Everybody loves the Joker. Batman’s principal foe has developed into a far more intriguing character than anybody could have expected. Netizens love to weigh in on the best-to-worse Joker performances, and Entertainment Tonight recently gave readers its own ranking of what it thinks are the best portrayals of the fictional foe. Here’s Rare’s own commentary on what made some Jokers the best Jokers.
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Cesar Romero gave America its first on-screen portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime in the legendary Batman TV series that debuted in 1966. But this was a children’s TV show, and Romano’s characterization could not be terrifying.
To a child, Romero’s Joker is the weird neighbor who seems not safe – but someone who can be easily kept at a distance. But to an adult, Romano’s Joker is very dangerous, and not least because adults know that people who are merely “crazy” are supposed to be disorganized and unkempt. But Romero’s Joker has his suit perfectly pressed and color-coordinated, and no spare threads or dirt to be seen anywhere. His hair is well-groomed and styled. His makeup is perfect, and even his red lipstick smile is perfectly symmetrical. An adult “senses” underlying danger with Romano’s Joker because this Joker is basically Satan, the type of evil that is logical and twisted and can be lurking inside anybody. Romero’s Joker is the scariest Joker.
Jack Nicholson’s 1989 appearance was the first serious take on the character on the big screen. Nicholson portrays Joker’s evil as complete narcissism. This Joker believes every other human is his property, and he’s completely entitled to open assassinations and gassing a crowd so they all have to appear physically as bad as he does. Nicholson’s Joker is the CEO who throws away safety standards and places lives at risk thinking the common people will admire him as much as he admires himself.
Heath Ledger won an Oscar for his portrayal of the Joker. But where the other Jokers started off as unhinged, if anybody is a candidate for having extreme post-traumatic stress disorder, it’s Ledger’s Joker. Ledger’s Joker was a good person who was traumatized into becoming unhinged. This Joker is self-aware and knows his limitations. He has experienced extreme, traumatizing danger and tests himself so he’ll know he can face that danger again – he taunts danger, in fact, such as arriving alone to a group of gangsters to tell them he’s in charge. Every time he survives on his own merit and intelligence, his twisted confidence grows. And his intellectual brilliance is what makes him physically dangerous. When that group of gangsters realized Joker’s “pencil trick” was a display that his intelligence was more threatening than their own thugs and guns, they quickly submitted.
Last mention – Joaquin Phoenix wasn’t yet “the Joker.” He was becoming the Joker, and Phoenix’s Joker really could have developed into Romano’s pure evil or Nicholson’s narcissistic CEO. Or maybe Phoenix’s Joker was Ledger’s Joker – the good person – in the process of his being traumatized.