How Many Live-Action Film Jokers Has There Been Before Joaquin Phoenix? Here’s How ‘Joker’ Is Different To The Rest

Alfie PowellAlfie Powell in Entertainment, Film
Published 29.08.19
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With Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker origin story coming out later this year, it’s hard not to look back on people have who previously held that mantel and compare him to his predecessors.

I think we can all agree that the trailer for Joker looks incredible and a welcome return to form from DC and Warner Bros. whose films have been very hit and miss since the Dark Knight trilogy ended.

Shazam was alright, I guess.

But who did come before Joaquin and how do they compare?

1. Cesar Romero

cesar romero

A trained actor and performer, perhaps unprofessionally for essentially every role he ever played, Romero refused to shave his moustache off, meaning the makeup department for the 60s Batman TV shows and films – starring Adam West – simply had to paint over it.

It looks ridiculous, but then I suppose that’s the point for a famously unhinged character.

Not quite the murderous and insane nightmare we’ve all come to know over the years, Romero’s Joker seemed more interested in just pissing the people of Gotham off and in general, being a bit of a nuisance. He once challenged Batman to a surfing competition. Both wore swimming trunks on top of their suits and Batman used a shark-repellant spray to ward off a man-eating fish.

2. Jack Nicholson

jack nicholson joker

In Tim Burton’s 1989, much darker take on Batman – starring Michael Keaton – Jack Nicholson played Jack Napier, a mob enforcer who took up the mantel of the Joker after a bullet he shot ricocheted back into his face and he fell into a vat of chemicals. Resulting botched surgery left him with a permanent smile and paper-white skin, which he would often paint over with flesh-coloured makeup.

This one does partake in a fair amount of the old murdering and in this particular iteration, is the man who killed Bruce Wayne’s parents… making him Batman, whose later actions lead to Napier falling into the vat of chemicals… making him the Joker.

Full circle.

Breaking his one rule, Batman killed the Joker (well, more assisted his death), which lead to a power-vacuum in Gotham City and more villains popping up.

3. Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker to some pretty unforgivable fan reaction. As they often do, nerds took ownership of the role they had no part in creating, but apparently have more of a right to enjoy and bemoaned the casting of the wildly talented Australian actor.

heath ledger joker

Now they all dress as him at comic con and Halloween. That’s life.

Ledger didn’t play the character perfectly so much as completely make the role his own, changing the way the Joker appeared and behaved in comics after the performance and earning himself a posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

The character was described as a “psychopathic, mass murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy“. Sums it up. His story goes past The Dark Knight though…

Is The Joker in Batman Dark Knight Rises?

Apparently he is. It has been confirmed by people behind The Dark Knight that Joker escaped prison after being sent down by Commissioner Gordon, and while many people claim you can see him in one of the court scenes in The Dark Night Rises, it’s neither been confirmed nor denied.

What is the Joker’s origin in The Dark Knight?

Again, there’s nothing confirmed, but there is a rather wonderful fan theory – from Patton Oswalt no less – that he’s ex-military, hence why he’s good with tactics, weapons and remarks how the high-ups don’t care about the soldiers they send out to die.

In this theory, the Joker is one of those soldiers sent out to die, was scarred in battle and shown no support from the US army. Building on that, the supposed role in the military for the Joker was in the special forces and specifically, interrogation. This would explain his unwavering mettle when being beaten for answers by Batman and the advice he gave him in “never start with the head; the victim gets all fuzzy...”

4. Jared Leto

jared leto joker

Oh dear oh dear.

Let’s be fair here; it wasn’t a horrible performance, only written, directed and edited poorly with the hype about Leto’s preparation outweighing the actual acting, which was already hard enough given who he was following.

For proof of how badly this film was written, take the clip I but in below. Amanda Waller – in her narration that is supposed to account for around five years of story-building – explains how Harley Quinn was more fearless than the Joker, only for the footage to unironically show the Joker fearlessly driving into the river as Harley screams in fear.

Thus far every Joker has had a different vibe around them. You get the mob boss, the prankster, the anarchist and while there are elements of mob boss in Leto’s Joker, he falls more down the side of emo hipster.

Probably not Leto’s fault though…

By the looks of things, with the hair and suit and more whimsical form of mania, Arthur Fleck’s (Phoenix) Joker looks to take most inspiration from both Cesar Romero and Heath Ledger, though his story is most akin The Killing Joke, where a down-on-his-luck comedian get’s coerced into joining a life of crime by a mixture of mental illness, mobsters and tragedy.

How many Jokers have there been?

There have been five live-action Jokers (six, if you count Gotham), though many people’s favourite is from Batman: The animated series, where he was voiced by Mark Hamill.

Is Bruce Wayne/Batman in Joker.

Yes! But as a child. You can see Joker torment him from the other side of his family house’s gates, as well as forcibly making him smile with his hands through the bars.

Wayne’s father, Thomas, also appears in the trailer, on the television being watched by the Joker.

Joker will be available to watch in cinemas come the 4th of October this year.

Images via Warner Bros.

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