Who are the best Joker actors? For actors, villains are always the most intriguing characters to play. And there’s no one more mysterious layered — and, let’s face it, completely insane — than the Clown Prince of Crime.
While the DCU is often sniffed at, it’s no coincidence that every single film featuring the Joker, (aka the best Batman villain) has gone on to win at least one Academy Award. Consequently, we’ve had no shortage of actors lining up to portray the DC character on both the small and silver screens.
In fact, some of the best actors in history tried their hand at playing Joker. But not all performances went down so well… So, here’s our list of the best Joker actors (from live-action movies to DC animated movies) ranked from worst to best.
13. Jared Leto
Appears in: Suicide Squad (2016) and Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
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 customizable 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™.
But despite throwing his villainy and the romanticization 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 screentime, 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.
12. Zach Galifianakis
Appears in: The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
Of course, with the LEGO Batman Movie being one of the best family movies of its year, Galifianakis wasn’t exactly in a position to get his teeth into the dark and twisted psyche of Arthur Fleck.
But as the Lego Movies go, his performance was pretty entertaining, if not for the film’s thinly veiled jibes at Batman and Joker’s homoerotic tendencies alone.
11. Alan Tudyk
Appears in: Harley Quinn (2019-present)
Alan Tudyk, who voices Joker in the Harley Quinn animated series, is fine. He does everything that’s expected of the best DC villains, 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.
10. Barry Keoghan
Appears in: The Batman (2022)
We’ve only seen glimpses of Barry Keoghan’s depiction of the Joker thus far — but nobody can deny that they’re promising.
In the five-minute deleted scene in The Batman 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 once The Batman 2 release date is announced.
9. Hugo Blick
Appears in: Batman (1989)
When it comes to this ’80s interpretation of Batman, everyone spends so much time (rightfully) talking about Jack Nicholson. But let’s not forget the man who played his younger Joker self: Hugo Blick. While Nicholson’s older, more demented Joker reigns supreme in matters of screentime, Blick’s brief appearance as a young Jack Napier is haunting, and to be honest, we could have probably watched a whole movie with him as the leading antagonist.
He appears only in the scene during which Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed. It’s a canon event we’ve watched countless times, but this slow, quiet depiction of that life-changing moment is easily one of the most memorable, and a lot of that is to do with Blick’s perfect ability to not only shadow the power of Nicholson’s performance, but also in striking true fear into a little Bruce Wayne’s heart.
8. Kevin Michael Richardson
Appears in: The Batman (2004-2008)
Kevin Michael Richardson is the best Joker with a deep baritone that you will ever find. The star portrayed our favorite villain in the hit 2004 animated series The Batman and fully committed to the bit. He was charismatic and fun. Richardson even earned two Daytime Emmy Award nominations for the role.
To this day, Richardson’s iconic laugh still haunts our dreams. Truly, he was a standout back in the 2000s and wholly deserves all our respect.
7. John DiMaggio
Appears in: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) and Batman: Death in the Family (2020)
John DiMaggio is a voice-over king, from his work as Bender on Futurama, to Jake the Dog on Adventure Time. However, he broke away from his typical comedic roles to give us a terrifying Joker in the 2010 movie Batman: Under the Red Hood.
DiMaggio’s Joker is intimidating but still feels wholly unique as the star makes the icon his own. Be it from his laugh and sinister wheezes. There hasn’t been a Joker portrayal like DiMaggio since.
6. Cesar Romero
Appears in: Batman (1966-1968)
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 that other actors continue to use for their own iterations.
5. Cameron Monaghan
Appears in: Gotham (2014-2019)
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.
Of course, legal red tape meant that Gotham wasn’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.
4. Jack Nicholson
Appears in: Batman (1989)
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.
We know from one of the best horror movies ever made, 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-colored mania and flair. You couldn’t take your eyes off him.
3. Joaquin Phoenix
Appears in: Joker (2019) and Joker: Folie à Deux (2024)
The reason Joaquin Phoenix’s iteration of the Joker is so memorable is that 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.
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.
2. Mark Hamill
Appears in: Batman: The Animated Series (1992 -1999), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000), The New Batman Adventures (1997-1999), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), Justice League (2001-2004), and Justice League Action (2016-2018)
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.
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 one of the best DC characters 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.
1. Heath Ledger
Appears in: The Dark Knight (2008)
If Mark Hamill embodies the Joker, Heath Ledger 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 Christopher Nolan movie 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 him. 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 guides to the upcoming new movies in the Batman world, with the Joker 2 release date and The Brave and the Bold release date. We’ve also been through the timeline of this cinematic universe with a fine-tooth comb to bring you a comprehensive article explaining how to watch the DC movies in order and the Batman movies in order.