What Fans Really Think Of Jared Leto Joker
Jared Leto Joker: If you’ve seen Suicide Squad, you’ll know how little Jared Leto’s Joker featured. Nor was he in the recent Birds of Prey trailer – spearheaded by Margot Robbie’s grinning psychopath Harley Quinn. In the promotional material for Suicide Squad, however, he was everywhere. So what gives? Why did that iconic character get left behind in the DCEU? Well, a lot went on behind the scenes, away from the prying eyes of reporters and the fandom. Here’s a handy timeline to get you up to speed on the future of the character.
Critics have overwhelmingly rejected just about everything in Suicide Squad, but audiences drowned out those negative reviews by showing up en masse anyway, proving once again that franchise tentpoles do not necessarily live and die by their critical reception. That doesn’t mean, however, that moviegoers loved everything they saw. As Jared Leto puts in his bid to appear in Ben Affleck’s standalone Batman flick, let’s take a look at what fans thought of his performance as the Caped Crusader’s maniacal nemesis.
Joker Jared Leto
This week, Joaquin Phoenix’s new Joker movie will give a frightening, realistic look at the character we’ve never seen before. In fact, this portrayal of the famed comic book villain is so polarizing that some have said a film like Joker could even be dangerous in today’s sociopolitical climate.
But that’s just another entry in the long, strange history of the Joker on film and television. There is something about the character that fascinates audiences. He’s an enigmatic and fully terrifying Batman foil who was created all the way back in 1940 by the DC Comics team of Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson. A shocking phenomenon to behold, Joker’s possibly the greatest villain in pop culture history. His hilarious, sociopathic, and downright demonic presence has become something of a filmmaking tradition. Just like with James Bond, or even Batman himself, it’s no small news when an actor signs on to play the infamous Dark Knight nemesis. Here we’ve ranked the most famous Joker portrayals from worst to best [insert maniacal laughter here].
Jared Leto Joker Movie
When the first full-length Birds of Prey trailer dropped on Wednesday, there was one question on everybody’s lips. Where’s the Joker? The Clown Prince of Crime was conspicuous by his absence – and given Harley’s off-again-on-again romance with the painted jester, people were right to ask.
At first, it seemed like a standalone movie was in the offing. On release, Leto talked up the possibility of getting his own spin-off – “I think that would be great to dive in deeper to the Joker and expand the story, and to learn more about this sick and twisted – but lovely – strange man,” he revealed to NME.
However, it looks like Jared Leto has been sidelined for now. Warner’s Joker movie, starring Joaquin Phoenix, is about to hit cinemas and the studio won’t want to confuse audiences with another portrayal. At least not in the same year.
Jared Leto Joker Tattoos
That’s the question that I, Polygon’s comics editor and Batman fan, and Patrick Willems, film essayist and Batman fan, set out to answer. To keep the list full of notable performances — and to keep it from ballooning out of control — we restricted ourselves to Joker actors who’ve appeared in theatrically released movies. (Sorry, WB Animated Movie Universe, The Batman, and others.)
JARED LETO IN SUICIDE SQUAD
Jared Leto’s Joker arrived with maximum hype. It was his first role after winning an Oscar three years earlier, and the character’s first cinematic appearance since Heath Ledger’s iconic take. There was his radical new look, covered in tattoos (“damaged”) and with a shiny grill in his mouth. And leading up to the film’s release, an endless stream of articles detailed Leto’s infamous on-set behavior, in which he went so deep into the character that he would antagonize his co-stars by sending them bizarre, disgusting gifts like dead pigs, live rats, or anal beads.
In the end, all this was in service of a character who is almost entirely inconsequential to the story of the film. He’s not even the primary villain, but rather a pest who shows up every twenty minutes or so. The result is a character who feels less like the Joker and more like a low-rent criminal who took his Joker fandom way too far. No matter how bizarre and menacing his laugh, or how many knives he arranges in circles on the ground, it’s hard to take a villain seriously when he tattoos his own name across his abs. —Patrick Willems
JOAQUIN PHOENIX IN JOKER
It’s not entirely Joaquin Phoenix’s fault that he’s so low on this list. Where Leto was given bad material and made it worse, Phoenix does the opposite. His Arthur Fleck is impossible to look away from, even when you desperately want to. Phoenix sways, grimaces, shuffles, and delivers terrible, involuntary paroxysms of laughter even as he openly weeps.
He just does it in service of a character who isn’t particularly Joker-like, other than in the most superficial ways. There’s no great obsession with Batman and what he represents, no goal of proving a broader point with his crimes. He’s terrifying, yes, and we are asked to sympathize with him, but out of pity rather than a dark appeal. Perhaps most damningly, Phoenix is a Joker who is, explicitly, terrible at being intentionally funny. —Susana Polo
ZACH GALIFIANAKIS IN THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
Rarely has there been a Joker so endearing, so sympathetic — and not in a twisted way — than this blocky lil trickster. In a movie where Batman’s biggest foe is arguably his own self doubt, Galifianakis’ Joker still machinates his way into what might be the most ambitious win scenario of any of his cinematic peers. After all, what other Joker can say they’ve rallied King Kong, the Wicked Witch, the velociraptors from Jurassic Park, and Sauron himself to their villainous banner?
And though most of that is due to the meaty and hilarious script on The Lego Batman Movie, and though the physicality of Galifianakis’s Joker is reduced to Lego constraints, the actor still makes the character his own. With a motivation of “I want Batman to recognize how important our relationship is” it would have been easy for the Galifianakis to slip into a tired, homophobic pastiche. But he keeps things upright, delivering a cheeky, scrappy, and above-all-hilarious Joker on a journey to the self-actualizing realization that he can be his own person, without Batman’s attention. —SP
CESAR ROMERO IN BATMAN: THE MOVIE
The greatest legacy of Cesar Romero’s take on the Joker is the fact that the actor refused to shave his mustache and had his white makeup applied over it. That makes the performance sound lazy, when really it’s anything but. Romero’s Joker is not the mythic, chilling arch-nemesis we’ve become accustomed to. He’s not out to spread anarchy or go on a killing spree. He just wants to blow up Batman with an exploding shark and take over the United World Security Council by turning them to dust with a dehydrator ray (it’s a weird movie).
Romero’s Joker is simply a villainous clown, part of an ensemble of colorful villains. He’s a delight to watch, and the only reason he’s not higher is that the film forces him to take a backseat to the other villains. The Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman are the main villainous masterminds of the story, while Joker just seems to be along for the ride. It’s one of the only movies the character doesn’t steal. —PW
Jared Leto As Joker
Leto’s Joker was strongly influenced by David Bowie, but he didn’t get quite as much stage time as the Thin White Duke. Speaking to NME in 2016, Leto commented: “We shot so much footage. There are so many scenes that are not in the film.” He went on to reveal he hadn’t “actually seen the film”, but that the movie should be viewed as “an introduction to the Joker” rather than a feature film.
Later, in an interview with Esquire, Margot Robbie was able to shed some more light on the situation. “They probably realised that the emotional through-line of the story had to be the mission we were on,” she said. “There’s a lot [of Joker footage] but it just didn’t make sense to confuse the present storyline with that.”
Convinced? No, us neither. There’s definitely more to this story than ‘the Joker was a distraction, so we left him out’. Leto himself has admitted that he was “isolated” on set and most of his scenes were “contained”. He even said he felt like he “was off in the corner of the cafeteria watching all the other kids.” Not the vibe you want from your star villain.
Jared Leto The Joker
The history of Leto’s ascension to the clown-faced throne was storied (and kinda gross). The Oscar-winner is a well-known Method actor, so when it came to prepping for the role, he isolated himself from the rest of the cast and surfaced only to send his co-stars bizarre gifts—when it comes to rats, bullets, and dead hogs, he’s apparently very generous. His behind-the-scenes behavior generated a lot of hype around his seemingly zany performance, making it a point of major curiosity—especially since Leto is known to be very selective about his acting
However, a lot of people were pretty underwhelmed by his performance, and one consistent complaint has been that Leto’s portrayal was too over the top. The Joker is classically a wild card, but after Jack Nicholson’s work in the role in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, and the measured and quietly sinister take on the character that Heath Ledger offered in The Dark Knight, Leto’s work was almost exasperating for those that didn’t favor it.
Another common complaint, even from those who didn’t love Leto’s part in the movie, is that he didn’t get enough face time in the flick. Leto has said that many of his scenes were left on the editing room floor, which is very apparent based on the fact that he has very little screen time, despite being such a central part of the film’s promotional campaign. Some felt they saw more of him in his music video appearance than the movie itself, which was a disappointment (although not exactly his fault).
Jared Leto Joker Laugh
He’s terrifying, maniacal, absolutely insane—and that laugh. Oof! That’ll haunt your dreams. But just don’t call him the Joker.
Fox’s Gotham started out as a relatively straight-laced Batman prequel, focusing on young detective Jim Gordon and a preteen Bruce Wayne dealing with the tragic murder of his parents. But three years in, this show is nigh unrecognizable from what viewers found when the show began. The ensemble has opened up to feature a bevy of comic and comic-inspired villains, which breathed fresh life and a dose of wackiness into the world of Gotham.
One of the best additions? Cameron Monaghan’s Jerome Valeska, who has been established as a sort of proto-Joker for this pre-Batman world. He might not technically be the Joker, but he’s the best version we’ve seen in a long, long time.
First up, the 24-year-old actor tasked with bringing Gotham’s Joker-esque character to life is positively terrifying in the role. Cameron Monaghan came pretty much out of nowhere when he showed up as a seemingly innocent kid who turned on a dime and became completely terrifying with a jaw-dropping twist. The young actor has a boatload of credits to his name, but mostly in bit parts, except for a six-episode stint on Malcolm in the Middle and a supporting role on Shameless. But he’s never shown the type of menace he pulled out for Jerome.
Digital Spy notes Monaghan is arguably the best thing about the series, pointing out his performance “embodies the idea that just under the veneer of civilized society, dark forces are straining to break free.” After spending so much time in his clown shoes, Monaghan said he’s taken ownership of Jerome to truly make this version of the pre-Joker his own, saying he’s started to “claim more ownership over it” and he has “become more defensive of it” along the way. Monaghan certainly looks to have a long career of playing bad guys ahead of him.