The Joker has been in comics, movies, TV shows and video games for 80 years. But which version of the Joker is the true Clown Prince of Crime? Here are all the major versions of the Joker, ranked from worst to best...
It's hard to find many fans willing to defend the version of the Joker in "Suicide Squad." Even Jared Leto, who played the part, has expressed disappointed with the way his performance turned out in the final cut.
'The New Scooby-Doo Movies'
"Batman" characters met the "Scooby-Doo" gang in two episodes of "The New Scooby-Doo Movies." You might expect watching Shaggy and Scooby flee in terror from Joker would be fun. But the character falls flat in this lesser "Scooby-Doo" TV series.
Vampire Hunter Joker
“Batman: Bloodstorm” is an Elseworlds comic story in which the creators have been given free-reign to do a weird alternate universe take on the classic Dark Knight mythos. In “Bloodstorm,” Batman is a vampire, while the Joker is a vampire hunter who also oddly becomes the leader of Dracula’s gang.
Appearing in “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker,” Joker Jr is the result of the Joker kidnapping Robin (Tim Drake) and torturing him until he takes a mental break. Drake ultimately killed the Joker and broke his programming – at least for now. This isn’t Drake’s only appearance on this list…
“Batman: Leatherwing” is an Elseworlds comic in which the Caped Crusader is also a pirate, because sure, why not? In this comic, the Joker is also a pirate, and is called the Laughing Man for some reason.
The Joker is also called the Laughing Man in “Batman: Nosferatu,” a disturbing comic which draws obvious and deliberate inspiration from early German impressionist cinema, including movies such as “Nosferatu” (obviously) and “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.” In the comic, the Laughing Man is a terrifying skeletal cyborg, making this a notable departure from the character’s standard form.
What’s worse than one Joker? How about a whole bunch of them? In “Batman Beyond,” the Joker is long dead (or is he?) and in his place is a street gang called the Jokerz who are all doing their best to emulate the Clown Prince of Crime.
Mr Hyde Joker
“Batman: Two Faces” is a reimagining of the Batman mythos through the lens of Victorian horror, specifically Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” In this comic, Batman and the Joker are the same person, with Bruce Wayne transforming into his nemesis as the result of taking a potion.
First appearing in “Batman: Thrillkiller,” Bianca Steeplechase is a female version of the Joker who is otherwise very similar to her male counterpart. She dates Harley Quinn, poisons Robin, tortures Bruce Wayne and basically makes herself a nuisance at all opportunities.
“Batman: Damned” is essentially a murder mystery in which Batman isn’t sure whether or not he killed the Joker. Thus, the character has almost no physical presence in the story, instead becoming an embodiment of Bruce Wayne’s struggle with his own moral code. As smart as this idea might be, the comic is mostly remembered because its first print run feature an image of full frontal Batman nudity that nobody asked for.
Wow, Hyena is dumb. During the ‘90s, Marvel and DC were willing to do silly crossover books every now and then, and one such team-up led to Amalgam Comics, mash-ups of fan favorite characters. Batman and Wolverine became the ridiculous Dark Claw, and his nemesis was Hyena, a cross between the Joker and Sabretooth.
Dark Judge Joker
A similar crossover between DC Comics and 2000AD led to the creation of Dark Judge Joker, a character who answers the burning question that all comic fans have been asking for years: what if the Joker and Judge Dredd had a baby? Finally, we know what such a character would look like, and we were better off without this knowledge.
“Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew”, which is an official in-continuity comic published by DC, takes place in alternate universe Earth C-Minus, which is ruled by anthropomorphic cartoon animals. The Porker, this universe’s version of the Joker, constantly fights against Batmouse. This all seemed a lot weirder before Spider-Man turned up in “Into the Spider-Verse” last year.
In “Planetary/Batman,” the Joker is a character named Jasper who is an assistant to detective Richard Grayson. While Jasper isn’t exactly villainous within the comics, he does seem just a little off, laughing nervously to himself and getting a bit too excited by dead bodies.
Earth-13 Bruce Wayne
Hailing from the alternate dimension of Earth-13 (yes, all parallel universes use this numbering system in DC comics), this version of Bruce Wayne is simultaneously both Batman and the Joker. Earth-13 Bruce Wayne first appeared in an in-continuity “Smallville” comic book tie-in, so this might actually be canon within the Tom Welling Superverse.
In an alternate future, Batman has inspired a cult to plague the city of Gotham and surgically alters citizens to turn them into versions of the Caped Crusader’s villains. One man, Joe Collins, is transformed into the Joker, but also finds the Batcave and becomes the new official Batman. There are lot of these kinds of stories.
‘Gotham by Gaslight’ Joker
In the dark Victorian horror comic “Gotham by Gaslight,” the Joker is an amalgamation of several real and fictional mass murderers from this time period, combining elements of (the fictional) Sweeney Todd with the very real Jack the Ripper.
“Speeding Bullets” Lex Luthos
In “Superman: Speeding Bullets,” instead of being found by the Kents, Last Son of Krypton Kal-El is instead found by Thomas and Martha Wayne, and is raised as Bruce until his parents are murdered in an alley. As the story is essentially about Superman and Batman being the same character, it makes sense that in this comic, the Joker is actually Lex Luthor.
The Returned Joker
Cartoon series “Batman Beyond” shows the future of “Batman: The Animated Series,” long after the Joker died at the hands of Joker Jr, Tim Drake. Suddenly, the Joker returns, young and powerful again, and it turns out that he somehow embedded a computer ship in Drake that slowly turned him into the Joker. Sure, why not?
‘White Knight’ Jack Napier
In alternate universe comic “Batman: White Knight,” Batman gets frustrated by the Joker and force-feeds him a handful of random pills, which somehow (because of comic book logic) cures him of all his mental illnesses. Suddenly sane, Jack Napier goes on to sue Gotham City Police Department for his treatment when he was the Joker.
In “White Knight,” Harley Quinn (well, one Harley, as there are two) isn’t thrilled at Jack Napier’s rehabilitation. She becomes Neo Joker, obsessed with the goal of bringing the Joker back into existence, whatever that may take.
Iranian Ambassador Joker
Here’s a version of the Joker that hasn’t aged well – and, indeed, it’s actually within the main DC continuity. Immediately after killing Jason Todd, one of the darkest moments in his history, the Joker somehow becomes the Iranian Ambassador to the United Nations. He then immediately attempts to blow everyone up with a bomb, because apparently nobody thought to give him a quick swipe with a metal detector.
King Cobra Joker
In “Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (a real movie that you can actually watch) the Joker is mutated into a king cobra. Why? Because it’s fun, that’s why. Frankly the fact that this movie (and similar comic book) actually exists is reason enough.
Mark Hamill’s The Trickster
Let’s be honest here: the character of the Trickster in the Flash comics is basically just the Joker with the serial numbers filed off. After all, he’s a wacky, zany supervillain who was played by Mark Hamill. The most prolific voice actor for the Joker, Hamill first played the Trickster in a short-lived “The Flash” television show in the ‘90s. That’s not the only time he played the character…
The Trickster Again
If Mark Hamill’s first turn as the Trickster didn’t look enough like the Joker, this was rectified when he returned to the role nearly three decades later. Appearing in a far more successful “The Flash” television show, this Trickster dresses and acts exactly like the Joker. What’s not to love?
The Red Hood
Back in the Golden Age of “Batman” comics there was a supervillain named The Red Hood. At one point later on, it was claimed that this had been the Joker before his transformation into the Joker, and that falling into a vat of chemicals had bleached his skin white and driven him insane. Is this still canon? Who can even tell any more?
Dick Grayson Joker
“The Dark Knight Strikes Again” is the long-awaited sequel to “The Dark Knight Returns,” and at some point between the two books, Frank Miller seems to have entirely stopped caring about he quality of his art. In the comic, former Robin Dick Grayson is driven insane - and also, for no reason, has the power to regenerate if hurt.
With Jerome, "Gotham" teased its audience again and again without actually giving them the Joker. The ultimate betrayal came when — spoiler alert — the show killed Jerome off. The villain everyone thought would become Joker... didn't. Suddenly, the Joker-like character felt pointless.
In an alternate timeline, Bruce Wayne is killed instead of his parents. Bruce's father, Thomas, becomes Batman, but a darker, crueler version. Meanwhile, Martha Wayne, insane with grief, becomes the Joker. Because apparently the character must always exist in every "Batman" timeline, despite not normally having a direct connection to the Wayne family.
The Joker in "Young Justice" is fine. Perfectly fine. In a universe where all of DC's superheroes are reimagined as teenagers, it makes logical sense that the Joker would similarly be younger, less experienced and a little whinier. Teenaged Joker is everything that could be expected from this premise, but he does leave something to be desired.
'Batman: The Caped Crusader'
How much can you really expect from this mostly forgotten "Batman" computer game from 1988? Fighting the Joker in "Batman: The Caped Crusader" isn't as challenging as the experience of simply playing a game from this era, but he's the best anyone could hope for at the time.
At one point, this Joker has his face sliced off and stapled back on. At another, he wears his face upside down, because why not? Also, there are technically three Jokers, at least one of which is an immortal entity of pure chaos. Apparently, Joker can't just be a guy wearing greasepaint anymore.
'The Dark Knight Returns'
"The Dark Knight Returns" imagines a world in which an aging Batman comes out of retirement for more dark and gritty adventures. Frank Miller's work is polarizing, and this version of the Joker is too. Either you love an unhinged and dangerously violent, aging villain, or you'll think the character is distasteful.
The Joker of "The Batman" takes obvious inspiration from his predecessor in "Batman: the Animated Series," but is perhaps not the most memorable version of the character. Still, this is a solid Joker worthy of recognition.
'Lego Batman' Video Games
The Joker lends himself well to Lego, because he's bright, colorful and able to get away with an unexpected amount of violence, since his victims can put themselves back together after he dismembers them.
For many, cosplayer Tony Misiano's version is the quintessential Joker. He looks so uncannily like the Clown Prince of Crime that it's a wonder Warner Bros. cast him to appear as the character officially. Regardless, Misiano will always be the internet's favorite Joker.
"Joker" has just earned 11 Oscar nominations— including Best Picture and Best Director— but, the jury is still out on how good this movie actually is. The grittiness of the film was enough to make some viewers cringe, and the lack of story in the actual Batman canon left fans wanting more. Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal may be the only aspect of the film that was celebrated, as the actor (like Heath Ledger before him) put himself through a lot of pain for the role, including suffering a dislocated knee.
'Injustice' Video Games
The plot of "Injustice" kicks off when Joker detonates a nuclear warhead that destroys much of Metropolis, killing Lois Lane and drives Superman to supervillainy. Superman's first act as a villain is to murder Joker, but these are fighting games based on comics, so he doesn't stay dead for long.
After Jerome's death in "Gotham," viewers learned his identical twin brother, Jeremiah, is the character who'd actually become the Joker. We get less of Jeremiah over the course of the show, but kudos to the writers for at least giving us some version of the character by the series finale.
Jack Nicholson was the perfect choice to play the Joker in 1989. Appearing in Tim Burton's first adaptation of the Dark Knight mythos, Nicholson combines his creepy energy from "The Shining" with the camp of the '60s TV series. Certain elements of this Joker don't hold up, but Jack Napier remains one of the most iconic versions of the character.
'The Killing Joke'
"The Killing Joke" is one of the defining "Batman" stories, and the quintessential Joker story. This Joker is a tragic figure, trapped by his psychosis and his dysfunctional relationship with Batman. He's also a merciless abuser who earns little sympathy from the other characters. This version of the Joker is a classic for good reason.
The Batman Who Laughs
This character, who debuted in 2017, comes from an alternate universe where Joker has corrupted Bruce Wayne, turning him into a bizarre Bat/Joker hybrid. It's a strange new take on a pair of classic characters, but the Batman Who Laughs is proving popular.
'Batman' (1966 TV Series)
Cesar Romero played the Joker well, walking a fine line between being downright menacing and overly silly. The 1966 "Batman" TV series was never meant to be taken seriously, but Romero made his Joker feel like a threat. Bonus points for refusing to shave off his mustache for the role.
'Under the Red Hood'
"Under the Red Hood" resurrected the long-dead Jason Todd, the second Robin, as antihero the Red Hood. He's obsessed with convincing Batman to finally take revenge on Joker. The animated version of the story features a particularly twisted Joker who's eager to help Jason Todd convince Batman to break his one rule, even if Joker himself pays the ultimate price for it.
'Batman' No. 1
When Bill Finger wrote the first issue Batman's own book, he insisted Joker die at the end to show that crime doesn't pay. This was changed at the last minute to allow for repeat appearances. There's something to be said for the original Joker story. Early "Batman" comics have a pulpy crime feel that got lost overtime, and Joker is scintillating even in this early tale.
'Arkham' Video Games
The "Arkham" series contains a fan-favorite Joker storyline. Few writers have been willing to commit to killing off Batman's nemesis. And showing a world where Joker reigns supreme makes for an interesting twist. It's fun to play as Batman fighting the Joker while trying desperately not to kill him.
'The Lego Batman Movie'
One can make a case for "The Lego Batman Movie" as the best "Batman" film of all time. It's more self-aware than other Batman stories, and Zach Galifianakis does a fantastic job as a Joker who gets to actually be funny. It's also fun to see Joker and Batman bickering like an old married couple, especially in a film all about Batman's chronic fear of relationships.
'The Dark Knight'
Heath Ledger casts a long shadow over the role of the Joker. Fans initially were skeptical when the "10 Things I Hate About You" star was cast, but he won everyone over with his twitchy, nervous take on the character. There will likely never be another live-action Joker who feels quite as real, and that makes Ledger almost the best Joker of all time...
'Batman: The Animated Series'
Mark Hamill is the Joker. Across various media and even different versions of the character, Hamill's voice acting as Joker is the standard against which all other versions are judged. His quintessential Joker is that in "Batman: The Animated Series," a nearly 30-year-old show that still holds up.