The best Joker actors ranked — from Heath Ledger to Jared Leto

The Joker is one of the most iconic parts to play because more than anything, it is a richly layered character study — here is our list of the best Joker actors

Best Joker actors: the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series

Who is the best Joker actor? A fair share of thespians have had a crack at portraying the Batman villain: whether it be through TV series, superhero blockbusters, or complicated thriller movies. Some have donned the clown makeup in full, while others kept their portrayal to the recording studio.

Whatever you think of the DCEU, nobody can dispute that when it comes to Batman movies, the actor playing the Joker is more often than not the crowning jewel that determines whether or not the film is any good. Although superhero movies are not often considered to be high art, the Joker has become the cream of the crop in terms of dream roles for many actors: simply because people like Heath Ledger have proven that portraying a comic book character doesn’t mean compromising said character’s depth.

Indeed, with Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, we have seen that the origin story of the Clown Prince of Crime can surpass your run-of-the-mill adventure movie and make a compelling drama movie in and of itself. Over the years, there’s been plenty of talented Joker actors and some… not so talented. So, here’s our list of the best Joker actors ranked.

The best Joker actors — from worst to best

  1. Jared Leto
  2. Zach Galifianakis
  3. Alan Tudyk
  4. Barry Keoghan
  5. Cesar Romero
  6. Cameron Monaghan
  7. Jack Nicholson
  8. Joaquin Phoenix
  9. Mark Hamill
  10. Heath Ledger

Best Joker actors: Jared Leto as the Joker in Suicide Squad

Jared Leto

Where do I start? Or, as I said whenever Leto popped up on-screen during the Suicide Squad, when will it end? Not only was he dressed like a customisable Saints Row character, but he also had all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer: from having ‘damaged’ scrawled across his forehead to making snow angels (I think?) surrounded by knives in order for us to know he is a Really Bad Guy™.

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But despite throwing his villainy and the romanticisation of abusive relationships in our face, he has utterly no presence and personality at all. And the fact is, he embodies none of the chaos inherent to the Joker. While I understand that they were going for a slick, Mafia-like crime boss thing with him, it just didn’t work.

It’s remarkable that in just eleven minutes of screen-time he managed to make himself that unlikeable, so I really do feel for the cast and crew who had to put up with Leto’s rat carcasses and entitled pantomime performance during shooting.

Best Joker actors: the Joker in The LEGO Batman movie

Zach Galifianakis

Of course, with the LEGO Batman Movie being a family movie, Galifianakis wasn’t exactly in a position to get his teeth into the dark and twisted psyche of Arthur Fleck.

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But as kid’s movies go, his performance was pretty entertaining, if not for the film’s thinly-veiled jibes at Batman and Joker’s homoerotic tendencies alone.

Best Joker actors: the Joker in Harley Quinn<

Alan Tudyk

Alan Tudyk, who voices Joker in the Harley Quinn animated series, is fine. He does everything that’s expected of his character, but doesn’t own the role in the same way that Mark Hamill does (we’ll talk more about that later on).

He does the job satisfactorily, and that’s really all you can ask for. There isn’t a lot of depth to the character, but the show isn’t about him — it’s about Harley Quinn. It’s a performance that won’t go down in history, but that’s better than going down in history for the wrong reasons.

Best Joker actors: Barry Keoghan as the Joker in The Batman

Barry Keoghan

We’ve only seen glimpses of Barry Keoghan’s depiction of the Joker thus far — but nobody can deny that they’re promising.

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In the five-minute deleted scene especially, we see Barry capture the sinister, menacing nature that makes the Joker who he is and, most importantly, the complicated relationship he has with Batman.

With his unmatched ability to rattle the usually-steely Dark Knight, we’re excited to see how their multi-faceted relationship evolves.

Cesar Romero

Although Romero wasn’t as sinister and dark as future iterations of the Joker, the same can be said of Adam West’s Batman: meaning that the pair complemented each other well as adversaries.

The charisma, signature cackle, and showmanship that he brought as the Joker are foundations of the character that continue to be built upon today, and set a hugely strong foundation and benchmark for the character that other actors continue to build upon.
Best Joker actors: Cameron Monaghan as Jerome in Gotham

Cameron Monaghan

In this day and age, it’s hard to portray one unique Joker, let alone two — and yet Cameron Monaghan manages it as the unhinged, twisted, menacing Jerome and the all-out monstrous beast Jeremiah.

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Of course, legal red tape meant that Gotham weren’t able to technically call Jerome and Jeremiah the Joker, but the iconic clown imagery is unmistakable — and Monaghan embodies it in fresh and exciting ways.

Best Joker actors: Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Batman

Jack Nicholson

The truth is, nobody can play a terrifying psychopath quite like Jack Nicholson — so in many ways, the role of the Joker was a perfect fit for him.

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We know from The Shining that Nicholson can embody dangerous characters perfectly, but he took that to the next level in his portrayal as the Joker opposite Michael Keaton, as he projected that sense of danger along with bursts of multi-coloured mania and flair. You couldn’t take your eyes off him.

Best Joker actors: Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker in Joker

 Joaquin Phoenix

The reason Joaquin Phoenix’s iteration of the Joker is so memorable is because it’s rooted in a sense of reality — which makes it all the more terrifying. Instead of a caricature in a comic book, in Joker we are presented with a bleak look at how society can create a monster.

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Before our eyes, we see the well-intentioned but vulnerable Arthur Fleck snap following a lifetime of relentless torment from every possible angle. It makes your blood run cold because his transformation into the Joker could have been prevented: but by the end of the movie, he is far beyond saving and has become a bloodthirsty, vengeful force.

Best Joker actors: the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series

MARK HAMILL

Of all the Jokers we’ve seen here, Mark Hamill is the longest-serving one: providing the Clown Prince of Crime with his chilling laugh for over 25 years across animated TV series, video games, and animated movies.

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There’s a good reason why producers keep returning to Hamill time and time again. Despite never having a moment of physical screen-time, nobody embodies the character quite like him. From genuinely funny moments, to deeply dark and disturbing scenes, Hamill can do it all without ever making you question if the writing is true to the Joker’s character, because he is the Joker.

Best Joker actors: Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger

If Mark Hamill embodies the Joker, Heath Ledger simply takes the character to another level. His committed character study and its tragic ending is something Hollywood is still mourning today, but the posthumous Oscar he achieved for his role in The Dark Knight was more than deserved.

The Joker is a lot of things: dangerous, flashy, angry, and humorous, but in his iteration of the Joker, Ledger brings a chilling, warped, and unforgettable dimension to the Joker. Drawing upon the likes of A Clockwork Orange for his portrayal, his version of the character is truly disturbing and something that will simply never be topped.

If you want to know more about the Clown Prince of Crime check out our guide to Joker 2.