The Joker is one of the most enduring fictional characters of all time. He presents a unique challenge to actors as he embodies utter chaos, but he’s also called the clown prince of crime for a reason. While some actors lean more into the comedy than the darkness and vice versa, they all bring something different to the role, and now, it’s time to find out who the best Joker actor of all time is.
Who has played the Joker the best? Do you think Heath Ledger deserves the top spot, or do you have a soft spot for Jack Nicholson’s performance? Check out our ranking below to see where your favorite Joker landed.
Best Joker Actor in History
Ranking Every Joker Ever
Who is the best Joker? This list contains all actors who played the Joker whether it was in a theatrical film, straight-to-DVD film, or TV show.
The ranking specifically focuses on the actor’s performance as the Joker, not necessarily the movie itself (although you can usually find a pretty solid correlation there, too). All Jokers bring something unique to the table, but that doesn’t always result in a successful adaptation.
Although to be fair, the writers and directors do have a part to play as well. Actors only have so much as they’re given, so if the writers don’t understand Joker's character, it can ultimately lead to a lower ranking.
All of the films and TV shows on this list do something a little different with the Joker. They’re all great for aspiring filmmakers and actors to watch because they showcase utter nihilism. In some cases, they may even show you what not to do for your own movie.
This lead-up has been longer than most villain’s monologues. Bust out the laughing gas and tuck the hyenas into bed. This is our ranking of every Joker actor ever, and we’re sure our decision of the best Joker actor of all time won’t invite any debate whatsoever.
Young Justice (2010 - 2019)
15. Brent Spiner
Young Justice is great in the way it handles its younger heroes. It’s not so great in the villain designs which unfortunately applies to Joker.
To be fair, it’s really not Brent Spiner’s fault. The Joker voice actor does what he can with the character, but at the end of the day, you could pretty much swap out Joker with any other DC villain in the Injustice League, and the story would be exactly the same. Decide for yourself in this short clip, featuring Spiner’s voice acting work.
The worst thing a Joker performance can be is forgettable. He tends to blend in with the scenery during his two-episode arc on the series. And his costume makes him look like a Hot Topic employee.
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016)
14. Jeff Bergman
Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders was intended as a nice throwback to classic 1960s Batman TV show. It saw Adam West and Burt Ward return to their signature roles as Batman and Robin, and even Julie Newmar returned to voice Catwoman.
Unfortunately, Cesar Romero passed away years before the film, so they got Jeff Bergman to fill the role. While he does an admirable job throwing in an over-the-top performance, it simply pales in comparison to the original.
To be fair, Bergman has a bit of a thankless job. He needed to portray the original Joker in most people’s minds. That’s a very specific performance to give, and while he mostly nails it, it’s just a version we’ve seen before and done better.
Batman: Arkham Origins (2013)
13. Troy Baker
Troy Baker does a fine job with Joker in numerous pieces of media, including the Batman: Arkham Origins video game and the straight-to-DVD film Batman: Assault on Arkham. However, like Bergman, Baker’s problem is that his Joker falls into another mimic than trying to put a different spin on the character.
Troy does a good impression of Mark Hamill’s Joker, which is easy to see why because Hamill stopped doing the video games. And to be fair, it’s a good impression, but it prevents it from standing out in any meaningful way.
A real highlight of the game comes with Baker’s Joker recounts his transformation into the clown prince of crime, all the while seducing Harley Quinn. He injects just enough sadness into his story to make you, and by tandem Harley, feel bad for him, just until he pulls you back into reality to make you remember what his ulterior motives truly are.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008 - 2011)
12. Jeff Bennett
Batman: The Brave and the Bold was a much-needed reprieve for Batman fans. While the films approached a dark, gritty aesthetic, this cartoon drew inspiration from the Silver Age of comics where the Joker had ridiculous plans to finally beat the Batman.Jeff Bennett’s performance is appropriate for the show it’s in. But similar to the show, that means it’s just kind of… there. That doesn’t mean Bennett doesn’t have a heck of a lot of fun with it, as evidenced in this scene from Scooby Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
Bennett does earn some goodwill in the two-part episode “Game Over for Owlman” where Joker actually plays a hero. Batman goes to an alternate dimension where the good guys are bad and the bad guys are good. Although it’s not necessarily the Joker everyone knows and wants, it’s nice to see him change it up from time to time.
Suicide Squad (2016)
11. Jared Leto
There’s a lot you can say about Jared Leto’s performance as Joker, and none of it’s really good. It’s clear the filmmakers wanted to take Joker in a different direction from Heath Ledger’s performance years earlier, but it all adds up to a Joker that all flair and no substance.
He’s only there to function in Harley Quinn’s backstory and cause some extra trouble for the Squad later on. But it’s clear the studio just wanted Joker in the movie without knowing what to do with him. Which isn’t to say it’s not impressive to see his hair and makeup transformation.
From Jared Leto’s performance to his character design, everyone was just trying too hard to make this Joker different. Even if you can get past the “Damaged” tattoo and his purple pimp jacket, it’s hard to take Joker menacingly when he has his own name tattooed across his tummy.
The Dark Knight Returns (2012)
10. Michael Emerson
The Dark Knight Returns is a seminal work in the comics community. It played a major role in introducing the dark, gritty Batman everyone wants to see these days. When it came time to transform that graphic novel into film, the results were a mixed bag, the least of which was its portrayal of Joker.
For most of the runtime, Emerson’s Joker performance falls flat. In the talk show scene, he doesn’t come across as unempathetic that he’s trying to go for. It comes across more as bored with the whole thing, and it brings down the entire scene.
There is one glorious Joker scene though. When Batman and Joker have their final confrontation, you can ever-so-slightly hear the intonation of victory in Joker’s voice. Even though his time is up, he knows he won. He knows he messed with Batman psychologically and that's a victory in and of itself.
This may be an old Joker past his prime, but it still needed a prime performance to get it in the ranks.
Gotham (2014 - 2019)
9. Cameron Monaghan
The only reason Cameron Monaghan doesn’t rank higher is because he doesn’t technically play Joker. Remember, Gotham is set years before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, so instead of introducing Joker early on, the creators had a Joker stand-in in the form of twin brothers Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska. Yes, two kind-of Jokers are in this show.Jeremiah is the more Joker-y of the two although we have to give Jerome points for going down the Death in the Family route and stapling his face back onto his head. Jeremiah goes down the more traditional route of falling into some chemicals and taking a liking to purple outfits.
Jerome feels like a half-measure. Like they wanted Joker in the show without having Joker in the show. Jeremiah may never call himself “Joker,” but he’s so delightfully bonkers you don’t care. He’s the Joker in spirit, and that’s worth some points.
Jeremiah is frustrating only in the sense you just want him to say, “Call me Joker.” The performances Monaghan provides are good, but the writing just needed to get over the finish line from good to great.
The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)
8. Zach Galifianakis
It would be easy for a LEGO Joker to fall to the wayside in terms of complexity. However, Zach Galifianakis delivers. Joker played by Galifianakis has all of the comedic timing you want, and with a great script, the character is elevated to an interesting height, yet still kid-friendly for the young audience.
One of the driving forces behind Joker is that he needs Batman, and in a way, Batman needs him. In this film, Joker just wants Batman to recognize how vital their relationship is, and that concept is what drives the entire plot.
The delivery is spot-on, and there’s plenty of double entendres to keep the parents interested while the kids enjoy some good, old-fashioned LEGO action. Joker may be reduced in physicality here, but Galifianakis brings him to life in a different kind of way.
The Batman (2004 - 2008)
7. Kevin Michael Richardson
Kevin Michael Richardson had the unenviable task of following up Mark Hamill’s Joker from the 90s. The Batman sought to separate itself with some pretty unique character designs, of which Joker received a pretty drastic overhaul. He finally became a physical opponent to Batman complete with green dreadlocks and sinister red eyes.
As long as you were willing to go along with the ride, you end up having a lot of fun with Richardson’s Joker. Although this cartoon is far more kid-friendly, Joker is actually way more unhinged, and Richardson’s performance captures his manic nature when it’s at its worst.
The main problem here is that this Joker rarely has time to shine. The series does a good job of evenly distributing episodes among Batman’s rogue gallery, but that means Joker gets short-changed.You also have the TV movie Batman vs. Dracula in which Joker is made one of the vampire’s minions. He’s around, but he’s not in control. Joker needs to be a force of nature, and seeing him tamed is a little uninteresting to watch and ultimately makes him a lesser villain.
Batman: The Movie (1966)
6. Cesar Romero
The first Joker still has a special place for Bat-Fans. It’s weird to think how method actors gravitate to Joker nowadays. Especially when you consider the first guy who played him couldn’t even be bothered to shave his mustache.
Cesar Romero ends up being a perfect Joker for the 60s. He’s wacky, loony, and chews the scenery in the best way.
It’s just a shame he didn’t get more to do or have more interesting episodes. Catwoman and Penguin seemed to have been far more favored by the writers. Joker ends up just being a guy in clown makeup who likes robbing banks from time to time. If nothing else, his laugh served as a baseline for all actors to build their own off of.
Before we get closer to revealing the best Joker actor of all time, we’d be remiss if we forgot all of the Joker actors that didn’t quite make their way into people’s hearts and minds. Here are our honorable mentions for all of the different Jokers we’ve seen over the decades.
All of the Other Joker Actors
Before we dive into the best Joker actors of all time, we’d be remiss if we forgot all of the other Jokers that didn’t quite make their way into people’s hearts and minds.
Here are our honorable mentions for every other Joker.
The Dynamic Scooby-Doo Affair (1972), played by Larry Storch.
5. Joaquin Phoenix
*Spoilers follow for Joker*
Joaquin Phoenix is a very, very good Joker written by people who don’t quite understand the character. Joker provides a detailed origin story of the eponymous villain (or does it?). And while we can overlook stripping the mystery away from the character, we can’t overlook some of the obvious flaws. Download the Joker script for yourself as we dive deeper into the screenplay.
As a character, Joker is at his best when he’s presented as an opposing force to order and justice, namely Batman. When shown by himself, it’s all just chaos. It’s sound and fury, signifying nothing. It’s watching a hurricane devastate a town instead of focusing on the people impacted by that hurricane, and while Phoenix makes for a compelling watch, it just ends up feeling hollow.
Batman didn’t need to be present to make a good, standalone Joker film. But without some sort of counterargument, it’s all just nihilism for nihilism’s sake. And with the final reveal that all of this could’ve just been one elaborate lie told by Arthur Fleck, what’s even the point? You'll find more thoughts on the film in our official Joker film review.Yes, The Killing Joke does something similar, but that’s a story that has more going on than just Joker’s origins. It’s about Joker’s attempts to bring down a good man after one bad day and how that man rejects that notion. Joker is far more cynical in showing that apparently, society is willing to come down to Joker’s level. Still, among all of the actors who played the Joker, Joaquin deserves special recognition for his commitment and performance.
Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
4. John DiMaggio
Batman: Under the Red Hood takes one of the best Batman stories and puts it to film in perfect fashion. In this case, Joker is played by John DiMaggio, known for his roles on Futurama and Adventure Time. He takes what Mark Hamill built and adds a layer of sadistic brutality onto Joker that is both sinister yet hilarious.
One of the things that works best about DiMaggio’s performance is that you truly feel as though he thinks torturing Jason Todd is hilarious. He’s having a great time, and that’s all the motivation you need to see. You don’t need an origin. This is a Joker who genuinely thinks everything’s a joke, which makes him the most dangerous man on the planet.
DiMaggio has a huge presence in the voice acting industry, having provided voices for numerous characters. You can always spot him when he shows up, but in Under the Red Hood, he brings something totally different than what he’s done before. He disappears in the role. A common theme as we get into the top three actors who played the Joker.
3. Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson was perfect for Joker. He already had that creepy smile, and along with plenty of great material to work with, he long held the standard for what was needed out of a great Joker performance.Batman really drives home how connected Batman and Joker are. They gave birth to each other, and contrasting Joker’s manic nature next to Batman’s cool stoicism, it made for a performance for the ages.
Nicholson plays a Joker who wants to bring Gotham to its knees just for the fun of it. He’s twisted, funny, and deadly, and while it may seem like a quaint version of Joker these days, it’s one you want to see more of.
The Dark Knight (2008)
2. Heath Ledger
Heath Ledger’s Joker is one of the most influential villains in film history. Just look at how many films took the “villain wants to be captured only to unleash his master plan” concept and simply ran with it. Heath Ledger’s Joker is funny, sinister, and a direct result of Batman.
Joker may have just been trying to ruffle Batman’s feathers when he says, “You complete me,” but he’s truly right. They’re two sides of the same coin. Batman wants to show Gotham that it’s possible to change for the better while Joker just wants to bring everyone down into the dirt with him.
This is a Joker that’s impossible to pin down with altering origin stories and no clear motivation. He steals money only to burn it. He says he has no plans but then enacts complex schemes.
Ledger’s Joker is only it for the sheer fun of chaos. Every time he comes on screen, it’s mesmerizing to watch. The film didn’t need him falling into a vat of acid, bleaching his skin white. The filmmakers understand what makes Joker tick as a character, and they wonderfully transcribe it to film, taking what has worked in the past and reconfiguring what needed adjustments. He’s by far the best Joker actor in a live-action film, but in terms of the top spot, we simply have to give it to…
Batman: The Animated Series (1992 - 1995)
1. Mark Hamill
Heath Ledger and Mark Hamill could tie for first place, but that would seem like a cop out. When it comes to crowning one single definitive version of Joker, Mark Hamill’s takes the cake.Hamill has voiced Joker in various TV shows, video games, and the animated The Killing Joke film. However, his work on the 90s animated series is iconic. The show did everything right. From character designs to casting the right people for their roles, the show set the benchmark for Batman properties. But few characters benefitted as much as Joker.
Most Jokers fall on being too goofy or being a homicidal maniac. This is a Joker that strikes the perfect balance between the two. Joker has his moments of genuine hilarity, and then he makes that sinister turn.
While other Batman villains got their origins, Joker remained an ever-present force. He was a demon who rose from the abyss specifically tailored to terrorize Batman. No matter how you like your Joker, Mark Hamill embodied all of them, sometimes within the same episode. Hamill, and the series as a whole, brought Joker to a new generation, and it’s for sure one that is near impossible to top.