3. Jack Nicholson – Batman (1989)
Nicholson’s Joker offers a huge leap in quality from the performances of those already outlined in this list. The psychopath and jester elements of the Joker character are given a clear origin within the movie, Nicholson being able to take advantage of both to offer his version of a character that is much more sinister and evil than his predecessor played by Romero. He has the look of the Joker – he’s cartoonish like Romero but with those trademark Nicholson crazy eyes – and even his hand buzzer can kill you. He’s remorseless in his killings, showing the real psychopathy of the Joker, though his humourous take on such act does place him a little too close to Romero’s prankster to earn him a higher spot in this list. There’s no denying the importance of Nicholson’s Joker, or the achievements the actor attained through his portrayal, but if there’s one criticism for this Joker, it’s that he’s not always scary enough.
Visually Exciting: Interesting but not exciting.
Remorseless Killer: Yes.
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2. Joaquin Phoenix – Joker (2019)
Joker (2019) marked Joker’s first live-action feature, and although the film hasn’t been without its controversies, there’s no denying how great Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is.
This version of the Joker is different to those that came before him (on the silver screen at least) and although he is in some ways related to, and inspired by, Ledger’s Joker, this version of the character is more comparable to Allan Moore’s “The Killing Joke” version of the iconic villain.
Joker is less about the character of The Joker and more about Arthur becoming Joker. Arthur becomes the ‘Joker’ in the very last moments of the movie, dying his hair, painting his face and dancing down the stairs in such a way we’ve all come to imagine the character doing. It is for this reason that he just misses out on the top spot. Despite offering a deeper, more layered version of the character than Heath Ledger’s version in The Dark Knight, and a much darker and inherently evil version than that of Jack Nicholson’s version in Batman, this is more the story of what comes to make Joker than it is a movie exploring Joker as a personality in of himself, and as such the portrayal of Joker isn’t quite as pure as what is to come in our number one spot.
Visually Exciting: Yes
Bizarre: Very much so
Remorseless Killer: Yes?!
1.Heath Ledger – The Dark Knight (2008)
Ledger’s Joker is the stuff of legends. He provided us with what we all now consider to be the ultimate Joker.
Ledger’s Joker is a psychopath, a serial killer and a criminal mastermind, but as is important to the character, Ledger can still make you laugh… though you wouldn’t want him to catch you laughing at him. His actions seem random but there is a sinister genius that underpins them. He isn’t looking to make money, he is looking to destroy the people, the “system” and The Batman, which when combined with him dressing like a nurse and leaving major decisions (such as who to invite into his squad) down to chance, make him all the more sinister. The way this Joker is written, presented and performed makes Ledger’s version of the character our modern day archetype, elements he introduced becoming the cornerstone of the character. This is the ultimate characterisation; a version that may prove to be impossible to top.
Visually Exciting: Of course
Bizarre: Of course
Memorable: Don’t really need to answer the question
Remorseless Killer: Of course
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