The Many Different Looks of the Joker on Screen

The clown prince of crime really likes a wardrobe change. We look at all the different screen Jokers.

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

We’ve now seen our first glimpse of Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker and he looks… kinda normal actually. Befitting a film that’s aiming for a more grounded, gritty take on Batman’s pop-art punching bag, Phoenix’s Joker seems more like a slightly unhinged regular person – and less like the evil clown we’re used to from the comics.  

In reality though, the character has been through many, many different looks already. Debuting in Batman #1, in 1940, the Joker was created by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson – who based his appearance on Conrad Veidt’s character in The Man Who Laughs (1928). Drawn with a purple jacket, green hair, a white face and a permanent rictus grin, the Joker went on to change subtly over the decades – getting realistic (the Gotham Central series), old (The Dark Knight Returns), abstract (Arkham Asylum), and really pointy-chinned (The Killing Joke) amongst a lot of weirder incarnations in-between. 

But the Joker’s changing look in print is nothing to his on-screen transformation – running the whole gamut of scary clown styles from the ’60s onwards in film and TV. Fed up with going as Heath Ledger’s Joker for every Halloween? Try any of these looks instead (it’s also a good way of knowing if your friends are nerdy enough to correctly identify which one you’re trying for…).

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Batman (1966-68)

The first on-screen version of the Joker is probably the oddest. Cesar Romero refused to shave his moustache for the role, so he looks a bit like a respectable ballroom dancer dressed up as a clown (which is exactly what he was). Lurid pinks and greens were used to make him look as comic-booky as possible – and the hair was all real. Somewhere between the original comic run and Romero, the definitive look of the Joker was found. 

Further reading: The Early History of the Batman TV Series

The Adventures of Batman (1968–1969)

The first animated Batman series was made by Filmation, with Joker voiced by Larry Storch. The character also appeared in five episodes of Filmation’s 1977 series The New Adventures of Batman, voiced by Lennie Weinrib, but it was the original toon that gave Joker his biggest style change to date – swapping his green hair for black (albeit with a fetching green streak), and leaning into the Dracula-eqsue widow’s peak. 

The New Scooby-Doo Movies (1972)

Storch played the Joker again in two crossover episodes of Scooby-Doo that introduced Joker (and Batman, Robin and Penguin) to the Mystery Inc. crew in a shameless attempt at cross-promotion. The hair switched back to green and started getting higher – while Joker’s face began to drop. Older, craggier and slightly more human, the Scooby Joker was an odd mish mash of DC and Hanna-Barbera.  

Further reading: The 10 Scariest Scooby-Doo Episodes

The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians (1985–1986)

Picking up where they left off in Scooby-Doo, Hanna-Barbera took on DC full-time with Super Friends. The show was later rebranded The Super Powers Team and the final season got a sub-heading that meant pretty much nothing. By the time the series finished, the animators had shifted the art direction back towards DC, so the Joker in the episode “The Wild Cards” looks a lot more like the ’80s era comics (and a lot less like every janitor in Scooby-Doo). 

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Batman (1989)

The Joker that everyone loved before Heath Ledger came along, Jack Nicholson’s take on the character gave him a proper backstory and a scary new look that attempted to make sense of the clown makeup. Tim Burton’s film was suitably dark (and suitably inspired by the work of Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, and others), and he balanced Jack Napier’s circus chic with a ’30s noir vibe. 

Further reading: The Actors Who Have Played The Joker

Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)

Mark Hamill’s first performance as Joker’s voice saw him take on the character’s pointiest chin. Basically a green and white triangle with teeth, the Batman: The Animated Series Joker took the mood of Burton’s film and somehow mixed it with the feeling of the original series – giving us a pop cartoon clown that feels like the most gleefully anarchic of the bunch. 

Further reading – The 25 Essential Episodes of Batman: The Animated Series

The New Batman Adventures (1997–1999)

Hamill returned in the follow-up series with a slight redesign that matched the new direction of the show. His white skin went grey, his hair went black(ish), his lips were removed and his eyes were replaced with round black holes. Still calling itself a kids’ show, the new villain of The New Batman Adventures looked like something from a Conjuring movie. 

Birds Of Prey (2002-03)

Technically, Hamill played the Joker again in Birds Of Prey – although he only dubbed the voice over Roger Stoneburner’s performance, and the character only appears briefly in the pilot episode. Looking a bit like Jim Carrey’s Riddler (with some very 2002 levels of hair gel), the glimpse we do get of the Joker is enough to make us glad the original Batman film series stopped with Batman & Robin

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The Batman (2004–2008)

Going off on a bit of a wild tangent, the Joker voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson has big green dreadlocks, bright red demon eyes and always walks barefoot. More mad than manic, the character also starts off wearing an Arkham Asylum straitjacket (before later getting his purple suit). The least human, most monstrous incarnation of the Joker yet.

The Dark Knight (2008)

The only Joker to win an Oscar, Heath Ledger’s look was inspired by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum madman – with nothing remotely fun or funny about his melting clown paint. Greasy, dirty and rough around the edges – The Dark Knight‘s Joker is probably the most popular Halloween outfit because all you really need to do is look like you’re not very good at putting on makeup. 

Further reading: The Dark Knight, The Joker, and Game Theory

Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008–2011)

Looking quite a bit like the Silver Age Joker drawn by Dick Sprang, the Batman: The Brave And The Bold Joker also harks back to the playing card inspiration used for the very first drawing of the character. Coming in two versions (evil, and heroic, depending on which universe you’re in), the TV Joker/Red Hood of the late ’00s also picked up throwable spade weapons that he could shoot out of his sleeves. 

Under The Red Hood (2010)

Back to reality again, the stockier, weightier more detailed Joker of Brandon Veitti’s feature-length animation looks suspiciously like Joaquin Phoenix’s new look in Joker. Was he an inspiration? (No.)

Further reading: A Guide to DC Animated Movies

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The Dark Knight Returns (2012–2013)

Voiced by Michael Emerson, the Joker of The Dark Knight Returns is actually a bit of a departure from the graphic novel – younger, bulkier, and much more clean cut. He also swaps his wardrobe around a bit to try a purple shirt with a white suit. Take off the makeup and he’d look just like anyone else. 

Gotham (2014-19)

Technically, Cameron Monaghan isn’t the Joker. The show has been quite clear (and quite annoying) to not call either of his twin characters “The Joker,” even though they quite clearly are. Ignoring the hiccup in canon continuity, Monaghan’s take on the character gives him another grounding – and one of the most frighteningly realistic “clown” grins of the bunch. 

further reading – Gotham Season 5: Everything We Know

Suicide Squad (2016)

Jared Leto divided opinion with his Joker – giving him muscles, tattoos, metal teeth and a whole emo vibe that no one really saw coming. Kudos to him for coming up with a look that’s markedly different from literally everything else on this list though. Whatever your opinion of the DCEU’s new Joker, it’s definitely not the last time you’re going to see him. 

Further reading – Complete Guide to DC Easter Eggs in Suicide Squad

Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Mark Hamill reprised his role as the Joker once again in the adaptation of the classic graphic novel (the first DC animated film to be rated R). The filmmakers decided to stick fairly faithfully to Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s design – which basically means making sure he has the most ridiculous chin imaginable. 

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The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

Possibly the hardest one to recreate for a Halloween outfit (please do send in pics if you ever try), Zach Galifianakis’ blocky clown is basically a standard Lego man with different hair and face markings. Weirdly though, there’s something very nostalgic about the design of the character – with his over-emoting face looking a bit like Romero’s. 

Further reading: Complete Guide to DC Easter Eggs in The Lego Batman Movie

Batman Ninja (2018)

A feudal Japanese version of the Joker? Why not. The character voiced by Wataru Takagi in the original version was dubbed by Tony Hale in English (yep,  Buster from Arrested Development) and the gorgeous design mixes DC’s clown clichés with modern Japanese design – giving us the most confused, but most interesting Joker to date.