There have been many actors who have played the Joker. But who played him the best? We are here to try to answer that question. Those days are gone when kids would point out a jolly guy in an attractive costume and make-up if you ever said that name. Yeah, almost everyone is aware of DC’s greatest villain who oozes madness like a hose stabbed in thousand different places. Such is his status that even after 75 years, since his inception in 1940, he has managed to stay relevant. Maybe it’s because of his backstory that is so gruesomely sympathetic or his nature being an yin to Batman’s yang, whatever the reason, he is undoubtedly the most iconic comic book villain in pop culture. Throughout the course of history, his character has changed like a chameleon jumping on the ambience of different decades from being a dramatic criminal to a dark R rated concept of the worst state of mind.
We have had countless animated films and TV shows with live action adaptations as well, with the latter quite fortunately being a handful encapsulating the essence of the character which in today’s world has elevated to a new height of ignorant fan following (no offense but The Joker isn’t limited to Ledger’s version which is loosely based). The following list is my perception of the performances and may not pertain to your interests, but remember there would be no fun if everyone shared the same mindset as yours. Diversity is proportional to knowledge. Here is the list of top actors who played Joker.
5. Cesar Romero
Romero’s portrayal is the only one I am slightly unfamiliar with because of the sheer campiness of the 1960s TV show. It was more of a sitcom and described by its executive producer William Dozier as the only situation comedy on the air without a laughtrack. From what I have seen of Romero, there was a fine line that could be drawn between him and the show due to his distinguishable commitment to the villain’s rather light-hearted insanity. Romero’s hysterical laughs are the very foundation of the maniac’s trademark and have inspired the likes of Nicholson, Hamill and Ledger to shape their own in accordance with the traits of their version.
Since this was a family show aimed at a teenage audience, Romero’s Joker similar to the earlier version was a prankster whose sole aim was to beat Batman and have fun at his expense. Nothing close to the hideous monster we know today, and serves as the perfect gateway to the development of the character over seven decades. The greasy white scarless face with dark red lips and the chic pink suit from a thrift shop gave the character a flamboyantly notorious edge.
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4. Troy Baker
Troy Baker is also referred to as the successor of Hamill. Sorry John DiMaggio you are great but Baker’s vocal range and raspiness is a sight to behold, bringing out the eccentricity of the character with gallons of nitrous oxide. Baker is famous for voicing Joel in the video game The Last of Us and The Joker in Batman : Arkham Origins and the animated feature ‘Batman : Assault on Arkham’. Coming back to my first statement, critics and fans have always pointed out the similarities between his and Hamill’s voices after Baker was selected to succeed Hamill in the Batman video game series, with many of them getting to know about Baker’s inclusion after reading the cast list!
Voice-over is a very difficult task and though it doesn’t require the actor to be physically present if you do watch the studio videos you’ll notice the incredible body language and dedication of these actors to blend a part of them with a part alien to their self, i.e, the physical representation on screen. His lack of portrayals have been a result of his undermatured voice, that despite its superb dynamism is best suited to a younger Joker than the older ones we have been seeing lately. Over half a decade or so, we can expect Baker to take the reigns of Hamill and be the undisputed Joker for decades to come.
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3. Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson’s popularity was on the decline in the 80s. He was pretty flawless in ‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘Prizzi’s Honor’, but that only resulted in critical acclaim and the memory of the crazy axe yielding man in ‘The Shining’ was slowly fading away. Then came ‘Batman’ in 1989 and the rest as we say is history. Let’s be serious, some people may term it typecasted but a Nicholson film isn’t really the same if we don’t see the ugly frightening side of him, those dancing eyebrows and the gritty upper teeth. Batman gave us just that in the form of the dark knight’s greatest menace, The Joker. Here’s the interesting part though, he was no longer simply a menace but a mad figure driven by his volatile self, who could go to any length to achieve what he desired (which is unknown because of his veil of insanity).
The movie stayed pretty faithful to the comic books by adopting the “Red Hood” origin story and adopting elements from The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, the realistic grittiness was introduced but not to the extent of its source material (which I believe are too horrid for a live action adaptation). Nicholson’s Joker was given the gangster persona, a more relatable scenario because of the 70s and early 80s. Physically, except the facial structure, his Joker is still the most accurate depiction on screen and I would have ranked it at 2, but sometimes being faithful does restrict the complexity of the character. Also they opted to play safe.
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2. Heath Ledger
Some people would argue over Ledger’s spot as a runner-up. Ledger’s fantastic, no doubt about that but its Hamill’s incomparable performances over two decades that set the bar too high. Though his version is unfaithful to the character’s history, his unhinged portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime totally makes up for that. I remember watching ‘The Dark Knight’ for the first time and not helped but be blown away by Ledger’s masterful role and the gravitas of his death did shape my vision of acting in general, unaware of the dedication some actors put in the form of a part of their life. Tragedies apart, Ledger’s Joker overshadowed everyone on screen (unfortunately), which is just poor writing. His unsettling scars, the inconsistent facial paints, the wild grizzly hair and a squeaky voice combined the joker’s prankster persona with that of a violent calculating psychopath like Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter.
Ledger’s version was multi-dimensional, he wasn’t a gangster or a comical criminal, he was self-malleable because of his ability to transform himself and the situation to his own will, and unlike an opportunist this quality was applicable to others including Batman. Ledger’s Joker does not induce chaos, chaos is too disorganized and random. He disestabilishes the system like a jenga block resulting in a disrupted state of affairs, and the credibility and intention of his actions differ with opinions (Guy Fawkes meets the Zodiac killer). Though his laughs may not be very convincing, his body language surely is and so are the highly variable stress on every word that depicts the conflict of moods within him. A great performance but very tragic indeed.
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1. Mark Hamill
No justification of any sort required here. Mark Hamill is The Joker. Watch the 1-minute video of the animated Batman series below and I guarantee you, you will understand this choice!
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