The Dark Knight boasts one of the largest and most complex rogue galleries in all of comics, standing right up there with Spider-Man. This includes the likes of Mr. Freeze, Clayface (who might be in The Batman Part II), Riddler, Penguin, Killer Croc, and more.
However, despite all of those villains and their big-screen potential, the Joker still manages to show up in nearly every adaption of the Caped Crusader.
Joker's Movie Appearances & Order of Release
Cesar Romero - Batman (1966)
Cesar Romero was given the unique honor of being the first live-action Joker to feature on the movie screen.
While he was a key villain in the film, he actually first debuted in Adam West’s Batman television series. There, he was one of the baddies with the most appearances, tying only with The Penguin.
This version of the Joker wasn’t nearly as destructive or demented as those that would follow decades later. In fact, many of his antics didn’t amount to anything more than goofy amusement.
During his time in the spotlight, he was notably obsessed with unmasking Batman—something that later incarnations of the character are specifically against doing.
Jack Nicholson - Batman (1989)
Michael Keaton’s original Batman film is a beloved entry in the franchise, and a lot of that has to do with Jack Nicholson’s Clown Prince of Crime.
Nicholson’s villain starts the movie off as Jack Napier, a simple mob enforcer. After a botched operation at Axis Chemicals, Napier ends up getting shot and falling into a vat of chemicals—turning him bleach white and changing his hair to a sickly green color.
The chemicals, and questionable plastic surgery, would go on to create Jack’s new Joker persona. The former mafia enforcer quickly becomes a crime boss himself as he looks to take out his revenge on both Batman and Gotham City.
By the end of the movie, Joker is defeated by Batman and dies after falling from a helicopter.
An additional fun fact about this take on the Joker is that, long before his radical transformation, Napier was the one who shot both of Bruce Wayne’s parents dead in the street.
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger gave what is easily the most famous live-action portrayal of the demented clown to date. For many, his performance transcended the genre, creating one of the best villains there ever was.
The Dark Knight's Joker was a true psychopath, one whose sole goal was to create chaos across all of Gotham. He also aimed to prove that everyone can be corrupted.
The movie ends with Batman choosing not to kill Joker but instead taking him into the system to be tried for his crimes.
Sadly, Ledger passed away due to an accidental overdose before the movie was released. If that never happened, the character was likely to have made an appearance in the following sequel.
Suicide Squad (2016) - Jared Leto
Ironically, he was also given very little time in the spotlight. By the time the final movie had been released, a majority of Leto’s original scenes had been mostly removed.
Like Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Leto’s clown was a crime boss as well. Here, his style choices were brought up to eleven, with a bright purple trench coach that gave pimp-vibes and a wide array of despised controversial tattoos.
Leto’s version of the character is also known for introducing the now iconic character of Harley Quinn—his former lover, who he spends most of the film hunting down.
Joker (2019) - Joaquin Phoenix
Fleck is a failed stand-up comedian whose sanity is on the brink of collapse as he feels the world is against him. He also has a unique laughing disorder that causes him to manically giggle at inappropriate times.
On the side, the comedian also works as a clown—a look that carries over to when he finally snaps and becomes something reminiscent of the Joker fans know.
Birds of Prey (2020) - Jared Leto
Joker really only plays into the events of Birds of Prey off-camera. The movie mainly focuses on Harley Quinn following her offscreen breakup with Mr. J.
From there, Joker is referenced with archival footage from 2016’s Suicide Squad and inserted in brief new scenes thanks to a stand-in. Jared Leto, however, did not properly return to film new scenes.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) - Jared Leto
Jared Leto’s role in Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a confusing one. The clown criminal is seen in the film’s epilogue, where he’s teamed up with Batman and a few other survivors of the Knightmare timeline (a point in the future where Earth is all but destroyed by Darkseid).
The scene indicates that Ben Affleck’s Batman believes the Joker could be key in helping reverse the damage done by the cosmic supervillain—though it’s unclear what that could possibly be.
This big tease will likely forever go unresolved, on top of being the last appearance of Leto’s Joker.
The Batman (2022) - Barry Keoghan
This iteration saw Barry Keoghan take the reins. While his time was brief (amounting to two scenes), he nevertheless made an impact on audiences.
In this world, he had already met Robert Pattinson's Batman and been taken into Arkham Asylum offscreen before the events of the film. In a deleted scene, the Caped Crusader is forced to consult with the maniac after Riddler’s antics get out of hand.
Joker: Folie á Deux (2024) - Joaquin Phoenix
Joker: Folie á Deux isn’t released yet, but fans are excited to see the next step in Joaquin Phoenix’s demented journey as Arthur Fleck.
Rumor indicates that a majority of the film will take place in the infamous Arkham Asylum. Lady Gaga will also be joining the fun as Harley Quinn herself, giving fans another adaptation of the two villain’s toxic dynamic.
To make matters even more interesting? The upcoming movie will even be part musical.
The Talent Behind Joker’s Voice
Of course, live-action performances are hardly the only place where the Joker is brought to life.
One of the most iconic portrayals of the Clown Prince of Crime comes from Mark Hamill, who voiced the villain in The Batman Animated Series as well as the Arkham Asylum game series. When many fans think of the Joker, this is usually who they hear.
Other actors who have had their hand in Joker’s legacy include Troy Baker, Michael Emerson, John DiMaggio, Alan Tudyk, Kevin Michael Richardson, and more.
The Joker is such an iconic character that his legacy will likely always continue to evolve so long as the world keeps spinning. Perhaps in a decade, audiences will think of someone completely different behind the white makeup.