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THE 10 GREATEST MOVIE AND TV JOKERS EVER

Oscar winner Jared Leto is the latest of a handful of actors to tackle the role of Batman’s archenemy The Joker. If the trailers for “Suicide Squad” are any indication, it looks like he will prove to be a worthy new member of that exclusive club. The Joker has become one of pop culture’s greatest, most appealing villains, whether the portrayal stays close to his established image or takes an innovative spin. Whoever gives the character life on the big and small screens, his maniacal antics are sure to keep us on the edge of our seats. Here we rank the top 10 best Jokers of all time.

No.10 – Brent Spiner, “Young Justice” (2010)
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Portraying Lieutenant Commander Data, the android pining for a human soul in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” Brent Spiner rarely had the opportunity to get animated. But as The Joker in the animated “Young Justice,” he finally got the chance to really cut loose. His Joker is the youngest on our list, with an early Beatles haircut and GQ suit adorned with just a pop of green, purple and orange. Like the others to follow, he delighted in harming the masses with poison, though his double-fisted switchblades were diabolically unique. Here, teamed with the usual suspects in the Injustice League, young sidekicks looking to break out from their super mentors’ shadows were their main target. Though suave, this Joker still discharged a healthy dose of madness at them as proper payment for their dues.

No. 9 – Jeff Bennett, “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” (2008)
greatest movie and tv jokers ever, batman the joker, jeff bennett batman the brave and the bold
As we’ll see, the Batman lore covers a wide spectrum between lighthearted action and violently dark territory. Bennett’s Joker inhabits the lighter version of Gotham, one to be easily consumed by kids. He’s got the classic look here from head to toe: a green flame of hair with a pimpin’ purple zoot suit. And a gigantic perma-grin that either fixed into place from a fall into a vat of chemicals or an extended stay at a reggae festival. In affect and demeanor, this is a stately Joker, a breed we’ll see again on this list. A classic look, solid performance, and great foundation for the versions to follow describes this Joker to a T.

No. 8 – Frank Welker, “The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians” (1985)
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“Super Friends” brought smiles to pajama-clad children’s faces — and the burning desire to leap tall buildings in a single bound — every Saturday morning beginning in 1973. Many versions under many titles lit up their screens through 1986 when it was canceled for the last time. For legal reasons, The Joker didn’t appear until its final year and when he did, he boasted a primped look and somewhat slurry voice. That voice wasn’t intended to sound familiar, but it could have, as it was provided by vocal artist Frank Welker, whose roster of characters — animated and live action — is beyond legendary. They include Scooby Doo’s Fred, Megatron, Hefty Smurf, Slimer, Stripe from “Gremlins,” Santa’s Little Helper, and f–king Cujo, just to name a few.

No. 7 – Michael Emerson, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” (2012)
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Best known as the evil-turned-lovable Benjamin Linus on “Lost” — not to be confused with the evil-turned-lovable Sawyer or the evil-turned-turned lovable Jin — Michael Emerson is all evil in this exemplary two-part animated feature. Looking more like an ’80s Miami nightclub bouncer than the familiar candy-coated pimp, Emerson’s voice is both cool and cruel as he guns his way through more random victims than found in a Republican daydream. But an aged Batman is his main target, and the duo’s final confrontation is so dark and exciting you forget you’re watching a cartoon.

No. 6 – Kevin Michael Richardson, “The Batman” (2004)
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More kid stuff in this Saturday morning cartoon, but here The Joker is given an innovative new look. Beaming red eyes, yellow blocks for teeth, and a Predator-inspired ‘do of pointy green hair. The slasher flick-sized body counts have disappeared for its young audience, though this crazy clown is still menacing and fun. Richardson’s voice effortlessly alternates between the high-pitched shriek of a madman and the low growl of a definitive threat. The rogue’s gallery of Batman villains are all on colorful display in this version, but as always, it is The Joker who rises to the top of the deck.

No. 5 – John DiMaggio, “Batman: Under The Red Hood” (2010)
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In our modern day Gotham world where Robin has become a faded memory, there are two here in the animated “Batman: Under The Red Hood.” And they’ve both got a fearsome tormentor: The Joker. John DiMaggio — aka “Futurama’s” Bender — provides the voice this time and it is as rough and menacing as this depiction of the villain himself. His chilling cackle is no laughing matter, usually preceding the pile up of mangled bones or lifeless bodies. “Red Hood” may be a direct-to-video release, but the action is worthy of the big screen, with DiMaggio’s contributions standing out among its notable vocal talent.

No. 4 – Heath Ledger, “The Dark Knight” (2008)
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Not putting this Joker at #1 on our list may release a torrent of contempt from our readers normally reserved for female Ghostbusters. In truth, there’s a bit of “Emperor’s New Clothes” going on with “The Dark Knight” leaving it very, very tempting to gush over its garment. Sure Ledger gives an amazing performance and even won an Oscar for it — as deservedly it seems as Al Pacino in 1993 or Julia Roberts in 2000. And the costume, hair and makeup are indeed the stuff of iconography. But as the age-old question goes, “If a film’s leading lady is killed off near the end and the audience goes ‘meh,’ did that film really make a sound?” (We’ll save mention of Batman’s bizarre spoken growl for another time entirely.) But if you’re still ready to tear up your screen at this unconscionable placement we’ll pose another question — this time from the Jokeman himself: “Why so serious?”

No. 3 – Jack Nicholson, “Batman” (1989)
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Superhero films were not ubiquitous when “Batman” released in 1989. So reinventing a live action Caped Crusader for a generation who were only familiar with the Adam West version was a big, big deal. So much so that even musical phenom Prince got in on the act. Casting Jack Nicholson as Joker was controversial; critics thought audiences would look right through the purple and white and see only the legendary actor instead of the infamous villain. They were wrong. Nicholson took ownership of The Joker the minute he stepped on screen and delivered a deliciously over-the-top performance in perfect balance with Tim Burton’s dark but comic vision. And reports that the deal Nicholson struck left him with between $60 to $90 million of the blockbuster’s profits would freeze a smile onto anyone’s face.

No. 2 – Cesar Romero, “Batman” (1966)
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It is usually said that the original is always the best. This time however we won’t conclude our list with Cesar Romero’s Joker from Batman’s first foray in front of the camera. But he sure came close. Most profiles of this portrayal highlight how the actor’s mustache can be seen through his white makeup, as he refused to shave off what he considered his being’s essential trademark. What strikes us most about Romero’s Joker though was the free-wheeling fun he brought to the campy TV series’ mid-’60s audience and all those that followed through reruns. His gentlemanly but unhinged villain didn’t need to shoot guns, release knives, make pencils disappear or rack up a bounty of corpses to captivate. He simply laughed his way through outrageous plots and crimes into our hearts and we were all the better for it as viewers.

No. 1 – Mark Hamill, “Batman: The Animated Series” (1992)
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After “Return of the Jedi,” people thought Mark Hamill just disappeared when in reality he transitioned to an amazing career as a voice artist with his turn as The Joker, the all-time greatest portrayal ever of that character. “Batman: The Animated Series” took flight with the success of Tim Burton’s record setter and became an influential force in the canon all on its own, establishing itself as a barometer for which all future Batman incarnations would be measured. Like a bat signal high over Gotham, Hamill’s rollicking Joker was always an essential bright spot. He inhabited the role like no one else quite has and earned the distinction among the Comic-Con set of understanding the villain best. Seems in order for a pop culture, fictional universe to call itself the most revered, you need Mark Hamill living somewhere inside it.

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