Who was the best Joker among the many talented actors who have been given the role? That is a tough one to answer. After all, as one of the most beloved villains in pop culture, there have been many portrayals of the character over the years. Each actor has given their own interpretation and personal twist to the DC comic villain. We have seen versions that are comical, creepy, and even downright terrifying. So how do these performances stack up against each other? We take a closer look at each one and rank the best Jokers from the video games, TV, and film.
Top 10 Best Joker Actors
1. Jack Nicholson, Batman, 1989
We’re starting off with one of the OG’s and, arguably, the best closest one to the actual DC comic book character. Jack Nicholson’s performance for Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, which also starred Michael Keaton, will terrify and get under your skin. From the maniacal laughter, the frozen grin, and his ability to switch from funny to sinister at the drop of a hat– everything will leave you on edge.
One of his most memorable scenes in the movie was the Gotham Museum takeover. Set to Prince’s music, the Joker and his motley crew set about defacing paintings and tearing the place apart. This campy version may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s the very thing that makes this one of the best Joker performances in the franchise’s history.
2. Heath Ledger, The Dark Knight, 2008
Fans and critics alike have heaped praise upon Heath Ledger’s stunning turn as the Joker. His performance is memorable and loved for many reasons, one being his unique take on the character. Ledger strayed from the campiness fans knew well and took things to a much darker and more violent place.
Unlike Nicholson’s version, Ledger’s version of the Joker was far more subdued. Not quite human, but a mirror for the worst that humanity is capable of. His Joker is charismatic, but that’s where the real danger lies. One of the film’s best scenes is the interrogation between Batman and Joker, which Christian Bale as the Dark Knight also deserves credit for. Here, we are shown how unhinged and deeply deluded the character really is.
3. Joaquin Phoenix, Joker, 2019
Joaquin Phoenix’s interpretation of the iconic character might be one of the most recent ones, but its impact is already palpable. His Joker wasn’t as in-your-face crazy as Nicholson, but we were given glimpses of his brewing psychosis in subtle yet effective ways. At the same time, Phoenix made us feel sympathetic toward his character. Leaving us with the question, “Are villains born or made?”
Perhaps Phoenix lucked out in that the film doesn’t focus on the dynamic between hero and villain. In fact, this production by Warner Bros. is the first standalone Joker film. As such, Phoenix got to focus solely on developing Arthur Fleck and the character’s journey to self-discovery, one that took him to a very different and dark path. It certainly stands apart from all the previous Batman movies, but feels very at home within it nonetheless. There’s a reason why many consider this to be one of the best Joker performances.
4. Mark Hamill, Batman: The Animated Series / Batman Arkham Series
For some fans, Mark Hamill is the one actor who truly gets the Joker. He has played the character the longest, close to a quarter-of-a-century, and yet he always manages to bring something fresh to the table. The most impressive thing? We only get to hear his voice.
Hamill has played the Joker in both animated shows and video games. His voice is the one we most associate with the character and very few can come close to his mastery of sounding funny yet terrifying at the same time. If you’re ever in doubt about how well he can portray the character, just look up all the times he parodied other people while channeling the infamous killer clown. It’s no surprise he is considered the best Joker actor.
5. Cesar Romero, Batman, 1966
Actor Cesar Romero is often given credit by fans as the blueprint for all other Jokers that came after him. His name may not ring bells for younger viewers, but those who were around to watch the TV series or enjoy the more technicolor version of the character always count him as a favorite. His take borders on theatrical, with lots of flash and bang. The classic and best Joker, as comic book readers may have imagined him.
His interpretation may lack the edge that Ledger and Phoenix brought, but this Joker is no less effective. He manages to inject dark humor into each of his performances, without going too deep and losing flair. Being campy could be risky and, ultimately, seen as nothing more than comedy but Romero’s skill and grasp of the character kept that from happening.
6. Cameron Monaghan, Gotham, 2014
Though he was never really called Joker in the 2014 Batman series Gotham Jerome embodied the character to T. This is thanks to actor Cameron Monaghan’s skill and how he managed to breathe new life to the role. During the show’s run, he played two versions of the character. We first got to meet Jerome, who he portrayed with all the classic Joker traits.
While Jerome was erratic and had almost predictable outbursts, the second character was far more menacing. Monaghan may have been covered in prosthetics while playing the role of Jeremiah, but he managed to be captivating in a truly ominous manner. It does make you wonder where the actor could have taken the character had Gotham been given full rights to portray him. We may have missed out on the best Joker from this generation.
7. Zach Galifianakis, The Lego Batman Movie, 2017
If there’s an award for the most outlandish Joker interpretation, many would gladly award it to Zach Galifianakis. Who could forget his take as the green-haired villain in The Lego Batman Movie. Sure, the premise is ridiculous but that is exactly what makes this performance great. The plot has Gotham’s most villainous team up with Batman himself to save Gotham City.
Don’t expect any deeply philosophical Joker movie quotes from his character, but there is plenty of laughs to be had. The switch-up in the dynamic between Joker and Batman is surreal, to say the least, but Galifianakis’ over-the-top voice acting certainly delivered. Some might say that he is the worst Joker actor, but we’re inclined to think that that was the point of the entire thing. So bad, it’s good.
8. Barry Keoghan, The Batman, 2022
Though he received little screen time in the 2022 Batman film, fans are already excited for Barry Keoghan’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime. He has all the basics down; from the signature manic laughter to the bone-chilling way in which he delivers his lines. It also helps that this Joker has been given a more mutilated look, which is quite different from what we have seen so far.
His unhinged performance paired with the stoicness of Robert Pattinson’s Batman makes for quite the captivating scene. If the deleted scene above is any indication of what’s to come, we’re certainly looking forward to Keoghan’s take on the role. It isn’t about being the best Joker of the lot, after all. For many fans, the real joy of seeing new versions of the character is finding out which side the actor is able to bring out this time.
9. Kevin Michael Richardson, The Batman, 2004
With his deep and intimidating voice, it comes as no surprise that actor Kevin Michael Richardson has portrayed quite a few villains in his career. His take on the Joker is certainly fresh, teetering between comedian and murderous menace. His laugh is one of the most memorable and is perhaps one of the creepiest aspects of his character as well.
This Joker could be best described as a wild card– totally unpredictable and all over the place. Richardson certainly had no trouble keeping up with the hyperactive pace of his character, lending energy and a punch of humor to his performance. Though underrated, it certainly is one of the most fun portrayals there is. We’re sure many would agree that he is one of the best Joker actors when it comes to animated versions of the character.
10. Jared Leto, Suicide Squad, 2016 / Justice League, 2021
Was Jared Leto the worst Joker actor or did we simply misunderstand his interpretation? While there are no questioning Leto’s acting chops, it was the overall character design choice that baffled fans everywhere. His tattooed version of the Joker, who also spent much of the movie lacking a shirt, was far from anything we have been presented with. In some cases, bringing fresh ideas could work but it was the complete opposite for Leto’s Joker.
Nonetheless, if you do manage to look past the gold grill, you’ll find many memorable moments as well. His erratic and violent behavior is true to the character, almost reminiscent of Ledger’s performance. His Joker will get in your face and make you feel queasy but that is the point, isn’t it? The dynamic between him and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was also interesting to watch, though many still prefer his more subdued performance for Zack Snyder’s Justice League.
John DiMaggio, Batman: Under the Red Hood
Actor John DiMaggio manages to channel this Joker’s merciless personality, adding a more serious and intimidating tone to the character. He lends a degree of power in the way he delivers his lines, making it captivating yet terrifying. Perhaps this is why many fans often cite his performance as one of the most interesting takes on the Gotham City villain.
Troy Baker, Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem
Troy Baker is no stranger to portraying some truly sinister characters, but his take on Joker is a very memorable one. The airiness in his voice and the sing-song manner in which he delivers his lines amps up the creep factor of his performance. Many compare his style to that of Mark Hamill’s and we cannot help but agree.
“The Only Sensible Way to Live in this World is Without Rules” – The Joker
It’s safe to say that the Batman movies wouldn’t be as interesting or as enjoyable to watch without the presence of the Joker. There is a reason why he is one of DC’s most enduring villains and why he has quite a huge following of his own. Naming the best Joker might be a tough call to make, but we can definitely appreciate what all Joker actors have brought to the screen. From Heath Ledger’s raw and terrifying portrayal to Jack Nicholson’s mad mastermind, we have been shown that there are many different sides to this truly complex character.
Are you more of a Batman fan? Learn more about actor Robert Pattinson and his journey from Twilight to the Dark Knight.