By GURMEHAK MANN
The Joker first appeared on the silver screen 53 years ago, with the mentally-troubled super villain currently being reprised by actor Joaquin Phoenix in the 2019 adaptation, Joker, directed by Todd Phillips.
Joker is the first independent film to be made in the DC Universe, focusing on the story of the Clown Prince of Crime.
The Joker character has been portrayed by six different actors in various movies in the DC cinematic universe, with Phoenix being the sixth actor to take the mantle.
We delve into the 53-year history of the Joker and the various portrayals by each actor.
The Joker was first played by Cesar Romero in the 1966 Batman: The Movie.
Romero’s portrayal of the Joker was rife with a childlike sense of mischief, characterising the role as the comical prankster, rather than the evil villain.
Romero’s Joker was apt at the time the film was released however, in retrospect, the childlike presentation of the character is now seen as one-dimensional and lacking layers and complexity.
Jack Nicholson added a sense of narcissism to the role in the 1988 Batman, and presented the audience with a hilarious, yet devious, Joker.
Nicholson’s Joker incorporated the actor’s own trademark grin, making the Joker’s creepy smile a staple characteristic.
Nicholson adapted Romero’s Joker by combining humour with the sense of madness, introducing the audience to a slightly more evil and unhinged Joker.
Mark Hamill became the clown villain in the 1992 Batman: The Animated Series and subsequent series spin-offs, using his own voice and laugh to add another element to the character.
Keeping in mind that the show was created for children, the character of the Joker had a certain sense of veiled notoriety to it.
Hamill was able to overcome the ‘PG’ character arc by portraying the Joker’s evil side by simply using his infectious-yet-chilling laugh, which became a trademark for the Joker.
Hamill spent almost two decades voicing the Joker in various animated TV ventures.
The Joker took a backseat in the DC universe until 2008, when Australian actor Heath Ledger gave arguably the most popular and influential performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Ledger’s performance earned him an Academy Award, awarded posthumously after his death in 2008.
In the wake of the Australian actor's death, it was reported the skilled character-actor lost himself during the portrayal of the dark and mentally-disturbed character, with Ledger becoming the Joker rather than just playing the role.
In preparation for the role the actor locked himself away in a hotel room, and then in his apartment for about a month, detailing how he felt in a diary.
His performance sent chills down audience’s spines when the phrase “Why so serious?” was delivered. The performance was lauded as the most iconic portrayal of the character, with fans all over the world praising Ledger and identifying him as the true Clown Prince of Crime.
After Ledger’s astounding performance, it was clear any Joker to follow in his path would have big (some would say, impossible) shoes to fill.
Thirty Seconds To Mars frontman Jared Leto took on the role in the 2016 Suicide Squad.
Leto gave the role a gangster-like reprisal, complete with face tattoos and dental grills, and often referred to himself as “Mistah J”.
His reprisal of the role was met with heavy criticism, with viewers missing the late Ledger’s portrayal, although the film fared well in the box office.
Leto’s performance was seen by many to be shallow and superficial, missing out on the depth of the character.
After years of being a secondary character, the Joker finally got himself a standalone film in the 2019 adaptation Joker.
Joker is a gripping psychological thriller and origin-story of the character, detailing how the evil villain came to be.
Set in crime-infested Gotham City in 1981, a deranged and unsuccessful stand-up comedian, Arthur Fleck, lives with his mother.
Arthur resorts to becoming a party clown who is struggling with a neurological disorder, which makes him suddenly laugh uncontrollably.
He becomes addicted to his medication and left broken when financial cuts in the city’s social program result in shutting down his program and cutting off his medications.
Arthur loses faith in the system and then society, as a whole.
The film boasts a strong supporting cast with popular actors such as Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Douglas Hodge, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen.
Phoenix’s portrayal is both chilling yet awe-inspiring.
In addition to losing 24 kilograms in preparation for the role, Phoenix brought a certain sense of freshness that was lacking in Leto’s portrayal, falling more in line with Nicholson and Ledger’s portrayals.
Joker is now playing in cinemas worldwide.