The Joker is arguably the most popular character of any comic book universe. It’s no wonder why the character has seen so many big screen iterations over the years. From Cesar Romero, to Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and most recently Jared Leto, we have seen plenty of phenomenal cinematic portrayals of The Joker, and we are due to get another one within the next couple years. Warner Bros. is currently prepping a Joker origin story that will work separately from the DCEU, meaning no Jared Leto in the lead. The latest word on the street tells us that Joaquin Phoenix is a lock for the part. Even if that isn’t true, whoever gets to play The Joker can’t be any worse than Jared Leto.
Leto is easily our most divisive Joker to date. His interpretation of the character led to some rather alarming aesthetic and personality changes that really put off some fans. When we look at the actors who were rumored to play The Joker over the years, we would much rather have gotten them instead. Well, some of them, while other actors who have been rumored for the part really makes us think they would have done even worse than what we’ve already seen.
17. WORST: TOMMY WISEAU
This isn’t so much a rumor as it is wishful thinking on behalf of the actor in question, but we’d be amiss if we didn’t mention this random bit of recent breaking news. This week, director and star of The Room Tommy Wiseau tweeted an offhand comment about wanting star in the upcoming Joker origin film.
He even went as far as to tell the director of the film, Todd Phillips, to DM him about the opportunity.
Within moments, fans were compelled to produce fan art and fan trailers depicting what would happen if Wiseau took up the mantle of the Clown Prince of Crime. Obviously, it doesn’t take rocket science to figure out this isn’t happening and Wiseau would give another disastrous performance if it did, but it’s hard not to at least be amused by the premise of Tommy Wiseau as The Joker.
16. BETTER: JOAQUIN PHOENIX
As we mentioned in the intro, word on the street is that Joaquin Phoenix is just days away from signing on the dotted line to be our latest Joker. In fact, the rumors appear so strong that this has to be the most likely of entries on this list. Honestly, we would love to see Phoenix play The Joker on the big screen.
Phoenix has a knack for getting completely immersed in every role he tackles, and Joker would be no exception. He gave somewhat of a similar performance in The Master. As Freddy Quill, Phoenix had a sense of humor, but also an easily combustible manic side to him that was downright terrifying when unleashed. That’s The Joker in a nutshell. Phoenix would be perfect.
15. WORSE: SEAN PENN
Before The Dark Knight went into filming, there was a rumor that Christopher Nolan wanted Sean Penn to play The Joker for his movie. As it was reported shortly after by an anonymous Warner Bros. source, Penn was even asked to play The Joker, but turned it down because he didn’t feel comfortable tackling a part that his friend Jack Nicholson previously played.
Frankly, we are glad he turned it down — we can only imagine how dry and dialed back his Joker would have been.
We think he’d play the part far too straight without injecting any humor. Penn tends to give extremely serious and melodramatic performances. We think he might be too serious for The Joker if he ever did play the part. The Joker should be the laughing lunatic one asking “Why So Serious?” We shouldn’t be asking that to Penn while he’s playing.
14. BETTER: WILLEM DAFOE
Man, Willem Dafoe has one freaky face. It’s a face that always brings an eerie undertone to each of his performances. With a face like that, it is no wonder why he is so often rumored to play The Joker. The way his face is structured is tailor made for a live action Joker performance. Dafoe was actually considered to play The Joker back in 1989 for Tim Burton’s Batman, but was never actually offered the part.
According to an interview, Dafoe was told by the film’s screenwriter that he’d be perfect for the part thanks to his face (especially his cheekbones). Over two decades later, he was cast in the 2017 Justice League film and fans immediately assumed he was cast as The Joker. Instead, he was cast as Nuidis Vulko, but his part got cut from the film.
13. WORSE: NICOLAS CAGE
For whatever reason, Nicolas Cage tends to frequently find himself attached to superhero projects without ever going on to play the character he was rumored to play. Before Warner Bros. kicked Joel Schumacher to the curb as their go-to Batman director, Schumacher planned to get Cage to play Scarecrow for a sequel. A couple years earlier, Cage was cast as Superman in a Tim Burton project that ultimately got scrapped.
He’s even been rumored to play The Joker for the last few Batman projects, including Batman V Superman.
Whether it be as a funny meme gag or legitimate fan casting, fans have to know that Cage would not be a very good Joker. He’d be entertaining, yes, but it would be entertaining for the wrong reasons. Like watching a a car wreck take place before our eyes and we can’t look away.
12. BETTER: BRAD DOURIF
Brad Dourif may not be a recognizable actor by face, but we should all know him by his voice, considering that he’s the voice of Chucky the killer doll from the Child’s Play franchise. Not long after the first Child’s Play film was released in 1988, Tim Burton wanted to cast Brad Dourif for his Batman movie. Dourif once recalled during an interview that Burton saw him on a plane and wanted to cast him on sight as The Joker from the moment he saw him.
Dourif declined the offer, but we are positive that Dourif would have made an excellent Joker. We know from his performances as Chucky that Dourif has the dark sense of humor and the maniacal laugh down pat. As a character actor, playing a character like The Joker would’ve been a breeze for him.
11. WORSE: JAMES WOODS
Back when Warner Bros. was still looking for an actor to play The Joker for Tim Burton’s Batman movie, it was rumored that one of the actors that was on the studio’s wish list was James Woods. Woods certainly would not have been a terrible choice for The Joker.
History tells us that any studio can do a lot worse than James Woods.
However, that does not mean that it would not have been a very good one. Keep in mind that Woods is a tremendous actor. We just think that Woods’s Joker would have been a little too much like a New York born fast talking con man rather than inappropriately comedic sociopath. It would have been a different, interesting approach to the character, but we can’t imagine it working.
10. BETTER: JAKE GYLLENHAAL
Although he did make it clear to both DC and Warner Bros. during the pre-production days of Suicide Squad that he wanted absolutely no part of the DCEU after passing on playing the Rick Flag character, the rumors persist that he may be wanted for DC’s Joker origin story in none other than the role of The Joker.
If Gyllenhaal does change his mind about wanting anything to do with DC, we would love to see him play The Joker. We have no doubts that Gyllenhaal has the gravitas for the role. He has the charm, he has the grit, he’s capable of invoking terror, he’s capable of looking unhinged, and he’s actually a funny lad to boot. Gyllenhaal would kill it as The Joker.
9. WORSE: FRANK SINATRA
This one takes us all the way back to the original Adam West version of Batman. As strange as it may be to imagine, Frank Sinatra actually had a heavy interest in joining the cast to play The Joker. Unfortunately for Sinatra, he approached the studio about his interest after Cesar Romero already signed on to play the part. This may sound a tad mean spirited, but we are glad that Sinatra had his hopes dashed.
Even for a Batman universe that was as campy as the Adam West version, we can’t imagine Sinatra being a good fit as The Joker.
Sinatra was always a fine — even exceptional — actor, but much of his performances comprised of him just being, well, Frank Sinatra. He never allowed himself to be immersed within a character. If he can’t do that for The Joker, it’s for the best he didn’t get to play him.
8. BETTER: SAM ROCKWELL
Once upon a time ago, Sam Rockwell was another one of the several actors considered by Warner Bros. to play The Joker, but of course, it was Heath Ledger that got the part. While we can’t think of anyone better to have played The Joker in The Dark Knight other than Heath Ledger, Sam Rockwell is high on our list as someone we would have gladly taken as a happy alternative.
Rockwell has spent his career playing a cavalcade of crazy characters (i.e. The Green Mile, Seven Psychopaths, etc.), so we know he can pull of Joker’s crazy callous. He also has an unlimited amount of charm, so we know he’d make a charismatic Joker. All things considered, Sam Rockwell would be quite the perfect Joker.
7. WORSE: ADRIEN BRODY
There was once a time when Adrien Brody was rumored to be The Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, and Brody actually confirmed that rumor in a 2010 interview with MTV. He was considered for the part and even met with Nolan to discuss the character, but as we all know, the role ultimately went to Heath Ledger.
This wouldn’t be the last time Brody would be linked to The Joker, as he was one of the many rumored names to appear in the Justice League movie to play him.
Brody is a tremendous actor, but he’s never been one known for his charm or the humor required to play The Joker. He rarely does comedies, and when he does, he always plays it straight. We don’t think Brody has it in him to play The Joker.
6. BETTER: DAVID BOWIE
Before Tim Burton came forth on the task of creating a Batman franchise, Ivan Reitman had his own plans to make a Batman movie; only this Batman movie would have been more in line with that seen during the Adam West era. Batman would have been played by Bill Murray, Robin would have been played by Eddie Murphy, and The Joker would have been played by David Bowie.
We’re sorta glad this flick didn’t get made, but we so desperately would have given away every penny in the world to see David Bowie play The Joker. The man was no stranger to playing weirdos on-screen, see Labyrinth and The Man Who Fell to Earth for proof, and he always quite the charismatic enigma in his own right. He had the look, style, and sense of humor that was, in a sense, Joker-lite.
5. WORSE: RYAN GOSLING
In the pre-production days of Suicide Squad, it was reported that Ryan Gosling was asked to play The Joker for the film and the rest of the DCEU, but declined because he had no interest in signing a multi-picture deal. His decline is what led to Jared Leto getting cast.
As much as a lot of us hated Leto’s performance, we have a sneaking suspicion that Ryan Gosling would have fared even worse in the role.
That isn’t necessarily a knock against Gosling as an actor. The man has proven time and time again that he is fantastic in front of a camera. The thing is that Gosling tends to give really subtle performances consistently, but The Joker cannot be subtle. The Joker, as a character, must be manic and bombastic. We doubt Gosling is capable of bombastic.
4. BETTER: LACHY HULME
Anyone outside of Australia probably has no idea who Lachy Hulme is. If nothing else, readers will only recognize the guy from The Matrix: Reloaded. Despite his limited North American credits, there was a strong rumor in the mid-’00s that he was going to be the next Joker in The Dark Knight. So much so that Hulme was relieved when it was announced that Heath Ledger was cast, because he was sick of people asking him about the part he wasn’t even asked to play.
Call us crazy, but we think Hulme would have made an amazing Joker. Those who have seen his work know that Hulme is capable of being darkly funny, but also quite terrifying through abrupt bursts of energy; all qualities necessary for playing The Joker. Not to mention that the way his face is structured looks like The Joker straight out the comics.
3. WORSE: STEVE CARELL
As with most comedians, Steve Carell has proven to be an impressive dramatic actor in recent years, even going as far as to get an Oscar nomination for his work in Foxcatcher. However, we doubt he could pull off The Joker, as he was rumored to play him for The Dark Knight before Heath Ledger snagged the part. Every time we try to imagine Carell in the iconic facepaint and clown suit for The Dark Knight, we cannot help but imagine Michael Scott giving a real goofy performance.
Imagine Carell giving the “Why So Serious?” monologue while staring deadpan at the camera and laughing nonsensically.
2. BETTER: LEONARDO DICAPRIO
This is definitely the biggest and the hottest rumored actor on the list linked to the role of The Joker, and probably our most desired actor we’d want to see fill The Joker’s clown shoes. It has been heavily rumored for a few months now that Warner Bros. desperately wants Leonardo DiCaprio to be their Joker for this latest origin film.
This actually doesn’t seem too unlikely since the film is due to be produced by Martin Scorsese, who has used DiCaprio as a muse for the better part of a decade. If nothing else, DiCaprio is incredibly wishful thinking. We’ve seen him cover a wide range of emotions over the course of his career performances: angry, funny, unpredictable, scary, silly, etc. There isn’t a character he hasn’t nailed, and he could definitely pull off The Joker.
1. WORSE: CALLAN MULVEY
Readers should recognize Callan Mulvey as Anatoli Knyazev, the Russian weapons trafficker from Batman v Superman, but before the film was released, rumors circulated that he was cast as The Joker in the film. Pardon our bluntness, but we think Mulvey would make a boring Joker. He never exuded any charm nor memorable gravitas as Knyazev, and he has yet to do such a thing in any role in his career thus far.
His biggest role is playing Milan on the Starz show Power and anyone who watches the show would know that he’s the dullest aspect of the show.
Perhaps Mulvey does have what it takes to tackle a big role like this, but until he provides proof to the contrary, we’re glad he’s not The Joker.
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