The Best Movies Featuring The Joker, Ranked By Rotten Tomatoes

The Best Movies Featuring The Joker, Ranked By Rotten Tomatoes

The Joker has become one of the most enigmatic characters in not just comic book history but movie history as well. Given that the movie version of the character has become so popular and several actors have won Oscars for playing him, many actors might consider playing The Joker as a career highlight, as if playing a Shakespearean lead like Hamlet or Macbeth.

RELATED: 10 Bizarre Facts About The Actors Who’ve Played The Joker

Audiences are always excited to see what a new actor will bring to such an iconic role as no two performances are quite the same. From Jack Nicholson to Jared Leto, there are is an array of cinematic interpretations of the character, but which Joker movie is considered to be best by critics? The review aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes may hold the definitive answer to the question.

Updated on July 14th, 2021 by Mark Birrell: As far as comic book heroes and their villains go, Batman and The Joker are perhaps the most well-known both on and off the page. Batman movies have conquered the highest highs at both the box office and the awards circuit, with Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning turn as The Joker proving that the Dark Knight doesn’t even need to appear in order to get a billion-dollar success. It can be even argued that the Clown Prince of Crime has become a bigger draw than Bats himself. But the character’s history on screen stretches far beyond just live-action interpretations, and the best movies with The Joker are some of the lesser-known ones, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

12 Honorable Mention: Suicide Squad (2016) – 26%

Jared Leto's Joker in a straitjacket

● Available on HBO Max 

Coming off the heels of Heath Ledger’s iconic, Oscar-winning performance, there was a lot of interest in seeing what Jared Leto would do with his iteration of the character. Suicide Squad told the story of a group of villains, including Harley Quinn, Deadshot, and others, who get teamed up to fight the otherworldly powers of Enchantress.

Jared Leto’s performance was controversial, which included him often growling and being covered with tattoos and a mouth grill. Joker had a much more integral role in the movie, but studio interference led to him getting mostly cut out and what remains of the role feels unnecessary. Despite being panned by critics, the movie was an enormous hit and a Joker-less sequel, The Suicide Squad, is due out soon.

11 Honorable Mention: The Killing Joke (2016) – 39%

Joker clutching cardboard cutout of Batman

● Available on Netflix

Based on one of the most popular Batman graphic novels of all time, The Killing Joke was the animated film adaptation that featured the voices of classic Batman: The Animated Series actors Kevin Conroy as Batman and, of course, fan-favorite Mark Hamill as The Joker.

The classic story details The Joker’s plan to torment Commissioner Gordon, while also showing flashbacks to the villain’s twisted origin. The film received mixed reviews from critics and audiences who praised the voice acting but heavily criticized the unnecessary addition of new story elements, specifically in regards to Batgirl.

10 Joker (2019) – 68%

Joaquin Phoenix's Joker in elevator

● Available on HBO Max 

Following Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal of The Joker, Joaquin Phoenix won his own Oscar for playing the character, albeit a very different version. Joker tells the origin story of the Clown Prince of Crime, however, it takes a more realistic route. Instead of adapting his comic book origin, Joker forgoes most of the comic book elements to tell its own story.

In this version, the Wayne family is portrayed unsympathetically as elitists, and The Joker is often more of a misunderstood outcast. For the film, Phillips clearly took inspiration from Scorsese classics like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy. Despite the much darker and realistic subject matter than Batman movie fans are used to, the movie was a massive box-office hit.

9 Batman (1989) – 71%

Jack Nicholson's Joker on float in front of his balloon

● Available on HBO Max 

Despite all the award glory Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayals have received, Jack Nicholson’s Joker is still perhaps the most iconic movie version of the character. The film stars Michael Keaton as Batman and tells the hero’s origin story but as audiences discovered from the opening credits, where Nicholson received top-billing, this is the Joker’s movie. From there, Batman tries to stop The Joker from poisoning Gotham City.

He’s a commanding presence who even overshadows the title character. Batman was an enormous hit and the birth of the modern-day superhero movie and, despite the fact that there have been many Jokers, and will be many more, audiences will be enjoying Nicholson’s classic performance for years to come.

8 Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) – 71%

Jared Leto's Joker in Knightmare world looking at camera in Justice League: The Snyder Cut

● Available on HBO Max 

Despite not being in the much-maligned theatrical release of Justice League, Jared Leto got a chance at redemption when he took part in a new scene for the 4-hour Justice League director’s cut that reflected Zack Snyder’s true vision.

RELATED: 10 Biggest Differences Between Zack Snyder’s Justice League And The Original

Leto appears as The Joker in a single scene that takes place in a nightmarish apocalypse, often called the Knightmare Future, where Batman has actually teamed up with Joker for a plan to redeem the timeline. Gone are the tattoos and mouth grill, and Batman and Joker square off in a particularly compelling conversation that delves into their dark past together. Fans were considerably more supportive of Leto’s performance this time around,  with his appearance being one of the biggest talking points regarding the widely-publicized film.

7 Birds Of Prey (2020) – 79%

Joker tattooing someone in Birds of Prey

● Available on HBO Max 

Despite being titled Birds of Prey, this movie mostly focuses on Harley Quinn with Margot Robbie, once again, proving to audiences this was the role she was born to play. In the film, Harley breaks up with The Joker and teams up with the Birds of Prey to take on a new villain, Black Mask, played by Ewan McGregor with fans and critics calling him one of the DCEU’s best villains yet.

Critics and audiences loved Margot Robbie’s performance from Suicide Squad but didn’t enjoy Jared Leto’s Joker in that particular movie; so despite being an integral part of this film’s back story, he’s never heard and only seen from behind in one scene. The filmmakers seemed to distance themselves from the Jared Leto-Joker until Zack Snyder gave him a second chance in his cut of Justice League.

6 Batman (1966) – 79%

Cesar Romero's Joker smiling to someone off-camera in the 1966 Batman movie

● Available for purchase on Prime Video

Before Jack Nicholson took on the iconic role, the only live-action portrayal of Joker known to audiences was Cesar Romero’s from the 1960s Adam West Batman TV show. Like everything about the show, his performance is over-the-top and campy, a reflection of the character from the comic’s Golden Age. Famously, Romero had a mustache he refused to shave so if viewers look closely, they can see his Joker makeup is painted over it.

The show ran from 1966 to 1968 and Romero played Joker in 22 episodes and reprised the role in the big-screen movie. In the movie, Joker teams up with Penguin, Catwoman, and The Riddler to dehydrate the United Nations Security Council. As that plot description suggests, the movie sticks closely to the show’s campy nature and was a big hit among fans.

5 Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993) – 84%

Joker looking over his shoulder in Mask Of The Phantasm

● Available on HBO Max 

Coming off the wildly popular ’90s animated series, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm concerns Batman investigating a mysterious vigilante who’s murdering mobsters. The Joker comes into play late in the movie when Batman deduces that Joker is the vigilante’s next victim.

RELATED: Top 10 Animated Batman Films, Ranked According To Their IMDb Score

Originally intended to go straight to video, Warner Bros decided to release it to theaters where it flopped. However, critics and audiences loved it and, over time, many consider this to be the best of the theatrically released Batman movies, praising its themes, score, performances from Conroy and Hamill, as well as its depiction of the Batman origin story.

4 The Lego Batman Movie (2017) – 90%

Lego Joker looking off camera in The Lego Batman Movie

● Available on HBO Max 

DC Comics characters have been a staple of LEGO toys for many years, so it made sense to turn that popularity into a movie. Following the success of The LEGO Movie which featured Batman and several other DC comics characters, Warner Bros. released The LEGO Batman Movie with Will Arnett reprising his role as Batman, doing a pseudo-Michael Keaton impression.

The movie acts as not just a Batman story but also a tongue-in-cheek parody of everything Batman. It was a huge box office hit and a sequel was planned but the acquisition of the LEGO franchise by Universal Pictures from DC’s attached production studio, Warner Bros., ended that.

3 Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) – 91%

Joker in Batman Beyond Return of the Joker

● Available on HBO Max 

The DC Animated Universe movie Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is a notable appearance of the villain for a number of reasons, not least the cuts that were made to the movie, resulting in censored and uncut versions of it being released. The biggest difference being the Joker’s death scene, which was sanitized in the original version.

According to IGN, the cutting sparked fan petitions to bring back the footage, making it an interesting precursor to the situation that Zack Snyder faced regarding his original–and much more violent–cut of Justice League. As in that case also, the restored footage proved to be a big success, with the movie being ranked up with some of the best Batman movies of all time by both fans and critics thanks to its distinctly disturbing story and another brilliant rendition of the Joker by Mark Hamill.

2 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 (2013) – 94%

● Available on HBO Max 

A significantly different kind of Joker than the one seen in the DC Animated Universe, this version of the character gets straight to their murderous side and is in much bloodier scenes. Adapted from Frank Miller’s iconic comic of the same name, The Dark Knight Returns is an appropriately violent and gritty take on Batman and the strange world that he inhabits.

Voice actor Michael Emerson still brings plenty of the playful style that other Jokers, like Mark Hamill, had established so well, but is frighteningly intense in their rivalry with the Caped Crusader, resulting in another–and much more graphic–animated death scene for the villain. It was this unwavering faithfulness in director Jay Oliva’s adaptation that, in part, helped it to become one of the most highly-ranked Batman movies ever, with Part 1 of the film earning a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes also. It should be noted that the Joker also appears in Part 1 but not to the same extent that they do in Part 2.

1 The Dark Knight (2008) – 94%

Heath Ledger's The Joker standing in middle of street in The Dark Knight

● Available on HBO Max and Hulu

Not many fans thought anyone could ever top Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance as The Joker but despite initial fan trepidation, the late Heath Ledger proved them all wrong with his disturbing and haunting portrayal. Unlike most superhero movies that feature villains trying to take over the world, Ledger’s Joker tries to corrupt people from within.

The Dark Knight took a grounded approach to Batman that was layered, rich, and left audiences with more to think about afterward than most superhero movies do. For his amazing and unique portrayal, Ledger won a posthumous Oscar. Of all the on-screen Jokers, Ledger’s holds a special place as fans feel robbed of the opportunity to see him play the character again.

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