The Joker is almost certainly the most famous antagonist in the history of comic book movies. No other baddie can stake the claim to being played by so many legendary luminaries of cinema, from Jack Nicholson to Heath Ledger. Earlier this year, Joaquin Phoenix won his first Oscar for portraying the failed stand-up comedian turned riot-inciting villain Arthur Fleck in Joker.
It now seems that audiences won’t have to wait for too long before they see the Clown Prince of Crime again on the big screen. A rumour doing the rounds online suggests that Joker will be introduced to the new Batman franchise, helmed by Matt Reeves, in the sequel to the upcoming The Batman.
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So the inevitable question is who will play the Joker this time around, against Robert Pattinson’s much younger Bruce Wayne? It’s a meaty role for any actor and has led to awards plaudits for several of its previous incumbents.
Here are some stars who could step up to the mantle...
British actor Jack O’Connell has made his name with aggressive characters, from a skinhead in This Is England to the horrifying lead of Eden Lake and Cook in the second-generation cast of Skins. More recently, he played the supporting role of an FBI agent in Seberg, as well as a hostage taker in Jodie Foster’s Money Monster.
He’s a master of portraying fragile masculinity and violent bravado, so would be perfect for a bruising and unhinged take on the Joker. O’Connell has shown an aptitude for doing accents, but there’s something intriguing about the idea of a British portrayal of the villain.
Lakeith Stanfield has proven himself to be one of the great rising stars in Hollywood over the past few years, whether it was with his brief but pivotal role in Get Out or his recent supporting turn in the Netflix thriller Uncut Gems. Most notably, though, Stanfield played the lead in Boots Riley’s incendiary satire Sorry to Bother You, in which he found himself at the centre of one of the most unusual big business plots in the history of modern cinema.
Stanfield’s career seems on the cusp of A-list status, with a big blockbuster role assured in the near future. The star has shown an ability to navigate murky moral waters with aplomb and he has all of the tools to portray the Joker.
Jake Gyllenhaal delivered one of the oddest villains in the MCU with his unconventional version of Mysterio in Spider-Man: Far From Home. There aren’t many examples of actors cross-pollinating between the two major superhero brands, but it’s tough to argue that Gyllenhaal would be anything less than perfect in the role of the Joker.
Gyllenhaal’s acting versatility is unquestionable and he has shown himself to be unafraid of making bold choices, which is a necessary part of making any version of the Joker unique. A version of the Clown Prince akin to Gyllenhaal’s slimy journalist in Nightcrawler would be a real treat.
Like his Nightcrawler co-star Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed has already played a comic book villain. He portrayed the loathsome businessman and eventual symbiote-enhanced creature Carlton Drake in Venom.
Ahmed, though, has the potential for a far more nuanced and intriguing villain, who doesn’t need the power of an alien symbiote to make him a worthy foe for a superhero.
We’ve seen many different kinds of Joker on the big screen, but we have never seen a woman step into the role. There’s not a huge amount of precedent in the comic books, other than a female Joker in DC’s Tangent Comics and the presence of his daughter, Duela Dent. However, there’s no reason that the character couldn’t be female in order to present a different perspective.
A terrific candidate for the role would be Aubrey Plaza. She has made her name with unconventional, dark comedy roles — including in the bizarre, unsettling Ingrid Goes West — and always seems to have a certain amount of insanity lurking behind her eyes. She’d be a perfect Batman villain.
Dane DeHaan works far better as a slimy bad guy than he does as a leading man. He was excellent as the increasingly unhinged Andrew in found footage superhero tale Chronicle and was one of the few plus points of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with his take on the Green Goblin. Attempts to make him a hero in Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets did not really bear fruit.
DeHaan would fare considerably better if he were to abandon the notion of big screen heroism, lean in to the potential for villainy and utilise his trademark unsettling air to portray the grinning arch-enemy of Batman.
Will Poulter is, of course, best known for his comedy work. He even played the closest thing to a comic relief character in Ari Aster’s chilling horror epic Midsommar last year. However, Poulter has essayed villainy to terrific effect on the big screen already, portraying the violent cop Krauss in Kathryn Bigelow’s underseen drama Detroit. He was also due to play Pennywise in the movie adaptation of It for director Cary Fukunaga, stepping away from the project around the same time the filmmaker did.
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Poulter’s expressive facial features, including those renowned eyebrows, seem perfectly calibrated for the terrifying contortions of the Joker’s visage. The intersection of comedy and darkness is prime ground for the Joker, and that’s where Poulter lives.
Caleb Landry Jones
Caleb Landry Jones has had an unusual career, balancing supporting roles in prestige pictures like The Social Network and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri with prominent parts in genre efforts like Antiviral and Get Out. He has carved out a career as an eccentric character actor, so he seems primed to take on something major to catapult him into the A-list.
Jones’ unconventional charisma and unsettling style would make him an interesting foil for Pattinson’s Batman, with his movie idol good looks. A clash between the two of them would be compelling.
He was once best known to British viewers for his role in the E4 show Misfits, but he became globally recognised when he joined the cast of Game of Thrones in 2013 as the truly loathsome Ramsay Bolton. Ramsay was one of the most memorable villains in that show’s history, taking part in rape and torture before meeting his end in the aftermath of the ‘Battle of the Bastards’.
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Rheon has shown himself capable of portraying the most terrible of villains and Ramsay’s sickening grin could easily be translated into the criminal underworld of Gotham City. Anything to help people forget Inhumans.
Anyone who saw the Blumhouse horror movie Ma next year will know that Octavia Spencer has a gift for smiling insanity. The Oscar-winning star gave her all to the campy tale, helmed by The Help director Tate Taylor, which spawned so many memes that the actor herself ran a competition to find the best examples of the format.
With this experience under her belt, Spencer could be a truly crazy Joker. It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that Ma enjoys clown make-up anyway.