Ranking The Jokers
I’m going to rank the actors who’ve played The Joker in the Batman Universe. All of them! Live action or cartoon, we’re going to break down who, in my humble opinion, was best at bringing to life this psychopathic tyrant with playful tendencies.
The Joker is regarded as Batman’s greatest enemy, and one of the greatest villains of all fiction. A perpetual yin to Batman’s yang, The Joker is best recognized for his white face, deranged laughter, seemingly random violence, and love for purple suits. After making his debut as Batman’s first villain in 1940 he’s gone through many different personality changes and redesigns at the hands of creators and actors. He’s been a playful trickster perfectly happy with just inconveniencing people, or a violent and remorseless killer bent on breaking Batman by any means. Any way you slice it: The Joker is crazy, and he loves a good joke.
The Joker has been played by nine actors so far, with Jared Leto’s recent cast bringing the full list of Jokers to ten. We’re not going to speculate on Leto, but let’s take a look at the nine other men who’ve brought him to life, ranked from worst to best.
9. Brent Spiner (Young Justice Animated TV show)
Sadly, the man who gave us a stellar performance as TV’s Data the android on Star Trek: The Next Generation really just doesn’t have Joker chops. His is a quieter joker, one who talks through whispers and clenched teeth. He goes for the dark Joker, the sure-footed mastermind, but his timing and intonations just fall short of any other attempts on this list.
8. Michael Emerson (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Animated Feature)
Emerson is a wonderful actor in the right role. As Jigsaw (Saw franchise) and Harold Finch (Person of Interest TV show) he captivated audiences with his ability to embody eccentric personalities, but Joker in this incarnation is just the wrong body type. Maybe it’s shallow to think a voice needs to match a look, but this broad shouldered, string chinned, hulking Joker just doesn’t fit Emerson’s more timid tenor. Skinny him up a bit, and we’ll talk.
7. John DiMaggio (Batman: Under The Red Hood Animated Feature)
Everyone knows this man’s voice. Bender (Futurama) and Jake the Dog (Adventure Time) might be his most well known roles, but his Joker is unique. Unique Jokers alway have a way of endearing themselves, and unlike Emerson’s fragile voice DiMaggio fills out the joker’s frame excellently. He dabbles at an accent here and there, and his writing can be a little stilted, but he’s got charm.
6. Kevin Richardson (The Batman Animated TV show)
With a massive variety of voice credits to his name, Richardson earns some major points for versatility. He puts his all into it and it stands out for that alone. This Joker has the most vocal range of just about any of the entries on this list, even though his series is sometimes criticized for being more childish than other Batman runs.
5. Troy Baker (Batman: Arkham Origins Video Game)
Another unfortunate case of “Imitating Mark Hamill”, Troy Baker is a nonetheless extraordinarily talented voice actor. Playing Two-Face in Arkham City, he transitions to the clown prince of crime for the sequel-prequel Arkham Origins. He’s one of the top names in voice acting and known for his roles as Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite, Talion in Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, and his massive list of other anime, game, and musical work credits. Sadly though, his voice director here did not give Baker a chance to run with the ball he took from Mr. Hamill and he ended up just doing his best impression of Hamill’s Joker. While it was a good impression, it was still just that…a shade.
4. Cesar Romero (Batman 1966 Live-action TV show)
Famously refusing to shave his moustache for the role, Cesar Romero was already a well established actor before playing The Joker on TV against Adam West’s Batman. He was one of the first to really give the character life on screen and his influences on later incarnations can still be seen today. He’s a cackling madman with an affinity for alliterations and a clever mind for crimes and death traps. Surrounding himself with henchmen and women, the early seeds for characters like Harley Quinn were sewn into his character. Romero was best known as a Latin lover on the big screen, but on the TV screen his madcap antics made The Joker into one of TV’s most recognizable early villains.
3. Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight Live-action Movie)
At first the world wondered if the pretty faced leading man Heath Ledger could handle the role. Ledger was more known for his dramas and not for his character pieces, but this Joker was an instant hit. Spawning a legion of memes, Ledger’s performance is tormented, twisted, confidant, violent, ruthless, cunning…he managed to update all the little things that made the Joker a dangerous adversary and brought them to light in a completely believable way. Sadly, he passed away just before the release of the film, meaning this Joker exists in a perfect time capsule, never to be disturbed in its excellence.
2. Jack Nicholson (Batman 1988 Live-action Movie)
Nicholson needed some massaging to take the role of Jack Napier in Tim Burton’s Batman. Once he accepted though, he managed to set the bar for portrayal of the character very high. Not since Romero had someone brought so much personal charm to the role, and Nicholson’s realistic, down to earth, evil corporate goon turned evil laughing man was brilliant. The dark tone of the film, coupled with Nicholson’s own delivery and ability to turn funny into freaky shine through the film all the way up to its memorable finale. People sometimes compare Cesar Romero’s Joker to Nicholson’s in terms of dead pan delivery and realism, but Nicholson manages nuance just that much better than Romero and that really gives his Joker an edge. Jack brought The Joker into the real world just enough to make him credible, and gave a character known for being off the wall and silly a wonderfully focused nature.
1. Mark Hamill (Everything else, notably Batman: The Animated Series TV show)
Where to start? After watching Star Wars: A New Hope, you’d never peg Mark Hamill as the man who’d someday basically come to define the role of The Joker for everyone else. In 1992 when Batman The Animated Series debuted and audiences got their first tast of Hamill’s work, he was instantly loved. Over the top, properly British, demented and deranged, cackling with glee, growling sworn promises of violence…Hamill manages to give The Joker credibility and seemingly limitless energy, a quality lost on a lot of other actors who’ve played the role. His voice fits the body shape, the gangly long limbed look of The Animated Series Joker, perfectly. His version of The Joker was the only one anyone ever thought of until Troy Baker took over the role for Arkham Origins, and when someone announces that Hamill is playing The Joker everyone knows that it’ll be a good time. Above anyone else on this list, the first name most people think of when they imagine the Joker’s voice is Mark Hamill. Across all the different mediums he’s been the voice of Batman’s greatest enemy for twenty years, and this is why in my opinion, he’s the No.1 Joker around.
Thoughts? Comments? Did you enjoy my little ranking? If so let me know! If not, let’s discuss it!