This is no laughing matter. For as many Batmans who have donned the cape and cowl, there seems to have been an equal number of actors playing the Joker; counting the animated series and video games, Joaquin Phoenix is (by our count) at least the 11th actor to smear on the greasepaint.
But just as there's a Christian Bale for every George Clooney, not all Jokers are created equal. Here, in order, is a list of 11 of the more notable performances, ranked from worst to best.
11. Joaquin Phoenix
Even though Jared Leto lowered the bar for Joker performances, I couldn't watch Joaquin Phoenix in Todd Philips' Joker without rolling my eyes at his over-acting. The performance is frustratingly abrasive, likely intentionally, with ear-hurting cackling and a ferocious energy that will likely scare audiences. Yes, Joker is the star of his own movie, but the film is so wishy washy about his motivations (unreliable narration can do that) that it comes off as both both grating and ingratiating. Take his performance as a teachable lesson about why you shouldn't desperately grope for an Oscar nomination. - Henry T. Casey
10. Jared Leto
We get it. It's hard to be the follow-up act to Ledger’s Joker, but Method-actor Leto probably went a little too far in his off-screen antics. Too bad that didn't translate to what is one of the worst DC-universe movies. It takes more than a creepy laugh, tattoos, and extensive dental work to make a terrifying Joker. It's probably for the best that his Cosplay-like interpretation was little more than an extended cameo. — Mike Prospero
9. Jeff Bennett
Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008 - 2011) is one of the sillier adaptations of the Dark Knight's adventures, so it's fitting that Jeff Bennett played one of the sillier interpretations of the Joker. After two pretty dark animated series, it was time to do something a little more broad and arch with the mythos, and The Brave and the Bold harks back to the campy silliness of Adam West and Cesar Romero. Like Romero, Bennett plays the Joker as a gangster with a twisted sense of humor. With a brassy voice, an almost playful attitude and a plethora of groan-worthy jokes, Bennett's Joker eschews some of Hamill and Richardson's gravitas in favor of something a little funnier. — Marshall Honorof
8. Troy Baker
Mark Hamill reprised his role as the Joker for most of the Arkham games, but when it came time to record Batman: Arkham Origins, our favorite Jedi Knight was engaged elsewhere. Instead, the developers turned to seasoned video game voice actor Troy Baker. (Fun fact: Baker had previously played Batman in Lego Batman 2, as well as Robin in Arkham City.) Baker's take on the Joker was a younger, less experienced version of the character, who was much closer to his "failed comedian doused in acid" beginnings than his "seasoned supercriminal" status. This Joker even pulled the neat trick of being fascinated by Batman, while simultaneously hating the Caped Crusader's guts. — Marshall Honorof
7. Kevin Michael Richardson
Kevin Michael Richardson is not the first voice actor you'd think to associate with the Joker. After all, most of Richardson's roles highlight his deep, sonorous bass voice and smooth, measured delivery. But in the animated series The Batman (2004 - 2008), he played the Joker with every bit of menace and comedy that define the Clown Prince of Crime. Richardson's Joker is cruel and vindictive, but also philosophical. He understands that he's insane, but wants to prove that Batman is just as unhinged as he is. Channeling the best parts of Mark Hamill's performance without simply copying it, Richardson's take on the Joker is a pretty good one. — Marshall Honorof
6. Zach Galifianakis
Minor spoiler alert: In The Lego Batman Movie, the Joker's villainous plot fails within the first 15 minutes. From there, it's up to Zach Galifianakis to explore what happens when the Joker realizes that Batman will never acknowledge the symbiotic relationship between the two characters. While Galifianakis's Joker never gets too dark (this is a kids' movie, after all), he does go to some surprising lengths to prove just how vital he is to the Batman mythos. However, the Joker gets overshadowed about halfway through the film by a collection of even greater villains from the Phantom Zone, whom he hopes will help him defeat Batman once and for all. — Marshall Honorof
5. Cameron Monaghan
Fox's Gotham TV show was a non-canonical prequel to the Batman mythos, but it is arguably the spiritual heir to both the campy 1966-68 Batman TV show and the slightly less goofy 1989 Tim Burton movie. Twins Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska, played by Shameless’ Cameron Monaghan, are the children of carnival performers, but one becomes a criminal anarchist, the other a brilliant inventor. Over the course of the series, they take turns becoming the proto-Joker, right down to the Harley Quinn-like sidekick, although the Joker name is never used. As with many of the other Gotham characters, the fun is seeing a young version of the Joker — and how much fun Monaghan had playing him. — Paul Wagenseil
4. Mark Hamill
Yes, Mark Hamill's performance is animated and not live action, but his work as the voice of The Joker in Batman: The Animated Series created the canonical voice of The Joker for many of the folks at the Tom's Guide office. Hamill earns this applause because his voice exudes a manic energy as it jumps back and forth between a desperate need to beat The Bat and a love of a good joke. At times, you can even believe he truly loves his Harley.
It's in those vulnerable moments when he pulls back the veritable mask, however, where Hamill ingrained himself in our minds. Yes, his Joker has a brash confidence on the streets, but he's got a sadness in the sheets about his repeated failures to execute his mission. Hamill set such a strong standard for The Joker that he also voiced the game in all three of the Rocksteady Studios Arkham games. — Henry T. Casey
3. Jack Nicholson
Let's be honest: Jack Nicholson really isn't playing The Joker in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman. Rather, Jack Nicholson is playing Jack Nicholson, only with a more pronounced appreciation for crime and make-up than usual. And that’s perfectly fine —better an extended montage of Nicholson arching his eyebrows and chowing down on the scenery than any moment of Jared Leto trying to get to the bottom of The Joker's oeuvre. The late '80s through mid-'90s series of Batman movies isn't held in high regard these days — that's partly because of the subsequent Christopher Nolan trilogy and partly because only the Grand Canyon can boast a steeper dropoff — but the 1989 Batman movie is still pretty enjoyable, and Nicholson's "get a load of me" approach to The Joker is a big reason why. — Philip Michaels
2. Cesar Romero
Imagine getting ready to don The Joker's white face paint, being asked if maybe you want to shave your mustache off first and then deciding, "No… no, I really don't." That, friends, is the most Joker-like move of all. And it's exactly what Cesar Romero did when it came time to play The Joker on the Batman TV series in the 1960s. Romero's performance was as campy and over-the-top as the rest of that TV show, but in this day and age of brooding superheroes and comic-book movies that feel weightier than a Dostoevsky novel, who doesn’t appreciate a good laugh, mustache and all? — Philip Michaels
1. Heath Ledger
The performance by which all others will be judged, Ledger's final role was perhaps his finest. His Joker was both amusing and terrifying—the “disappearing pencil trick” encapsulates this perfectly—and more than any others, he posed a truly existential threat to Batman and Gotham City as he tried to turn citizens against each other, and turned Harvey Dent into Two Face. It also didn't hurt that The Dark Knight was perhaps the best Batman movie, ever. — Mike Prospero
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