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6 Actors Who Could Have Played The Joker In A DC Movie

 Mark Hamill's Joker in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.
Mark Hamill's Joker in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

For nearly every BatFan, there is just one cinematic portrayal of the Joker that they consider to be the definitive iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime on screen. Some think of the late Heath Ledger’s Academy Award-winning performance in 2008’s The Dark Knight as the greatest of all time, while many others would say no one has beaten Jack Nicholson from Tim Burton’s 1989 classic, but quite a few believe neither of them hold a candle to Mark Hamill’s vocal performance in Batman: The Animated Series and several great animated Batman movies, too. Lest we forget, however, that these legends were never the only ones considered for the iconic role.

It is very rare that an actor chosen to bring a popular comic book character to life on the big screen is the first choice for the job. For instance, the list of actors who could have played Batman is pretty long and the amount of actors considered to portray Superman is hefty enough to give the Man of Steel himself a challenge. The Dark Knight’s maniacal arch-nemesis is absolutely no exception, and you might find yourself asking if we are the ones playing a joke when you check out the following collection of actors who could have joined the live-action DC movies’ legacy as the Joker.

Adrien Brody on Poker Face
Adrien Brody on Poker Face

Adrien Brody

In the eyes of many, The Dark Knight is the greatest live-action Batman movie ever and a key reason why is Heath Ledger’s unforgettably grim portrayal of the central villain. However, before the Australian was cast in his definitive role, an actor who already had an Oscar under his belt tried out for the part.

As MTV reported in 2010, The Piano star Adrien Brody confirmed a rumor that he met with director Christopher Nolan for the role of the Joker while speaking at that year’s South By Southwest Festival. He had nothing but praise for the late actor who ended up winning the part, but admits he would have been honored to take on the role, which would have marked his comic book movie debut — a bucket list item the Asteroid City cast member still has yet to cross off.

Brad Dourif in The Exorcist III
Brad Dourif in The Exorcist III

Brad Dourif

Academy Award nominee Brad Dourif is an undisputed horror icon for originating one of the most beloved horror movie villains (Chucky from the Child’s Play franchise) and owning the screen in the underrated The Exorcist III, in addition to his memorable turn in the Lord of the Rings movies as Grima Wormtongue. Yet, he came close to adding another dastardly character to his repertoire which would have increased his notoriety by a hundredfold.

According to Business Insider, when asked if he would ever voice the Joker during a panel at the New York Comic Con in 2013, Dourif replied with the surprise reveal that he almost played the character in live-action. Apparently, he was Tim Burton’s original choice to play Jack Napier in 1989’s Batman, but Warner Bros. rejected the idea, leading to Jack Nicholson’s famous casting.

Ryan Gosling looking distressed as Ken while singing I'm Just Ken in Barbie.
Ryan Gosling looking distressed as Ken while singing I'm Just Ken in Barbie.

Ryan Gosling

While I certainly understand most of the gripes fans have with Jared Leto’s Joker, I am not someone who outright hates the Academy Award winner’s portrayal in 2016’s Suicide Squad, and even believe Zack Snyder’s Justice League shows the potential this iteration had. However, speaking as a fan of Ryan Gosling, I would have kicked the future Morbius star out the door in favor of the future Barbie cast member in a heartbeat.

Indeed, according to The Wrap, Gosling was approached to play the DC Extended Universe’s version of the Clown Prince of Crime in David Ayer’s villain crossover flick. Unfortunately, he was not willing to agree to a multi-picture deal and, thus, the role went to his future Blade Runner 2049 co-star.

John Lithgow in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension
John Lithgow in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

John Lithgow

Because of his friendly aura and innocent appearance, it is easy to forget that John Lithgow is a phenomenal force when it comes to playing bad guys — such as his Emmy-winning performance as, arguably, the all-time best antagonist on Dexter, Arthur Mitchell, or the voice of Lord Farquad from the Shrek movies, to name just a few. For that reason, I would have loved to see what he would have done with the role of The Joker.

As a guest on The Discourse podcast (via The Playlist), Joe Dante recalled how, in the early 1980s, he was offered the chance to bring Batman to the big screen following the success of Gremlins, and wanted to give the villainous role to Lithgow, whom he had met on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie. He wound up becoming so excited by the idea of the actor as The Joker that it made him less interested in the title hero, ultimately driving him away from the project altogether.

Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate
Frank Sinatra in The Manchurian Candidate

Frank Sinatra

The first feature-length live-action Batman movie, Batman: The Movie, was spun-off from a classic, campy series from the mid-1960s that starred Adam West in the title role. That era’s Joker was played beautifully by Cesar Romero, but rumors have suggested that an actor who hoped to take on the juicy role before his casting was Academy Award winner Frank Sinatra.

As it turns out, the rumor is true and was confirmed by Burt Ward in the book, Truth and Rumors: The Reality Behind TV's Most Famous Myths (via The FW). The Robin actor claimed that the renowned actor and musician "was very upset because he couldn’t play The Joker." With all due respect to Romero, it is a sight I would been very curious to see.

Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam
Robin Williams in Good Morning Vietnam

Robin Williams

Perhaps the most well-known and infamous example of an actor who could have played The Joker is the late Robin Williams. Reason being: he truly did come very close to landing the role for Batman ’89 but, as the Academy Award winner claims, his offer was not particularly genuine.

In a 1993 interview for Mrs. Doubtfire (from take2markTV), Williams claims that Warner Bros. offered him the role as “bait” to attract the attention of their primary choice, Jack Nicholson. He would echo that statement years later in an interview with Empire, in which he mentions that a similar situation happened with Batman Forever, in which he was given the opportunity to play The Riddler before the part went to Jim Carrey.

While these beloved actors may not have gotten the last laugh, we can at least agree that, in most cases, the role of The Joker ultimately went to the right person.