“Wait until they get a load of me …”
There have been four big screen, live-action incarnations of the Joker in the last three decades, and each first look has provoked a different response — and each seemingly more divisive among fandom than the last.
The first look at Joaquin Phoenix in full clown makeup in Todd Phillips’ standalone Joker movie is only the latest example of that, and will almost certainly not be the last.
The respective first looks at the Jokers played by Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, Jared Leto, and now Joaquin Phoenix were released in different ways depending on the media of their time. Nicholson’s debuted in traditional print media, Ledger’s was revealed via viral marketing, while both Leto and Phoenix’s debuted via social media.
Scroll through the slideshow below or continue to the article for a look back at each modern movie Joker’s first look photo and how they were revealed.
The first photo of Jack Nicholson’s Joker appeared alongside the first look at Michael Keaton’s Batman in the pages of Time Magazine back in 1989. The movie’s first trailer was previewed on Entertainment Tonight, including Nicholson’s now iconic “wait until they get a load of me” line.
While there was no social media at the time, disgruntled fanboys focused the bulk of their displeasure about the movie towards Keaton’s casting and less on the Shining actor’s look, although Nicholson’s weight was criticized.
The Dark Knight (2008)
There was a set photo of Christopher Nolan directing Heath Ledger that came out not long before the official first look at the late actor in makeup. Ledger is obscured behind opaque glass, but spy pics from the set initially revealed Ledger without much makeup on while shooting the opening bank heist sequence.
Of course, the Internet was proven wrong and Ledger’s Joker was indeed wearing makeup underneath his clown mask — he just wasn’t wearing it when those spy pics were snapped.
The first official photo of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight was “unlocked” as part of an online publicity stunt in 2007, where fans had to visit a viral marketing site for the reveal.
The fan response to Ledger’s smeared makeup and scarring, as well as his lack of a killer grin, was, like his casting, not universally well received. Many a tune was changed once people finally saw the movie.
Suicide Squad (2016)
Joker actor Jared Leto himself had been teasing his transformation on his social media, documenting the cutting of his long mane of brown hair and his bushy beard and the subsequent dyeing of his hair to a neon green — and each small hint set the Internet ablaze. And then people finally saw what he looked like.
The film’s director, David Ayer, revealed the first official photo of Jared Leto as the Joker via Twitter in 2015, and the reaction was immediate and unrelenting. It was tied to the character’s 75th anniversary.
The tattoos (which a large and very vocal contingent of fans were convinced weren’t really going to be in the movie but, yes, actually were), the metal teeth, the jewelry, the bare-chested look, even the shade of Leto’s white skin was scrutinized. The “damaged” tattoo on his forehead and the acknowledgment of his character’s own iconography (e.g., the “hahaha” tattoo) were (and remain) particularly criticized.
Not unlike The Dark Knight, spy photos from the set offered the first unofficial look at actor Joaquin Phoenix in the role. A few days later the film’s director, Todd Phillips, revealed this official photo of Phoenix as the drab and depressed-looking Arthur Fleck, a man cast off by society who will become the Clown Prince of Crime.
Several days after that first look at Arthur Fleck, director Todd Phillips once again used his social media account to reveal Joaquin Phoenix in the standalone movie, but this time in full clown makeup.
This Joker’s clown makeup design is different from Ledger’s incarnation, although the smared lipstick, long, straggly hair and rumpled clothing certainly bear a resemblance.
Which Joker first look photo was your favorite and which one did you not like when you initially saw it but liked it after watching the movie? (Be honest!) Let us know in the comments below.
For more on Batman’s archenemy, find out about the 1980s cult classic that’s inspired the new Joker movie, read up on the many origins of the Joker (as depicted in various media), take a look back at the visual history of the DC villain, and discover how Heath Ledger’s Joker look was created.