Todd Phillips’ “Joker,” starring Joaquin Phoenix, has risen to the top with 11 nominations and won Best Actor. Joker has grossed over $1 billion worldwide, and has marked a new path for comic-book movies for the future. 

Just like the Christopher Nolan “Batman” Trilogy inspired the new wave of dark, gritty and serious superhero movies that the DCU really took to heart, Joker will no doubt start the beginning of movies discovering the origin stories of some of our favourite villainous characters. Hands up, who wants to see an origin movie about Poison Ivy?

Photo Credit to Variety

Though the Joker is the most nominated film this year it is not the first comic book film to be recognised at the office, nor is it the first Joker related movie. More than a decade ago, Heath Ledger won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in The Dark Knight – an award deserving to one of the most iconic performances of a comic-book character of all time. Now that another, very different performance of the Joker has been critically acclaimed by fans, critics alike and won a BAFTA, the question has to be asked, why do we love the Joker so much?


Fun Fact: The Joker character was originally based on the character Gwynplaine from the movie “The Man Who Laughs”. Gwynplaine was disfigured with a permanent grin on his face, a very similar look to the exaggerated smile the Joker always wears. 

joker man who laughs
Photo Credit to North Park Theatre

He is a fascinating character and has been reincarnated in many different ways to suit the tones of the time. Focusing mainly on movie adaptations, he was the fun, quirky, mainly harmless prankster of the 60s played by Cesar Romero. His Joker was an elaborate Shakespearean performance, with grand speeches and declarations of his plans. 

joker cesaer
Photo Credit to Syfy


Moving onto the 80s and early 90s, the Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, turned into a warped, twisted leader of a gang, parading through Gotham city. He was still fun and exaggerated like his comic book character, but also easily able to turn into something much darker and frightening in certain scenes.

joker jack
Photo Credit to WhatCulture

Heath Ledger in the 00s, surprising everyone with the new, darker take to the character. His Joker was very calculated with his crimes, always seeming to know more than everyone else, and with his manic laugh and scarred face, chilled everyone to the bone. He brought an edge of brutality to the role never seen before and set the bar very high for the next actor to take his place. Tragically Heath died very soon after finishing the Dark Knight, and since, the Joker role has been shrouded in mystery and fascination. 

joker heath
Photo Credit to Konbini

Unfortunately, the next person to take the role was Jared Leto in 2016 for Suicide Squad. So much has already been said about this performance so let’s just go with the highlights. It was bad, really bad. Its clear Leto wanted to make his own mark on the character, and technically he succeeded. But his take on the character was more show and no tell, more likely to provoke shock and awe than any real substance. Plus, he was only in the movie for around 10 minutes. What could be accomplished in such a short time?

joker jared
Photo Credit to Consequences of Sound

So how does Joaquin Phoenix’s performance hold up to the rest of the past additions? 


What has always been loved about the Joker are his mysterious origins, no one knows his real name, where he came from and how he came to be the Joker, least not definitively. Most of the previous actors could play off this mystery; however, Phoenix had nowhere to hide. 


Todd Philips, director of the Joker designed his movie to be a character drama rather than a conventional comic-book movie; therefore it was unburdened by expected conventions such as a hero to fight against, or for the villain to have a grand evil plan. From this, Phoenix played a version of the Joker that had never been seen before. His version had a name, had a history, had a job, had a mother, we see his descent into madness and watch the precise moment when Arthur Fleck dies and the Joker is born. Phoenix had the challenge to play two versions of the characters rather than the one. He clearly poured everything he had into the role and it paid off. 


Phoenix’s Joker became a tortured soul, beaten down by society and left broken on the streets. He spends the whole movie fighting against his condition of uncontrollable laughter, and being beaten up everywhere he goes. The audience sympathises with him and understands his fall from being a struggling citizen, with dreams and ambitions, trying to get by with what little he has, to a free being, content with the chaos he caused and the blood he left along the way, just basking in the feeling to finally be seen. 

joker run
Photo Credit to Daily Mail

Overall of these iterations, there are many similarities that have been re-imagined in different ways that keep the Joker a character of the ages. To label the character as crazy is just too easy. He is in control, yet unhinged, a powerless human in a world of superpowers and creatures from space, yet one of the most dominating figures in the whole fictional world. His motivation isn’t around money or to obtain anything physical. He wants to aid himself and the world around him, making the wave of chaos following close behind. 


Who knows what other versions of the Joker will be coming in the future. We know a Joker 2 movie has been scheduled, directed again by Todd Philips, and no doubt Phoenix will reprise his role. But other actors will have a chance to play the part of the Joker and new concepts will be designed, we’ll just have to wait and see what else is in store for the Joker.  


joker stair
Photo Credit to National Post

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