Inspired by the 1928 film The Man Who Laughs, the Joker is the greatest villain, not only of Batman, but perhaps the entire superhero genre. Actors have brought the Joker from the pages of comics to the big and small screens numerous times over the years. This is our list of the very best takes on the Clown Prince of Crime.
John DiMaggio – Batman: Under the Red Hood
In the animated film Batman: Under the Red Hood, voice actor John DiMaggio fills the Joker’s spats with a gritty and gleeful portrayal sure to make your skin crawl. It helps that DiMaggio was working from one of the DC animated film scripts ever produced.
Based on the 2005-2006 comic book run, the film introduces a new vigilante called the Red Hood. His identity is revealed to be Jason Todd, a former version of Robin, who was resurrected after being beaten to death by the Joker.
The film pushes Batman’s moral code to the limit, and DiMaggio delivers a convincing performance of some of the Joker’s most heinous moments.
Kevin Michael Richardson – The Batman
There is no Joker quite like the one from the animated series The Batman. From 2004-2008, this show offered an animated update on Batman that modernized Gotham City. Kevin Michael Richardson gives voice to the Joker, who appears more like an unhinged, demonic animal than a human man.
Richardson is an accomplished voice actor with credits in movies and shows like Lilo & Stitch, Futurama, Spongebob Squarepants, and many more. His run as the Joker delivered a voice that could only belong to one person, a perfect match for the zany design of The Batman’s Joker.
Zach Galifianakis – The LEGO Batman Movie
It sounds strange to call The LEGO Batman Movie one of the Caped Crusader’s best film entries, but it is a strange world we live in, after all. Much of the movie’s success is built on meta-jokes about the lore of the character, but it is strengthened even further by its villain, Zach Galifianakis’s Joker.
Zach Galifianakis turns in a relatively tame take on the Joker, given the nature of the movie, but he captures the spirit of the character perfectly. He is manic, bouncing from glee to menacing anger with unpredictable ease.
The dynamism of his performance is balanced by a script that grasps the core of the Joker, not as a criminal in pursuit of money or power, but as Batman’s greatest and most formidable playmate.
Cameron Monaghan – Gotham
Though contractual limitations prevented Gotham from ever delivering a true Joker, they went right up to the edge. Actor Cameron Monaghan portrays the twins Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, an unhinged pair that each serve time as the show’s Joker equivalent.
Warner Bros. wanted the Joker reserved for live action film appearances and animation, so the Gotham team came up with a sort of proto-Joker with the Valeska twins.
Monaghan is totally off his rocker, bringing life to a truly vile character that delights in the horrific and is desperate to prove himself – a take true to the Joker we all know and love to hate.
Cesar Romero – Batman TV series
It is tough to beat a classic. Everyone on the list stands on the shoulders of Cesar Romero, the actor who first brought the Joker to life opposite Adam West’s Batman in the 1960s. Romero is an unceasing force of energy with an unbridled enthusiasm for the wacky crimes he commits.
Romero also sported a mustache in his personal life, a feature he was not willing to give up as the Joker. To compensate, the makeup team painted over with white in hopes that no one would notice.
In spite of this, Romero’s commitment to the role is astonishing as he delivers his campy lines with unparalleled showmanship.
Alan Tudyk – Harley Quinn
The most foul-mouthed Joker on the list is undoubtedly Alan Tudyk. The nerd culture legend is unrecognizable as the voice of the Joker in Harley Quinn. Tudyk gives the character a vibrant range of emotion, capturing the unpredictable nature of the character that makes him so terrifying.
Tudyk also delivers the comedy, especially as the character of the Joker evolves in unexpected ways over the course of the series. From formidable foe to docile step-dad to unlikely ally, Al Tudyk gives the Joker exactly what he needs to tell the irreverent stories of Harley Quinn.
Joaquin Phoenix – Joker
It is hard to argue with Oscar. Joaquin Phoenix turns in an Academy Award-winning performance as the Joker in the origin story film Joker. This tragic crime drama explores the dilapidated life of Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill aspiring comedian struggling to get by in Gotham City.
Years of marginalization and abuse drive Fleck over the edge, and he adopts his murderous Joker persona. Joaquin Phoenix brings depth, despair, and involuntary glee to a character willing to kill to land a punch line.
With his Oscar win, Joaquin Phoenix joined Heath Ledger to create only the second pair of actors in history to win the award for portraying the same character.
Jack Nicholson – Batman
You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? Jack Nicholson is one of the best actors to ever do it, and his performance as the Joker in 1989’s Batman does not disappoint.
This version of the Joker is an artist and a gangster in one, and a deformed smile helps make him one of the creepiest iterations ever put on screen.
Batman reignited mainstream interest in a darker version of Gotham City that has stuck around ever since. Jack Nicholson helped pave the way for serious actors to portray comic book characters.
Armed with deadly gimmicks and memorable one-liners, Jack Nicholson crafts a legendary take on the Joker that stands the test of time.
Mark Hamill – Batman: The Animated Series
No actor has ever captured the grotesque charisma of the Joker quite like Mark Hamill. Coupled with a brilliant character design, Mark Hamill brought a menacingly gleeful to vivid life in Batman: The Animated Series, and continued the life of the character in subsequent films and spin-off series.
His witty dialogue and snarling anger creates unmatched dynamism, but where Mark Hamill really earns his points is the laugh. He has the best Joker laugh ever, hands down, letting it rip with horrifying abandon.
For many, Mark Hamill’s Joker is the definitive take, and it is tough to argue with them.
Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight
All the incredible portrayals of the Joker culminated in 2008 with Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. He appears like an apparition from nowhere to terrorize Gotham City, battling Batman for the city’s soul in a struggle that is as philosophical as it is violent.
Heath Ledger is unrecognizable in the role thanks to his brilliant makeup, unique physicality, and haunting voice. Ledger is funny and frightening, lending credibility to the Joker that has never been matched.
Heath Ledger passed away before the world could celebrate his performance as the Joker, but he has been posthumously honored as the greatest Joker of all time, and he likely always will be.