Ranking The Top Five Joker Performances

Ranking The Top Five Joker Performances

Ranking The Top Five Joker Performances

One Joker fan ranks his top five portrayals of the character. Who's #1? Hit the jump to find out!



When it comes to rogues galleries, Batman arguably has the best ever. I'd say Spider-Man's comes in second. From the Riddler to Mr. Freeze to Clay-Face, the Dark Knight's list of enemies ranges from masterminds to psychopaths to superhuman.

 

But the most famous, most recognizable Batman villain is unquestionably the Joker. I'm a big Joker fan. Nothing would please me more than to see a big screen adaptation of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke. Or even A Death in the Family. I'm not holding my breath, though.

 

Over the years a number of actors have taken a turn as the Clown Prince of Crime, be it on television, silver screen or in animation. Here's how I rank the top five, starting with…
 

5. JOKER BY COMMITTEE
 


John DiMaggio voices The Joker in "Batman: Under the Red Hood".

What do I mean? These are the actors who have voiced the Joker after Mark Hamill.

 

Jeff Bennett in Batman: The Brave and the Bold, John DiMaggio in Batman: Under the Red Hood, Brent "Data" Spiner in Young Justice and so on. It was (and is) an unenviable task following Hamill, as it is following Kevin Conroy as Batman. Although, Bruce Greenwood did an outstanding job in Red Hood  and Young Justice.

 

Not the case with Joker, though, as I don't believe anyone who's voiced the character since Hamill has put a memorable stamp on the role. That's not to say they're bad. Not at all. It's just when a voice becomes so identifiable with a character (see Clancy Brown and Lex Luthor), it's difficult not to compare anyone else who steps into that role after the original actor.
 

4. CESAR ROMERO


 

There was a time when Batman starred in a campy show the whole family could tune in and watch. In the 60s things were more black and white (no pun intended) when it came to good vs evil. On the show, Batman's villains were more mustache twirling caricatures than anything. They'd set elaborate traps designed not only to allow the Dynamic Duo enough time to escape but also serve as cliffhangers that drew households back each week.

 

"Same Bat-Time. Same Bat-Channel".

 

It was light, family friendly entertainment and, for this purpose, Cesar Romero performed brilliantly. He was a reoccurring character I waited to return when I watched re-runs in syndication. He played up the clown with his laugh and exaggerated facial expressions.

 

Actors like Romero, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin weren't required to go dark and gritty. They weren't evil, they were more dastardly. Parents weren't concerned with their children being terrified by the villains appearing each week.

 

So, for what the role called for, Romero's turn as the Joker was fantastic. It fit the POW! WHAP! tone of the show. It'll be great seeing it in HD when the entire series is released on Blu-Ray in November.
 

3. HEATH LEDGER
 

I heard nothing but praise for Ledger's performance going into The Dark Knight. I saw it and, to steal a line from Young Justice, I was just…whelmed.

 

I thought he did a fine job but, to be honest, I thought Oldman and Eckhart did better. Especially Eckhart - watching him start out as "Gotham's White Knight" and then spiral to the point of giving a child a 50/50 chance to live.

 

Some call Ledger's portrayal "iconic". To me iconic means you can't picture anyone else in that role. Sylvester Stallone in Rocky. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man. Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. Cast Ben Foster or Joaquin Phoenix as Joker in TDK and we could've gotten equal or possibly better performances. How about Daniel Day Lewis?

 

Nolan wanted to paint his Joker as an "Agent of Chaos" who scrutinizes Gotham's higher ups for being "schemers". Joker even asks Dent, "Do I really look like a guy with a plan". I'd buy the character if the movie wasn't full of so many elaborate schemes and plans. The film opens with one as Joker and some hired goons rob a mob owned bank.
 

I've always wondered, if TDK wasn't one of Ledger's final roles, would his performance be as lauded as it is? Would he have received his Oscar nomination? People were calling TDK "the Godfather of Comic Book Movies" yet the Academy only acknowledged Ledger. And the technical crew. Nothing for Bale? Oldman? Nolan for script and directing? Best Picture?

 

I'm not saying I didn't enjoy Ledger. I did, especially the smaller moments he provided. Like the scene when he asks the cop how many of his friends he killed. The cop says "six". Then Ledger mouths with faux astonishment, "six?" Or when Anthony Michael Hall's Mike Engel is reading the Joker's letter on TV, you can hear Ledger off camera echoing certain words.

 

Yeah, I enjoyed Heath Ledger's Joker but not enough to rank him higher than 3rd.
 

2. JACK NICHOLSON


 

Tim Burton's Batman is one of those films you view differently as you get older. Your eyes are opened. You catch things you didn't as a kid. For example, Batman killed people in this movie. A lot. You also appreciate certain things more, such as Nicholson as the Joker.

 

Jack, along with Burton and Michael Keaton were tasked with making Batman a legitimate big screen franchise. At the time, comic book movies weren't the juggernauts they are now. Quite the opposite. The last live action portrayal of Batman and the Joker were Adam West and Cesar Romero.

 

Burton put Batman back in the shadows where he belongs. He also washed the candy coating off the Joker and exposed audiences to a more diabolical human being. He put the role in an Oscar winner's hands and the rest is history.

 

This wasn't the same character thwarted by Batman, Robin and the Scooby Gang. Just imagine what Nicholson's Joker would do to Scooby and friends. To Daphne and Velma.

 

*Hits emergency break. Hops off this train of thought*

Jack turned the Joker into a bonafide cinematic baddie and made it look effortless. "Wait'll they get a load of me" was right.

Audiences finally got to see how unstable the character is. A man who's both genius and maniacal. As a bonus, Nicholson is given the best lines in the film.

Now, I've heard the arguments:

 

"You can't compare Nicholson and Ledger because the roles are so different". Or "Ledger's is a more "realistic" take on the character". Let's address these.

 

When it comes to performances "realistic" means authentic. It has to stem from a place of truth, otherwise audiences see right through it. Otherwise, it looks like acting or "phoning it in".

Nicholson's Joker is every bit as authentic as Ledger's. He was more than his jokes, he had real depth and complexity.

 

The biggest difference between the two, and why I place Nicholson over Ledger, is Nolan shied away from the Clown in "Clown Prince of Crime" so to emphasize the Crime.

The Joker in TDK is more subdued. Much is made of the "real world" setting of the Nolanverse but Joker doesn't live in the real world. He lives in his own.

In Burton's Batman they embrace the Clown side while offsetting it with acts of coldblooded villainy.
 

So, why is Nicholson only #2, then? I believe his is the best live action interpretation of the character, however, his portrayal is over the top at times. But that's the great thing about over the top - you can always bring it back a bit. Turn the volume down on this performance in some areas and…well, I'd still rank it 2nd. Because of this guy...
 

1. MARK HAMILL

After Nicholson put his stamp on the live action Joker, Mark Hamill laid claim to the role altogether. Both animated AND live action.

From the moment he lent his voice to Batman: The Animated Series, every time I read a Batman comic featuring the Joker I heard not only Conroy's but Hamill's voice in my head. Who knew Luke Skywalker would go on to embody Batman's greatest adversary?


The Joker voiced by Mark Hamill in "Batman: The Animated Series".

 

Since B:TAS Hamill has voiced the Joker for DC animated properties, video games and even the failed Birds of Prey show. That's over 20 years. No matter the medium, he's brought the character to life in all his psychotic glory.

The fact Hamill has been able to transition from the family friendly DC animated shows like B:TAS and Justice League into the grittier worlds of Rocksteady's Arkham franchise goes to show the range and understanding he has of the character.

 

Watching B:TAS, there was always a sense Hamill's Joker was being censored in a way. As if there was a darkness he wasn't being allowed to tap into. Case in point, the episode "Almost Got 'im". The Joker locks Batman into an electric chair powered by laughter. He's pumping laughing gas into an audience and has Harley Quinn read from a phone book to get them to charge the machine.

 

Apparently, Hamill also feels he can go further. Sure he was given some freedom in Mask of the Phantasm and its PG rating as well as the Arkham games, but Hamill himself has expressed interest in doing a reading of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke.
 

Let that sink in…Mark Hamill voicing the Joker in The Killing Joke.

 

The character may never receive a truly worthy portrayal in live action but I'm okay with that. Because I've lived to see, (or hear), Hamill do the Joker justice.

 

IN CLOSING

 

Warner Bros. looks like they may reboot the Batman franchise around Ben Affleck. It remains to be seen if this will include another interpretation of the Joker. If it does, I'm curious to see how the next actor ranks.

 

Well, that's my list. Agree? Disagree? How would you rank them? Sound off below. And, as always, thanks for reading!

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