Joker’s recently awarded R rating in America (the equivalent of a 15 over here) suggests that Todd Phillips’ upcoming movie is far from a laughing matter.
The standalone DC villain flick stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a failing stand-up comedian whose transformation into the Clown Prince of Crime directly stems from Gotham City’s cruelty and apathy.
Comparisons have already been made with the dark dramas you’d expect from Martin Scorsese such as The King of Comedy and Taxi Driver. Joker is set in the 1980s and is poised to be as tough and gritty as Scorsese’s crime classics – in fact, he was originally set to produce, before his collaborator Emma Tillinger Koskoff took over.
Throughout his storied history from the page to the screen, we know that the Joker is up for a laugh, but there are also times when he takes it above and beyond a joke.
While we anticipate Phoenix’s grounded and intense portrayal of a good man gone bad, here are some of the Joker’s most anarchic moments that resonate to the sound of laughter – albeit the deranged kind...
1. Cesar Romero’s moustache in Batman (1966)
Alongside the Shark Repellent Bat Spay, Robin’s tiny green pants and some serious scenery chewing, the 1966 Batman film had Cesar Romero’s moustache causing more aggro than Henry Cavill’s facial fuzz during the Justice League reshoots.
Romero was famous as the archetypal Latin lover from various popular musicals and comedies until his latter years brought him to the role of the Joker. In fact, his portrayal was the first live-action portrayal of the character, and was the only non-white individual to take on the role.
However, Romero point-blank refused to shave off his trademark moustache to play the Joker, which left the crew with no option other than to break out the make-up. Even then, the thick white face paint could barely conceal the marvellous ‘tache that lay beneath.
Although most viewers do a double take at the sight, that kind of bizarre behaviour more than fits in with his character and comes on like an odd visual joke.
2. Disfiguring Alicia Hunt in Batman (1989)
One minute, you’re watching Jack Nicholson’s maniacal Joker twirl his baton to the sound of Prince’s 'Party Man', all the while "improving the paintings" at Gotham’s museum. The next, he’s attempting to court Kim Basinger’s Vicky Vale with suave sophistication and white-hot wit. He even makes an effort with his make-up.
Where things take a darker turn though, is in the reveal of the disfigurement of gorgeous gangster’s moll, Alicia Hunt (Jerry Hall). Masked and scarred, courtesy of the Joker’s acid-squirting posey, Hunt’s dependence and affection for the clown prince of crime is reminiscent of his other beau, Harley Quinn, and is not without poignancy.
When we later learn that Alicia "fell" out of a window, it’s an unceremonious end for a character who was the catalyst for the coup between the Joker and mob boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance).
3. Pencil-pushing in The Dark Knight (2008)
In terms of making a first impression, Heath Ledger’s introduction as the Joker is pretty hard to beat.
In the second instalment of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, Ledger brings all the showmanship that makes the character so iconic, along with all the menace which makes him so infamous.
He outclasses and plain out-weirds the consortium of criminals who have gathered to discuss how to deal with Batman (Christian Bale), Gotham’s enthusiastic new DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) and Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman).
Although he did appear in the film’s opening bank raid (albeit disguised in a clown mask), this was our first proper glimpse of all of Ledger’s Joker’s hacking, lip-licking, hair-flicking eccentricities. And he brings a very special trick to the party, along with a deadly plan to kill the Batman.
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- Why Joaquin Phoenix will bring us the definitive version of the Joker
4. Paralysing Barbara Gordon in The Killing Joke (2016)
This comic book film adaptation is based on the 1988 comic. In the movie, Barbara Gordon becomes nothing more than a pawn in the Joker’s (voiced by Mark Hamill) play to get to Batman by breaking her father, Jim Gordon.
A quiet moment before the storm sees Barbara answer the door, not expecting what comes next: a single shot from the Joker’s gun, which splinters her spine. His subsequent reaction creates what is arguably the most iconic image of the Joker: decked out in his trademark purple hat and suit, with his camera poised to shoot and a deranged glint in his eye.
Barbara Gordon was an innocent party, a likeable character and seemingly untouchable due to her links with the GCPD and the Caper Crusader. Her paralysis was a moment that had many a Bat fan unwilling to pull a smile for the camera.
5. Murdering Monster T in Suicide Squad (2016)
The general consensus is that there was nowhere near enough of the Joker in DC's bad guy spin-off movie.
Jared Leto’s Joker aesthetic may have been divisive, but he was typically bold when conveying the attitude and dress sense of the iconic character. One of Leto’s few memorable scenes involves his interaction with fellow bad-man gangster, Monster T (rapper Common), who foolishly makes something of a lewd comment towards Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) after seeing her pulling off some serious dance moves.
Where most people would keep their thoughts to themselves, Monster T pipes up, calling Quinn a "bad b***h" and comes a cropper thanks to a bullet from the Joker’s gun.
There were signals that the character of Monster T would develop into the comic book mercenary known as Tattoo Man; a deadly assassin who operates with the assistance from the Rorschach-esque living tattoos which cover his face and body. However, this wasn’t to be.
Robb Sheppard is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.