Joker is one villain without whom Batman feels kind of incomplete. Certainly, Batman has an entire gallery of powerful, crazy and interesting villains, but it is the Joker who makes him truly reveal himself. It is only the Joker who gets under his skin, revealing the person underneath. This is why the best Batman stories and films inevitably end up having the Joker as the primary villain.
Joaquin Phoenix is the latest actor to take up the role of the Clown Prince of Crime. He will be starring in the title role in Todd Phillips’ Joker next year. His look in the clown makeup was released by Phillips via his Instagram account recently. The character of Joker has a long history behind it. It has had multiple and frankly quite distinctive iterations, each of them was good in their own way — except Jared Leto, but more on that later. Every Joker was a criminal mastermind while being thoroughly insane and each was a hell lot of trouble for their Batman. Here are all the actors who played the Joker in live-action.
Jared Leto in Suicide Squad (2016): Some say Leto did not get a proper chance to prove himself, but I don’t think so. This was a gangster Joker nobody asked for. Leto’s Joker did pretty much everything – the theatrics, tattoos (his forehead insisted he is “damaged”) and other accouterments but forgot the part where you are supposed to be threatening. This Joker was like a pretender to the real Joker who must be lurking in the Gotham City somewhere.
Cesar Romero in Batman: The Movie (1966): When you get in an outfit like that…you fall right into it,” Romero said about playing the role in Adam West starrer Batman movie. Romero’s take on the character had no precedent. The character had simply not been done before in live-action. So Romero went with the scary-clown schtick. It was over-the-top, especially by today’s standards, but went well with the tone of the movie (it was the Silver-Age of comics, after-all, and West’s Batman was a typical friendly, jocular crimefighter instead of a dark, obsessed figure that Frank Miller reimagined him to be).
Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989): Nicholson had experience playing unhinged men (The Shining, for instance) before he played Joker in Tim Burton’s film opposite Michael Keaton’s almost gothic Batman. Nicholson’s take had a wide, permanent smile that at first seemed almost friendly, but gradually began to creep the hell out of viewers. It was Nicholson who took people’s perception of Joker from a goofy prankster to a murderous criminal. He was still a little campy but combined that campiness with pure malevolence.
Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (2008): Heath Ledger was cast in the role in what was considered a controversial choice. Fans said the actor looked nothing like the Joker, had no such vibe. When The Dark Knight released, every misgiving disappeared into thin air. Ledger’s Joker was chaotic and violent. His makeup was not tidy, but his twisted schemes were, even if he insisted otherwise (“I’m like a dog chasing cars,” he says at one point, “I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one”). He also fudged his origins, always dangling scraps of his backstory to viewers before saying something else altogether the next time. We never really knew how he got those scars.
Mark Hamill (Batman animated series, animated movies and video-games): Mark Hamill’s Joker is not live-action but I included it because his is said to be *the* Joker, the quintessential Clown Prince of Crime. Hamill is known for two roles — Luke Skywalker and the Joker. He may be more famous for the former, but the latter may be the one in which he shone the most. Hamill’s Joker was straight out of comic-books. He had only the voice to work with, but he did wonders. If you are looking for a comic-accurate Joker, this is the one to watch. Check out the above video to know what I am talking about.