Of all the iconic villains in comics or movies, none can claim to have the same level of popularity as the clown prince of crime: The Joker. Whether they read the comics, watch the cartoons or the movies, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t know who he is! There have been so many iterations of the character across so many forms of media that it’s practically impossible not to know him!
Last Friday, a new Joker took the stage in his first-ever stand-alone film! Yes, it has garnered a lot of controversies (all of which are completely unfounded, but I don’t want to talk about that) but it’s garnered generally positive reviews! All of which state one thing: Joaquin Phoenix did a wonderful job as the iconic villain!
Unfortunately, I can’t review the film just yet. I still haven’t seen it. But I have seen the other movies starring the Joker! So I can still talk about those!
Except for the animated ones. If I handled those, I’d be here all day. As much as I love Mark Hamill.
The list of contenders goes as follows.
- Cesar Romero
- Jack Nicholson
- Heath Ledger
- Jared Leto
The criteria are as follows.
- How well does each performer do in the role?
- Is The Joker’s design effective?
- How well does that actor’s Joker play with that film’s Batman?
- Most simple of all: are they enjoyable to watch?
We’ll be going from the Joker that I enjoyed the least to the one that I found the most compelling. This, as with everything you’ll read on this site, is purely my opinion and is not meant to sway yours in any way. We all love the Joker, and I want to discuss what I liked and didn’t like about each one!
Unfortunately, I’ll mostly be talking about the negatives with Jared Leto.
Yeah. Remember this guy? He had a few brief scenes in ‘Suicide Squad’! Y’know! Those scenes that had no impact on the film as a whole!
This guy is awful. So much so that I legitimately can’t think of a single positive thing to say! Everything about this guy, from his performance to his design, is so awful that it physically pains me just to remember him! He’s been forgotten by everyone and he should stay that way!
I’m committing a fucking sin just bringing this guy up!
Part of what makes a good Joker design is simplicity. You don’t need much. Give him a vibrant suit and clown makeup, and bam! You’ve got a good Joker! If you overcrowd the design, then he becomes something else. Something worse. Which is exactly what Jared Leto’s Joker is. He’s an overcrowded, overly-edgy and gross Joker! He doesn’t have any of the qualities that makes the Joker look so iconic!
Worse yet is Leto’s performance! Rather than acting like a maniacal clown, he behaves more like a mob boss who identifies a little too closely with a cat! His mouth is almost always hanging open, which is just plain annoying! He never even cracks a joke! He doesn’t have the goofy side of the Joker, the part that says “You’re not even worth taking seriously and I’m in complete control!”
He doesn’t even have a face-to-face scene with Batman! What the fuck is the point of putting both Batman and The Joker in the same movie if they don’t even fucking talk to each other?!
Fuck Jared Leto. He’s not fun to watch! He deserves to be completely forgotten!
I’m done talking about this guy. Let’s move on to the next Joker: Cesar Romero.
The 60’s Batman series was weird. The movie it spawned was weird! They both came from a time when everything had to be watered down, child-friendly and more than a bit ridiculous. As such, Cesar Romero’s Joker is very different from all of the others on this list.
Which is kind of why I love him!
Romero’s Joker isn’t a serial killer. He isn’t a terrorist. He isn’t a mob boss. He is a simple crook. His aim isn’t ‘Burn Gotham city to the ground’, it’s ‘Rob Gotham for all it’s worth!” The man is a complete goofball who, in comparison to the others on this list, is rather harmless!
But he’s such a delight to watch that I don’t care!
He plays off of his respective Batman perfectly! Both of them are complete goofballs, and each scene they share together is a delight! They have an almost Shakesperian dynamic to them with how dramatic each line is delivered! I love it!
Romero himself is also fantastic! He brings the material to life perfectly with a high-energy performance and a wonderful laugh! Plus, his outfit is absolutely wonderful! The bright pink stands out from the other Jokers, who prefer dark purples. It’s simple, but it captures this Joker’s carefree and goofy style perfectly!
Even if the mustache sticks out like a sore thumb.
Now, there is a downside to Romero’s Joker. Part of what makes Joker so wonderful is that he is intimidating! He acts silly, but he carries an air of menace to him that makes him truly terrifying! Unfortunately, the 60’s Batman series/movie didn’t allow for something so intimidating! Thus, part of Joker’s magic is lost.
Still, I love Romero. He is an absolute delight! For the series he’s in, he does the job perfectly!
Just like my next pick: Jack Nicholson.
I’ll be honest: I don’t care for the Tim Burton Batman films. Honestly, I just don’t care for Tim Burton or his directing style! But I do have to be fair: Jack Nicholson was a wonderful Joker!
Nicholson has always been great at playing a maniac. Just look at his role in ‘The Shining’! Luckily, he brings his signature style of insanity to The Joker in a wonderful way! He captures the character’s balance of goofy kills and genuinely psychotic, chilling moments! He steals every scene and carries an air of undeniable authority. It’s only at the end, when Batman has him up against the wall, that the feeling that The Joker is in complete control dissipates!
Speaking of which, he plays off of this film’s Batman pretty well! The movie goes for an ‘I made you and you made me’ approach which works decently well! Plus, their opposing personalities works just as well here as it should! This is the first example we’ve talked about today that captured what is, to me, the most interesting thing about the Batman-Joker relationship! Batman will create order no matter what it takes with a straight face, whereas Joker will create chaos regardless of the cost with a big goofy smile on his face.
Plus, he has something that no other Joker has: an awesome hat!
While Nicholson may be a delight, he has nothing on the number one. None of them do! Because we live in a world where Heath Ledger, may he rest in peace, played the iconic villain!
You knew he was going to be here. I knew he was going to be here. Did anyone expect anything different? I mean, come on! People still compare movie villains to this guy over a decade later! That has to count for something!
Ledger’s Joker is absolutely flawless! No other Joker manages to capture the aura of complete control hidden beneath absolute insanity and maniacal delight! Not only that, but he is the single most unpredictable Joker to ever grace the silver screen! When you first watch the movie, you never know what he’s going to do! Just when you think you have a grasp of what he’s going to do, he sweeps the rug right out from beneath your feet! He always, without fail, keeps you on your toes! Even when he’s dangling from a skyscraper, completely defeated, you can’t help but feel like he’s still in complete control! His performance was, with no hyperbole, perfect!
I miss him every day.
Not only that, but he played off of his Batman brilliantly! The two absolutely nailed the iconic dynamic between the hero and villain! Not only that, but Ledger’s Joker managed to attack Batman’s weaknesses far more effectively than any other incarnation to come before him! It isn’t until the very end of the film that you the viewer shake the feeling that Joker has Batman wrapped entirely around his pinky!
And his design! Oh my god, I love his design! It perfectly captures the character’s iconic look while upgrading it to match the more realistic tone of ‘The Dark Knight’! His messy hair, scars, bright yellow teeth, and sloppy makeup further sell his deranged nature perfectly! At some points, he doesn’t even look human! He resembles a demon more than a man at points!
Heath Ledger defined the character for a long time. He still defines him to this day! No other actor has managed to even come close to his performance! The only one that I’ve thought could possibly rival him is Joaquin Phoenix!
Which is why I’m so excited to see that movie! But that’s a review for another day!
Those are my thoughts and feelings on the various cinematic Jokers from over the years. Feel free to let me know which Joker was your favorite and keep the discussion going! I love The Joker and I want to know what your thoughts are on him! He is a fantastic villain, one that I always have a ton of fun talking about!
So long as I don’t have to talk about controversial media coverage. Or Jared Leto.