When it comes to comic book supervillains, there’s arguably no bigger name than the Joker. For as long as Batman protects the streets of Gotham City, the Clown Prince of Crime will remain his greatest and most dangerous foe. In fact, it’s difficult to think of either of them surviving if they were to be pulled apart, since they’ve been synonymous with each other for decades.
Comic books aside, the Joker is also the most widely featured Batman rogue in the live-action side of things. From the 1966 Batman TV show all the way up to this year’s Joker, the grinning madman can’t seem to stay away from the limelight for too long.
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10 Special Mention: Joaquin Phoenix
As of the time of writing, only the Joker trailer has been released. Thus, it would be wrong to make an assumption about Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck/Joker without actually watching the full movie. It just wouldn’t be fair on him or any of the other actors on this list.
What can be said, however, is that it looks like Phoenix nailed the role. Everything about those two and a half minutes screamed quality and drummed up the excitement for the film. No one thought Joker was a good idea, but it looks like Todd Phillips and Phoenix might’ve created something really special here.
9 Jared Leto
Yikes. Jared Leto’s Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad had everyone talking for all the wrong reasons. For one, Leto’s in-depth method acting was a hot topic of conversation, causing many people to wonder how far is too far when getting into character. Then, his dramatic reaction to his cut scenes didn’t exactly endear him to his co-stars or Warner Bros. either.
The truth is, Leto’s Joker was an experiment that didn’t quite work. Kudos to him and David Ayer for trying something different, but this is one tattooed, Lil’ Wayne-esque version of the Clown Prince that no one wants to see on the big screen ever again.
8 Roger Stoneburner
When Birds of Prey aired and Mark Hamill’s voice boomed as the Joker, the world thought the heavens had aligned. After all, Hamill’s take on the villain is iconic and many have called for him to portray the character in a live-action production as well.
Unfortunately, the actor playing the physical role of Joker on Birds of Prey wasn’t Hamill. Instead, it was Roger Stoneburner. Considering that Stoneburner didn’t even have a huge part to play on the show, no one understands why the producers failed to cast Hamill in the first place. If anything, it would’ve been terrific fan service.
No one expected to see the Joker featured in Titans — even if it was only in Dick Grayson’s dream sequence. Nonetheless, it proved to be a pleasant surprise for fans of the series as it introduced another version of Mr. J that could be explored in later seasons.
The interesting thing is, there’s still no confirmation about who portrayed the infamous villain on Titans. His face was never outright shown, but he still managed to play his part to demonstrate how dangerous an off-the-rails Batman could actually be. He finally pushed the Dark Knight one step too far and the outcome wasn’t pretty.
6 Curtis Armstrong
Most audiences will recognize Curtis Armstrong for his role as Booger in the Revenge of the Nerds film series, as well as Herbert Viola in Moonlighting. What most people don’t know is that Armstrong also played the Joker once upon a time.
From 2000 to 2002, ad agency Campbell-Ewald created a series of Batman commercials to promote the automobile guiding system known as OnStar. As expected, the Joker (Armstrong) made an appearance in the one ad titled “Joker Face.” Mixing camp with a little bit of Tim Burton’s Batman influence, Armstrong proved to be an inspired choice for the wicked prankster of Gotham City.
5 Mark Frost
Considering all the mediums Batman has transcended, it should come as no surprise that there was even a theater production titled Batman Live. Interestingly, it debuted on July 19, 2011 at the Manchester Evening News Arena and ran for two and a half years.
A major part of the plot involved the Joker (portrayed by Mark Frost) releasing all the inmates of Arkham Asylum and using Dick Grayson as bait for the Caped Crusader. The production received praise from both critics and fans alike for being able to consolidate decades of stories into an exciting and extravagant piece of theater.
4 Cesar Romero
There’s a section of the Batman fanbase that rejects Cesar Romero’s performance as the Joker. Many believe it to be goofy and silly rather than sinister and evil. The sentiment isn’t wrong, as Romero’s Clown Prince was more cartoonish than some of the other versions of the character on this list.
The thing is, he was perfect for the tone of the Batman TV series. His look became iconic, as did his laughter and general presence on the show. He was never meant to be menacing or gritty, but just to serve as a constant annoyance to Batman and Robin.
3 Cameron Monaghan
Look, the villains on Gotham have been relatively hit and miss. Some have really turned out great, while others not so much. In the case of the Joker, he’s never been mentioned by name, but twins, Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, have played different versions of the character.
Actor Cameron Monaghan has pulled off quite the feat as he’s convinced even the harshest critics of his uncanny ability to play the cackling madman. While the supposed final look of the Joker, which was revealed in the series finale trailer, has left many puzzled, don’t bet against there being another swerve to his appearance before the end of the show.
2 Jack Nicholson
For many years, Jack Nicholson was the archetype for the best on-screen Joker. Heck, even today, it’s hard to dispute that his performance as Jack Napier/Mr. J in Tim Burton’s Batman was anything short of phenomenal. While the film was supposed to be all about Michael Keaton’s Dark Knight, Nicholson’s Joker ended up stealing the whole show.
Looking back at it now, he’s also the actor who looked the most like the comic book version of the character. Nicholson put the time into getting his portrayal of the homicidal clown just right, while serving us one of his most iconic roles in the process.
1 Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger’s Joker is proof as to why no one should judge something until it’s complete. When he was announced as the Clown Prince of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, fans went berserk about the casting. The forums went into meltdown mode as the whiny internet trolls demanded Warner Bros. to recast the part.
Then, everyone saw the movie. Needless to say, that posthumous Oscar that Ledger received was well-deserved. Ledger’s Joker isn’t only remembered as a fantastic comic book movie villain, but also as one of the greatest cinematic antagonists of all time. There’s no disputing it; Ledger’s Clown Prince is still the MVP of Jokers.