Soon enough, Joaquin Pheonix will join a list of talented actors who have breathed life into the iconic Batman villain, The Joker. One day, we'll know for sure how well Pheonix did with the character, but before then we have to go back and discuss all of the Jokers of the past and present.
This list will rank 10 of the most famous incarnations of the Clown Prince of Crime, starting with the least stellar portrayal of the character all the way down to the most. Many things will be taken into account in this ranking, including how each incarnation of the character worked within the movie or show that he was designed for. We aren't just discussing individual performances here. This is because performances are highly affected by the material itself. Without further ado, here is Every Rendition Of The Joker Officially Ranked.
11 Brent Spiner In Young Justice
Brent Spiner in Young Justice was a huge let-down. Although many DC fans liked the show, the version of the iconic villain within it was less than appealing. For one, the character only appeared in a couple of episodes that were less than stellar. The story they gave him was downright boring and pretty uninventive. The look of the character felt uninspired as well. He looked less like a Clown Prince of Crime and more of a stuffy businessman. Finally, there's Spiner's interpretation itself. While he's a more than capable voice actor, there's nothing memorable here. He's unfunny, monotone, not intimidating, and utterly unengaging. This misses the mark completely.
10 Jared Leto In Suicide Squad
Jared Leto is a fantastic actor. But he was just no good as The Joker. However, it's not entirely Leto's fault. He was given no legitimate material to play with in Suicide Squad. The character doesn't affect the plot in any meaningful way and really only appears in a few glorified flashbacks. When we did see him, Leto portrayed him as a snarling dog of a gangster who doesn't seem to have any sense of humor.
That's the thing about The Joker, no matter how dark the material is, the character should always be able to joke around. We should love to hate him, not just downright loathe him.
9 Jeff Bennett In The Brave And The Bold
Batman: The Brave And The Bold is a take-off on the 1960's Batman T.V. series. Therefore, the entire idea of the show is for it to be camp and open for kids to enjoy. This isn't entirely appealing to the majority of Batman fans, but the show worked within the parameters that it set. Having said that, Jeff Bennett's portrayal of The Joker within the series was less than inspiring. In no way did he do anything as exciting as what previous actors had done. Additionally, the design of the character is very off-putting and not particularly intimidating. Besides, half of the schemes that this Joker has are bordering on the absurd, taking the audience out of the already campy show.
8 Kevin Michael Richardson In The Batman
It's not that Kevin Michael Richardson is bad as The Joker, it's just that he's not particularly memorable. He doesn't do a whole lot with the voice that makes it stand apart from other incarnations that appear further on this list. The character himself didn't have anything too meaty to do on The Batman as he pretty much acted as "the villain of the week". Although this incarnation is pretty deranged and unyielding, he comes across as a weird acrobat more than he does The Clown Prince of Crime. In fairness to Richardson, the entire show wasn't all that memorable or inventive to begin with.
7 Zach Galifianakis In The Lego Batman Movie
The Lego Batman movie is a beloved film in its own right, and the Joker is definitely a fun character within this film world. The version of the Joker within it, played by the very funny Zach Galifianakis, fits within the tone of the flick. The character is both charming and yet hilarious. The one thing that the character is truly lacking is any sense of intimidation. His version is fun, but it's not particularly memorable. Also, the look of the character feels a bit off.
6 Michael Emerson In The Dark Knight Returns
The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most famous Batman stories in ink. It makes sense that it would be made into a stellar two-part animated film. Everything about both films, including the music and visual tone, is perfectly suited to the story that it's trying to tell. This goes for the Joker as well. Here, Michael Emerson is pretty laid back and gritty instead of wild and maniacal. This doesn't mean that Emerson doesn't get to have fun, but it does mean that the character feels a bit restrained. Still, Emerson gets points for just how intimidating his incarnation is. This is especially true in his final battle with Batman in the tunnel of love.
5 Cesar Romero In Batman
Before we really knew how dark the character of the Joker could get, Cesar Romero created the template for just how maniacal, hilarious, and downright odd the character could be. Although the 1960s Batman show and its movie are very dated, at the time they were what people adored. Sure, Batman and his enemies were made into a great big joke with little dimension and depth, but it worked for the time.
Romero brought this character to life, making helping to solidify him as an iconic baddie. Everything about the character's look was out of the comics and influenced everything that came after it. The performance itself was unhinged and hilarious. Props to this late-great genius!
4 Jack Nicholson In Batman
Jack Nicholson would probably argue that he was the greatest Joker of all time. And while he's certainly up there, the character mostly acted as "the villain of the week" in Tim Burton's Batman. He didn't really develop the story or the character of Batman in any significant way. This is with the exception of working Joker into Batman's origin story, which some fans disliked.
However, the style of the character fit perfectly within the world that Burton created. In no way does he feel out of place. The performance itself is wonderfully daunting and simultaneously funny, capturing the true essence of the character. There are even some iconic lines that we're still quoting to this day. In short, Nicholson was a superb incarnation of the Joker.
3 Mark Hamill In Various Movies And Shows
Mark Hamill is the voice of the longest running incarnation of The Joker. Although he's most famous for his performance in the downright fantastic Batman: The Animated Series, he's voiced The Joker in multiple movies and video games. Many fans would argue that Hamill's version is the best incarnation of the character, and they would have a strong argument. Hamill breathes a maniac, colorful, intimidating, and equally funny energy into the character. This is something that's almost unmatched by any other take on the character. This Joker is utterly iconic. And then there's Hamill's Joker laugh... No words can describe how brilliant it is.
2 Heath Ledger In The Dark Knight
It may be a cliche by now, but Heath Ledger's version of The Joker is still the greatest. This isn't just because of his Oscar-winning performance. The reason why this Joker is so fantastic has more to do with how the character worked within The Dark Knight. Here, Joker nullifies all of Batman's strengths and makes them into weaknesses. This makes sure that he's a formidable foe. The character also perfectly encapsulates the theme and even acts as an allegorical figure for real-world issues.
In short, the character wasn't just "the villain of the week". He had a purpose within the story and further developed the other characters, especially Batman. On top of it all, the performance was magnificent. This, unequivocally, makes this incarnation of the character the strongest.
1 Honorable Mention: Cameron Monaghan In Gotham
It's neither confirmed nor denied that Cameron Monaghan's Jerome and Jeremiah are actually The Joker. Fox's Gotham has never used his name and has made sure that audiences remain unsure. Therefore, we can't officially include him on this list. But we can give him an honorable mention because the similarities between his characters and The Joker are undeniable. Monaghan's twin brothers both have the clown esthetic, the unyielding personality, and even many of the same mannerisms. But there are enough differences that make him a unique character that may only be inspired by The Clown Prince of Crime.