Cesar Romero was the first to be cast as the acclaimed Joker, appearing in a whopping 19 episodes of the 1960s 'Batman' television series. But please note, his character was adapted for a 60s audience, in a time where middle-class values were all the rage and shows like 'I Love Lucy' were a massive hit. Consequently, The Joker was characterized as a dumb, non-threatening clown, making for a popular buffoon in many households.
Romero wore white makeup, red lipstick, dramatic eyebrows, and had a green slicked-back hairdo. He was a typical Joker, although he famously refused to shave off his moustache. The show’s makeup artists tried, somewhat in vain, to disguise the moustache, which has become a cult aspect of the 1960s version of the Joker.
Romero’s impression was taken on by Jack Nicholson two decades later. The star of 'The Shining' took on the role in 1989 for Tim Burton’s 'Batman' film, the first of four films in the Warner Bros Batman series. It was an international hit and the best grossing film of Nicholson’s career. Director Burton viewed the Joker as, "a character who operates outside of society and is deemed a freak and an outcast, having the freedom to do whatever he wants... a darker side of freedom".
That is reflected in Nicholson’s portrayal of the scoundrel, which took the Joker character back to his darker roots. The buffoon of the 1960s was long gone, replaced by a murderous gangster, hungry for crime. In terms of appearance, Nicholson's Joker resembled that of Romero, with white powdered makeup, red lips, dramatic eyebrows, and green hair. Not limiting the look to makeup, he also wore silicone adhesives to pucker him up, Wink-Wink!
After Nicholson came the one and only Mark Hamill, who first voiced the character in the 'Batman Animated Series' which ran from 1992. In fact, Hamill is still the voice of the Joker to this very day, for DC voiceovers and video games.
The cartoon version resembles the original depiction of the Joker, with his square jaw and pointy nose. Even though Hamill only did the voice, the Luke Skywalker alumni definitely deserves' a mention and we bet you agree. He ignited a generation’s interest in the Joker, who would later scurry to the cinema as adults for Heath Ledger's reinterpretation.
Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker in the second installment of Nolan’s 'Dark Knight Trilogy', tragically passing away before the release of the film due to an overdose. This was arguably linked to his preparation for the role through 'method acting', with his predecessor Nicholson later claiming to have warned him about. Ledger’s legendary performance went down in history and won him a posthumous Oscar.
He played the Joker channeling an anarchist who created mass panic and chaos. His lunacy is further emphasized by saving Batman from dying, because, some men just want to watch the world burn. The Joker says, “You won’t kill me out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness, and I won’t kill you because you’re just too much fun. I think we are destined to do this forever". This adds another layer to the Joker. He isn't only a clown, or a gangster, he's an anarchistic nut-job, too. Complex characters are more enticing, and Ledger’s Joker went beyond the two-dimensional villain.
Just like Nicholson and Ledger, Jared Leto used 'method acting' to get into the character for 'Suicide Squad'. This was unbelievably hyped up and marketed to everyone’s excitement. Tragically, the sky-high expectations were met with disappointment, mostly due to Leto’s lack of screen time, with many of his scenes cut. He arguably played the Joker more on set than in the movie, requesting everyone to call him 'Mistah J' and sent his cast mates bizarre gifts ranging from dead pigs to anal beads.
The 'Thirty Seconds to Mars' singer played the flashiest Joker to date. He had a purple Lamborghini, silver grillz, tattoos, and shaved eyebrows. Unlike the other Jokers, Leto’s wasn’t the main antagonist in 'Suicide Squad', he merely played the supporting character as Harley Quinn’s boyfriend. He had little screen time, and was falsely marketed as one of the main characters. He should join a support group with every female love interest, ever. The film itself has received a lot of critique, although Leto's portrayal of the Joker has generally been positive.
It’s impossible to say which Joker has been the best, but one thing is for sure, we’re all enchanted by this legendary villain. But why? Perhaps because he has no supernatural powers, he is just a man. The difference between us and him is a little insanity, making him the most relatable villain. But he says it best himself, “Madness, as you know, is a lot like gravity, all it takes is a little push”.