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Ranking our favourite incarnations of the Joker


One of pop culture's most beloved villains is returning to the big screen later this year when Joker lands in Cineworld on 4th October.

Originally inspired by the performance of actor Conrad Veidt in the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs, the eponymous clown prince of crime first made his villainous comic book debut in Batman #1 during Spring 1940. He's since featured in numerous films, TV shows and video games over the years, cementing him as one of the greatest super-villains ever created.

Throughout the decades this fiend has been portrayed by numerous performers, each giving their own take on the character. In this latest adaptation we can expect to see something completely different as the intense Joaquin Phoenix (You Were Never Really Here) puts on the clown make-up to tell a gritty origin story of how a down-on-their-luck stand-up comedian called Arthur descended into madness.

Directed by The Hangover's Todd Phillips, it promises to be unlike any Joker movie we've seen before. We can't wait to see Phoenix take on the Joker, but how well will he stack up against his predecessors?

While we await the answer to that question, here's our ranking of our favourite incarnations of this not-so-funny clown.

7. Jared Leto – Suicide Squad (2016)

Jared Leto's interpretation of the Joker is one of the most recent, and it's also been one of the most divisive among audiences. Following a group of Batman's most notorious enemies as they reluctantly team up for a do-or-die mission, Suicide Squad saw Leto's Joker ditch the character's famous purple suit to be reimagined as more of an eccentric street thug complete with 'damaged' tattoo.

While we have to give Leto credit for his commitment to the role (reportedly never breaking character on set, alongside sending fellow cast members a selection of strange presents), and for giving a pretty intense performance overall, the sheer lack of screen time and his irrelevance to the plot (due to some serious cutting) hampered his impact.

6. John DiMaggio – Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)

With there being so many animated appearances of this killer clown (including in Scooby-Doo), we could've chosen any one of them for this list. But we had to go for John DiMaggio's performance in animated feature Batman: Under the Red Hood.

Being the veteran vocal talent behind Futurama's Bender and Adventure Time's Jake, there was no doubting DiMaggio's ability to play an older Joker, who, at this point, has had a long and complex relationship with Batman – including killing Jason Todd, the new Robin.

Utterly deranged and genuinely hilarious, DiMaggio's portrayal of the villain isn't the best known, but it's certainly worth checking out.

5. Jack Nicholson – Batman (1989)

The film that showed that exposed audiences to the cinematic potential of the Caped Crusader, Tim Burton's gloriously Gothic blockbuster Batman saw Michael Keaton's Dark Knight go up against a Joker brought to life spectacularly by Jack Nicholson.

Complete with a creepy permanent grin etched across his white painted face and boasting devilish charms to match, this Joker was over-the-top zany and ruthlessly diabolical, famously trashing an art museum to the sound of Prince and starring in his own parade.

Nicholson has so much fun with the character that it's hard not to laugh at his to-die-for gags – even if it's the Joker who usually ensures the joke is on somebody else.

4. Cesar Romero – Batman (1966)

The first person to ever portray the Joker on-screen, Cesar Romero's portrayal on the ridiculously camp (but endlessly entertaining) 1960s TV series and its ensuing movie has become legendary.

Before Joker became known for his sadistic crimes, at this point in his history he was more of a mischievous criminal, and Romero nailed his cartoonish sensibility perfectly. His moustache may be clearly visible underneath his make-up, but Romero nonetheless set the groundwork for decades of Joker to follow – especially with the character's fiendish laugh.

This Joker may lack the grit we've come to expect, but Romero nevertheless earns his place in pop culture history.

3. Zach Galifianakis – The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

What makes the Joker such an interesting villain is the Yin and Yang relationship that he shares with Batman. It's only fitting, then, that in a film as off-the-wall as The LEGO Batman Movie this connection was taken to the next level and played as an unrequited romance.

It's something that wouldn't be nearly as funny without the gleefully funny voice of The Hangover's Zach Galifianakis as Joker. By simultaneously taking everything that makes the Joker a great villain and then lovingly poking fun at it, this Joker is the perfect foe to go up against Will Arnett's equally ludicrous and hilariously narcissistic LEGO Batman.

2. Mark Hamill – Batman: The Animated Series (1992)

Performing the voice of the Joker for over 25 years, Mark Hamill's version of the criminal mastermind is for many the definitive take on the character.

First portraying the Joker in the now-iconic 1990s animated series, Mark Hamill has continued to give voice to the character in numerous other adaptations including the acclaimed Arkham video game trilogy and, most recently, in The Killing Joke.

There's no denying how incredibly influential Hamill's Joker has been in shaping the character – just listen to that laugh. We hope Hamill isn't done playing the Joker just yet.

1. Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)

Not just the greatest incarnation of the Joker, but arguably one of the best cinema villains in recent memory, the late Heath Ledger showed us just how compelling and twisted this villain could be in his final role, for which he was awarded a posthumous Oscar. 

Although some were initially sceptical of his casting, Ledger ended up playing a huge role in creating the character himself, right down to the shoes, make-up, and mannerisms. Going as far to lock himself in a hotel room one month prior to shooting to create a Joker diary, Ledger really did give this role everything he had as a performer, and it showed.

From the facial scars to the famous "Why so serious?" line, he really did create a legend, ensuring Christopher Nolan's ferociously dark blockbuster sticks in the mind.

Do you think Joaquin Phoenix will topple Heath Ledger as the greatest Joker of all time? Let us know @Cineworld. Joker is released in Cineworld on 4th October 2019.

Andy Murray is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.