It’s the burning topic right now – who is the best Joker that ever played in a DC movie?
We’ve spared you the trouble and selected five top picks based on a few criteria. One of them is the quality of performance and good acting. The second is believability and the ability to remove one’s personality from the character’s. Thirdly, we checked how well the character has aged. And lastly, we examined how impactful each of the actor’s interpretation of Joker was then and is today.
5. Cesar Romero – Batman: The Movie (1966)
The performance of the New York City-born actor was just like he was – debonair and worldly. Romero’s Joker in the 1966 Batman: The Movie was determinative for all others to come. Romeo was the first one to physically embody the 1939-created supervillain. His trademark chuckle and the crazy-eye look made him simply unforgettable. However, be it due to the first interpretation or something else, Romero’s Joker lacked the depth that was introduced and gradually boosted in the versions that followed.
4. Mark Hamill – Arkham City (2012)
The fans of the Star Wars star might consider Mark Hamill the original Joker. He portrayed the famous Batman arch-nemesis more than all others on this list combined. Importantly, he would voice the character rather than personify him, so he became the iconic voice of the Joker. Perhaps the most famous variation on the theme was his 1992 voicing in Batman: The Animated Series. The show ran for 85 episodes in the 1990s, also known under the name The Adventures of Batman & Robin. Nevertheless, it is not this portraiture that we singled out. In 2012, Hamill voiced Joker in the video game Arkham City, which went on to scoop some notable rewards. His raspy voice combined with the villainous undertone made this interpretation irresistible.
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3. Jack Nicholson – Batman (1989)
In the year when they tore down the Wall, Tim Burton directed a legendary version of the Caped Crusader. Jack Nicholson was without a doubt a Joker to remember. In the 1989 version, we are, for the first time, given a bit of a backstory to what Joker turned out to be. Jack Nicholson’s Joker, post-axis chemicals, is the incarnation of corporate consumerism. He is a twisted reflection of all that Batman represents, which is, above all, individualism.
Nicholson’s Joker is greedy and extremely goal-driven and is most certainly the sign of his time. The Oscar-winning actor’s rendition of the Joker is the zeitgeist of the second Cold War era, a period of unrests and turmoil, which transformed into a painful need to consume and accumulate capitalist goods. Perhaps that’s why even today DC stands, booths and online shops are loaded with the face of Jack Nicholson’s Joker.
2. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)
In 2008, Australian actor Heath Ledger changed the face of the Joker for good, both visually and influentially. Ledger was the manufacturer of the Joker that millennials know for his infamous line “Why so serious?”. We need not spend much time retelling the stories many times recounted, so we’ll not dig into that kind of narrative. Instead, we will focus on the fear that die-hard DC enthusiasts have now that a new Joker came to exist. These supporters supposedly feel that their favourite Joker is threatened by the birth of a new one. But why would he be? E-books have been invented, and we don’t see libraries worldwide close down.
Ledger created what director Christopher Nolan called a “bizarre pitch” with his voice. His acting drives the plot of the movie forward and that’s where his excellence lies. Some would argue that his posthumous Oscar was a marketing tool. If it was or not, we might never learn, but that the performance was Oscar-worthy, most of us can agree. Ledger’s performance in the 2008 blockbuster will always be remembered, and his legacy will live on. But the way has to be made for new, contemporary interpretations, and that’s exactly what our final pick epitomises.
1. Joaquin Phoenix – Joker (2019)
At the beginning of the movie, and for the good part, Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker is an adult un-learning to be a child. He tries so hard to fit in and be part of the ruthless world that does nothing but chew him up and spit him out. He’s lost grip of reality, which is likely a coping mechanism against childhood trauma. Ironically nicknames Happy by his mother suffering from a delusional disorder and narcissistic tendencies, the 21st-century Joker is somehow aggressively happy. He’s unable to accommodate to the unwelcoming surroundings, most of which is the aftermath of his adopted mother and stepfather’s abuse of him as a child.
The creation of Phoenix is more layered and complex that all others that had been made. He is nuanced and subtle, as well as provocative and brutal. This Joker does not come with the maniacal laugh of a rascal, no. He is burdened by the weight of survival and is painfully candid. Where Ledger was mysterious and dark, Phoenix was naïve and insecure. “The worst part of having a mental illness is people expect you to behave as if you don’t.” Similar to Nicholson’s delivery, Phoenix’s Joker is the spirit of the age. We see Joker as we had never seen him before, as a vulnerable, inadequate individual struggling to adapt to the fast-paced world around him.
In our opinion, Phoenix as the Joker holds the mirror to our faces more than any Joker before. It delves into the abyssal depths of human nature and explores how much a person can endure before they turn into a monster. Additionally, this interpretation added a special element to the franchise, shifting the perspective of numerous fans to who Joker is. While director and writer Todd Phillips rejected an idea of intertwining his film with Batman remakes, we cannot help but rethink if Joker was really born that diabolical, or we made him such.