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Considering how singular Joaquin Phoenix'sinterpretation of the Joker promises to be, it's probably a good idea to know a little bit about the character's long history to fully appreciate what's different about his depiction. Here's everything you need to know before watching 2019's Joker.
Since his debut in 1940 's Batman #1, the Joker has been Batman's most popular and enduring arch-nemesis. As a result, he's appeared opposite every big-screen version of the Caped Crusader's adventures since 1966's Batman: The Movie.
While the character's popularity has remained consistent, the different cinematic Jokers have taken a very different approach to the tone of the character. The version played by Cesar Romero was a perfect fit for the campy, relatively lighthearted world imagined by the TV show. He was portrayed as more of a giggling, over the top bank robber than anything else.
When the Joker returned to theaters in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film with Jack Nicholson under the makeup, he was played as something a little more like a murderous performance artist. He was a hitman for the mob with a thing for playing cards right from the beginning of the film - and even killed Bruce Wayne's parents in that version of Batman's origin story - but his dip into the acid gave him a whole new perspective. He not only took over Gotham City's crime families for himself, he also plotted to kill everyone in the city, dosing them with poisonous gas as his masterpiece.
Batman: The Animated Series hit television screens in 1992, and the following year saw the theatrical release of an animated movie, Mask of the Phantasm. In both the show and the film, the Joker was played by Mark Hamill, who might be best known from his starring role as Luke Skywalker in a little-known independent film called Star Wars. Hamill's version of the character was beloved by fans, and he kept the role in various animated shows and video games through today, despite flirting with retirement from the part after Batman: Arkham City.
2008 brought us The Dark Knight, and Heath Ledger's unforgettable, Academy Award-winning performance. This time, unlike Burton and Nicholson's take, the Joker had no origin story, and even told conflicting versions of his history to different characters throughout the film.
He billed himself as an "agent of chaos," with intricate, clockwork plans that were designed to destroy any sense of morality that Batman had returned to his city.
With the launch of DC's movie universe, we got another version of the Joker in Suicide Squad, which saw Jared Leto apparently going full method actor in order to embrace the Joker's sinister personality. In this take, he was a heavily tattooed, unpredictable crime boss with a gift for manipulating people like his sidekick, Harley Quinn, a character who had originally appeared in the animated series and rose to incredible popularity in the decades since.
With that many different portrayals - not to mention all of the different interpretations of the Joker that have appeared in comic books over the past 80 years - the idea that any single actor could be the only "true" Joker is as insane as the character himself. Even with that in mind, though, Joaquin Phoenix's portrayal in the Joker's first-ever solo film promises to be a pretty big departure from what we've seen before. Make sure you watch this before you go see Joker!
The Joker legacy | 0:17 A different kind of criminal | 3:02 What's in a name? | 4:10 The cast | 5:04 Unexpected influences | 6:36 Li'l Batman? | 8:42 Not your usual comic book movie | 9:15