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Joker actors ranked: who is the best Joker?

Which Joker is the best? Vote for your favourite Clown Prince of Crime.

Joker actors ranked: who is the best Joker?
Holly Pyne
20 February 2024

The Joker is unquestionably one of the greatest comic-book villains ever. As Batman’s arch-nemesis, the DC supervillain has terrorised Gotham City since his creation in 1940, by Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson.

That’s over 80 years of chaos in print and in that time we have seen him become a bane of Batman’s life, murdering his nearest and dearest and becoming the yin to his yang.

Is he a criminal mastermind, a psychopath, a mere trickster? Well, he’s all of that and more, brandishing razor-tipped cards and acid-spraying flowers, deadly hand buzzers and some killer one liners - he is one villain that makes sure if you have got to go, go with a smile.

In 1966, The Batman TV series brought the Joker to life with Cesar Romero playing him with over-the-top verve that suited the chaotic comic-book show.

Since then there have been a number of incarnations on the small and big screen, with Heath Ledger’s chilling portrayal winning him a posthumous best supporting actor Oscar.

The latest Joker is played by Joaquin Phoenix whose Joker sequel, Joker: Folie à Deux is pencilled in for October. But who truly is the best Joker?

Given there have been many jokers over the years, offering up their own anarchic acting style to play the Clown Prince Of Crime, it’s a hard one to choose but choose you must as you have the power to change the order of the below best Joke shortlist with your say - simply vote up or down your picks.

So, whether you like your Crown Prince with more of a comedic feel, or if you rather he is a more terrifying presence, help us choose the best Joker actors through the ages.

Without further ado, here are how the actors rank in our Joker list - all voted for by you.

Best Joker actors

Best Joker actors

1. Heath Ledger

Stream The Dark Knight

To many, Heath Ledger will always be the ultimate Joker. As the main villain of the second, and ultimately most critically acclaimed, part of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, Ledger’s Joker was nothing like those who came before him. Ledger’s influence of graphic novels, Batman: The Killing Joke and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, punk rock and Anthony Burgess’ The Clockwork Orange made his Joker unique.

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Best Joker actors

2. Joaquin Phoenix

Stream Joker

Joaquin Phoenix has won critical acclaim across the board for his version of the Joker, topping it all with a Best Actor Oscar for is role. Todd Phillips’ film received an eight minute long standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival, with most of the clapping aimed at Phoenix, and it's become a huge, divisive success. Don’t go expecting a true comic-book version of the Joker, however The movie focuses instead on a story away from the official canon.

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At the time - 1992 - it seemed like bizarre casting to allow earnest Luke Skywalker to play the baddest comic supervillain. And yet, it was a performance that put in him high demand for voicing for cartoon villains. He tapped into his inner psychopathic clown and the laugh just is The Joker. Similarly to his Batman counterpart, Kevin Conroy, he was that good at voicing The Joker he was asked to do it time and time again.

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Best Joker actors

4. Jack Nicholson

Stream Batman

In Batman (1989), Jack Nicholson’s villain stole the show. It was already known that Nicholson could portray lunacy with some scary reality from The Shining, but his Joker pushes that energy to its limits. Directed by Tim Burton, the film was everything you’d expect by him - quirky, outlandish, manic energy - and Nicholson was class casting and perfect folly to Michael Keaton’s Batman.


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Best Joker actors

5. Cameron Monaghan

Stream Gotham

Cameron Monaghan was in the first episode of Gotham but it took many more seasons for him to become pretty much The Joker... even though it was never actually confirmed he was the true Clown Prince. The official line is that he played a character called J and was seen as both Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska. Confused? Yep, so are we but, as the proto-Joker, his acting throughout the show was superb and unhinged.

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Best Joker actors

6. Cesar Romero

Stream Batman (1966)

Putting aside the comic books, Cesar Romero set the standard for all to come. In Batman (1966), he nailed down the cackle and twisted humour. Cesaro may have been nearly 60 (some seven years older than Jack Nicholson) when he took on the role but he brought the theatre and grandiose nature of The Joker to life.

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Best Joker actors

7. Barry Keoghan

Stream The Batman

Stop. Go away if you haven't seen The Batman. Still here? Good, let's dive into spoiler territory. The end of The Batman, Matt Reeves' murky adaptation of The Dark Knight saw The Riddler chatting to The Joker just like they were old friends. Turns out, they kind of were with The Joker one of the first big bads Bruce Wayne put away in his first year as The Bat.

There's a brilliant Hannibal Lector, Clarice style relationship between The Joker and The Batman going on here and while there isn't much to go on - thankfully a deleted scene adds more meat to this Joker's bones - it feels like Barry Keoghan's could well be up there with the best of the rest who have played the Crown Prince.

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Best Joker actors

8. Zach Galifianakis

Stream The Lego Batman Movie

The Hangover star was certainly curveball casting for the supervillain, but it did fit the lighter, brighter style of The Joker in The Lego Batman Movie. After all, kids were actually watching this one. While it might be a step away from the murderous portrayals by Ledger or Nicholson, Galifianakis is the perfect arch-nemesis to Will Arnett’s Batman.

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Best Joker actors

9. Jared Leto

Stream Suicide Squad

It is fair to say that Jared Leto’s version of The Joker divided opinion. Playing the villain in 2016’s Suicide Squad, the 30 Seconds To Mars singer stepped away from what had been The Joker’s previous looks choosing to have bright green hair, tattoos and probably most dubiously a gold grill. That being said, Leto did tap into The Joker’s homicidal nature terrifying well, there’s no doubt he got the creepy, unsettling element of the villain perfected.

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UPDATE:Todd Philips has been busy directing his Joker sequel, Joker: Folie à Deux. Said to be a musical (although it's not reported that it will not be strictly a musical, but has musical flourishes) the movie unites The Joker with Harley Quinn, played by Lady Gaga. There are a number of new images of the movie on Todd Philips' Instagram but we are partial to this new shot which is a moody look at Joaquin Phoenix in full make-up, standing alongside Quinn. The movie will be out 4 October.


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All Image Credits: Warner Bros