The Joker is unquestionably one of the greatest villains in the history of comic books. As Batman’s arch-nemesis, he’s been terrorizing Gotham City since his debut in 1940, with crimes ranging from bank robberies to an attempt to be the first man to commit murder on the moon, and all the way to widespread destruction that’s left an entire city turned into grinning zombies hell-bent on destruction—and befitting a character that great, his popularity hasn’t just been confined to comics.
Unfortunately, while the Joker’s greatness has resulted in some genuinely great performances, the character’s track record outside the comics hasn’t exactly been spotless. With over a dozen major appearances in TV, movies, and video games, the varied interpretations of the Clown Prince of Crime have cast a pretty wide net from amazing to terrible, and we’ve taken the time to rank them all from worst to best.
Want to see which one reigns supreme and which ones just can’t cut it? Read on!
27. The Batman 2021 Joker (Barry Keoghan)
The most recent live-action Joker to appear on the big screen (thus far) was played by esteemed actor Barry Keoghan ("The Green Knight") in the Matt Reeves-directed "The Batman." This version of the Clown Prince of Crime showed up for one quick scene at the end of the film, to give Paul Dano’s grieving Riddler some friendly encouragement after Robert Pattinson’s Batman thwarted his ill-defined "flooding Gotham" plan. There was also an narratively pointless "Silence of the Lambs"-style scene, that was deleted but eventually surfaced online.
Unfortunately, if we have to rank all the live-action Jokers against each other, Keoghan’s version will have to be at the bottom of the list. His performance is lethargic and subdued in a way that seems unfitting for what’s usually a very flamboyant character, to the point that Keoghan seemed almost embarrassed to do the iconic laugh. Say what you will about Jared Leto’s Instagram-chic Joker (and go ahead, it’s very bad), but at least Leto had energy – badly placed and cringe-worthy energy, but energy nonetheless.
To be clear, this is not to disparage Keoghan as a performer. He was great as the creepy antagonist in "Killing of a Sacred Deer," and was a highlight in the otherwise mediocre "Eternals" film. The Joker just seems outside his depth. It’s also not great that we’re continuing the troubling trend of equating physical deformity with evil, a trope best left to the past.
26. Scooby Doo Joker (Larry Storch)
Despite coming in nearly last on our list, the version of the Joker that appeared on "The New Scooby-Doo Movies" isn’t unforgivably terrible — which is unfortunate in a way, because that would at least be fun to talk about. This guy is just flat-out boring, to the point of being functionally indistinguishable from any other weirdo who dressed up as a monster to fake a haunting before ultimately being defeated by a gang of meddling kids. And that might be an even bigger problem.
It’s one thing to be taken down by Batman — that’s like a supervillain badge of honor — but the Joker and the Penguin remain two of the only bad guys who somehow managed to not scare Scooby-Doo, a character who’s literally defined by being afraid of everything. They end up doing the opposite, planning to frighten the gang and ending up enticing Scooby to chase them with the sight of delicious bones. The only way that could’ve been a worse plan is if they’d dressed up as improbably huge sandwiches.
The devastating failure on display here only cements the bottom-of-the-barrel position that this version of the Joker earned. The only thing that’s really worth mentioning about him is that he was played by veteran comedian and actor Larry Storch, and let’s be real here: that’s only really interesting if you’re the kind of person who likes to get into some hardcore trivia about the cast of "F-Troop."
25. The New Adventures Of Batman Joker (Lennie Weinrib)
If you ever want to develop a whole new appreciation for "Batman: The Animated Series," take some time to head back to 1977 for "The New Batman Adventures" and its roster of paper-thin plots and extremely off-model character designs. Seriously, reversing the colors on Robin’s logo is one thing, but the Riddler showing up in a hot pink costume and Catwoman wandering around wearing a yellow shirt with a lion on it like she just got back from a third-grade field trip to the zoo? It’s rough stuff, friends.
Amazingly, the Joker managed to escape that particular flaw in the show, but "he looks a lot like he does in the comics" is about the only good thing you can say about him. His major accomplishment during the show’s entire 16-episode run was losing an election for President of Criminals when the Penguin invented a mind-altering substance called "crime slime."
Put aside for a moment the fact that holding an election for the President of Crime is a genuinely amazing concept, and that the Joker announces his candidacy by driving through a wall and literally throwing around fistfuls of cash, and consider this: if you can’t win an election against the Penguin, what are you even doing?
24. Son of Batman Joker (Dee Bradley Baker)
In all honesty, we only included Dee Bradley Baker’s turn as the Joker on this list in order to be as thorough as we can. That’s not to knock the guy, but as the Joker’s appearance in "Son of Batman" is limited to appearing as a shadow on a wall and letting out one (1) laugh—exactly eight "ha"s, for those of you keeping track—we don’t really have a whole lot to go on.
23. Super Friends Joker (Frank Welker)
The "Super Friends" saga ran for eight years under various titles, but thanks to some rights issues with "The New Adventures of Batman," the Joker only ever appeared once, in 1985’s "The Wild Cards." That in itself isn’t a bad thing, since a lot of great villains are best used sparingly, but the problem is that the Joker is barely even involved in the plot.
Instead, the premise of the episode involves Darkseid — the all-powerful space god whose all-encompassing evil mostly manifested itself as giving bank robbers the power to rob banks more efficiently — forming the playing card-themed Royal Flush Gang, with the Joker disguised as Ace. Again, it’s not a bad plan, but if your story calls for a chalk-white villain named after a playing card to dress up as a different chalk-white villain named after a playing card, maybe things are getting a little needlessly complicated.
On the other hand, it did result in a pretty fantastic action figure.
22. Young Justice Joker (Brent Spiner)
You know those nerdy t-shirts where someone just drew, like, Finn and Jake from "Adventure Time" riding around in the DeLorean from "Back to the Future" or whatever? The "Young Justice" version of the Joker feels a lot like that, but stretched out into a character who menaces a bunch of teenage superheroes for a solid 22 minutes. He’s the Joker, but he looks like David Tennant as the Doctor and is voiced by Brent Spiner from "Star Trek: The Next Generation."
On paper, that’s not a terrible idea, and to its credit, "Young Justice" had some pretty good luck with its celebrity stunt-casting—Danny Trejo as Bane is probably the best thing that show ever did—but the end result is that he’s overshadowed by … well, by at least nine other versions of the character.
21. LEGO Batman: The Videogame (Steve Blum)
Here’s the weird thing about Steve Blum’s performance as the Joker: it’s really only here on a technicality. That’s not a knock against Blum as an actor — he’s one of those extremely prolific voice actors who’s been in pretty much anything you can imagine, including serving as the voice of Wolverine in about a dozen projects — but rather has a lot to do with how those games used to be structured.
See, the original gag with the storylines of the LEGO games is that since they were adapting incredibly popular franchises like "Star Wars," "Harry Potter," and "Indiana Jones," the developers figured everyone playing the games already knew the story. That gave them the freedom to present their versions as a slapstick pantomime version, with all the dialogue that players already knew by heart replaced with incomprehensible muttering and the occasional wordless reaction.
"LEGO Batman," on the other hand, was the first time the franchise had dipped its toe into an original story, but they kept the pantomime stylings for the first outing. As a result, Blum lent his voice to both Batman and the Joker (along with a handful of other characters), but didn’t wind up doing much more than a few grunts and a peal or two of maniacal laughter in the role.
20. The Dark Knight Returns Joker (Michael Emerson)
To say the role of the Joker in an animated version of Frank Miller’s classic "The Dark Knight Returns" presented a challenge is putting things pretty mildly. Not only were the cast and crew presented with the task of adapting a story that many readers considered to be the definitive Batman tale, but the Joker himself spends the story moving from nearly catatonic in the absence of his eternal sparring partner to a massive killing spree broadcast live on television, designed for the sole purpose of luring Batman into a final confrontation.
More than almost any other take on the character, this one required range, and in the absence of the ideal candidate—Cesar Romero would’ve made the perfect back-from-retirement Joker, but unfortunately died in 1994 — "Person of Interest" star Michael Emerson got the job. He does some interesting things with the part, but it doesn’t quite hang together as well as it should. His flat, disaffected delivery in the early parts of his arc, playing opposite Conan O’Brien as a talk show host, doesn’t really come off as a person who doesn’t care about the lives of the people around him, who’s going to murder all of them to reach the one person who does matter.
It’s only at the end of the movie, when the Joker is fighting Batman for one last time, reveling in his own death, that Emerson’s acting reaches a fever pitch that truly serves the story.
19. LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Super-Heroes Unite (Christopher Corey Smith)
If you enjoyed the big-screen LEGO Batman movie, then we have good news and bad news. The good news is that there’s already a second LEGO Batman movie you can watch — and in fact, it’s been available on home video since 2013! But here’s the bad news: it’s really just an expanded adaptation of the storyline from the "LEGO Batman 2" video game.
Really, though, that’s only bad news if you’ve already played the game. If you haven’t, the actual storyline is really fun, with the Joker and Lex Luthor teaming up to terrorize Gotham City with a laser beam that can deconstruct anything made of black LEGO bricks, like, say, everything that Batman owns. The voice acting is solid, too, especially since Clancy Brown reprises his "Superman: The Animated Series" and "Justice League Unlimited" role as the definitive voice of Lex Luthor.
Christopher Corey Smith, who also played the Joker in the second and third "LEGO Batman" video games once they’d moved to a fully-voiced story mode, is really just turning in a pretty standard riff on Mark Hamill’s Joker. It’s perfectly good and highly enjoyable, but once again, it’s not quite the original.
18. DC Super Friends Short Joker (John Kassir)
When you’re hiring someone to play the Joker, it stands to reason that two of the most important qualifications are going to be a morbid sense of humor and an insanely creepy laugh. If that’s the case, you could do a hell of a lot worse than just going out and getting the guy who played the Cryptkeeper on "Tales From the Crypt." And that, boils and ghouls, is exactly what happened in 2010, when John Kassir lent his voice to a series of shorts packaged with Fisher-Price’s line of "Super Friends" toys.
It’s a pretty obscure entry in the grand Joker canon, but it’s also a solid performance. He doesn’t recycle his Cryptkeeper voice in the way you’d expect — something that makes sense since the Joker’s vocal cords aren’t quite as rotted away as the Keeper’s—but that mocking howl of laughter is unmistakable, and works really well.
It’s definitely an interesting choice, though, especially when you consider the audience. Since "Super Friends" was directed at kindergarteners, throwing it back to an HBO horror anthology from 1989, like recycling sound effects and music from the original "Super Friends," seems like it was designed to entertain the folks who made it a little more than the kids.
17. DC Super Friends Joker (Lloyd Floyd)
On one hand, Lloyd Floyd’s take on the Joker scores a lot of points just by happening in a cartoon in 2015 and not just being someone doing their best impression of Hamill. On the other hand, it’s also not a very distinctive performance. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s the first voice you’d think of if you were given the concept of a bank-robbing clown: a little bit manic, a little bit menacing, shrieking his way through crimes and getaways.
But on the third hand, the Joker we’re given in "DC Super Friends" is actually really great, if only because of how much he clearly hates working with the Riddler. Floyd’s audible eye-rolling and his grumpy "make me laugh, not think" as the two gimmick crooks make their getaway adds a high point to the performance that elevates it just above the standard.
And on a fourth, far less relevant hand, "Lloyd Floyd" is a pretty amazing name, and that’s gotta be worth something.
16. Suicide Squad Joker (Jared Leto)
If you can get past the design that starts with a tattoo of the word "damaged" on his forehead and just spirals out from there until he looks like he should be performing alongside Dark Lotus at this year’s Gathering of the Juggalos, and you can get past all the stories of Jared Leto going Method and sending his co-stars live rats, dead pigs, and used condoms, what you’re left with is … well, not much of anything, really.
For all the hype surrounding Leto’s appearance as the Joker in "Suicide Squad," it pretty much amounted to about ten minutes of screentime that were mostly there for Harley Quinn’s origin story.
15. Arkham: Origins Joker (Troy Baker)
When "Arkham City" was announced as Mark Hamill’s final outing as the Joker, there was a pretty big problem. As Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Clown Prince of Crime was definitely going to be in the next game, which told the story of an encounter much earlier in Batman’s career. Thus, the role of the Joker fell to Troy Baker, and the problem here is obvious: he pretty much just did a dead-on impression of Hamill’s Joker for the entire game.
To be fair, he actually does a really good job of it, and the sequence of the game that explores Joker’s origins and his thoughts on Batman is absolutely the high point of the game. Even the fact that it takes the Joker’s seduction of Harley Quinn, a process that took months in the comics, and compresses it down to about 15 minutes works incredibly well with the ramped-up style of the "Arkham" games. A lot of that comes from the writing, but you can chalk up a good amount up to Baker and Harley Quinn actress Tara Strong, who do great with the material.
At copy is never going to beat the original. But hey, this is the role that allowed Baker, who also starred in the "Lego Batman" and "Telltale Batman" games, to be the only actor to play Batman and the Joker in major roles.
14. Gotham’s Jerome Valeska (Cameron Monaghan)
In the first episode of "Gotham," there’s a scene when Edward Nygma shows up and just inexplicably starts talking about riddles, a wink to the audience so big that it’s pretty easy to mistake it for a TV show having a full-on stroke, but we don’t think anyone ever expected it to get to the level that we saw with Jerome Valeska.
Jerome is the ultimate case of "Gotham" wanting to have its cake and eat it, too. The people behind the show clearly know that they can’t really have the Joker show up years before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman on account of his origin story being so tightly intertwined, so they just went ahead and created a guy who isn’t technically the Joker, but is definitely a maniacal supervillain with a permanent rictus grin who dresses as a circus clown and wants to sow chaos wherever he can. They even drop him into stories that lift heavily from comics like "Death of the Family" and "The Killing Joke" — the only difference is that this guy doesn’t want to kill Batman. He just really, really wants to kill some rich 12-year-old named Bruce Wayne.
But as weird as that might be, it’s undeniable that Cameron Monaghan’s performance is also ridiculously compelling. The more you find out about him, the more you want to watch just to see how far they’re willing to go — and considering that they were willing to go as far as to have Li’l Bruce just straight up punch his face off, it definitely made for some pretty wild television.
13. Arkham Series Joker (Mark Hamill)
First things first: the "Arkham" franchise has produced some of the best video games in recent memory, and without question the best Batman games ever. Unfortunately, even though they got the legendary Mark Hamill to do the voice for three out of four — more on him in a minute — they also ended up giving us a Joker who has what might be the single stupidest master plan in the character’s 75-year history.
Seriously, just stop for one minute and think about what he’s up to in the first game: This is a scheming madman who not only stages a full-on takeover of Arkham Asylum, but also arranges the shutdown of Blackgate Penitentiary so he can stock the madhouse with a seemingly endless array of armed thugs ready to do his bidding. It’s an intricate and effective plan, and goes exactly right, herding Batman through a series of increasingly challenging obstacles to push him to his limits and keeping him exactly where the Joker wants him while he prepares for his ultimate masterstroke.
And then he decides that the best way to cap off this plan is to turn himself into a giant drug monster and get into a fistfight with a guy who’s done nothing but beat the living hell out of giant monster people for the past, oh, ten hours or so. The only thing dumber than that is that Batman has to beat him by exploding his own fist with plastic explosives, because apparently that’s how the people who make those games think punching works.
12. The Batman animated Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson)
To put it mildly, the character redesigns on "The Batman" were pretty divisive for fans, but in all fairness, the show’s producers were given one of the least enviable tasks in animation. Not only did they have to build their early episodes around stories that incorporated the "Batwave" gimmick of the accompanying toy line, they also had to labor in the shadow of "Batman: The Animated Series." Not only was that show lauded as being the best take on Batman and his villains, it was hailed as one of the best cartoons of all time. Trying to follow that is a pretty monumental task.
It make sense, then, that for Batman’s most iconic foe, character designer Jeff Matsuda would try to go as far as possible from Bruce Timm’s slick, minimalist design — and it makes just as much sense that a good number of fans would absolutely hate it on sight. The dreadlock-style hair and a spiral-patterned straitjacket with plenty of tricks up its literal sleeves feel like the complete opposite of the tailored suit and string tie that came right before it, and while there’s still a debate among fans as to whether or not it was actually any good, it’s commonly remembered as a pretty big misstep.
That’s a shame, too, because that version of the Joker is actually in some pretty good stories that, while not as far afield from previous takes, certainly worked with a different tone. "The Laughing Bat," for example, involves the Joker taking a turn as a vigilante and then dosing Batman with Joker Venom so that he has a "villain" to fight, and that’s a pretty brilliant setup.
11. LEGO DC Comics Super-Heroes: Justice League – Gotham City Breakout Joker (Jason Spisak)
Like Batman himself, the Joker can take many forms. He can be a sinister, smiling murderer with a triple-digit body count, a comedy-obsessed bank robber, and sometimes—sometimes—he can be a criminal so delightfully manipulative that he can bring down an entire city armed only with a spoon.
That’s what this installment of the often-overlooked "LEGO DC Comics Super-Heroes" series introduces to the mythos: Spoony, the Joker’s new sidekick (not coincidentally also voiced by Jason Spisak). Sure, he might just look like a sharpened spoon that the Joker used to dig his way out of Arkham Asylum, a structure that could really use a good once-over from the building inspector, but he’s been blessed with the uncanny ability to reflect Superman’s heat vision and bust that madhouse wide open.
Believe it or not, Joker schemes that are actually funny are pretty rare these days, and when the plot in this direct-to-video project was combined with Spisak’s smarmy, mocking voice, it ended up being genuinely hilarious.
10. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Joker (Jeff Bergman)
While "Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders" saw the very welcome return of Adam West, Burt Ward, and Julie Newmar to the roles of Batman, Robin, and Catwoman, the rest of the main cast was given the pretty unenviable task of not just playing villains, but specific version of villains that were identified with actors who had unfortunately died years before.
For Jeff Bergman, that meant playing Cesar Romero playing the Joker, an undoubtedly tough spot that involved not only the performance itself, but trying to figure out how much of an impression you can do before the whole thing turns ghoulish. He does the job wonderfully, full of over-the-top trills and rolled Rs that feel more like a tribute to the original performance than a bit of theatrical tomb raiding.
9. Gotham’s Jeremiah Valeska (Cameron Monaghan)
From day one, "Gotham" has been a show that wanted to have its cake and eat it too, and there’s no character who embodies that spirit more than Jeremiah Valeska. In a show that spent years being a Batman show without Batman, where the Riddler wasn’t the Riddler yet and the Penguin wasn’t the Penguin yet, but all of the weirdest elements of the franchise like the Order of St. Dumas and Professor Pyg are all present and accounted for, he’s the closest we got to the Joker, and he still doesn’t quite make it.
Not only is he a double fakeout — the twin brother of the guy that we thought was going to be the Joker before he died, who then got dunked in chemicals and took a liking to purple suits — he also comes as close as you can possibly get to being the Joker without actually stepping across the finish line. Even in the series finale, he steadfastly refuses to pay off the setup, instead referring to himself by every J-name in the book except the one we want.
And as frustrating as it is, that’s also kind of great. There’s a deliberate goofiness to the way he dances around it — like telling Ecco, who sounds and looks exactly like Harley Quinn, that "there will never be one like you" — that’s genuinely charming and fun. He’s the kind of character that makes you wish the entire series had been this bonkers from the beginning.
8. Batman: The Brave and the Bold Joker (Jeff Bennett)
"Batman: The Brave and the Bold" was another show that had to react to the long-lasting legacy of "Batman: The Animated Series," hitting the small screen shortly after the finale of "Justice League Unlimited" brought an end to the DC Animated Universe. The solution that show hit upon, though, was to take the entire aesthetic in a different direction rather than just the character designs.
Rather than doing a series so dark it had to be drawn on black paper, BatB focused on high adventure in lighter, and occasionally even comedic, stories that drew their inspiration from the comics of the Silver Age. The Joker, then, bore a strong resemblance to the work of legendary Batman artist Dick Sprang.
While he was rarely the focus of the stories, though, the Joker (and voice actor Jeff Bennett) really got the chance to shine in a two-part episode that focused on an alternate Earth where heroes and villains swapped roles. On that planet, where Owlman led the ruthless crime syndicate, the Red Hood survived his trip into a vat of chemicals and became the last hero standing — and a solid ally for Batman.
7. Joker 2019 (Joaquin Phoenix)
You really have to give it to Joaquin Phoenix for his performance in the title role of 2019’s "Joker": he commits to the part. Arthur Fleck is legitimately difficult to watch, in a very deliberate and intentional way. The grating of his compulsive laughter, the body horror shots of his emaciated figure and spindly limbs, the disturbing oedipal relationship with his mother, and the off-putting weirdo vibe that he gives out keep the audience at a distance, even as we watch him go through a seemingly endless string of physical and emotional beatdowns that, by all rights, should put us on his side. The shift from the pathetic Fleck to the twisted confidence and bravado of Joker do a more than solid job with the transformation that the entire film is built around.
Unfortunately, that performance is in a movie that doesn’t deserve it. No matter how compelling you find Phoenix’s performance, it’s nearly impossible to hear a line like "I used to think my life was a tragedy, but it’s really a comedy" and not roll your eyes. Even worse, the movie attempts to walk the fine line of being sympathetic to Fleck and horrified by him, and instead winds up trampling all over it with a pair of clown shoes. There’s only one murder in the movie that’s not presented as being at least partially defensible, and while the one that isn’t is meant to be a harrowing turning point, the film’s way more interested in presenting us with the ones where we’re told that hey, this mass murderer might have a point, actually.
The worst sin of "Joker," though, is that it strips all of the mystery away from the character. That’s what sets Joker apart from other supervillains and makes him as compelling and scary as he is. With Arthur Fleck, we get a meticulously detailed report about his childhood abuse, miserable adulthood, and even the process of how he got his name, explained a couple of times in case you missed it. That’s all stuff that might be necessary for a nuanced character piece that’s not supposed to be a superhero movie about an established character, but this movie literally has the future Batman in it.
6. Batman ’89 Joker (Jack Nicholson)
Jack Nicholson’s performance as the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 "Batman" movie is pretty fantastic on almost every level. He’s certainly the best part of the movie, with Nicholson’s already-creepy grin accentuated by caked on makeup and some truly amazing fashion choices. Every look he sports is spot-on, and the scene in which he knocks out everyone in an art museum and then rolls in with his crew so he can destroy some paintings while blasting a Prince song about himself on a boombox might be the most baller thing a supervillain has ever done—it really gets across the idea that he’s more into this whole "destroy Gotham City" thing for the fun of it.
The only real problem is Jack Napier, and not just because of the laborious pun on "Jack-a-Nape."
The Joker’s origin story has gone through as many different takes as the character himself, but one of the key moments is that there’s some sort of change when he gets dumped into a vat of acid and comes out looking like a murder clown. In "Batman" ’89, though, there’s no real change — Napier even carries around a deck of cards as his trademark. It doesn’t break the character in the way that, say, making him the guy who killed Batman’s parents does, but it certainly makes him a whole lot less interesting.
5. Batman: Under the Red Hood (John DiMaggio)
Even if you don’t recognize his name, you’re almost certainly familiar with John DiMaggio from his roles as Bender on "Futurama," Jake the Dog on "Adventure Time," Aquaman on "Batman: The Brave and the Bold," and a couple dozen other high-profile voice acting gigs on beloved TV shows. In 2010, he landed the role of the Joker in "Under the Red Hood," an adaptation of Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke’s comic book story in which Batman’s long-dead sidekick, Jason Todd, returned to life.
DiMaggio is unquestionably the standout of the cast, giving the Joker a gravelly, vaudevillian patter that veers away from Mark Hamill while preserving what works best about Hamill’s portrayal. This is a Joker who delivers every line as though it’s actually a joke, giving you the sense of someone who genuinely thinks that beating someone to death with a crowbar is hilarious. It’s an incredibly creepy take that underlines why the Joker’s so frightening, and why it’s understandable that most of the other characters want him dead.
It might be overshadowed by other versions of the Joker, but it’s definitely solid, and even if DiMaggio isn’t on the top of this list, he absolutely ranks as the best Aquaman of all time.
4. Batman ’66 Joker (Cesar Romero)
Pretty much everything about Cesar Romero’s portrayal of the Joker on the 1966 "Batman" TV show is great, from the way he attacks every scene with manic, scenery-chewing glee to the way he twists his painted-on grin into a disappointed scowl when he’s inevitably defeated, and all the way down to the fact that Romero refused to shave his mustache for the part, instead caking on the clown makeup and leaving it completely visible in every episode. There’s a panache and even a little menace to the role that makes him one of the show’s most memorable characters.
Unfortunately, almost every other major villain on the show was better. Characters like the Penguin — legendarily the favorite of the writers, who always had a script prepared for when Burgess Meredith was in town — Catwoman and even King Tut were involved in better stories that did far more to play up their gimmicks. He’s so generic, in fact, that the Joker once starred in an episode that was originally meant to feature a new villain called the One-Armed Bandit, only to be hastily rewritten at the last minute, leaving the Joker with an inexplicable one-episode fascination with slot machines.
Ironically, it’s fair to say that the modern portrayal of the Joker, with his blend of terrifying sadism and unpredictable laughter, has a lot more in common with Frank Gorshin’s portrayal of the Riddler than it does with Romero’s. That doesn’t make him bad, but it definitely means he’s not the best.
3. LEGO Batman Movie Joker (Zach Galifianakis)
It’s one thing to get an actual stand-up comedian to play the Joker in a movie where you’re going for laughs. That’s been done before — going all the way back to Larry Storch, who ended up being pretty painfully unfunny in the role, albeit through no fault of his own. It’s another thing to come up with a new design that uses blocky minimalism to still get across its own visual twists on the character, like jagged teeth and a smile that looks like it was drawn on with a crayon, a weird little twist that actually works.
Even the idea of the Joker grabbing up the greatest villains of other dimensions to give Gotham City a real problem is something that makes a lot of sense when you put it in the context of the universe we’re shown in "The LEGO Movie." What makes this version of the Joker really great, though, is how the movie treats his character and his enmity with Batman.
Of all the Joker’s appearances across movies and TV, who would’ve expected that the one that really went into whether his motivation stemmed from a twisted sort of love would be the one based on building block toys for tiny children? And yet here we are, in a world where that’s not just acknowledged in this movie, but serves as the driving force for the entire plot.
2. The Dark Knight Joker (Heath Ledger)
It’s been long enough since "The Dark Knight" came out that we’ve all been through the massive wave of initial hype, the inevitable backlash, and the eye-rolling at the people who are somehow still dressing up as the Joker for Halloween and hissing out a "why so serious." Here’s the thing about Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning performance as the Joker, though: it really is that good.
The Joker of "The Dark Knight" is both terrifying and genuinely funny, but more than that, he’s got an air of mystery that’s almost impossible for a character so well-known to cultivate. Virtually everything he says in the film is a lie, whether he’s delivering origin stories that contradict each other, asking for literal piles of money he’s only going to burn, or assuring other characters he doesn’t have a plan while enacting a scheme that’s complex and built on clockwork precision.
Ledger’s Joker has already become one of the most influential movie villains in recent memory, but the elements that might fall short with other characters work perfectly for a man who exists for the sole purpose of tearing down the order and control Batman has tried to hard to wrest from chaos.
1. Batman: The Animated Series/DC Animated Universe Joker (Mark Hamill)
When you get right down to it, "Batman: The Animated Series" did everything right. The slick, stylish take on the Caped Crusader boiled everything down to essentials, and no character—save for Batman himself—benefitted as much as the Joker.
With stories like "Joker’s Favor," "Almost Got ‘Im," and "The Laughing Fish," the Joker of "B:TAS" was frightening and funny, with a sweeping theatricality that came directly from Mark Hamill’s amazing turn providing his voice. And if that wasn’t enough, this is the version of the Joker that led directly to the creation of a foil, Harley Quinn, who would go on to be one of DC’s most popular characters.
Despite a bit of inconsistent animation that plagued the first few seasons, the "Animated Series" Joker was—and remains—the definitive version of the character.