No character, no matter how distinct or iconic, materializes out of nowhere. Even a figure like the Joker, with his famously nebulous origins, can be traced back to various sources of inspiration. Each of the actors who have played the Joker onscreen - Cesar Romero, Mark Hamill, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, and Joaquin Phoenix among them - have taken unique, personal inspiration for their interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime. And that goes for the Joker's original creators - as well as every writer and director who has ever added their own signature to the character's legacy.
Nailing down the origins of the Joker himself is nearly as difficult as figuring out which of his many comic book backstories is the real one. It's not as simple as asking Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson - his official creators - who and what inspired their legendary creation. After all, the character has been reinvented dozens of times since 1940's Batman #1.
In truth, the Joker has roots across countless corners of pop culture - and the real world, too. After nearly 80 years, the Joker is many things, and a compendium of many people - the silent film icon who gave him his face, the silent clowns who gave him his physicality, the tap dancer who gave him his rhythm, the antiheroes who gave him his humanity, the crooks who gave him his danger, and the musicians who gave him his style.
These are the key influences who have shaped the most important villain in Batman's gallery of rogues.
The Original Joker Was Directly Inspired By Conrad Veidt In ‘The Man Who Laughs’Photo: Universal Pictures
‘The Man Who Laughs’ Informs The Joker’s CharacterizationPhoto: Universal Pictures
The Joker Was Designed To Be The Professor Moriarty To Batman’s Sherlock Holmes
Cesar Romero’s Campy Trickster Was Inspired By The Comics Code - And Inspired The Animated Joker In TurnPhoto: Batman/ABC
The Burton/Nicholson Joker Was Modeled On Film Noir Gangsters And Gritty Comic RebootsPhoto: Batman / Warner Bros.
Mark Hamill Built His Joker On Classic Movie MonstersPhoto: Batman: The Animated Series / Fox Kids