Published on February 24th, 2020 | by voxx0
Live Action Jokers from Worst to Best
The Joker, at this point he’s an iconic character, he’s a criminal mastermind, he’s one of the most intelligent comic book characters ever written and/or created, as a preference he calls himself the clown prince of crime, the Harlequin of Evil or the Ace of Knaves. His character is unpredictable, from one moment he can be an organised business man, the next minute he could be on a rampage across Gotham City, he’s a character that knows no laws, has no boundaries he’s essentially the whole definition of crazy. It takes a talented actor to portray him as the utmost psychopath that he is. But we’ll get to that. First a little bit of history; as of this year Joker is 90 years old, well the comic book version is anyway, originally created by three writers, Bob Kane and Bill Finger (the two lead creators of Batman) and finally Jerry Robinson, Joker first appeared in Batman Issue number 1 on April 25th 1940, and at first comic characters were introduced to Joker as a different form – businessman Jack Napier the owner of Ace Chemicals in Gotham City. Until suddenly he’s plunged into a colossal vat of acid and comes out as the pale-faced, maniacal and diabolical super-villain as we know him today. 90 years later there have been so many versions of our favourite green-haired criminal master, he’s appeared on lunch boxes, clothing, bed linen, even his infamous purple attire has appeared as Halloween costumes, he’s appeared in video games, on Television, film and even as a miniature Lego figurine. The possibilities for his character have been astronomical, and positively endless. And we love him. We could go on all day about the many times that he has appeared on screen, but we are talking about the different live-action versions of him not the voiced versions (sorry Mark Hamill). There are 6 in total live-action outings as the Joker, and it takes a particularly talented actor to portray him to the best of his ability, and it’s not that any of these actors aren’t talented but here we are ranking our favourite versions from Best to Worst. And there’s a lot to go on, not just the craziness but the awards calibre too, Joker or shows or films with Joker in them has a total of 1 Primetime Emmy, 2 Golden Globes, 2 BAFTAs and 4 Oscars. So Joker has not just critical audience status, he has accolade status. We all love the Joker, and here the 6 live-action version ranked from best to worst.
6. Jared Leto (Suicide Squad 2016), Jared Leto is a talented actor, he’s a method who will equip himself with any role he is given and he acts well, he’s an Oscar winner, winning for his performance as the supporting actor in 2013s Dallas Buyers Club when he would dress as a Transgendered woman who’s been diagnosed with AIDs, so he’s got the talent and the accolade. Still his performance as Gotham’s criminal mastermind is still good for the 10 minute screen appearance that he shows up for, but its the writing work and David Ayer’s direction of him that’s a put off. Ayer creates Joker here as a tattooed psychopath with an affiliation for gangsters, but as we know Joker is not a gangster, plus that laugh sounds like a constipated sheep. But here we cant blame Leto, it’s the direction he was given, it could’ve been better that’s why he’s centred dead last on out list.
5. Cesar Romero (Batman TV Series 1966-1968), The first live-action appearance of Joker is one to be remembered, when American born actor Cesar Romero would bring him to life in colourful fashion, and there’s a lot to like about this one, his charm, the psychotic laugh, the clown make-up, his facial expressions and of course the gorgeous tailored purple suit. But he wasn’t all good as sometimes his performance would come off as a bit jokey, he seemed to be having too much playing the Joker, and that’s not a problem but it’s the type of character the Joker is which is why this performance didn’t entirely work.
4. Cameron Monaghan (Gotham 2014-2019), Fox’s TV epic about the fictional DC city was a 22 episode long series that spanned for 5 seasons from 2014 to 2019 however Joker didn’t show up until about season three, before that he was the crazed elder of twins Jerome Valeska who was sent to Arkham Asylum and then he appeared as his significant other Jeremiah Valeska. Enough about the background, Monaghan’s performances as each version was incredible, in it he really tried to connect to the character he was playing in many different ways and the execution is stunning, here he’s stunning, pull your face off (literally) stunning, his laugh was maniacal, his make-up was terrifying, the purple didn’t show up till later but he pulled that off too. The only down side to this performance is the show doesn’t focus too much on Jerome and Jeremiah’s descent into madness. So outstanding performance could’ve had a bit more focus as out the total 100 episodes he only appeared in 20 of them.
3. Jack Nicholson (Batman 1989), the second big screen adaptation of the Joker was brought to life by Jack Nicholson who by 1989 was already an established and one of the most formidable actors in Hollywood he’d already won 2 Oscars for 1975’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and 1983’s Tears of Endearment had already appeared in multiple film and TV roles and also one of his classic roles as Jack Torrence in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining in 1980. Nicholson was essentially known for being crazy, so playing Gotham’s criminal mastermind should be a cinch, and it was, he fit into the role like a glove, the first time we see him is as business mogul Jack Napier the owner of Ace Chemicals a massive chemical plant in Gotham city. Then suddenly he falls into a vat of acid and comes out as the pale-faced, green-haired clown, laughing at himself and giving himself a nickname. Here Nicholson has a lot of fun with the role, he’s funny, he’s dark, he’s got a few notable quips (particularly, “you know what they say, the pen is truly mightier than the sword” or our personal favourite “what are you laughing at?”), the clown make-up looks particularly comic book like and his diabolical plans are dark. All in front of a glorious backing track by music sensation Prince.
2. Joaquin Phoenix (Joker 2019), The most profitable comic book film of all time, Joker was made on a budget of just $55 million and made a whopping $1.073 billion in its box office beating Disney Pixar’s Toy Story 4. It was by far one of the most daring origin stories to date, with Todd Phillips (The Hangover trilogy) quoting that this film is brutal. He wasn’t kidding. Here Joaquin Pheonix gives an Oscar winning performance as Arthur Fleck, a failed comedian who felt that he was born to make people laugh, he’s a man diagnosed with the Psuedobulbar Affect a mental condition which makes him laugh uncontrollably for no reason, especially in more serious situations. He then embarks on a journey of revolution and bloody crimes, and mental and physical destruction forming his alter-ego: the Joker. And it’s absolutely wonderful, but not like sunshine and daisies wonderful, for this you will have to have a strong stomach, as Phoenix goes on long, arduous and painful journey into self destruction backed by Hildur Guðnadóttir’s foreboding Oscar Winning score. Phoenix’s performance is nigh un-watchable but not in the bad, no Todd Phillips has stated that his performance is intentionally un-watchable. And it works, we constantly feel sorry for him. Phoenix, deserves the Oscar here.
1. Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight 2008), Yet another actor who won Oscar for his performance as the deranged clown, this time it was a supporting performance but it shouldn’t have been because Heath’s performance puts him as the main showrunner, he ran the show, some of the film’s best lines, some of the best moments are from him. However before Christopher Nolan’s epic superhero film was released, people around the world woke up to the news that the Australian actor had died aged 28 years old, after a heavy accidental overdose on Prescription drugs. So the film when it came out, it had some power behind it as people would watch it and start to cry that the actor wasn’t watching his performance. But it’s not that, that’s gripping it’s what Ledger did to get the performance just right, he would lock himself in a hotel room for weeks on end, shutting out his entire family and breaking with then partner Michelle Williams who both shared a child. He would try to read out the lines and especially add improvised moments, for example the pencil trick, the sarcastic clapping when Gordon gets promoted, and the best in show the Gotham General Hospital explosion and messing around with the detonator. Ledger’s performance is unbeatable and if he was still here he would most likely play the Joker again. In 2009, the late Australian actor received the full house, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and an Oscar for his performance but because all three awards were posthumous (after death) they were received by the director and Ledger’s family in honour of the actor.
And there, you have it and if there was any doubt that Ledger would be the reigning champion even now even 12 years after his astonishing performance he’s the best version of the Joker, we hope that for the next 90 years, Joker will still be the terrifying, and brilliant character that he is today. Happy 90th Birthday, Joker.
All of these performances are available to watch on DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K Ultra HD release now.
By Corey Denford