Many (including myself) were skeptical about Ledger taking on the Joker, but his performance in The Dark Knight quickly made us naysayers bite our tongues. It's a shame Ledger passed away before seeing how beloved his performance would become, and I don't envy those who will follow in his footsteps, as they'll have to overcome what is simply one of the greatest film performances of all time.
The Joker, one of the single greatest and most iconic villains of all time, turns 75 years old today. To celebrate, here’s a quick look back at several of the different film and TV iterations of the character, from Cesar Romero’s mustachioed Clown Prince to Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning agent of chaos.
Cesar Romero – 1966-1968
The late Cesar Romero famously played the Clown Prince of Crime in the 1960s Batman TV series and subsequent film. He looks a bit jokey now, next to the more sinister takes on the character, but it was a defining moment in Mr. J’s time on the screen nonetheless. Fun fact: Romero refused to shave his mustache for the role, so if you look closely enough you can see it underneath the face makeup from time to time.
Larry Storch, Lennie Weinrib and Frank Welker – 1968, 1977, 1985
Storch, Weinrib and Welker all voiced the Joker, in The Adventures of Batman, The New Adventures of Batman, and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. There versions were closer to Romero’s in terms of tone, but a stepping stone for Mr. J nonetheless.
Jack Nicholson – 1989
I was never the biggest fan of Jack Nicholson’s Joker, likely because I’ve never been an admirer of the 1989 Burton film. A lot of people are, however, and for many Nicholson was the true embodiment of the role, until Ledger came along in 2008 and kicked him off of his throne. It was a memorable portrayal though, and those fake cheek bones still give me nightmares.
Mark Hamill 1992-2012
We’ve seen the Joker brought to life in animation a lot over the years, but none have done so more times (or with as much success) as Star Wars’ Mark Hamill. Hamill was always MY Joker, as I grew up on Batman: The Animated Series, and the fact that he continued to voice the Clown Prince for subsequent animated features and video games just solidifies his place as the greatest Joker voice actor to date.
Kevin Michael Richardson – 2004
Richardson became the first African American to play the Joker, in the short-lived 2004 animated series The Batman
Heath Ledger – 2008
Many (including myself) were skeptical about Ledger taking on the Joker, but his performance in The Dark Knight quickly made us naysayers bite our tongues. It’s a shame Ledger passed away before seeing how beloved his performance would become, and I don’t envy those who will follow in his footsteps, as they’ll have to overcome what is simply one of the greatest film performances of all time.
Jeff Bennett – 2009
Bennett didn’t get to say much as the Joker during the Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated series, as he wasn’t much of a recurring star, but he DID offer a fun, campy take on the character that had been absent for quite some time.
Brent Spiner – 2011
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Brent Spiner played a rather unique Joker in the animated Young Justice series.
John DiMaggio – 2010
DiMaggio got the honor of playing one of the darkest Jokers yet in the animated film Batman: Under the Red Hood, where he’s seen killing Batman’s sidekick, Jason Todd – the second Robin. This was also the first time we saw the buff, hulking Joker on screen rather than the gangly one we’re used to.
Michael Emerson – 2012
Emerson played the Joker in the two-part animated film adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal work, The Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s take on the Joker is perhaps one of the most iconic, despite the fact that it stands apart from how we traditionally think of him. His work is rumored to be highly influential in Jared Leto’s upcoming portrayal in Suicide Squad the burgeoning DC CInematic Universe.
Cameron Monaghan – 2015
Monaghan plays “Jerome” on Gotham, and did what few young actors probably could: embodied a young Joker while straying away from mimicking or impersonating those who’ve come before him. In just one simple scene, Monaghan took what could have been a monstrous misstep for the prequel series, and delivered Gotham’s most memorable performance.
Jared Leto – 2016
Jared Leto is the next man tasked with stepping into the Joker’s custom purple shoes, and while the task won’t be easy, he’s sure got one thing going for him: His is perhaps the most unique iteration of the Joker we’ve seen yet. The tattoos, while a bit on the nose, immediately set him apart from his predecessors, while little touches like the false teeth make him truly terrifying. Leto will have a lot to prove when Suicide Squad arrives in 2016, but with an Oscar on his mantlepiece, we’re likely in for a treat.