Even with the green hair, overwrought smile, witty one-liners and crazed cackle, the Joker often induces us with fear, rather than laughter.
Jumping from comic books to TV to film to game, this colourful yet psychologically damaged supervillain has been taken under the wing by many different people and voices for decades.
There is a good reason why the Joker has remained one of the most feared and beloved DC villains to date, serving as the perfect arch nemesis of Batman. Today we say ‘suck it’ to all history teachers, as we attempt to make history fun by looking through the record books and uncovering the top five Jokers of all time.
Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight
Chillingly brilliant, psychologically mind-blowing, utterly insane and plainly out of this world. These words don’t even do justice to Heath Ledger’s performance in the The Dark Knight. This isn’t simply a Joker who plans to play some pranks, get some money and defeat Batman. As Alfred puts it, this is someone who “just wants to watch the world burn”.
Ledger’s Joker unleashes a sick-minded psychopath, whose only end goal is to cause anarchy and agony within Gotham. But what makes his performance stand out is the way he validates the damage behind pleasure, the shriek behind laughter. Ironically, a character with the world’s greatest grin made us cry out with terror. It’s no surprise his performance earned him a rightful Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2009.
Cesar Romero, Batman (1966)
WHAMM, POW, KAPOW! Fighting his way into second spot for all the early Bat-fans out there is iconic veteran Cesar Romero’s Joker. The 1960’s Batman TV series was a major home run for the first live-action version of the Joker. Romero was actually the pioneer of many of the Joker’s characteristics, such as his menacing cackle and senseless outreach for revenge. Romero’s Joker appeared during the peak of the comic book Silver Age, where heavy censorship steered darker themes (as we see today) to more prank-like violence, prompting POWs and BANGs to swoosh across the screen, replacing actual violence.
In the three TV seasons and feature film that saw Romero portray the Joker, his schemes included gimmicks such as sneezing powder and giant slot machines of death. Funnily, Romero refused to shave his moustache for his role, and if you look closely when he famously rolls his “Rs”, you can see black facial hair surfacing above the iconic white makeup. Fifty years on and we can still see Romero’s influence on modern Jokers like Jared Leto and Heath Ledger, setting the standard for all Jokers to come.
Jack Nicholson, Batman (1989)
As the curtains opened in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, Jack Nicholson was there standing in the spotlight and stealing the show in one of the most famous performances of the Joker to date. Nicholson’s real life crazy eyes and wide smirk perfectly encapsulated that of the Joker (even without the makeup).
The guy is known for playing crazy messed-up characters (cough cough, Jack Torrance from The Shining; R.P McMurphy from One that Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and this performance proves that he can do insane just as well as anyone. For his performance, the Joker took on a jollier enforcement of terror, happily mowing people down with his oversized novelty pistols to a cheerful soundtrack, while still managing to fill us with ominous dread.
Mark Hamill, Batman: The Animated Series
When most people think of the Joker, Mark Hamill doesn’t necessarily spring to mind. Hamill is most well-known for his renowned role as Luke Skywalker. However, he is just as good with voice-overs as he is with a lightsaber. And of all the animated characters he’s breathed life into, none can compare to his portrayal of the Joker.
An iconic razor-sharp voice with a hint of insanity and a screeching laughter that hisses like a snake – these are the ingredients that make Hamill’s Joker everything and more. Originating in the 1992, Batman: The Animated Series, Hamill has continued to voice The Crown Prince of Crime for decades in TV, film and game, releasing his latest animated feature film Batman: The Killing Joke, alongside non-real enemy and longtime Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy.
Jared Leto, Suicide Squad
Alright, we all know that Suicide Squad was a semi-fail, mocked with poor reviews. And while the Joker was seemingly insignificant to the actual storyline and given pretty shitty material to work with, Leto produced an incredibly unsettling and creepy performance.
In a film full of bad guys, Leto’s Joker undeniably stood out as a more malevolent and crazy person, which was great to see. I’d love to see Leto again in a Harley/Joker movie where he takes on his true rival Batman. Only there will he be given the material to really shine and live up to his true potential as an incredible Joker, instead of being compromised for the sake of boosting the franchise.