The Best Joker Performances So Far

Last Updated on May 12, 2023

With this weekend’s release of Joker, Joaquin Phoenix joins the esteemed list of actors who have played Batman’s nemesis over the years. The Joker is one of the most unique and memorable bad guys in any media and each actor that has portrayed him has brought something to the role. While Phoenix’s performance is garnering Oscar buzz, it feels right to go back and see how he fits into the legacy of those who have played the Clown Prince of Crime. Here is our ranking of the ten best Joker performances. See what you think and if you disagree or think we one of the best Joker performances, let us know in the comments below.

10 – Jared Leto

While Jared Leto’s appearance in David Ayer’s SUICIDE SQUAD was cut down significantly, that didn’t seem to dissuade those who were adamant to hate this take on the villain. From the first official photo showcasing his grill and copious tattoos, fans were not convinced this was the right direction to take the DC bad guy. In the end, Leto did provide a very distinct take on Batman’s arch-nemesis and one that had great chemistry with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn.

9 – Troy Baker

A well known voice actor in various video games like The Last of Us, tons of anime, and cartoons, Troy Baker had already played Batman, Robin, and Two-Face before getting the chance to voice The Joker for Arkham Origins. Heavily influenced by Mark Hamill, Baker’s take on Joker has a bit more edge to it and more menace than humor making him one of the better voice actors to play the Clown Prince.

8 – John DiMaggio

A legend in voice acting, DiMaggio is best known for voicing Bender on Futurama and Jake the Dog on Adventure Time. While his tenure as Joker has not been as extensive as some, his take on the villain in multiple LEGO animated movies released direct to DVD are quite fun. He has a sense of humor and pulp to his take on the character that relies heavily on puns and jokes rather than a darker edge. DiMaggio makes the Joker fun while also still being a clear bad guy.

7 – Cesar Romero

Going all the way back to the Adam West TV series, Cesar Romero was the first live action Joker for millions of fans. His maniacal cackle, purple suit, and stark face paint made him almost scary but not enough to instill nightmares. The kitschy series had to deal with Romero’s refusal to shave his famous mustache which would not be the first time DC had to deal with facial hair in a superhero project. Romero looked the part but while he never quite seemed like he stood above the rest of the Rogue’s Gallery on the TV series, he definitely was enjoyable to watch.

6 – Cameron Monaghan

FOX’s Gotham took a lot of flack for playing loose with the Batman mythos, but after it finally embraced how cheesy it was, the series actually became kind of fun. Over the course of the series, creator Bruno Heller never acknowledged that the Valeska twins were the Joker, but they clearly were. This gave them the freedom to invent a unique backstory and gave Monaghan the chance to play with various iterations of the character. From death and resurrection to getting his face cut off to eventually falling into a vat of chemicals, this Joker condensed the history of the character into multiple seasons. The show failed to truly give him the proper send off he deserved, but Monaghan’s twisted performance ranks as one of the better takes on the role.

5 – Zach Galifianakis

The big screen LEGO films gave us a very fun take on Batman with Will Arnett’s man-child performance. To compliment that, Zach Galifianakis portrayed Joker as a heartbroken adversary that needed to prove he was Batman’s archnemesis. While this Joker is less of a villain than any other, Galifianakis plays him as one of the more relatable takes on the character that we have seen. With references to virtually every other version of the character, this Joker may be family friendly but he is also still a lot of fun to watch.

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4 – Jack Nicholson

When Tim Burton cast Nicholson as The Joker, he not only gave us a new backstory for him, but he cast an actor who got billing over Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight. It proved to be worth it as Jack Nicholson has never been more over the top and fun in any other role. Diving right into the insanity of the Joker, Nicholson perfectly blends Cesar Romero’s kitsch with the darkness needed for a Tim Burton film. The result is history and set the bar for future Jokers.

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3 – Mark Hamill

The man who would be synonymous with the iconic Luke Skywalker also holds the credit as the definitive animated voice of The Joker. Hamill has had a lucrative voice acting career but none of his roles have been as legendary as the Joker. Giving the clown a signature laugh, Hamill imbued a Transatlantic-style accent that makes the character aristocratic and yet still gritty. This Joker is as hilarious as he is deadly and Hamill has been able to translate his take from the classic animated series to disturbingly realistic video games. Hamill is so good at being the Joker that I wouldn’t mind seeing him do it in live action.

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2 – Joaquin Phoenix

With Todd Phillips’ JOKER, we are getting a vastly different take on the DC villain than ever before. No longer a dastardly foil for a superhero, Joaquin Phoenix plays his variation as a broken man with mental issues on a downward spiral. As he descends into madness, we go with him. JOKER Is one hell of a disturbing film and Phoenix is most assuredly going to win awards for this performance, but it also elevates comic books from the real of superheroes into the world of cinematic art. This Joker is so different than any other version, it is hard to rank amongst the rest, but based on the power of the performance, it deserves this spot.

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1 – Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger’s posthumous Oscar-winning portrayal of The Joker is the best take on the character ever put to screen. Both realistic and fantastic, terrifying and tragic, THE DARK KNIGHT version of The Joker maintains the ambigious origin that makes the character so much scarier. He is unhinged, clearly insane, and motivated by anarchy. This best of the Joker performances blends the true evil of the comic book character with the sense of humor tha this name portends. Ledger was haunted by his creation and his performance, in some ways, led to his eventual death, but it remains a hallmark of powerful acting and just how iconic this character is.

Source: JoBlo.com

About the Author

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.