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Every Actor Who’s Played The Joker In Live-Action

March 25, 202415 Mins Read


  • The Joker’s legacy in live-action is rich, with each actor bringing a new twist to the iconic character’s personality.
  • Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix stand out as top contenders for the best live-action Joker portrayal, each winning Oscars for their performances.
  • The arrival of a new Batman in The Brave and the Bold could mean a fresh face taking on the coveted role of the Joker in the DCU.

With a new live-action Batman set to debut in the DCU’s The Brave and the Bold, there could be a new star joining the ranks of actors who’ve portrayed the Joker. As one of the most iconic Batman villains of all time, there have been multiple actors who have portrayed the Joker in numerous live-action film and TV adaptations. The Clown Prince of Crime remains a DC fan-favorite, regarded as being among the greatest comic book characters of all time. Naturally, he has been re-interpreted by various actors throughout a long history dating all the way back to 1940.

Every Joker actor has brought something new to the role, and the next one will join a storied legacy. Many actors have embraced the character’s humorous tendencies, while others have made him a nightmarish character. In various Batman movies and shows, some actors have gone for more grounded and realistic takes on the Joker, while others have gone gloriously over the top. Whether the Joker will appear in The Brave and the Bold remains to be seen, but with a rich history to draw from, it’s no mystery why the Joker is such a coveted role.


Every Major Villain In Batman Live-Action Movies, Ranked Least To Most Terrifying

Batman has many wickedly evil villains in his catalog that have been brought to life on film but there are a few that are scarier than the rest.

The Joker’s Cinematic History Explained

The Joker making his first appearance in Detective Comics 1940

The Joker is notable for his ever-changing origin story, but most agree that he started out as a petty criminal who was knocked into a vat of chemicals by Batman himself, leading to his colorful appearance and often-manic attitude. Each live-action adaptation of the villain has had its own origin story, though almost all versions are markedly dark, taking inspiration from the fact that the Joker is Batman’s arch-nemesis in the pages of DC Comics. However, over time, the pair have struck up a sort of symbiotic relationship, each needing the other in some way, though this hasn’t always been the case in live-action.

In total, there have been nine live-action adaptations of the Joker, though actually totaling ten, as Cameron Monaghan’s Joker in Gotham is technically two different versions. Each version of the Joker is vastly different from the last, and while some like Heath Ledger’s interpretation in The Dark Knight were positively received, others, including Jared Leto’s iteration from Suicide Squad, were critically panned. While he didn’t portray the character in live-action, Mark Hamill deserves an honorable mention for voicing the Joker across a range of media since 1992. Here are all the live-action versions of the Joker, and the actors who portrayed him.

Cesar Romero Played The Joker In Batman 1966

Batman the movie 1968 poster

Batman: The Movie (1966)

Leslie H. Martinson

Release Date
July 30, 1966

Adam West , Burt Ward , Lee Meriwether , Cesar Romero , Burgess Meredith , Frank Gorshin

105 Minutes

Cesar Romero brought the Joker to life for the first time in 1966’s Batman TV series and film opposite Adam West as the Caped Crusader. Batman serials had been produced throughout the 1940s, but the Joker wouldn’t face his arch-nemesis until this campy cult-classic series. Romero’s Joker favored elaborate pranks and hoaxes over murder though wasn’t opposed to the odd electrocution or two (administered via joy buzzer). Romero’s Joker is intimidating, but in keeping with the tone of the 1960s Batman projects, never spilled blood or carried out violence beyond the occasional BAM or POW off-screen punch.


Batman’s First Live-Action Joker Is Way Darker Than You Remember

Cesar Romero’s Joker was a lighthearted villain in 1966’s Batman, but he committed several heinous acts offscreen.

Romero famously refused to shave his mustache for the role — the dark hairs can still be visible underneath the Joker’s iconic white makeup. In addition to being an amusing piece of trivia, Romero’s laid-back approach stands in stark contrast to the intense process that would later define the role. Romero’s Joker was a product of the tongue-in-cheek confines of the ’60s TV show and the limits of the time on how dark a character could truly be on traditional TV. Romero played the Joker across three seasons and a spin-off film, Batman: The Movie, in 1966.

Jack Nicholson Played The Joker In Batman ’89

As the second live-action version of the Joker, Jack Nicholson played the villain in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, marking a change in public perception surrounding the character. This Joker killed many innocent people – a far cry from the fairly tame hijinks of Romero in the ’60s. With the release of Batman, the Joker was suddenly “worthy” and “challenging” in the eyes of critics as a result of Nicholson’s casting. He was even nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA in the wake of the film’s success. Nicholson is phenomenal, able to portray anarchic madmen perfectly, and he works opposite Michael Keaton’s stoic Batman with devilish glee.

For years, Nicholson’s Joker was the version all actors had to compete with, and many fans online still want to see Jack Nicholson return as the Joker in the new DCU, though it doesn’t seem likely he’ll pop up in The Brave and the Bold. Despite meeting a grisly end in Batman, Nicholson’s Joker was set to return in Batman Unchained, a proposed fifth film in the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher series, as a hallucination caused by the Scarecrow. Sadly, after 1997’s Batman & Robin bombed, the studio decided to go in a different direction, canceling Batman Unchained and, with it, any possibility that Nicholson would ever return to the role.

Roger Stoneburner Played The Joker In The Birds Of Prey TV Series (2002-2003)

roger stoneburner the joker in birds of prey

Despite only appearing as a cameo during the pilot episode of 2002’s Birds of Prey, Roger Stoneburner’s Joker played a huge role in the series. The Joker was revealed to have shot Dina Meyer’s Barbara Gordon, leaving her paralyzed, which would be an important storyline for the series as she battled with her identity as Batgirl. For the series, though Stoneburner portrayed the Joker on-screen, the villain was actually voiced by none other than Mark Hamill, marking his first official live-action “appearance” as the villain that he had already voiced for a decade.

Heath Ledger Played The Joker In The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger’s Joker is perhaps the most memorable, as he was the first brought to modern audiences in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, released in 2008. Ledger’s remarkable and captivating performance as the iconic villain saw him receive a slew of posthumous awards. This was another important development as far as the Joker’s on-screen legacy is concerned, and Heath Ledger significantly raised the bar for all subsequent portrayals. This version of the Joker inhabited Nolan’s darker, grittier, and more violent world of The Dark Knight trilogy, and Ledger’s Joker represented one of America’s biggest fears: terrorism.


10 Things You Never Knew About Heath Ledger’s Joker

Heath Ledger made history with his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, and some behind-the-scenes stories and details make it even better.

Sadly, Heath Ledger passed away before The Dark Knight’s release. Following his death, reports began to circulate that his experience playing the Joker was partly to blame. The media painted his method acting as responsible, citing his self-imposed isolation period and in-character journals as “evidence” of some kind of breakdown. Though others involved in The Dark Knight’s production have said that Ledger was very proud of his work on the film and enjoyed the experience immensely, the weight of his death and subsequent media frenzy has continued to loom large in the public consciousness.

Jared Leto Played The Joker In Suicide Squad & Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Suicide Squad

David Ayer

Release Date
August 5, 2016

123 minutes

Initially, Jared Leto was an exciting choice for the DCEU’s first Joker, debuting in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. However, Jared Leto’s version of the Joker is certainly the most controversial. 2016’s Suicide Squad wasn’t as well received as DC had hoped, which led to Leto’s Joker having much less presence in the DCEU than originally planned. What’s more, given his reputation as an intense method actor, often said to remain in character throughout each shoot, Leto’s casting exacerbated the idea that playing the Joker could cause psychological harm.


What Happened To Jared Leto’s Joker After Suicide Squad

Jared Leto’s Joker, who debuted in 2016’s Suicide Squad, was a controversial rendition of the character, and his eventual fate is left unclear.

Leto’s version of the Joker is something of a departure from previous portrayals, more like an offensive pimp stereotype than a clown, complete with tattoos, grills, and a cane. There’s also a sexualized element to the way Leto interpreted the Joker, which confused many fans since Joker has never been an overtly sensuous character. While some critics applauded Leto’s performance, which highlighted the toxicity of his relationship with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, most were more critical.

Cameron Monaghan Played The Joker In Gotham

Jerome smiling manically in Gotham

Cameron Monaghan’s Joker from Fox’s Gotham is technically two characters, twin brothers Jerome and Jeremiah. Initially set to tell the story of Jim Gordon’s early days in the Gotham City Police Department, Gotham later incorporated the misadventures of a young Bruce Wayne, running for five seasons between 2014 and 2019. While the writers of Gotham were keen to incorporate the Joker, they realized that his origin is dependent on Batman and, therefore, wouldn’t work within the prequel’s timeline. Instead, they decided to utilize various elements of the Joker’s personality, with twin brothers Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska acting as proto-Jokers.

Monaghan was largely well-received in both roles, becoming a fan-favorite addition to the series — even if his status as an “official” actor of the Joker is dubious given how Gotham ends. Audiences are left to question whether Monaghan’s remaining twin would become the Joker or inspire another character to take up the mantle. The unanswered questions first in perfectly with the charcter’s portrayal in other forms of media as well.

Joaquin Phoenix Played The Joker In Joker

Joker Movie Poster

Joker (2019)

Todd Phillips

Release Date
October 2, 2019

122 minutes

Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is the only live-action iteration of the character to act as the lead in his own films, first debuting in 2019’s Joker, and set to hit theaters again in 2024’s Joker: Folie à Deux. Todd Phillips’ Joker provided an R-rated, standalone project introducing a new version of the Joker to audiences, more closely resembling a psychological thriller than a traditional comic book movie. Despite its darker and more grounded tones, Joker was a critical and financial success, becoming the first R-rated film to gross over a billion dollars and landing Phoenix an Academy Award for Best Actor.

While many enjoyed Phillips’ bleak re-imagining of the Joker’s origin story, others found it to be overwhelmingly mean-spirited — though Phoenix’s portrayal was generally praised across the board, with most of the film’s issues stemming from its intensely nihilistic tone and underdeveloped supporting characters. While intended to be a standalone film, Joker’s success led to the development of Joker: Folie à Deux, which will supposedly be a musical, and feature Lady Gaga in the role of Harley Quinn. Phoenix’s take is also confirmed to stand on its own as part of DC’s Elseworlds storylines, disconnected from The Brave and the Bold and whatever Joker might appear there.

Nathan Dashwood Played The Joker In Batwoman

nathan dashwood as the joker in batwoman

Batwoman Poster

Nicole Kang , Javicia Leslie , Meagan Tandy , Ruby Rose , Dougray Scott , Camrus Johnson , Rachel Skarsten

Release Date
October 6, 2019


Nathan Dashwood portrayed the Joker in flashback sequences during The CW’s Batwoman, revealed to have hijacked a bus carrying a young Marquis Jet. Nick Creegan plays Marquis, the half-brother of Ryan Wilder, a.k.a. Batwoman. Marquis eventually stepped up to follow in the Joker’s footsteps, portraying a copy-cat style villain to his half-sister. Even so, Dashwood portrayed the real Joker in Batwoman, though not much is known about this iteration of the character, as he only briefly appeared in two episodes and didn’t have a significant role in the series.

Barry Keoghan Played The Joker In The Batman

Barry Keoghan's joker is partially seen in jail in The Batman

The Batman Poster

The Batman

Release Date
March 4, 2022

176 minutes

Despite only appearing for a brief moment at the end of Matt Reeves’ The Batman, Barry Keoghan’s Joker made an impact on audiences. While The Batman introduced viewers to new takes on the Riddler, the Penguin, and Carmine Falcone, there was also space for a brand-new Joker. Keoghan appeared behind an Arkham State Hospital cell door, seducing the Riddler into a partnership. Keoghan’s role was kept secret up to release, and while his new Joker in The Batman was unnamed, the distinctive laugh and hints of a heavily scarred face offered major hints of who he really was.

Initially, the Joker’s scars in The Batman were thought to mean this version would draw from the New 52 villain, specifically the Batman: Death of the Family version of the Joker who removed his face and wore it like a mask to prove a point to Batman. However, this Joker’s deformity is actually because of a congenital disease. Like Phoenix’s Joker, this version of the villain will remain separate from the DCU, which means there could be three cinematic Jokers at once with Keoghan, Phoenix, and The Brave and the Bold’s version, though it hasn’t been confirmed whether Keoghan will return in The Batman – Part II.

Other Notable Joker Actors

While there are plenty of actors who played the Joker across live-action media, even more have picked up the role of the Clown Prince of Crime as voice actors for animated movies, TV series, and video games, and they also deserve a mention. The most iconic voice of the Joker is undoubtedly Mark Hamill who brought a new idea to the role that would define the approach of those who came after him. Hamill voiced the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, The Arkham video games, Justice League, and Batman: The Killing Joke among countless other appearances, mixing menace and fun in perfect balance for the character.

Alan Tudyk plays the Joker in the acclaimed Harley Quinn animated series, a hilarious and pathetic take on the villain. Troy Baker, who also voiced Joel in The Last of Us game, voiced the Joker in Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem, Zach Galifianakis took the role for The LEGO Batman Movie, John DiMaggio voiced the Joker in Batman: Under The Red Hood, and Kevin Michael Richardson took on the character in The Batman Vs. Dracula. This extensive list of voice actors behind the Joker only scratches the surface, and with DC extending to podcasts via Batman: Unburied and Batman: The Audio Adventures, the list is only set to grow.

Who Is The Best Live-Action Joker Actor?

Heath Ledger's Joker leaning in close to Two-Face in the hospital in The Dark Knight

When it comes down to who is the best actor to portray the Joker, the question is likely to spark fierce debate among fans of the villain. However, there is an arguable case that it’s a contest between Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix, as both won Oscars for their performances. Monaghan was loved by fans, but neither Jeremiah nor Jerome is officially named as the final Joker in Gotham. Romero and Nicholson are highly regarded, but their Jokers are products of their times and the unique tones of their respective Batman universes. Barry Keoghan’s Joker has the look, but he’s currently only been seen in a brief cameo.

Heath Ledger’s depiction of the Joker in The Dark Knight was magnetic and full of terrifying energy, and his posthumous accolades speak for themselves. Similarly, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of Arthur Fleck in Joker was relevant and brought a culturally significant performance to theaters. It could be argued, however, that Phoenix’s version of the Joker wouldn’t have been so beloved had Ledger not paved the way. With Phoenix set to reprise the role in 2024’s Joker: Folie à Deux, it’s possible that he could bring another stellar performance to the big screen and potentially even out-shine Ledger’s Joker.

Will The Joker Be In Batman: The Brave and The Bold Movie?

batman and damian wayne coming to the new dcu slate

The announcement of The Brave and the Bold confirms the eventual debut of a new Batman in James Gunn and Peter Safran’s DC Universe, and whenever Batman is on the big screen, it’s a safe bet that the Joker will follow. Not much is yet known about The Brave and the Bold, other than it will be a father-son story between Bruce Wayne and Damian Wayne, who will assume the moniker of Robin. Damian has had some memorable moments with the Joker in DC Comics, so it’s possible that this could be the perfect place to introduce the DCU’s version of the Joker.

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