Batman Beware: A Chronological History Of Every Live-Action Joker

Thứ tư - 24/04/2024 21:58
When it comes to classic hero-villain relationships, they don’t come any more storied or complicated than the one between Batman and the Joker. The pair have...
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When it comes to classic hero-villain relationships, they don’t come any more storied or complicated than the one between Batman and the Joker. The pair have been entangled for over 80 years, going back to the villain’s debut in 1940’s Batman #1. Created by a combination of Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and Bill Finger, the character has gone on to appear alongside his nemesis in just about every interpretation across every available media and platform.

In fact, the Clown Prince of Crime has become so entwined with and representative of the Dark Knight that he’s taken on a life of his own. The 2019 Joker film–which only briefly includes a young, pre-Batman Bruce Wayne–caused such a stir that it raked in a billion dollars from around the globe, necessitating a sequel coming out later this year.

With Joaquin Phoenix smearing on the grease paint once again, we’re running through all of his fellow live-action Jokers, ranging from TV and movies, to commercials, and even a live performance! Each take on the Joker managed to capture elements of this wildly complicated character who expresses a mixture of madness and hilarity, chaos and strategy.

Conrad Veidt (The Man Who Laughs, 1928)

Conrad Veidt's Joker-inspiring role in The Man Who Laughs

Wait a minute, how can this list start off with a film that debuted 12 years before the Joker? While Finger, Kane, and Robinson all claim that they created the character, they do all agree that he was visually inspired by Conrad Veidt’s performance as Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs, an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name. The character is actually the hero of the piece, which is all about class divisions and features not a single super hero!

Cesar Romero (Batman, 1966-1968)

Cesar Romero unlocks the first live action Joker achievement!

While Batman and Robin appeared in two serials in the 1940s, the villains in those pieces were spies, mad scientists and even a radio-controlled zombie. So, the Joker did not make his live-action debut until the release of the beloved Batman TV series that ran from 1966 through 1968. Cesar Romero was chosen to bring the Clown Prince of Crime to life and established a performance that still resonates to this day. With a career that started in the early ‘30s, Romero was always working. It’s one of the reasons he famously refused to shave off his mustache to portray Joker, in favor of simply having the makeup artists paint over it.

Appearing in over 20 episodes of the series, Romero fully embraced the character’s madcap nature. He may not be as deadly as the versions we’ve seen in more recent years–that wasn’t the style of the show–but he proved that the Joker can still be menacing while also being silly, just like any clown worth their oversized shoes. On top of that, Romero will forever hold the distinction of being the very first Joker on the silver screen thanks to 1966’s Batman: The Movie, which came out between the first and second season of the show.

Jack Nicholson (Batman, 1989)

Jack Nicholson makes his mark on the Joker

People had 30 years to think of Romero as the Joker. Over the next three decades, many more actors would put their stamp on the character, but that all started with Jack Nicholson’s take on the maniac in Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. Jack Napier started out as a mob enforcer, but everything changed when he fell into a vat at Axis Chemicals that drove him mad and bleached his skin white. He took control of the criminal organization and began spreading a unique brand of calamity that involved driving around in a purple car, taking on Batman (Michael Keaton), and destroying priceless artwork while dancing to Prince’s soundtrack.

Nicholson embodied the chaotic nature of the character, partially embracing Romero’s clowning, while adding an element of danger that comes along in so many of Nicholson’s performances. His was a Joker that reflected the darker tone of the ’80s, capturing some of the decade’s dark irony and proving that the comic book villains can be scary.

Curtis Armstrong (OnStar ad, 2000)

Between the initial run of Batman films started by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, fans had one source of live-action Bat-tainment: OnStar commercials. At the time, the company specialized in emergency response, car theft detection systems and surprisingly good ads with Batman (Bruce Thomas) chasing down villains in the Batmobile. In one such spot, he went after the Joker played by Curtis Armstrong, best known as Booger from the Revenge of the Nerds movies!

Mark Hamill and Roger Stoneburner (Birds Of Prey, 2002-2003)

It took two to bring the Birds Of Prey Joker to life!

There’s one prominent name that you might assume would be absent from this list: a person whose voice rings through many a head when they even think about the Joker and that’s Mark Hamill. He started voicing the character for Batman: The Animated Series and played the part in animation many more times over the years, but never portrayed the character in a live-action performance.

However, he did lend his voice to a representation of the character in the short-lived series Birds Of Prey, during its only season in 2002 and 2003. The Joker essentially kickstarted the whole series by killing the future Huntress’ mother (who was incidentally Catwoman) and shooting Batgirl, leading to her becoming the superhero information broker Oracle. The character–voiced by Hamill, but physically portrayed by Roger Stoneburner–appeared in a flashback that set up the entire series which had been mostly forgotten, but was incorporated in the Arrowverse crossover Crisis On Infinite Earths. This series also marked the first time that Harley Quinn appeared in live-action.

Heath Ledger (The Dark Knight, 2008) 

Heath Ledger changed the Joker game with Dark Knight

Just when we thought we’d seen the full spectrum of Joker performances, Heath Ledger came along with his own unique take in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. This Joker represented pure chaos in the form of a man with no true origin who devised truly supervillain level challenges for Christian Bale’s Batman. A high-stakes robbery of mob money was just the start. He proceeded to take on the various mafia families of Gotham City and set up a morality test with two ferries loaded with bombs.

Ledger’s version eschewed much of the fun and wackiness often associated with the Joker in favor of a far more dangerous, almost animalistic agent of havoc who’s just as unnerving in the quiet moments as the more bombastic ones. The actor sadly passed away before the film debuted in 2008, but he left a stunning legacy in the form of a fascinating portrayal of an iconic character.

Mark Frost (Batman Live, 2011)

You want live-action? What’s more live than theater? In 2011, a stage show called Batman Live launched with a full cast of rogues for the Caped Crusader to theatrically face off against, including Mark Frost’s Joker. In addition to making entrances through giant versions of the character’s heads, he also got to fly around in both a Joker-themed hot air balloon and a jetpack! For now, this seems to be the last example of a more fun take on the character in live-action, with most of the ones after fully going down the psychopathic route.

Cameron Monaghan (Gotham, 2014-2019)

Gotham's non-Joker Joker

Let’s call this one an honorable mention, but Cameron Monaghan portrayed twins on the Fox series Gotham that certainly gave off Joker vibes. Initially, he played Jerome Valeska, an anarchist who killed his mother and did time in Arkham Asylum until a breakout returned him to the streets. He rolled with a criminal crew called The Maniax until he was murdered by a compatriot. Though Jerome died, his legend lived on and grew to the point where one of his followers resurrected him. He was sent back to Arkham, which he took over, allying himself with other rogues, later called the Legion of Horribles.

When Jerome died again, he made sure to expose his twin brother Jeremiah to a chemical concoction held inside of a jack-in-the-box which turned him from a scared engineer into a psychotic madman who soon took control of Gotham’s underworld. The exposure also changed Jeremiah’s skin, turning it white. He followed in his brother’s footsteps, doing his best to bring chaos to the city and kill Bruce Wayne. While neither Valeska ever went by the name Joker (though, Jerome was rechristened as “J”), they clearly reflected the famous villain’s characteristics.

Jared Leto (Suicide Squad, 2016; Zack Snyder’s Justice League, 2021)

Jared Leto's inked-up, grilled-out Joker

Were the Joker a real person, he would have most likely been furious that of the two of them, Harley Quinn became a much more prominent character during the Snyderverse’s decade-long run. While they both appear in the 2016 film Suicide Squad, she scored way more screen time in that film and the subsequent one. This version of the Clown Prince of Crime was portrayed by Jared Leto in Suicide Squad as well as Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but in a limited capacity. He sported a look that caused quite a stir between the slicked back hair, metal teeth and all those tattoos.

Joker was in Arkham, where Margot Robbie’s Dr. Harleen Quinzel fell for him. After she helped him escape, he subjected her to electroshock therapy and an Axis Chemicals bath, turning her into Harley Quinn.

Leto did not shoot new footage for Birds Of Prey, which instead used already existing footage and a stand-in named Johnny Goth. In the Snyder Cut of Justice League, Leto reprised his role in the potential post-apocalyptic future known as Knightmare, in which Batman broke Joker out of jail to help in the plot to go back in time and save the past. There were talks to give this take on the character his own solo film, though those plans were scrapped.

Unknown (Powerless, 2017) 

Who is the Man Who Laughs beneath the towel?

A comedy series focusing on average people set in the DC Universe, Powerless lasted just one season. It focused on the research and development department of Wayne Security in Charm City and dealt with how all those superhero battles affected the employees of a company that directly benefited from them.

The company specialized in items like Joker Anti-Venom and a device that could help detect villains by their smell. At the end of the first episode, the news reported that Batman used a smell-related gadget to track down none other than the Joker, who was seen in a TV news report. But with his head covered, we have no idea who was under there.

Mustafa Bulut (Titans, 2018-2023) 

The Titans Joker gets his big break

For much of the Titans series, the Joker (Mustafa Bulut) acted as more of a ghost haunting the survivors of his murderous exploits. In the first season, Trigon created a false reality that drove Batman (Iain Glen) down an even darker path. Robin Jason Todd (Curran Walters) convinced Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites) to return to Gotham in an effort to talk him down from killing the Joker. The effort was not effective as the Caped Crusader dropped his nemesis off a building. Viewers got their best look at the madman in the hospital hooked up to all kinds of machines after he survived. However, Batman still showed up to impale the villain with a Batarang.

In actual reality, the Joker stayed away from the spotlight, mostly shown from a distance or at odd angles. That is until he took a page out of the “A Death In The Family” playbook and beat Jason Todd to death with a crowbar in an amusement park. This was long after the villain shot Barbara Gordon (Savannah Welch) just like he did in The Killing Joke. The grief was too much for Batman who snapped and killed the Joker in a fit of off-camera rage. It’s interesting how many of these newer adaptations ignore the Dark Knight’s main rule of not killing anyone.

Joaquin Phoenix (Joker, 2019)

Joaquin Phoenix's Joker ready for his close-up

Jared Leto’s solo film was dustbinned in favor of Joker starring Joaquin Phoenix. Coming out in 2019 and taking place in a totally different reality, this Todd Phillips movie told the story of how failed clown and comedian Arthur Fleck became the title character. Given he’s the lead, this is the most in-depth examination of the Joker to date.

A scathing indictment of how the rich ignore the problems of those less fortunate, including the treatment of those in need of mental health, the film sets the Joker up as the poster child for a social revolution he initially does not care about. For some, this is the perfect setup for the character, while others prefer the Dark Knight version that has no known origin. Either way, the movie made piles of money at the worldwide box office, leading directly to a sequel, this year’s Joker: Folie à Deux. Phillips and Phoenix are re-teaming and will be joined by Lady Gaga as Harley Quinn.

 Nathan Dashwood & Nick Creegan (Batwoman, 2019-2022)

Marquis Jet wants to know if this is your card on Batwoman

As with Titans, the Joker of the Arrowverse series Batwoman was more of a force than an actual on-screen character. Future Batwoman Kate Kane came to learn that the villain was responsible for the destruction of her family when he carjacked a school bus filled with kids and ran her mother’s car off the road. The Joker was played in his few appearances by Nathan Dashwood, but just barely seen in flashbacks throughout the show. This version even used the Jack Napier name for the man beneath the makeup. Batwoman learned that the villain had been killed by Batman instead of being committed to Arkham like the public believed.

Later on in the series, Nick Creegan came on the scene as Marquis Jet. He was one of the students on the bus who got zapped by the villain’s enhanced joy buzzer, changing his personality moving forward. Though he never went by the name Joker, Marquis did eventually embrace madness as well as purple hair, loud suits, and a few of the clown’s deadly gags.

Barry Keoghan (The Batman, 2022)

Even with the Joker sequel in the works, another version of the character appeared in 2022’s The Batman. Though the main villains facing off against Robert Pattinson’s Dark Knight were the Penguin (Colin Farrell) and the Riddler (Paul Dano), Joker did appear by way of Barry Keoghan, who was credited as “Unseen Arkham Prisoner.” In the cell next to Riddler’s at the end of the film, he floated the idea of them working together.

Matt Reeves later confirmed that he was definitely the killer clown when the studio released a deleted scene complete with director commentary. He explained that the facial scarring–which can only just barely be seen thanks to safety glass and close-ups–came from a genetic condition. The scene itself has Batman interviewing Joker at Arkham in hopes that it will help him track down Riddler. This much younger take on the villain displayed that usual touch of madness–aided by the fact that Keoghan had a metal object in his mouth that could have left its own scars–and maybe viewers will get to see more of him in the announced sequel currently scheduled to come out next year.

And that’s just the list for now. With James Gunn’s plans for the new DC Cinematic Universe making their public debut with 2025’s Superman, there will likely be another name to add to this list!

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