The Joker: Best Interpretations of The Character Ranked (1966-2019)

A colleague once told me during a conversation, that people really like a top list, in general. They are interesting, they offer some form of the opinion of some kind of authority and at the same time, they enable (juicy) discussions because, for the most part, people do not always agree. Or, in the case of my lists – they almost never agree.

However, despite all this, the production of these larger, more detailed lists mostly appeals to me and I am glad that it is so because I personally enjoy reading the reactions and comments, which as a rule there are. And while I’m waiting for my final approval to compile a top list for MCU – boss, this is a subtle hint – now we (actually, I) bring you a new top list, the one about the best interpretations of the Joker on film and television.

But who is the Joker anyway? The Joker is a comic book character from DC Comics, best known today as Batman’s biggest rival. The Joker first appeared back in 1940 in the comic book Batman #1, and its authors today include Bob Kane, Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson; although according to all we know, Robinson’s contribution was crucial in the creation of this character, Kane challenged his authorship for many years because – it’s Bob Kane, he challenged poor Bill Finger’s co-authorship of Batman for decades.

The Joker has changed quite a bit over the years, from a very comical character, who based his effect on his clown appearance, to becoming not only Batman’s most dangerous opponent but also one of the most dangerous comic book characters; in the comic book world, there is even a story circulating that the Joker was feared by almost all other DC villains (and those with superpowers) because he was completely insane and unpredictable (as you can imagine, the Joker resented their rejection quite a bit).

His development is difficult to summarize, because it is a character who went from spraying laughing gas from a flower on a jacket to cutting off his face and then wearing it as a mask, and the peak of his madness was in the recent story “Endgame”, whose authors are Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo and which I warmly recommend to everyone. What, apart from his madness, is his main feature is that even today we don’t know who the Joker really is, except for some generally accepted lines from his past. As the most acknowledged genesis of his character is taken the accidental fall into a canister of liquid, nuclear waste while he was disguised as the villain of Red Hood.

However, who the Joker was before that is unknown; it is only known that after that he became the Joker. In the cult comic The Killing Joke, Alan Moore presented the genesis of the Joker as a failed, albeit anonymous comedian who was turned into a monster by “just one bad day” and is, today, the only well-developed genesis of the Joker, although considered part of Elseworlds continuity. A similar concept was used by Todd Phillips in his movie The Joker who harassed domestic and world cinemas in 2019.

This list was a bit tricky to make because it is based on a character rather than a specific movie series. So, in this list, we bring you a list of the best interpretations of the Joker in all relevant media, that is – television series, movies, animated series and movies, and video games. We would like to include comics, but there are so many incarnations that the list would be endless, and this is primarily a movie portal, so – well – we will stick to them, with the addition of these video games.

When compiling the list, we focused on a specific adaptation, not on the actor himself (which is why some will appear more than once) and we were guided by the criteria of interpretation quality, its simultaneous originality and comic consistency, but also the cultural significance of the interpretation. We may have omitted some interpretations, but the list will contain fourteen versions of the Joker in derived materials, ranked from worst to best, but we immediately emphasize – few actually misinterpreted the Joker and we had a hard time finding very bad interpretations (except one!), So that this is, in fact, really a list of the best interpretations of this character, ranging from good, through better, to best. Enjoy!

14. Suicide Squad – Jared Leto

Actor: Jared Leto
Total appearances: 2
Appeared in: Suicide Squad (2016), Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)

Explanation: If I could have avoided it anyway, Jared Leto would not have been on this list at all and we would have pretended that this weird interpretation never happened, but unfortunately it did. Jared Leto is undeniably a talented actor, but what the production has done with the Joker for this film (as well as the entire DCEU, because – we still have no replacement) can hardly be described in any way except as a tragedy.

Completely consuming the enormous talent, Leto interpreted the Joker who looks like he came out of some low-budget underground exploitation film from the 70s, and who, hand on heart, behaves that way. Without a doubt, this is a tragic incarnation of a character who, except for the name, has no connection with the Joker.

13. Batman: The Brave and the Bold – Jeff Bennett

Actor: Jeff Bennett (voice)
Total appearances: 1
Appeared in: Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008 – 2011)

Explanation: With a design similar to the Silver Age Joker and a voice very similar to Romero’s interpretation, Jeff Bennett’s Joker (by the way, the man who lent his voice to Scarecrow in The New Batman Adventures) lived well within the childish, camp ambiance of this failed series, but not enough to be historically valorized as a good and memorable Joker.

While I haven’t watched all the episodes of this series, I’ve watched enough to conclude that this is another one of those interpretations that should be forgotten rather than remembered, but Bennett still did his voice role better than Leto did his play role.

12. The Batman – Kevin Michael Richardson

Actor: Kevin Michael Richardson (voice)
Total appearances: 2
Appeared in: The Batman (2004-2008), The Batman vs. Dracula (2005)

Explanation: Kevin Michael Richardson brought something new to the Joker’s vocal interpretations and was quite good and interesting, but the Joker’s drastic visual changes in The Batman and the spin-off film in which the Dark Knight fought Dracula led to that this interpretation remained buried somewhere in, also, the childish ambience of the series itself, which could not consistently follow the dark ambience of its predecessors and, as such, deserved only twelfth place on this list.

11. Young Justice – Brent Spiner

Actor: Brent Spiner (voice)
Total appearances: 1
Appeared in: Young Justice (2011)

Explanation: The legendary Data from Star Trek was a rather strange choice for the voice of the Joker, and that’s how it turned out in this otherwise praised series. And while the concept of the character itself isn’t too controversial, the fact that the Joker made only one appearance in three seasons, combined with a lukewarm vocal interpretation that offered almost nothing of the Joker we’re used to, throws this interpretation to the bottom of our list, though stands out from its predecessors due to the quality of the series itself.

10. LEGO Batman video games – various actors

Actors: Steven Blum, Christopher Corey Smith, Mark Hamill (voice)
Total appearances: 5
Appeared in: Lego Batman: The Videogame (2008), Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes (2012), Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (2014), Lego Dimensions (2015), Lego DC Super-Villains (2018).

Explanation: Although the LEGO games about Batman had a very interesting development and were indescribably likable, the Joker, in a way, managed to play a central role in all of them. Adapted to the wacky ambiance of the video games themselves, the LEGO Joker was as likable, extremely witty and dangerous as he could be in the world he lived in. The voice interpretations were also well done (especially Smith and Hamill). However, it is a softened version of the character adapted for children that, despite the quality, cannot get a higher ranking.

9. The Lego Batman Movie – Zach Galifianakis

Actor: Zach Galifianakis (voice)
Total appearances: 1
Appeared in: The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Explanation: Building on the success of LEGO Film, as well as earlier video games, Galifianakis’ LEGO Joker fit in remarkably well and was not only masterfully interpreted, but was also a real refreshment in terms of the originality of interpretations. Galifianakis complemented the character with his typical acting style and was really ingenious in this role, which is in this place only because it is followed by much more important and much more dedicated interpretations, where the Joker got much more room to develop his intrinsic mania.

8. Batman – Cesar Romero

Actor: Cesar Romero
Total appearances: 2
Appeared in: Batman (1966 – 1968), The Batman (1966)

Explanation: Absolutely consistent with the comic book adaptations of his time, Romero was not only the ingenious Joker of the ’60s but also historically extremely important in the development of this character. Although we will blame him a little (but also forgive him!) For the fact that he didn’t want to shave his characteristic mustache, so they protruded under the mask worse than those Cavils didn’t protrude after CGI, Cesar Romero was really so ingenious, weird, and at the same time and for those standards a very dangerous villain, that its significance for all later interpretations is indisputable. His problem is that modern interpretations have simply swallowed up this camp and that this comic Joker has been lost among later interpretations.

7. Batman: The Killing Joke – Mark Hamill

Actor: Mark Hamill
Total appearances: 1
Appeared in: Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Explanation: Although Hamill has been the Joker on many occasions, and although the Joker has appeared as such in other stand-alone animated films, The Killing Joke from 2016 is the only one that we will single out because it is an undeniably important adaptation. perhaps the most important stand-alone comic about the Joker, but also an adaptation in which Hamill showed all the charms of his interpretation. While this is possibly Hamill’s best vocal interpretation at this point due to the fact that some of his other interpretations have left a much larger mark and garnered more praise than this one, regardless of its mastery.

6. Gotham – Cameron Monaghan

Actor: Cameron Monaghan
Total appearances: 1
Appeared in: Gotham (2015 – 2019)

Explanation: The Gotham series is, according to many (and the author’s opinion) the best feature television adaptation of the Batman comics. The original approach of Bruno Heller and Danny Cannon allowed the development and portrayal of Gotham before Batman himself. When the only hero was Jim Gordon, and many later Batman opponents were just at beginning of their criminal careers.

Although neither Jerome nor Jeremiah Valeska were Jokers in the true sense of the word (at least the series never called them as such), their characters are masterfully conceived proto-Jokers who delighted both with their development and the interpretation of the young Cameron Monaghan, who very quickly became what the Joker should be and went down in history. These are truly impressive interpretations that have rightly won the sympathy of both critics and audiences.

5. Batman – Jack Nicholson

Actor: Jack Nicholson
Total appearances: 1
Appeared in: Batman (1989)

Explanation: Our top five opens with the legendary Jack Nicholson, who in 1989 became the first, modern film Joker. Named Jack Napier, this Joker was given both the genesis and the background story in Burton’s masterpiece, and was supposed to return in the canceled fifth film, after falling from the top of Gotham Cathedral in Batman. Nicholson was once the undisputed Joker, and his interpretation inspired a later animated version. Today we remember it with great nostalgia, and we will remember the legendary Jack, among all his ingenious roles, for this one, whose historical and cultural significance is truly unquestionable.

4. Batman: Arkham – Mark Hamill/Troy Baker

Actors: Mark Hamill, Troy Baker (voice)
Total appearances: 4
Appeared in: Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), Batman: Arkham City (2011), Batman: Arkham Origins (2013), Batman: Arkham Knight (2015)

Explanation: What the creators of the Batman: Arkham series have managed to do with the character of Batman and his villains is a commendable endeavor worthy of every admiration, and this video game series is, without a doubt, one of the best in recent history. In three games, the Joker was voiced by the inimitable Mark Hamill, who was also awarded for his interpretation, and given the dark character of the game, he had enormous freedom in creating the character and it turned out simply – perfectly! Troy Baker replaced Hamill well as the younger Joker in Arkham Origins, but we will still remember this timeless interpretation by Mark Hamill.

3. Batman: The Animated Series – Mark Hamill

Actor: Mark Hamill (voice)
Total appearances: 7
Appeared in: Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Superman: The Animated Series (1997), The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Justice League (2002-2003), Static Shock (2002)

Explanation: For many the only voice of the Joker, Mark Hamill will remain the most remembered of all his interpretations precisely for this animated Joker, which marked the beginnings of DC’s animated universe. This Joker was the ideal combination of a mischievous clown and a manic villain, and the way Timm and Dini managed to play around with censorship restrictions is, and not just with him, truly impressive. One unusually dark and playful animated interpretation, Hamill’s animated Joker without thinking deserves such a high place and is unquestionably one of the three best interpretations of the Joker, especially since we have never seen Hamil, but only heard.

2. The Dark Knight – Heath Ledger

Actor: Heath Ledger
Total appearances: 1
Appeared in: The Dark Knight (2008)

Explanation: Although his casting sparked a barrage of “big fans”, it turned out that Heath Ledger had invested everything in the role of the Joker. Literally. We all know his tragic story, and the Joker he interpreted proved to be a masterfully played character who silenced all critics. His chaotic appearance, combined with the ideology of anarchism he advocated, earned Ledger the status of one of the best film villains ever and, until recently, the status of the best Joker in the film. However, while the first on this list may have had that essential element of biographical depth that this Joker lacked (because that’s how Nolan envisioned the story), Ledger remains equal in his dedication, quality, and skill.

Honorable Mention

Although present in the film only for a few moments, the comic book story by Martha Wayne from the famous Flashpoint deserves an author’s “honorable mention”, because it is one of the saddest and most intriguing alternative stories in the history of comics. In a world where Joe Chill kills Bruce, not his parents, Thomas Wayne becomes Batman, while the role of the Joker is taken over by his wife, Martha Wayne. The film Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013) will not offer you an in-depth insight into this tragic conflict between Thomas and Martha Wayne, but it offered a short enough review that it deserves an intimate memory and recommendation for comic book lovers to catch these stories .

1. Joker – Joaquin Phoenix

The Joker

Actor: Joaquin Phoenix
Total appearances: 1
Appeared in: Joker (2019)

Explanation: Phoenix did absolutely everything he needed to, and Phillips, with his story and direction, enabled him to show all the splendor of his talent, but also to break through the interpretive boundaries of this character. This Joker brought us for the first time what the Joker, according to Moore’s legendary comic, is – a man who had “only one bad day”.

Phoenix broke all its boundaries and played the role of a career, for which he deserves all possible awards, and this role of his – because of his dedication, because of its complexity, because of its influence, because of its creepiness, realism, and at the same time originality and harmony with comics – without any dilemmas first place as the best one ever.

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