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Ranking the Joker actors who delivered that terrifying laugh

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Todd Phillips’s standalone Joker movie is already receiving rave reviews after its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, where it also made history as the first comic book movie to win the coveted Golden Lion.

Many are now tipping the movie for Oscar success, not least star Joaquin Phoenix who brings his signature intensity to the role. Phoenix has been hailed as engrossing and disturbing with his portrayal of Arthur Fleck, an aspiring stand-up comic who is sidelined by the daily grind of life in Gotham City. Before long, Fleck’s psychosis and society’s cruelty help shape his brand new persona, which emerges in the shape of the Joker.

Of course, one of the most essential traits of this classic comic book villain is the laugh, a laugh which, if done correctly, should send shivers down your spine and strike fear into your heart.

Phoenix’s portrayal puts a twist on this: Fleck is afflicted with a neurological condition that makes him laugh at random and at different levels of hysteria. This is another character trait he carries into his Joker persona.

So, how will Phoenix’s laugh rank amongst the prior renditions? From what we have heard so far, and from Phoenix’s admission that performing the laugh was "almost painful", it all sounds very promising.

In anticipation, we rank the actors who have already delivered the characteristic Joker laugh…

Joaquin Phoenix Joker movie poster

5. Jared Leto

Jared Leto’s tattooed, silver grill-wearing, gangster version of the Joker in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad is not what audiences were expecting, or necessarily what they wanted.

Leto of course kept the laugh, because he probably would have been hung, drawn and quartered if he hadn’t. In step with Leto’s physical performance, the laugh feels rather forced, emanating from the back of the throat slowly and strained, sounding a little more like a cheap haunted house attraction than the Clown Prince of Crime.

Leto’s laugh works well in some instances, but overall lacks the fear factor of his contemporaries.


4. Cesar Romero

Cesar Romero delivered the first live-action take on the Joker in both the original Adam West TV series and the later 1966 movie. He was therefore the first to bring the laugh to the ears of the masses.

Going all the way back to the 1960s and listening to Romero’s laugh, it is evident how influential it has been on all the Jokers that have followed. The striking, high-pitched shriek of laughter that erupts from his lips is creepy in all the right ways.

Romero spent much of his time as the Joker just laughing at anything, so it perhaps does begin to lose its impact after a while, but it is quintessentially Joker nonetheless.


3. Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson’s interpretation of the Joker still remains many people’s favourite, and it isn’t hard to see why. His portrayal slots perfectly into the gothic Batman universe that director Tim Burton created, one who murders, maims, disfigures and terrifies, all the while cackling away.

Nicholson’s Joker is not unlike a bleached-skinned, green haired version of himself, with his triangular eyebrows and shark’s grin almost needing no make-up.

For that reason, this Joker’s laugh is a deranged version of Nicholson’s very own throaty, croaky chuckle, one that envelops his Joker’s cheekiness in a sinister cloud, and highlighting his unpredictable, vindictive nature.





2. Heath Ledger

The first time we hear Heath Ledger’s Joker laugh, it is almost sarcastic. He takes the sound we have heard before from all the prior Jokers and sounds it out slowly and sardonically, but with such a sense of malice and intimidation that before he has even entered the room, you are already terrified.

As Ledger’s Joker takes a firmer grip on Gotham, his laugh becomes less mocking and more genuine; as it increases in pitch and grows more frenzied, each cackle becomes more horrific than the last.

Whether Batman (Christian Bale) is punching him in the face or throwing him off a building, Ledger’s Joker chortles maniacally throughout, a reflection of his grounded take on the character as a destructive force of anarchy.


1. Mark Hamill

Mark Hamill may only have voiced the Joker in animated form, but what vocals they are. Hamill’s Joker laugh is equal parts crazy, scary, demented and creepy.

His wild exhortations perfectly define the essence of the character, able to jump with ease from laughing like a madman at a joke he has made, to laughing menacingly at an act of violence he has executed.

Hamill’s laugh is zany enough that he genuinely sounds like he loves causing chaos, and his is the laughter readers hear in their heads when leaping from panel to panel in the comics. Little wonder Hamill’s interpretation remains the favourite of many fans.

Where will Phoenix's portrayal of the character rank on this list? And does Phoenix's portrayal stand a chance of winning an Oscar? You don't have long to find out: Joker is released on 4th October.

Jon Fuge is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.