You may know him as the Clown Prince of Crime, the Prince of Plunder or just simply as Batman's archenemy, but the Joker is undoubtedly the greatest comic book villain of all-time. With Jared Leto will making his on-screen debut as the character in Suicide Squad last August, and Cameron Monaghan's chilling return to Gotham this year, the world has been talking about the iconic supervillain once again.
But the two different portrayals aren't the first time that the jester has appeared on screen. Many iconic actors have taking up the mantle of the "Face of Laughter" before them. Thus, let us look back at the former Clown Princes of Crime and see if we can determine who is the best Joker and why.
Appeared in: Batman (1966-68) & Batman: The Movie (1966)
As the first ever live action portrayal of the character, you can see why Cesar Romero's Joker would have a strong case for being considered the best. I grew up watching re-runs of the 1966 #TV series Batman and still enjoy it very much to this day. Romero's performance as the Joker was simply outstanding and his comical cackle never failed to announce his arrival.
Furthermore, his laugh was always accompanied by that boisterous instrumental in the background which just complimented the character perfectly. Anytime that the Joker showed up on the series, you were guaranteed a fun and enjoyable viewing experience. He was also one of the four villains chosen to be in the movie after the show's first season where he once again thrived as his comical counterpart.
While the Joker has undergone serious transformations over the years and become significantly darker, there's no denying that at the time, Romero's Joker mirrored the comic book incarnation beautifully - he was literally the "Clown Prince of Crime". As the first ever live-action portrayal of the Joker, Romero's performance will always rank among the greatest!
Appeared in: Batman (1989)
One of my personal favorites on the list, Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the character presented the Joker as a maniacal mob boss, obsessed with creating art. Nicholson's performance was so good that when the film was released back in 1989, many critics claimed that he stole the show from #Batman himself — although, Keaton was pretty spectacular as Batman. Nicholson's Joker was more reminiscent of the sadistically evil Jokers from renowned 80s graphic novels like The Killing Joke or The Dark Knight Returns.
Having fallen into a vat of acid Jack Napier resurfaces with the sinister grin permanently etched onto his face. Considering himself a 'work of art', he sets out to create more like him, putting smiles on the faces of the citizens of Gotham. He aptly refers to himself as a "the world's first fully-functioning homicidal artist". Moreover, the decision to have the Joker/Jack Napier be the one who murdered Bruce Wayne's parents created an interesting dynamic and added a personal depth to the rivalry between Batman and the Joker. Nicholson's sadistic and classy Joker still remains as one of the greatest iterations of the character to grace the screen to this day. Every pun intended, Nicholson's Joker was quite simply, a work of art.
Appeared in: Batman: The Animated Series (1992 - 1994), Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993), The New Batman Adventures (1997), Batman: Vengeance (2001), Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker (2001), Justice League (2002 - 2003), Birds Of Prey (2002) Batman: New Times (2005), Batman: Arkham Video Game Franchise (2009 - 2015), Batman: The Killing Joke (2016), Justice League: Action (2016 - present)
His voice is synonymous with the character, his cackle still sends shivers down our spines. This section should really be called "The Many Faces of Hamill" because Mark Hamill has voiced countless iterations of the Joker since 1993 but they all have one thing in common: immediate legitimacy. Why? Because nobody has more claim to the throne of Best Joker than Mark Hamill. First voicing the character in the legendary Batman: The Animated Series along with the companion film Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, he would follow it up in sequel series Batman: The New Adventures, spin-off sequels Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited and the futuristic movie sequel Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. All of them were alongside Kevin Conroy, who voiced Batman. But it didn't stop there for this duo as their roles continued outside of the DC Animated Universe.
More recently, Hamill has voiced the Joker in the universally acclaimed Batman: Arkham video game series beginning with the thrilling Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. He then had us convinced that his performance in Batman: Arkham City (2011) would be his last after "retiring" as the character. He had us all fooled until his iconic Joker voice resurfaced in a later video game. He would then reprise his role alongside Kevin Conroy's Batman in the animated film Batman: The Killing Joke.
Hamill's two decade career as the Joker is far from over as most recently, it was announced that both he and Kevin Conroy will reprise their roles as The Joker and Batman in a new Justice League animated series. In many people's minds, Mark Hamill IS The Joker and I dare anyone to try and argue otherwise.
Appeared In: The Dark Knight (2008)
"Why So Serious?" That's all that can be said about Heath Ledger's Joker. The late, great Heath Ledger redefined everything that the Joker stood for and yet still somehow managed to maintain the menacing heart of the character. This Joker was not the "Clown Prince of Crime, he was not a "homicidal artist", he didn't have any master plan to take down Batman. Perhaps Alfred — played brilliantly by Michael Caine — summed it up the best when he stated "Some men just want to watch the world burn." This Joker was an anarchist, wanting to show Gotham it's own black heart and willing to stop at nothing to destroy the soul of Gotham City.
When Ledger was first cast in the role, there were critics claiming he was the completely wrong choice. However, Ledger didn't just prove them wrong, he created an original version of an iconic character and in doing so, solidified his incredible ability as an actor. Ledger didn't just play the Joker, he became the Joker. Much like what happened 19 years prior with Nicholson in Batman, fans claimed that Joker once again stole the show from Batman. The sheer magnitude of his performance rippled throughout the world with resulted in Ledger posthumously being awarded an Academy Award for 'Best Supporting Actor'. This was the only time that a superhero film received an Oscar win for its actors.
It will always be a tragic loss that this talented young man was taken from his family, friends and fans far too soon and it's such a shame that he wasn't here to see that outcry of adoration he received for his phenomenal performance.
Kevin Michael Richardson
Appeared In: The Batman (2004 -2008)
I included this one on the list for quite a few reasons. Firstly, The Batman has been cruelly underrated by fans and critics. Sure, it may not be the iconic Batman: The Animated Series — but it never tried to be. It was bold, daring and never afraid to write its own mythology. Secondly, this incarnation completely redesigned the character. The Batman instead focused on the unstable aspect of the Joker and his appearance reflected this — gone was the neatly trimmed hair and the dapper suits and in their place were long green locks and multiple eccentric outfits, the initial being a jester like straight-jacket with incredibly long sleeves. He eventually began wearing his own version of the purple suit, minus the shoes - this Joker liked to do things in his bare feet.
This bold redesign was successful because the Joker became one of the most popular villains, popping up two or three times per season. Kevin Michael Richardson delivered a fantastic performances as the character during the show's run. At times, his deep cackle made the jester seem intimidating at times yet, his light tone could also make him sound quizzical and comical — particularly in the first episode. In fact, Richardson's outstanding performance earned him 2 Daytime Emmy Award nominations. This Joker was definitely a step away from his traditional look but it was a risk that paid off and provided us with entertaining moments for nearly five years!
Appeared In: Gotham (2015 - present)
When Cameron Monaghan first appeared on #Gotham as the emotional Jerome Valeska, nobody could have imagined what it would lead to. One iconic evil laugh later and fans were calling for him to appear more regularly on the show. While Gotham never actually confirmed that he would become the future Joker in his first run on the show — they alluded to the Joker's origins with many characters — it was clear that the fans wanted it. So much so that when the character died, he didn't stay dead.
And his sadistic return in Season 3 confirmed that the maniacal young man was indeed the clown prince of crime. In a trilogy of episodes that paid tribute to many of the Joker adaptations which came before, Cameron Monaghan's Jerome shone brightly as the show's greatest creation ever. And we eagerly anticipate his next return to the show.
Appeared In: Suicide Squad (2016)
Jared Leto's Joker made his long-awaited debut in #SuicideSquad and ended up becoming quite a polarizing figure. In what was definitely the most unique Joker yet, Leto's "Clown Prince Of Crime" is more of an unhinged gangster. Covered from head to toe in tattoos and sporting a metal grill, this Joker was willing to do anything to get #HarleyQuinn back, and thus spent the entirety of the film trying to track her down.
What was also interesting was that despite his being the most unhinged Joker yet, Leto's interpretation seemed to have the most "loving" relationship with Harley we have ever seen on screen. While "loving" might be stretching it too far in your eyes, he definitely seemed to care about her more than any of the other Jokers in animation or in the comics.
Leto himself has stated that he didn't think Suicide Squad did his interpretation of the character justice as much of his footage was removed from the final version. But having personally enjoyed it, I can't wait to see what else the Joker brings to the #DCEU when he returns in future films.
So there you have it — some of the greatest interpretations of Batman's arch-nemesis to ever grace our TV Screens. After all these years, the Joker is still considered the greatest comic-book villain of all time and that doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon. Each on-screen portrayal unique in their own way yet all of them amazing. You have the reasons why each Joker is amazing so feel free to choose below who's portrayal ranks above the rest. Who truly is the Greatest Joker EVER?