Over the years we have observed the Joker— DC Comics’ iconic supervillain — in film, television, and literature. The character first appeared in the first issue of the comic Batman in 1940. Although he was meant to be killed off in his first appearance, the Joker was spared editorial intervention, allowing the character to live on as the superhero Batman’s nemesis.
In his comic book appearances, the Joker is portrayed as a criminal mastermind. Introduced as a psychopath with a warped sense of humor, the character became a bumbling prankster in the late 1950s before returning to his darker roots in the early 70s. The Joker has had various possible origin stories during its decades of appearances. The most common story involves him falling into a tank of chemical waste, with the resulting disfigurement driving him insane.
The antithesis of Batman in personality and appearance, the Joker is considered by critics to be the caped crusader’s perfect adversary. He remains a timeless figure in pop culture and is often listed among the greatest comic book villains and fictional characters of all time. It has been adapted into live-action, animation, and video game media. As we count the days until Robert Pattinson’s turn as the Dark Knight comes out with The Batman, here’s a look at our best performances of the superhero nemesis.
5 Zach Galifianakis in The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Big changes are brewing in Gotham City, and if Batman is to save the city from the Joker’s hostile takeover, he may have to work with others and learn to lighten up a bit. It is the simple premise of The Lego Batman Movie, which was theatrically released in the United States in 2017. The film received generally positive reviews from critics for its animation, voice acting, soundtrack, visual style, and humor, and was also successful commercial, having grossed $312 million worldwide against an $80 million budget.
In person, Zach Galifinakis is perhaps best known for his stage-stealing supporting role in The Hangover movies as well as his main role as a literal clown in the FX series Baskets. His particularly hilarious vocal inflections complement The Lego Batman Movie Perfectly; hence, it earns a spot on this list.
4 Mark Hamill in Batman: The Animated Series (1992-94), other projects
Hamill’s role as the Joker began in the 1992 series Batman: The Animated Series and went on to many subsequent spin-off series, video games, and films. Hamill received critical acclaim for his performance, which made him in high demand as a voice-over actor for cartoon villains.
“I wanted a role that was the opposite of Luke in every way,” Hamill tweeted earlier this year in reference to his iconic Star Wars character. “Something unexpected that would surprise people and show off the range and versatility. The Clown Prince of Crime was a character actor’s gift from heaven.”
Hamill voiced the Joker in a handful of episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, as well as several episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, The New Adventures of Batman and Justice League, plus some segments for Robot Chicken. He also voiced the Joker in the 1993 theatrical film Batman: Mask of Phantasm and the 2000 direct-to-video film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.
Hamill was also praised for his performance as the Joker in the animated version of Batman: The Killing Joke, which hit theaters for a limited time in 2016. He was nominated for two Annie Awards for his unique portrayal of the character, hence why he made it to our list.
3 Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989)
Tim Burton’s megahit follows Gotham City crime boss Carl Grissom (Jack Palance) as he effectively rules the city until a new crime fighter emerges: Batman (Michael Keaton). Grissom’s right-hand man is Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson), a brutal man who is not entirely sane. After a falling out between the two, Grissom has Napier set up with the police, and Napier falls to his apparent death in a vat of chemicals. However, he soon reappears as the Joker and begins a reign of terror in Gotham City.
The darkest version of the Joker made its film debut in 1989 Batman, which grossed over $400 million at the worldwide box office. The role was a defining performance in Nicholson’s career, and critics said it overshadowed the lead role of Batman. BatmanThe success of ‘ led to the 1992 television series, Batman: The Animated Series, this is where Hamill stepped in to shine as a supervillain. But Nicholson, the legendary Oscar winner, held center stage as the live-action version of The Joker for years to come.
2 Joaquin Phoenix in Joker (2019)
The Joker’s most recent film performance is that of Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix), a working clown and budding comic. He has mental health issues, part of which involves uncontrollable laughter. Times are tough, and due to his troubles and busyness, Arthur is going through an even worse time than most. Over time, these issues weigh on him, shape his actions, and eventually cause him to take on the persona he is best known as.
Todd Phillips’ 2019 film focuses on the Joker’s origins in a very different light than previous installments in the Batman franchise. Although the film was controversial for its violence and portrayal of mental illness, Phoenix’s electrifying performance was widely praised. just like The black Knight before that, Joker grossed over $1 billion at the box office and won numerous awards, including a Best Actor Oscar for Phoenix. Joker is the first live theater play Batman movie to receive an R rating from the Motion Picture Association, but it succeeds with the freedom of an adults-only rating because it gave Phoenix free rein to let loose and become a modern-day Joker completely.
1 Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008)
Set less than a year after the events of batman begins, The black Knight follows Batman (Christian Bale), Lt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and new DA Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) who successfully begin rounding up the criminals plaguing Gotham City – that is, until A mysterious and sadistic criminal mastermind known only as “The Joker” appears in Gotham, creating a new wave of chaos. Batman’s fight against the Joker becomes deeply personal, forcing him to “face everything he believes in” and upgrade his technology to stop him.
Considered one of the best films of its decade and one of the greatest and most influential films of all time, the film received critical acclaim for virtually all of its components – screenplay, editing, visual effects, musical score, cinematography and performances, in particular Ledger’s. With over $1 billion in worldwide revenue, it became the fourth highest-grossing film at the time and the highest-grossing film of 2008; it also set the record for the highest-grossing domestic opening with $158 million, a record it held for three years. At the 81st Academy Awards, the film received eight nominations, with Ledger posthumously awarding the Joker character’s first of two Oscars. While The black Knight‘s Joker is a more secondary role than Phoenix’s 2019 turn, it’s Ledger who carries Christopher Nolan’s best film to date. When asked early on why Ledger in particular was cast in the role, Nolan replied, “He’s not afraid of anything.”
Disney has made both some pretty awesome masterpieces and remakes, but after thirty years, Aladdin still stands above its live-action iteration.
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