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The Sunflower

OPINION: From ‘Dark Knight’ to ‘Joker,’ here’s a ranking of the Jokers in the DC universe

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Savanna Nichols
(Illustration)

Just like almost any nerd out there, I love comic books. Superheroes and supervillains have enticed me from a young age. 

In my early days of discovering comic books around 10 years old, I’ve loved DC Comics because of the variety of superheroes (and anti-heroes) they offered and the stories written in the comics themselves. 

With that being said, I am here to rank one of the most well-known DC supervillains and Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. 

I will be ranking these Jokers based on how much or how little we know about the Joker in their respective movies, i.e. their backstory, portrayals and the style of Joker. 

Heath Ledger- “The Dark Knight” (2008)

I know a lot of people might not like me for what I am about to say here, but I’m not a huge fan of Heath Ledger’s Joker. 

This is not to say that Ledger didn’t do a good job as the Joker, because he did. I loved the Dark Knight trilogy. He was a good Joker objectively, and Ledger was a great actor overall. 

Ledger was the first to play a “gritty” version of the supervillain, so I can see why a lot of DC comics fans like Ledger’s Joker.

I give Ledger’s Joker an 8/10 because his portrayal was good and it was the first time we saw a darker version of the Joker as opposed to a funny/comedic version played by Cesar Romero in the Batman TV show starring Adam West. 

The reason for the loss of two points is that there wasn’t much of a backstory about Ledger’s Joker in the movie. The most memorable parts of the Joker in “The Dark Knight” were when he blew up the hospital disguised as a nurse, when he held the hostages on the ship and when he crashed Bruce Wayne’s party and threatened the entire crowd to find Harvey Dent (a.k.a. Two-Face). 

The only bit of backstory about the Joker we got from “The Dark Knight” was the infamous “You see these scars? Wanna know how I got them?” scene where he threatens to kill Dent’s fiancé, Rachel Dawes, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal. 

I also have sympathy for Ledger because he was a good actor outside of the Dark Knight trilogy. His breakout role in “10 Things I Hate About You” as Patrick Verona was amazing and one of the best roles in his career. 

Ledger unfortunately went down a dark path during the filming of “The Dark Knight” and died in January 2008, just a few months before “The Dark Knight” was set to release. 

Jared Leto- “Suicide Squad” (2016)

Many people know Jared Leto for being the lead singer of rock band “Thirty Seconds to Mars” or, going further back, for starring in the ‘90s show “My So-Called Life” as Jordan Catalano. 

When “Suicide Squad” was first announced, I was a bit surprised to hear that Leto was being cast as the Joker, but when the actual movie came out, it was disappointing to see that Leto’s Joker wasn’t shown in the movie as much as the trailer had made it out to be. 

Now, when the movie was released on DVD, the movie had the option to watch the director’s cut of “Suicide Squad,” which showed more of Leto than the theatrical cut. 

Leto’s Joker is more of a modern-day depiction of the supervillain where he looks more like a “pimp” rather than Batman’s enemy as he’s portrayed in the comics. 

This isn’t to say that Leto’s Joker wasn’t good at all. It was great. In fact, the director’s cut had more interactions between Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and the Joker and it gives more insight into their relationship and how they became a couple in the first place, something that other portrayals of the Joker fail to offer. 

For the theatrical version of “Suicide Squad,” I give it a 7/10 because it was misleading on how much the Joker would be shown, and we have little to no backstory on Leto’s Joker at all in that version. 

Now, for the Director’s Cut of “Suicide Squad,” I give that one a higher score of 9/10 because while it didn’t have an entire backstory on him, there was more to learn about him and Harley Quinn in this version. 

Joaquin Phoenix- “Joker” (2019)

Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker in the 2019 film “Joker” brought us some memorable quotes (and memes) when it first hit theaters. 

I liked Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, as there was a backstory in this movie. Cutting out Batman as a key character allowed for a lot of exploration of the Joker’s motives.

In “Joker,” we get to see failed comedian Arthur Fleck slowly descend into madness as he fails to make himself and others “smile.”

Because of this, he becomes a sociopathic killer and tries to take over Gotham City. As a result, Fleck becomes the Joker and inspires an anarchist movement called the “Clowns” and they start a riot in Gotham.

This results in one of the clowns killing Gotham mayoral candidate Thomas Wayne and his wife, Martha Wayne, in the alley of a theatre in front of their son, Bruce Wayne, who uses his parent’s murder as motivation to become Batman. So we get a little bit of Batman thrown in there as well. 

Something else to note about Phoenix’s Joker is that the Joker’s name or origin story was never revealed until “Joker” came out, which built anticipation when the movie was announced. 

Since this is only the first Joker movie we’ve seen Phoenix in, this is all I have to go off of. I’m sure we will see more of a backstory and Harley Quinn once “Joker: Folie a Deux” is released to theaters in October 2024. 

While this may be the only movie with Phoenix as the Joker at the moment, I will give this a solid 10/10 because this Joker has a good backstory, does start out as a comic and is funny. Once Phoenix’s “Joker” failed at being the comic he desperately wanted to be, we saw him transition into this leader who inspires a movement and becomes the villain that he is now. 

Overall

All movie depictions of the Joker are good. There isn’t a way I could compare each of them side by side because they are all different. 

The only way to compare each of the Jokers is how much there is to know about him in their movies. All of their portrayals were good; there’s no doubt about it. They were all different, so it’s hard to just go off their portrayals overall. 

I do wish there was a bit more of a backstory about the Joker in the first two movies rather than one having a full backstory, but I can understand not giving a full backstory on a villain in a movie focused on a hero or a group of villains that the Joker was not entirely a part of. 

If you have a preference for movies with a backstory, watch “Joker.” For a classic yet dark hero vs. villain showdown with a devious Joker, watch “The Dark Knight.” If you want to see less of the Joker and want more backstory on other villains, watch “Suicide Squad.”

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About the Contributors
Jacinda Hall
Jacinda Hall, Reporter
Jacinda Hall is a reporter for The Sunflower. Hall is a Senior pursuing a journalism and media production degree with a minor in English. Hall hopes to pursue a career in writing, editing or teaching journalism at the high school level after graduation. Hall uses she/her pronouns.
Savanna Nichols, Illustrator/Designer
Savanna Nichols is an illustrator at The Sunflower. Nichols is a junior pursuing a studio art degree, hoping to pursue a career in illustration after graduation.

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  • H

    HamidrezaJul 11, 2024 at 8:23 am

    I think the lack of backstory is one of the postive points of the joker in thedark knight. He doesn’t have any past, so there’s no cause to make him a supervillian and he took the full responsibility of his wickedness. He didn’t have a problem in his past, so he doesn’t want to solve it in the movie. (Also the performance, make up and director were awesome).
    In contrast, joker (2019) had a backstory. He didn’t enjoy to be a villian. The environment and other people were the cause of his violence. Even Thomas Wayne was a bad person in this movie just to explain joker’s violence and exonerate him.
    I think this is the difference. Everybody do bad things. Most of us have excuses, but only a few of people are honest

    Reply
  • L

    Luke MiddletonJun 22, 2024 at 1:01 pm

    Did bro really just put Jared Leto above Heath Ledger

    Reply