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Who’s the Best Joker?

Among our growing throng of Bat-fans, there is a question we all have posed each other at one point or another. Who’s the better Joker? I mean, really?! Can you truly compare these performances? I set out to do just that, kids. I watched both films, having seen them numerous times, and paid attention to only Jack and Heath. Though, I should point out that in order to appreciate either of their performances you must also be looking at the performance of their respective Batman. Obviously, I started with Tim Burton’s Batman. Heath was sure to have at least watched it himself for just a bit of inspiration.


Though, I seem to remember him saying in an interview that he wanted to respect what Jack had done while breaking new ground on the character. I will agree with all of you, that he did indeed break new ground. Though it is unfair to say that Heath’s is better right from the get-go. We must be objective, boys and girls. Each performance is a different adaptation and take on the Batman mythos. However, for those true Bat-fans, there are several criteria that we follow as far as what we expect to see the Joker do in each interpretation. Here follows is a list of neutral ground criteria we will adhere to compare them:


1) Overall appearance: how close to the comic version of Joker each character got in physical description alone.
2) Jokerization: Leaving people with the classic Joker grin on their face after killing them. Through either Smilex gas, or the painting on the face in Dark Knight (and yes that totally counts. Pointed that out to someone and it blew their mind!) This is his trademark killing style. An essential part of the Joker.
3) The Joker's personality allows him to find things funny that no one sane would normally.
4) Willingness to sacrifice his own men for the pursuance of his own plans, whatever they may be. He is also prone to whims of a homicidal nature, as death is even funny to him.
5) The Clown Prince of Crime: The Joker commits crimes of incredible daring and calculation that baffle both the Police and Batman. He usually finds himself to be at the top of the criminal food chain.
6) Pre-set gags done for his own amusement. Examples: Acid-shooting flower, fake hand in his sleeve, throwing cards, etc.


I found it difficult coming up with more, but I felt that these represent the Joker very well. Also, these are things which we all enjoy about the character and are the most familiar things we associate with the Joker in a given performance. Let us commence then. We’ll start with Jack.


Jack Nicholson Joker

1) Overall appearance
-Nicholson sports the classic look. The most familiar look of the Joker. The silk tie tied in a large bow. The purple suit and coat. Jack’s black hat which he wears throughout the film is actually worn by Hamill’s cartoon Joker in Batman: The Animated Series. Impressive that this has actually been added into what we sometimes expect from the Joker. Though, it’s safe to say this is most familiar with Jack. Jack’s Joker is properly chemically covered, unlike Heath’s, and his skin is white, and hair is green as a result. Also, due to the gunshot that hit his face before, his face is now stuck in a smile. He can only smile. This is unique to Jack’s Joker. He cannot emote anything beyond a smile. So white skin, green hair, purple suit. This meets this criteria.


2) Jokerization
– Jack’s Joker uses the classic Smilex gas Joker has used on countless victims to leave them as horrifically grinning as he is, even in death. “As my plastic surgeon always said, if you gotta go, go with a smile!” He even leaves the city in a scare for personal hygiene products as they start dying with the same result as the gas. Easily meets the criteria.


3) The Joker’s personality allows him to find things funny that no sane person would.
– I will name one of the many examples from the film. When asked by one of the smaller crime bosses if he can leave the Joker’s employ, Joker offers his hand in peace. The man shakes his hand, only to find a hand buzzer. With a few thousand volts behind it. Upon viewing the smoking corpse of this man, Joker can’t help but laugh and makes the joke, “Antoine got a little hot under the collar.” He even goes so far as to mock the dead man by continuing to talk to him and reveals his further plans for his expansion as the crown prince of crime in Gotham. And then laughs after joking, “I’m glad you’re dead!” The scene ends with his maniacal laughter still ringing and laughing about the fact that he’s dead and he was talking to him. He’s amused by his own madness. Criteria met in spades.


4) Willingness to sacrifice his own men to meet his own needs or advance his plans, or simply from his own crazy whims.
– Jack definitely meets this one as well. One example is when he kills his most loyal henchman throughout the movie, Bob. You almost feel sorry for Bob. He’s always had Jack/Joker’s back. Then Joker just blows him away, after Batman flies away with his Smilex gas-filled balloons. This a whim killing. Also, several henchmen are seen meeting a bad ending, usually through a large fall, during the film.


5) The Clown Prince of Crime: The Joker commits crimes of incredible daring and calculation that baffle both the Police and Batman. He usually finds himself to be at the top of the criminal food chain.
– Throughout Batman, Jack’s Joker makes it clear to all of the criminals and the Police that he is in charge of crime in Gotham City. He blows away a mob boss in front of the courthouse. Thus ensuring his place as head of the Grissom crime family, and its legitimate holdings. He kills his boss, played by Jack Palance, setting in motion the chain of events that begins his reign. Meets the criteria.


6) Pre-set gags done for his own amusement.
– Let’s see, we have a few of these from Jack. (And a brave choice on the part of Tim Burton to keep that aspect of his character.) Fake hand in his sleeve when he offers to lend Vicki Vale a hand. Used the buzzer to electrocute the mob boss. Pulled the extended barrel on a handgun to take down the Batwing. Also did the classic BANG! Flag gag that Joker occasionally likes to do, just to keep himself guessing. Used his acid-spitting flower on his girlfriend Alicia, though we didn’t see it, and used it to scare Vicki Vale. Used a small flamethrower lighter to light the candles for himself and Vicki Vale at the museum. There may be others, but we won’t list them all. Meets the criteria.


So Jack meets all of these neutral criteria. Whew! Probably the reason it was so memorable. And because Jack Nicholson was the first and only choice for that film. Executive Producer Michael Uslan pitched him as the Joker before it was ever completely off the ground and stuck by it. Jack loved Tim Burton’s work, having been a fan of Beetlejuice, and signed on without hesitation. We are lucky to have such a great actor to have portrayed the Crown Prince of Crime in a truly chilling, and over-the-top performance. Feel lucky Bat-fans. Now, on to Heath.


Heath Ledger Joker1) Overall Appearance
– Heath’s Joker is a break from the traditional in a few ways. First, he paints his face on. He doesn’t have white skin. We’re not giving points for being exact, however. This is a different interpretation, and the classic look is still referenced. Dyed green hair, Joker’s classic face of white and red for his smile. Instead, it is simply drawn on. This is similar to Jack’s Joker in that the smile is meant to always be on his face, which makes the presence of it constantly even creepier. Meets the criteria.


2) Jokerization
– As Heath’s Joker is grounded more in reality than Jack’s, Heath’s Joker paints his face on his victims, much as the Smilex gas leaves people with the same Joker grin as Jack. He does it to the Batman wannabe whom he hangs from City Hall, to all of the city personnel that he leaves for Batman to find, and others. Meets the criteria.


3) The Joker's personality allows him to find things funny that no one sane would normally.
– Ok, let’s name some good ones. When one of his henchmen touches Batman’s cowl and gets electrocuted. He finds it so funny that he kicks him and taunts him about it and laughs even harder. Taunting the detective in the holding room, he laughs about the cops he’s killed that died “cowards.” In one of his videos, he does his “starting tonight” speech about people being killed following the Batman wannabe he’s left at City Hall. After he says, “I’m a man of my word,” which he is saying mockingly he bursts into laughter. He’s taking the very nature of his actions lightly, and comically. Heath’s Joker is slightly more sadistic than Jack’s, probably the reason why so many of us enjoyed it so much. Meets the criteria.


4) Willingness to sacrifice his own men for the pursuance of his own plans, whatever they may be. He is also prone to whims of a homicidal nature, as death is even funny to him.
– First seven minutes of the film! Kills every single man on his team. MEETS THE CRITERIA!


5) The Clown Prince of Crime
– Heath’s Joker sets up elaborate plots to entangle the Police and Batman, throughout The Dark Knight. From the very beginning, he kills his whole team in order to secure every dollar he’s stolen, in order to fund his small operation. He slowly but surely does almost exactly what Jack’s Joker did by midway through Batman: taking control of all crime in Gotham. By the end of the film, he has double-crossed even the Russian and Moroni and tells him that his men work for him now. “This town deserves a better class of criminal. […] This is my city.” And let’s not forget, that going after Harvey Dent was merely a distraction so that he could have an excuse to get locked up and then break out of the Police headquarters. Meets the criteria.


6) Pre-set gags done for his own amusement.
– This one’s just a bit of a stretch. But we’ll allow a few things regardless. At the beginning, he has a bit of string from his coat attached to the pin of the smoke grenade in the bank manager’s mouth. He then drives off in the school bus releasing the pin. Hilarious, and twisted. Counts. Killing the policeman while dressed as a nurse. Counts. Failing to trigger the bomb in the hospital and then repeatedly clicking it until it does. Counts. There may be a few others that escaped my notice. But this Joker was more sadistic, and far less playful than Jack’s Joker. Both are psychotic, homicidal, maniacs who thrive on the chaos that their actions cause. But Heath’s Joker relishes the chaos far more. Jack’s simply wants to be top dog at all times. Meets the criteria.


So we have a problem, Bat-boys and Bat-girls. Each of them met the criteria. Hence the problem with this argument. I had planned to elaborate on the nature of each performance, but came to a conclusion halfway through writing them. After watching and comparing the movies so closely, I noticed that the madness of the character is different for Jack than for Heath. Heath is the Joker the entire film. Jack becomes the Joker and becomes progressively crazier as the film advances. So the final criteria comes down to this: who was the Joker on screen longer? We have a winner. The late Mr. Ledger.


Though I will point out one last thing. Heath clearly broke new ground, mainly due to Christopher Nolan’s incredible script with his brother Jonathan Nolan. Also, Heath chose to change the pitch of his voice for the role. Jack chose to keep his normal voice. Subtle differences, but the end result for me is that these performances are far too difficult to compare. They are both incredible actors and making this decision was incredibly challenging. However, we needed to squash this argument once and for all. And we have. We respect that Jack came first, and paved the way. But Heath hit the ground running in this case. And he achieved the Oscar for it, regardless of the fact that he died and they wished to honor him. His performance is chilling and sadistic and brilliant. No one could have played it better.


Posted by Chris Gering

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  • Susy25

    Jack Nicholson is the greatest actor of all fuckin' time and that is a fact…every movie of his is a masterpiece…that being said Jack's Joker is a childish, laughable clown who was playing with colorful balloons and prancing to Prince..I couldn't take him seriously in the role..people are still comparing those?

  • Chris Gering

    Really? How can you not take him seriously? His origin follows very closely to what Alan Moore wrote in The Killing Joke. The man goes crazy after one really bad day. And his over the top performance is legendary. Michael Uslan, who owns the film rights to Batman and got this movie made, only wanted Jack. Seriously, he was amazing. And though Heath won in this article only due to more screen time as the Joker, my brother and I still think Jack tops him. But it was a very different interpretation of the Joker. And yes, people still argue this. But, every one deserves an opinion. This was just something I did for fun, writing this that is. Something interesting to consider, that's all.

  • JackB

    Mark Hamill was the best joker. Then jack then heath

    • Ted Jones

      I AGREE


  • Ted Jones


    p.s. arkham asylum is one of the greatest games of all time


  • jintoya

    Ever since i was small, The Joker has alweays been the tits in my oppinion. Batman is likely the best hero (my oppinion) and undoubtibly my most cherished childhood figure (i can see eye to eye with allot of the darker aspects of both comic & films/animated series… fucked up childhood dose that) then Heath Ledger comes along, and for the first time in the whole entirety of the Batman franchise im staring at DC and going "what the fuck is THAT?!" i dont understand the hype evryone has for him. ofcourse i watched the film but was not impressed with the chaos to comedy ratio that was there, not to mention the lack of energy Heath portreyed, he seemed too layed back and calm and then theres that irritating "wanna know how i got theese scars" thing…that all by itself annoyed me all to hell. i dont blame the actor for what i think was one of the worst reworks of The Joker ever, i blame the wrighter. But ive always been more of a Joker fan than a Batman fan. Can you emagine if Batman took up tossing-off corny one liners llike spiderman instead of silently vanishing into the shadows mysteriously? Its not a huge dramatic change but any true fan would be pissed at it. Mark Hamill is the true voice of the joker by the way, always will be

    its like the difference between Godzilla from the 1990's and the crappy american 1999 "irradiated iguana" knock off, thats not Godzilla, its just a lizard.

  • Ckr-e

    I would also like to know why Mark Hamill isn't on the list

  • Drake Bennet

    I actually think Kevin Michael Richardson was the best Joker.

  • Daniel Antil

    Granted… Jack Nicholson was a very sinister and top-notch Joker. And Heath Ledger was a very intense and psychotic Joker. Both actors are tied for best Joker, in my opinion. But, everyone seems to forget the Joker that started it all, Caesar Romero from the TV series… We're it not for his outrageous portrayal, Joker would not have become the long-lasting nemesis for Batman.

  • Yogie

    Sure, Jack Nicholson is an AWESOME actor, but everyone saying that he's the better Joker because he's a legendary actor… All I have to say is this: did you freaking WATCH The Dark Knight?! Or are you just saying that because it's Jack Nicholson? Ledger's performance was BRILLIANT. All of the subtle things he did (i.e. sticking his tongue out slightly, licking his lips a lot, looking off into the distance slightly at random times, nodding his head nervously) made him seem THAT much crazier. And his Joker was truly chaotic. Most all villians have SOME sort of plan, some sort of motive, some sort of way to get the desired result; Ledger's Joker just wanted chaos and would do anything to get it. He was just a crazed man who wanted people to suffer and enjoyed to watch that happen. That's something not many people can pull off. So, if you like the whimsical Joker better, then you like Nicholson better. If you prefer the darker Joker better, then you prefer Ledger. Can we really compare when they're portraying two very different Jokers?

    • The Grand Yordle

      I completely agree. While Jack Nicholson is an awesome actor, in my humble opinion, By FAR, Heath Ledger's Joker was the most magnificent portrayal of all. Every little thing he did just really made you believe the role, made you peer into the depths of his insanity. Jack Nicholson's Joker, unfortunately, was really only skin deep in my opinion. I could watch Heath Ledger's portrayal a million times over and still be impressed. 

  • Justin

    Yes, you can compare both jokers – and Heath wins.

    1.) Heath
    2.) Hamill
    3.) Jack

    Hamill has the best joker voice BAR NONE but he was a voice actor. He didn't bring the character to life through his actions. And although he was obviously not in control of this, Heath Ledger was…and he fucking killed it. Everyone knows Heath brought a new take of the Joker, but he nailed the voice, laugh and actions to create in my opnion, the most fearful yet gravitating persona. I don't count Romero because his Joker was one dimensional and mostly shit. As for Jack, he wasn't really the Joker. He was Jack Nicholson, playing Jack Nicholson. If you know who the real Joker from the comics you would agree and if you watched most of Jacks movies you would agree. I literally forgot Heath was acting in parts of the movie

    • Mick

      Hamill brought more life into Joker than any actor, he was the only man who made it seem like Joker was the damn anti-christ, he was the only man who actually made it convincing that The Joker really did find human torture,chaos and misery absolutely hilarious, Heath was a miserable emo of a Joker compared to Marks.

  • usama

    heath was the best joker acting vice hands down…jack nickolson looks a bit too good bcoz his looks prefectly matched the joker chracter…but if u consider only the acting skills then heath was way beyond…everytime u saw him u just wanted to beat the hell put of him but in ur mind u also knew it wouldnt affect him or make him tell u want u want to know…and at the end of the movie u just couldnt hate the joker coz he was the villian..amazing acting by heath…

  • Fatts

     I'll say Hamill, Nicholson, Romero, then Ledger.

     Ledger's Joker was a great character, but so far from the comics, it left me slightly alienated.