The Joker is one of comics’ most popular villains and thanks to Todd Phillips’ eponymous film, has become the darling of film audiences and critics alike. The character has been blessed with diverse and riveting portrayals by talented actors in film but also has a long and storied history in animation. Many animated portrayals of the Clown Prince of Crime have been just as iconic as their film counterparts, while some, unfortunately, have fallen short of excellence. Join the screening box as we present The Joker’s 5 Best & 5 Worst Animated Appearances, Ranked.
10 WORST: THE ADVENTURES OF BATMAN (1968)
Batman in the ‘60s was defined less by the gritty realism in which he was created and more by the campy surrealism that accompanied the television show. This created a ripple effect that spread throughout all other media in which the character and his world appeared, including Filmation’s 1968 series, The Adventures of Batman.
Here, The Joker was less a maniacal psychopath and more of an arch-criminal. Moreover, the voice work could be characterized as a bad Edward G. Robinson impression sprinkled with some hokey, clownish laughs. This iteration can perhaps be forgiven for embodying the sensibilities of its time, but it definitely doesn’t hold up today.
9 BEST: HARLEY QUINN (2019)
Harley Quinn’s eponymous adult-themed cartoon has proven a hit with fans and viewers, adding yet another textual layer to the Bat-mythos. Part of the appeal of the show, aside from its mature themes and graphic violence, is its characterization of Harley as an entity onto herself, independent of The Joker’s influence.
The Joker did appear, however. Voiced by Alan Tudyk, the Clown Prince of Crime was adeptly portrayed as equal parts slick gangster, suave charmer, and maniacal psychopath. Although other series have explored The Joker and Harley’s dysfunctional relationship quite extensively, this one promises to add depth to both characters by exploring their break-up.
8 WORST: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD (2008)
The Brave and the Bold was an interesting and enjoyable experiment in an animated show. Teaming Batman with various heroes and villains from DC history, the series borrowed heavily from the Silver Age, right down to Batman’s costume. The Joker’s appearance seemed to borrow heavily from this era (and perhaps even the ’68 cartoon’s aesthetic) however, his personality seemed more wry than twisted and somewhat more subdued than manic. An interesting interpretation, overall, but hardly iconic.
7 BEST: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM (2014)
Troy Baker may be doing his best Mark Hamill impersonation when he voices the Joker, but he manages to bring a sense of vibrancy and urgency to the character that highlights the depths of his insanity and the danger it poses. Every time The Joker speaks, the audience recoils in anxious anticipation of something horrible about to happen; no mean feat for a voice actor.
As the film was rated PG, The Joker was able to engage in more gruesome acts of violence that were more conversant with his character. Aesthetically, he may have been leaner than was humanly possible, but his appearance was more or less comics-accurate and in-line with the Arkham games.
6 WORST: YOUNG JUSTICE (2010)
In truth, there’s not much of Young Justice‘s version of the Joker to base a critique on, as the character only appeared briefly in the series.
The Joker’s visual aesthetic was comics-accurate, and Brent Spiner did a decent job with the material he was given, infusing The Joker with a subdued menace that was borderline chilling. However, his rendition was a tad too subdued, lacking the manic energy and laughter that is the character’s trademark.
5 BEST: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS: PARTS I & II (2012, 2013)
The Dark Knight Returns was a masterful adaption of Frank Miller’s legendary series depicting Batman’s twilight years. Of course, no such story would be complete without a final showdown between the Dark Knight and The Joker, and this film delivered it in spades. The gravitas surrounding this confrontation was bolstered by the personalities involved, with The Joker’s indiscriminate murder of fairground bystanders underscoring Batman’s need to punctuate their antagonistic relationship with a sense of finality.
Michael Emerson’s voice work was deceptively jovial until it revealed its remorseless deadliness, delivered with an inviting sensuousness that belied the intent behind it. Dressed to the nines, this Joker was a comforting whisper in the dark while the knife slid between your ribs.
4 WORST: THE BATMAN (2004)
There’s a fine line between innovation and straying too far from the source material, and The Batman crossed it with their depiction of The Joker. Although Kevin Michael Richardson’s voice work was admirable, the aesthetic of the character was all wrong. Looking like a Rasafarean-meets-circus-clown version of the Clown Prince of Crime, The Batman‘s Joker went barefoot, sporting wild hair and baggy clothing that flapped in the air like a flag on the Fourth of July. And this Joker spent more than his fair share of time in the air, as he possessed the acrobatic skills of the lovechild of The Creeper and Gorilla Grodd. Overall, a jarringly out-of-character depiction of The Joker, and one that is best forgotten.
3 BEST: UNDER THE RED HOOD (2010)
Under the Red Hood is arguably the best Batman animated film released by Warner Bros., and that is due in no small part to the supporting role The Joker plays in the film. Although his visual appearance is nothing remarkable, his characterization quickly establishes him as undeniably insane, extremely savage and dangerous, and humorous in an ironic and deadly way.
This is perhaps most notable in the scene where Black Mask attempts to hire The Joker for a job and as an audition of sorts, The Joker slaughters all of Black Mask’s bodyguards with a broken drinking glass. Although it might be initially difficult to hear anything but Futurama‘s Bender in Joe DiMaggio’s voice work, his Joker is simultaneously darkly menacing and frenetically manic, capped off by a truly unhinged laugh.
2 WORST: BATMAN NINJA (2018)
Again, creativity in reinterpreting classic characters is necessary to keep the mythos fresh, but straying too far from the source material ends up alienating fans. This was the case with Batman Ninja, which transported the Dark Knight, his closest allies, and his worst foes to feudal Japan. Adopting the style and dress of their time, what may have seemed an innovative twist on the Batman legend was instead jarring and disconcerting, particularly in The Joker’s case. Decking The Joker out in Imperial Japanese attire and having him suddenly be proficient in the martial arts was a gross misrepresentation of the character and a creative misfire of epic proportions.
1 BEST: BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES/DCAU
There was no doubt that Batman: The Animated Series and Mark Hamill’s rendition of The Joker was going to top this list, as his twenty-four-year stint voicing the character has become iconic. A comic book fan himself, Hamill understands The Joker’s nuances like no other voice actor, underscoring his deadly nature and psychopathy with ironic and downright playful humor.
His Joker laugh starts deep in the center of the character’s broken soul and culminates in a cacophony of unbridled insanity and megalomania that’s hard not to remember. Although his best aesthetic rendition was probably in Justice League, the DCAU version of The Joker will remain the gold standard for animated renditions of the charter for decades to come.
The Joker has had a lot of animated appearances throughout the years. Here's a look at 5 of his best (& 5 that weren't so great).