Do you know who played the Joker in all the Batman movies? Many people remember Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix, but then their memory fails them! So let’s take a look at the history around the Joker, including the actors who played the Joker over the years, what is the Joker’s real name and then take a look at how each of the Jokers was portrayed by each actor.
What is the Joker’s real name?
No-one has been sure of the Joker’s identity, but now with the release of the movie Batman: White Knight, all is revealed! So what is the Joker’s real name? if you are a die-hard fan then you might have already guessed that it’s Jack Napier! He was the guy who became the Joker in the 1989 movie Batman (when Jack Nicholson played this villainous character) after falling into a vat of chemicals and going crazy when he saw the horrific remains of his face.
If we want to go way back to the actual origins of the Joker, we need to take a look at the DC Comic Book Batman in April 1940! This original Joker was apparently created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson and he wasn’t meant to hang around for very long. It’s reported that editorial intervention kept the supervillain character onboard, eventually ending up as Batman’s archenemy. This original Joker character was portrayed as a crazy criminal mastermind with a sadistic sense of humour, however, this was weakened by the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s, and he was turned into more of a prankster than a psychopath. In the 1970s, the Joker back into an evil genius and the character has continued to develop from this point up until the most recent movie release.
Later we will take a look at the Heath Ledger Joker, the Joaquin Phoenix Joker and the Suicide Squad Joker played by Jared Leto, but let’s take a step back and find out if the Joker has any superpowers.
Does the Joker have superhuman powers?
No, the Joker never has possessed any superhuman powers, although it may look like it sometimes! Instead, he uses his evil genius and expertise in chemical engineering to develop nasty lethal weapons to kill his enemies. These include his deadly joy-buzzers and acid spraying lapel flowers. The Joy-buzzers were first used in the DC Comic Batman Vol 1 in 1973 and were kept on his utility belt, used to temporarily stun his opponents. He later upgraded the Joy-buzzers to deliver 200 volts, which was a big shock, but still not deadly. However at some later point in time, he redesigned them further to deliver a killing 50,000 volts. The lapel flowers were first used by the Joker as harmless pranks in the 1950s, spraying non-lethal knock-out gas, water or powder, but were modified to spray lethal acid during the 1970s.
Who played the joker?
The scion of chaos, formally known as the Joker, has had many incarnations on the big and little screen. It started with Cesar Romero in 1966 (TV series), followed by Jack Nicholson in 1989 (movie), Mark Hamill in 1992 (animated version), Kevin Michael Richardson in 2004 (animated version), Jeff Bennett in 2008 (animated version), Heath Ledger in 2008 (movie), John DiMaggio in 2010 (animated version), Brent Spiner in 2011 (animated version), Michael Emerson in 2012 (animated version), Jared Leto in 2016 (movie), and Joaquin Phoenix in 2019 (movie).
If we are just looking at the movies, then that’s Jack Nicholson in 1989, Heath Ledger in 2008, Jared Leto in 2016, and Joaquin Phoenix in 2019! So let’s take a look at all of these Joker movie incarnations, checking out who played the Joker in each movie.
Cesar Romero Joker (1966)
The popular Cuban actor, Caesar Romero, played the Joker in 22 episodes of the classic Batman TV series in the 1960s, before moving onto the first Batman movie called Batman in 1966. Adam West famously played the classic Batman character with Burt Ward as his sidekick, Robin, including most members of the original TV series in the cast. As a member of the Unified Underworld, along with the Penguin, the Riddler and Catwoman, the Joker plays a fairly minor role in this early movie.
Jack Nicholson Joker (1989)
When Tim Burton cast Jack Nicholson as the Joker in the 1989 movie Batman, many fans still believe today that he was the ultimate Joker! Some of the best scenes in this movie include the Joker and in 2003, the American Film Institute ranked his performance as #45 on their top 50 list of the best film villains. This is the movie where Michael Keaton plays the character of Batman and the Joker falls into a vat of chemicals and turns from being a frustrating prankster into an evil psychopath with a flair for killing!
Mark Hamill Joker (1992)
Most people know him from the undeniably iconic role of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise, but his voice acting in the Bruce Timm animated show crafted the public perception for the joker in media for years to come. His portrayal was so distinct and incredible he was able to reprise his role in the Justice League animated series that ran from 2001 to 2006. This is really what solidified his casting as the clown prince of crime and what lead him to voice the character in all of the Rocksteady Arkham series videogames. Continuing almost all voice work for the character he was most recently able to portray the joker in his most impactful role adapting the iconic Killing Joke graphic novel from 1988. This story is so world-changing in the DC landscape as it saw the immense shift of character tone from a silly goofy clown to an unhinged sociopath seeking chaos. It also became a template and the inspiration behind the newest Joaquin Phoenix movie, making the genius choice of depicting the character as a troubled individual struggling to cope with a sense of isolation which is the embodiment of what the Joker is.
Heath Ledger Joker (2008)
The Heath Ledger Joker character in The Dark Knight has been said to literally transcend the genre, gaining universal acclaim. Its effect is still being felt today within both the film industry and amongst fans around the world. This is where we really first see the Joker portrayed as a psychopathic mass murder with no empathy for his victims. In this movie, his reign of terror focuses around a vow to kill people every day until Batman reveals himself and surrenders to the police. Eventually, Batman (played by Christian Bale) defeats the Joker, but not before the Joker holds true to his word, killing a number of innocent people, including a childhood friend of Batman, and turns the District Attorney of Gotham City into the insane vigilante, known as Two-Face (played by Aaron Eckhart). The Heath Ledger Joker in The Dark Knight is said to be his finest performance and after the movie was released in 2008, he was posthumously awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Suicide Squad Joker (Jared Leto 2016)
Jared Leto makes his debut as the Joker in David Ayer’s 2016 movie Suicide Squad, as part of the DC Extended Universe, a media franchise focussing on characters in the DC Comics. Since 2011, seven films have been made under the Extended Universe banner: Man of Steel (2013), Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), Suicide Squad (2016), Wonder Woman (2017, Justice League (2017), Aquaman ( 2019) and Shazam! (2019).
Suicide Squad is the third in the series and stars Ben Affleck as Batman, Will Smith as Deadshot, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and Jared Leto as the Joker. The Suicide Squad Joker is the lover of former psychiatrist Harley Quinn who has been coerced into joining Task Force X, a team of dangerous criminals, who are considered disposable assets and used in high-risk missions. All the team members are implanted with a nanite bomb in their necks that will detonate if they decide to escape. Unfortunately, the Joker finds out about the bomb planted into his girlfriend, and goes on a rampage!
Apparently, playing the Suicide Squad Joker must have been one of the highlights of his life, because Leto was apparently upset when Joaquin Phoenix was toted for the part in the latest movie, Joker released in 2019.
Joaquin Phoenix Joker (2019)
The latest movie based on the DC Comics characters is Joker, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the lead role and released in 2019. Unfortunately, this movie is quite ambiguous, not letting the audience know if Phoenix is actually the Joker or will eventually turn into another character entirely. It’s confusing, but the plot surrounds the character Arthur Fleck played by Phoenix, who is a poor excuse for a stand-up comedian in his real life. Feeling isolated from society, he begins a slow spiral into the character of the Joker.
During the course of an unsuccessful career as a comedian, Phoenix is attacked by a gang in an alley and given a gun for protection by a friend named Randall. Later, after entertaining children at a hospital and while still wearing his clown makeup on the subway, Phoenix is attacked on the subway. He kills two of three drunken rich businessmen who attacked him, resulting in the billionaire mayoral candidate calling rowdy and unsuccessful people ‘clowns’.
Off his medications due to social service program funding cuts, Phoenix receives acclaim for his comedy act from an unexpected audience – a talk show host had shown clips of his stand-up comedy act on TV hoping to belittle him, but it backfired. The talk show hosts ask Phoenix to come on his show, but before he arrives, Phoenix kills Randell (the friend who gave him the gun) and the Joaquin Phoenix Joker character increases his spiral into madness. Winning the Golden Globe at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, the Joker movie has divided critics around the world. Whilst Phoenix’s performance has been acclaimed, the violence, depiction of mental illness and the overall dark nature of the movie has generated concerns that it inspires real-world violence. However, despite these reservations, the movie has grossed $737 worldwide and it hasn’t stopped yet!