Inside the Joker’s Evolution: From Jack Nicholson to Joaquin Phoenix

The Joker is an iconic character in the comic world. He has historically undergone a number of transitions both in character and looks. 

First appearing in the 1940's "Batman," the Joker was created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson. The character was based on Conrad Veidt’s character in "The Man Who Laughs." 

Since the original Joker, the character has changed subtly over the decades and adapted to individual film needs. From a gangster in "Suicide Squad" to the realistic portrayal of a mentally sick man in 2019s "The Joker," here is a look at the evolution of Joker.

Batman (1966 – 1968)

Cesar Romero as The Joker, a devious villain in the 'Batman' television series. | Getty Images

Cesar Romero as The Joker, a devious villain in the 'Batman' television series. | Getty Images

The first onscreen version of the Joker was played by Cesar Romero. He refused to shave his mustache for the role.

His makeup involved bright purples and greens to closely mimic the comic book version of the character. His version helped define the look of Joker.

Batman: The Animated Series (1992 – 1995)

In 1992, Mark Hamill snagged the role to voice the Joker in the animated Batman series. His version of the Joker had one of the pointiest chins.

The Animated Series Joker had a similar feel as the Joker from Tim Burton’s film but also had a touch of the original version of the character. 

The New Batman Adventures (1997 – 1999)

joker and card seamless pattern typhography with colorful and background  | Shutterstock

joker and card seamless pattern typhography with colorful and background | Shutterstock

Hamill reprised the role in the follow-up series. However, the character underwent a slight redesign to align with the new direction of the show.

Joker's skin was changed from white to grey and his hair became an inky color. His lips were also removed and his eyes were replaced with round black holes. 

Birds of Prey (2002 – 2003)

Hamill dubbed the voice over for Roger Stoneburner's Joker in "Birds Of Prey." The character only appeared briefly in the pilot episode.

The character sported extremely gelled hair and poorly done makeup thus the glimpse left many fans of the Joker disappointed.

The Batman (2004 – 2008)

In this series, the Joker was voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson. He had a drastically different look from the previous versions of the character.

Joker sported big green dreadlocks, bright red eyes and walked barefoot. The character was introduced in the film wearing an Arkham Asylum straitjacket before donning his signature purple suit. This version was the least human version of Joker.

Gotham (2014 – 2019)

In "Gotham," Cameron Monaghan is not technically the Joker. However, his take on the iconic role was more grounded than the rest.

The actor also achieved one of the most frighteningly realistic clown-like grins from all previous actors in the role.

Batman (1989)

A Joker costume from the 1989 Batman film worn by Jack Nicholson | Getty Images / Global Images / Global Images Ukraine

A Joker costume from the 1989 Batman film worn by Jack Nicholson | Getty Images / Global Images / Global Images Ukraine

Jack Nicholson as the Joker became one of the most iconic parts of Tim Burton’s "Batman." The character was a focal point for the film and dressed the part in his iconic purple suit and tophat.

He also featured white skin and bright green hair. Not to mention the crazed clown smile that makes the character perfect.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger as the Joker in "The Dark Knight" | Getty Images

Heath Ledger as the Joker in "The Dark Knight" | Getty Images

This film marked the first and only time Joker bagged an Oscar. Heath Ledger’s look was inspired by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum madman.

The look consisted of melting clown paint to create a dirty and rough looking Joker. Ledger’s Joker is considered one of the best versions of the iconic role and is often used as the standard to compare other Jokers.

Suicide Squad (2016)

After Ledger's fantastic rendition of the character, Jared Leto’s Joker left fans torn. In "Suicide Squad" Joker sported a more gangster look.

With muscles, tattoos, metal teeth, and a more emo vibe Leto's Joker was completely different from any previous versions of Joker. Even his smile was changed for a more fitting gangsta grimace.

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Mark Hamill took to the role again in the adaptation of the classic graphic novel. The film was also the first DC animated film to be rated R.

The filmmakers stuck to the "Batman: The Animated Series" animation style and thus Joker still had his extremely pointed chin.

Batman Ninja (2018)

The Japanese version of the Joker was voiced by Wataru Takagi. The original version was dubbed by Tony Hale in English.

The film beautifully mixedDC’s clown clichés with a more modern Japanese design. This version of Joker is considered to be one of the most confusing yet intriguing.

Joker (2019)

Joaquin Phoenix attends the premiere of Warner Bros Pictures "Joker"  | Getty Images

Joaquin Phoenix attends the premiere of Warner Bros Pictures "Joker" | Getty Images

The most recent version of the Joker is played by Joaquin Phoenix in the film "Joker." The film shows a more human side of the character. The film aims to create a more grounded, gritty take on the unhinged villain.

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