing.
What versions of the Joker are the best? Let’s send in the clowns and smile, darn ya smile as we take a look at the many of the different versions of a psychopathic clown. Here are Two Of Worst Versions Of The Joker And 18 Of The Best.
20 Best: Cesar Romero (Batman 1966)
For most Bat-Fans out there, exposure to the 1966 Batman series isn’t just inevitability, it’s a rite of passage. Sure, it’s silly, but it’s also a family-friendly version of the Batman mythos accessible to any age, before kids get bored of the cheesiness and are introduced to the darker, intense comic book version of Batman.
That also means that the great Cesar Romero was a lot of fans’ first exposure to the live-action Joker. This one was steeped in plenty of the slapstick, cheeseball antics that permeated the era. The Clown Prince Of Crime and Caped Crusader in a Surf Contest? Only in a show like Batman.
19 Best: Jack Nicholson (Batman 1989)
The mid-eighties saw a revitalization of Batman in the comics. Writers like Alan Moore (The [Ending] Joke) and Frank Miller (The Dark Knight) brought Batman back to the shadows. When Warner Bros. had announced that Tim Burton would be directing a new live-action Batman flick, there was some trepidation.
But that trepidation fell by the wayside when Jack Nicholson was cast as the Joker. Even more so when pictures were shown of what he’d look like. Similar to Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, this version of the Joker was very close to the comic books and with madman actor Jack behind the makeup, it made for a performance still fondly thought of to this very day.
18 Best: Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight)
Admit it yourselves right now – no one thought Heath Ledger would be able to pull off the Joker. Yes, he was a dreamy heart-throb in teen comedies and had recently gotten an Oscar nomination for Brokeback Mountain, but playing the Joker? Had Christopher Nolan lost his mind?
Holy eating crow Batfans, were we ever pleasantly wrong! The Dark Knight is still over ten years later held in the highest of regards. Heath Ledger as the Joker goes down in infamy as one of the best performances of any character ever, not just the Joker. He was imposing and a completely cruddy comic – everything you’d ever want out of the Clown Prince.
17 Best: Joaquin Phoenix (Joker)
As of this writing, the teaser trailer for Joker has been released. In less than two minutes, Joaquin Phoenix has captivated an entire segment of fans who might have not been excited for this film at first; but they’re chomping at the bit after seeing this promo.
Phoenix has seldom turned in a bad performance and here it doesn’t seem to be any different. His Joker is going to be creepier than anyone could probably imagine. It’s going to be very interesting to see where the story goes; but so far, Phoenix’s portrayal looks to be something not yet seen in a comic book movie.
16 Best: Mark Hamill (Batman: The Animated Series)
Batman: The Animated Series is the best comic book cartoon ever produced for television. The tender love and care that Bruce Timm put into creating a show that felt dark and gritty but was still accessible to kids was outstanding.
The Joker here was, of course, voiced by Mark Hamill. He fit the bill Timm was looking for perfectly. A funny clown voice that could range from silly to downright spooky, often times in the same line read. Ask just about any Bat-fan who their favorite Joker is and they’ll more likely than not say its Hamill. Luke Skywalker himself has also voiced the clown in various video games and direct-to-video films.
15 Best: Michael Emerson (The Dark Knight Returns)
For many fans, the single greatest Batman story is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Originally envisioned as “the last Batman story,” Dark Knight shows a lot of our favorite Bat-characters several years in the future as an aging Batman seeks to stop his enemies once and for all.
The eventual cartoon adaptation featured Michael Emerson of Lost fame to voice the Joker. In a very different take on Batman, you needed a malevolent madman voicing the Joker. Emerson brought that malevolence and certifiable spookiness to the role.
14 Best: Cameron Monaghan (Gotham)
Since Gotham began, the show has been a completely insane version of the Batman story. In someways, it needed to be. After all, you’re showcasing a town that falls into such decay that a man dressed as a giant bat swoops in to try and save it.
Cameron Monaghan (Shameless), took on the dual role of Jeremiah and Jerome Valeska. Originally intended to be just two of the many nuts who eventually influence the Joker, Monaghan has been so magnetic in the role, that he too can be added to the list of really scary and terrific Jokers; even if he isn’t “officially” the Joker.
13 Best: Larry Storch (Adventures Of Batman, Scooby-Doo)
There were several reasons that Batman went ultra-kid friendly during the sixties and the seventies. Besides having to adhere to the Comics Code, they were able to reach a new audience with the 1966 TV show and Filmmation’s Adventures Of Batman cartoon and eventual Scooby Doo crossover.
This version of the Clown Prince Of Chaos was voiced by comedic legend, Larry Storch. When Storch voiced the character, the inflections he used helped shape a lot of voice work for the Joker for years to come.
12 Best: Jeff Bennett (The Brave And The Bold)
The Brave And The Bold could possibly be the silliest version of Batman you will ever see. Batman is voiced by comedian Diedrich Bader if that gives you any indication of ridiculously hilarious this show is from time to time.
The Joker is voiced by Jeff Bennett here and it’s an homage to Larry Storch’s version. Bennett previously voiced Johnny Bravo. His Joker is hysterical to watch especially when he has to team up with Ol’ Batsy to take on alternate dimensions of themselves.
11 Worst: Kevin Michael Richardson (The Batman - 2004)
Kevin Michael Richardson is a great voice actor. His distinct voice has been all over the place, most notably on shows like Family Guy, Spongebob, and Invader Zim. While he might have won a Daytime Emmy Award for playing the Joker, this was a decidedly different take on the character.
It’s jarring to hear and equally jarring to watch. The animation featured a dreadlocked, hunchbacked Joker. Meanwhile, his voice was Richardson’s unique baritone mixed with his attempt at mimicking those who came before him. Luckily, he never phoned in the performance, the attempt is the only reason it works.
10 Best: Zach Galifianakis (The Lego Batman Movie)
When Zach Galifianakis learned he would be playing the Joker, he at first was hopeful he’d get to follow in the footsteps of Heath Ledger and Jack Nicholson. Then he was told “it’s a toy movie.” Fans of The LEGO Movie immediately rejoiced.
Like its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie was the perfect mix of kiddie and grown-up flare, enough for the whole family to enjoy. Galifianakis as the Joker was inspired casting for a Joker that would convince Batman he needs him and goes to the lengths to bringing all sorts of evil doers to Gotham out of The Phantom Zone to prove it.
9 Best: Conrad Veidt (The Man Who Laughs)
We would be remised to not mention one of the inspirations of the Joker. So, while not a true performance of the Joker, actor Conrad Veidt played a character named Gwynplaine, the Laughing Man of a Freak Show in the movie, The Man Who Laughs.
According to the Joker’e co-creator Bill Finger, the look of Gwynplaine – the demonic grin, whiteface, and slick back hair was a direct influence on creating the menacing visage of the Joker. The very same visage that all kinds of creators and artists have mimed ever since.
8 Best: Richard Epcar (Injustice Video Games)
In the world of Injustice, the Joker tricks Superman into ending Lois Lane and blowing up Metropolis. The Man Of Steel becomes a madman after this and decides to rule over everything. Batman wages war with the Kryptonian to try and stop him.
The Joker, in this game, and all of Midway’s fighting games (ie Mortal Kombat vs. DC) is voiced by Richard Epcar. Epcar does a great job embodying and paying homage to Mark Hamill’s version while adding enough of his own twist to make it his own.
7 Best: Rey Mysterio (Wrestlemania XXV)
By the time you’re reading this, the WWE would have already or are getting ready to unleash WrestleMania 35 to the world. The wrestling extravaganza allows the athletes to put on some crazy costumes that special for the evening. The legendary Luchador, Rey Mysterio usually goes all out, embracing his comic book fandom.
Ten years ago, he did so by embracing his love of the Joker. He came to the ring in a getup inspired by Heath Ledger’s Joker. The costume worked, he won his match in record time.
6 Best: Brent Spiner (Young Justice)
He only appeared in one episode of Young Justice, but Brent Spiner and the eery voice that served him well playing Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, made his Joker a memorable one.
Once you place the fact that you’re listening to Data, it only makes his portrayal that much creepier. Young Justice was geared towards kids, but Spiner was allowed to cut loose and be terrifically menacing. Perhaps that’s why we only got to see him in one episode.
5 Best: Troy Baker (Batman Unlimited / Arkham Origins)
Troy Baker has been a very acclaimed voice actor for years now. Some of his work includes Joel in The Last Of Us and Batman in LEGO Batman. He’s one of few actors to voice both the Caped Crusader and his arch-nemesis.
Baker has voiced the Joker in several Batman Unlimited videos. He also voiced a younger version of Mark Hamill’s Joker in Arkham Origins. Baker’s version is a near-perfect imitation of Hamill’s.
4 Best: Jeff Bergman (Return Of The Caped Crusaders)
Since everything old usually comes back around to being vintage and new again, so it goes with Batman ‘66. There is both a comic book series and several direct-to-video cartoons drawn in the style of the old show. Plus, with a lot of the classic actors still alive, they got to reprise their roles.
Unfortunately, Cesar Romero passed away a long time ago. That left the Joker door wide open for Jeff Bergman. Bergman gave a great portrayal in Return Of The Caped Crusaders. He didn’t channel Romero’s voice. Which meant he gave a performance to make the Joker his own.
3 Best: Tony Hale (Batman Ninja)
Batman Ninja is one of the newer animated Bat-flicks to come out. It’s a very unique take on the Dark Knight; bringing the legend to feudal Japan. Thanks to Gorilla Grodd, everyone got transported and the bad guys took over as Feudal Lords.
Tony Hale (Arrested Development) does the honors as the king of psychopathic comedy here. While he does a good job, he is trying his best to put a southern twang on the Joker in some scenes and his best Mark Hamill impression in others. It’s a unique take, hopefully, one he’ll get to perfect in more Bat-flicks.
2 Best: Frank Welker (The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians)
Yes, you read that correctly. At one point, if only for a short episode, the voice of Megatron also voiced the Joker. In the insanely eighties cartoon, The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians, Welker’s Joker is a henchman for Darkseid, but still a thorn in Batman’s side.
Unlike a lot of cartoon voice actors of the day, Welker didn’t just recycle his Megatron voice for The Joker. He created a new voice for the role; one that sort of sounds like his real voice just dialed up to eleven.
1 Worst: Jared Leto (Suicide Squad)
Jared Leto had come off winning an Oscar. The role of the Joker has just come off Heath Ledger’s mesmerizing performance. Combine the two for a new school approach to the villainous clown and that’s what fans got for 2016’s Suicide Squad.
But that film, and Leto’s performance, much like every movie in the DCEU, was extremely divisive. Leto did what probably would be the only direction to go after Heath Ledger’s performance, so kudos to him for trying. But to plenty of the audience, this Joker was too flat.