If you love movies where the good guy punches the bad guy in the face then you know the most iconic “bad guy” punchable face belongs to the Batman’s arch enemy, the Joker. Over the years many have worn the paint but there is one who wore it better than the rest. I’m sure by now your asking well who could the best Joker be? You might think my opinion sucks but hear me out!
If you are as big a fan of Batman as I am then you know the clown prince of crime well. As many times as you’ve seen the cape and cowl you will have seen a Joker on the other side to push the detective and his morals. I would contend the better the Joker, the better the Batman. So who of the live screen Jokers(sorry Mark Hamill) has brought out the best in the detective? In this post we will break each live action iteration down together starting with Cesar Romero.
Cesar Romero played the perfect campy foil to Adam West Batman, even keeping the mustache for the character just topped off the level of goofiness and fun the show intended but we now know Romero was’nt given the opportunity to embody the true nature of the psychopathic murderous villain. The perfect Joker has likes to have fun, like Romero’s Joker but the one big difference is that the best Joker only has fun when he murdering people or torturing the Batman. Romero’s Joker seemed like he could have just as easily had fun at a picnic in the park and Batman is not about that picnic life.
Another T.V. show version got the green light but this one was special. “Gotham” takes place in a pre-batman world but that did not stop Cameron Monaghan from eventually stepping into the pale moonlight as the shows version of the Joker. While Monaghan was actually a very good version of the Joker, most notably showing his ability to cut lose and chew a bit of scenery. Monaghan acting ability and energy breathed life into a show that was on life support due to what seemed to be a lack of concise direction and shaky character motivations and without a Batman the show had a hard time keeping viewers interested. As great as Cameron Monaghan was the show didn’t have a Batman to be his counter which at the highest of his efforts left us all wondering what Monaghan could have done as a Joker with a Batman standing opposite him. Regretfully this takes Monaghan out of the running for best live action Joker.
Up next is a controversial contender in the Jared Leto version of the joker. The first visuals we saw were the tattoos and flashy gangster cloths that turned fans off from this version but I contend this was’nt a bad joker just a bad movie. Ben Afflecks Batman, based off of what we had seen of him in “BvS” didn’t’t fit as a perfect opposite to Leto’s Joker and they didn’t’t have much interaction. The worst of it is we just didn’t’t get enough of him in “Suicide Squad” to know why this version of the Joker exist. The movie gives us a Joker that has not only lived in this world but made himself very comfortable in it. This Joker was not an agent of chaos but but a business man with a network and a plan but we got very little of his motivations besides wanting to get Harley Quinn back in “Suicide Squad”. The big guns should be doing big things on the big screen and this storyline just wasn’t’t befitting the clown prince.
Warner Bros. did make up for the lack of Joker presence in “Suicide Squad” with a title movie featuring world renowned actor Joaquin Phoenix. He took on the role and gave a performance fit for kings viewing! His acting abilities coupled with a great physical performance gave us the Aurthur Fleck transformation into the Joker we all wanted to see. Many would say he’s given the greatest Joker performance of all time but sadly they would be wrong. Part of playing these characters is dressing up in the goofy costumes and making us believe these comic book characters could exist. Joaquin Phoenix was Aurther Fleck for most of the film, he was the “Joker”for very little of it and again there’s no Batman for him to play off of, so I can’t say he was a fully realized Joker. Maybe Joaquin Phoenix gets a sequel and then we can talk about putting him in contention.
A version of the the Joker that is very much in contention is Jack Nicholson’s. He wore the paint in the 1989 film along side of Micheal Keaton’s Batman. A big time movie deserves a big time star and Jack Nicholson is as big as they come. The Joker and the Batman compliment one another well and set the standard but this movie was made over 30 years ago. While I’ve never danced in the pail moon light with the devil I have watched pretty much every iteration of the Joker and even to this day I see his work in the others who have played the role. Nicholson may have set the bar high but I believe one of his pupils has surpassed him.
This brings us to Heath Ledger who transformed himself into the dark and twisted agent of chaos that matched perfectly with Christian Bales Batman. Heath Ledgers Joker was tactical while stealing the show with his multiple origin stories and quotable lines. Heath took this iconic character and gave one of the best performances of any movie let alone one that has comic book origins. This Joker pushed Batman to the brink by plotting a plan that left no one safe and forced him to contemplate breaking his only rule to stop him. Heath Ledger’s Joker challenged Batman morally and created a checkmate scenario that included Harvey Dent demise.This Joker’s plan was executed so perfectly that it forced Batman to become public enemy number one and go into retirement. Because of his great acting in ability, combined with a great script and a comparable Batman, Heath Ledger is currently the best on screen version of the Joker.
The Joker has become an iconic character who at this time has been played by many great actors but none better than Heath Ledger. You may still believe my opinion sucks but if you made it till the end I’m glad you at least heard me out!
By McKinley Barber