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The Fiery Debate Over Joaquin Phoenix And Heath Ledger As Joker

When it comes to DC Comics' Clown Prince of Crime, everyone has their favorite version. Some prefer Cesar Romero as the Joker on the 1960s Batman television series. Others think the 1980s brought us the best iteration of Mr. J in Jack Nicholson, who played the Joker in Tim Burton's Batman film. A fair few out there are a little more radical, liking Jared Leto's silver-toothed, tattooed take on the Joker in Suicide Squad the best of all. And some even think the live-action versions of the infamous character pale in comparison to Mark Hamill's voiceover work. But it's the late Heath Ledger who perhaps captivated people the most, as fans still argue to this day that that no one can come close to his stunning turn as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight

However, now there's a new Joker in town: Joaquin Phoenix's Arthur Fleck, the aspiring comedian who experiences a psychotic break and becomes the Joker. When Warner Bros. dropped the first teaser trailer for the Phoenix-led Joker movie, the internet lit aflame as fans sparked a fiery debate over which actor is the better Joker: Ledger or Phoenix. 

Fresh off watching the footage of director Todd Phillips' Joker, one fan took to Twitter to definitively say that Phoenix will be "the best Joker we've ever seen." Another wrote in their own post that Phoenix is "coming for Heath Ledger's crown as the best Joker." 

Twitter user @SithMorrison was so blown away by seeing Phoenix in character as the Joker that they were confident placing an early bet on the outcome of the film: "Calling it now, Joaquin Phoenix is going to be the best live action Joker. This movie is looking pretty amazing so far, and his laugh is perfect." They weren't alone in that belief, as another fan wrote, "Unpopular but should be popular opinion: Joaquin Phoenix will be the best live-action Joker we've ever seen."

Quickly, people began bringing Ledger's name into their arguments — with one user tweeting, "I have a great feeling that Joaquin Phoenix's Joker is gonna better than Heath Ledger's," and another writing, "Joaquin Phoenix is going to be a better Joker than Ledger ever was."

One fan even started up an Oscar campaign for Phoenix based on the glimpses of his performance shown in the Joker teaser. They tweeted, "Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker is perfect. His laugh. His expressions. His performance. Everything. He deserves the Oscar." 

That Twitter user wasn't the only fan predicting that Phoenix's take on the Joker would land him an Academy Award, as another fan posted, "Calling it now. Joker will be the movie to earn Joaquin Phoenix his long deserved Oscar. This man transformed his mind and body to depict what it looks like when our hopes and dreams die. This may be the first CBM [comic book movie] to win best picture." 

The Atlantic staff writer Jemele Hill admitted that she feels Phoenix just might end up being a better Joker than Ledger. She tweeted, "I didn't think it was possible for anyone to play the Joker better than Heath Ledger. But Joaquin Phoenix looks like he's got a shot."

Tia Fabi of Geek Vibes Nation went so far as to write an opinion piece on why Phoenix will be one of the best Jokers in history. Fabi's article reads in part, "Phoenix has been a talented actor for some time and has given us some powerful performances throughout the years. He brought life to famous singer Johnny Cash in Walk the Line and even gave depth to his character in Her. Phoenix embodies whatever characters he is portraying and produces outstanding material, which is why he was perfect for the role of the Joker ... This is a different rendition than what we have gotten before and it's going to be Oscar worthy, mark my words."

Of course, where there's a Team Phoenix, there's going to be a Team Ledger. 

Twitter user @JaKoouzi didn't mince words when giving her opinion on who is the better Joker: "Heath Ledger is the epitome of the Joker. He is untouchable. Any other actors casted as the Joker are irrelevant."

Another fan was prepared to turn the online debate into a real-life battle when they tweeted, "Heath Ledger will never be replaced as the best Joker. Fight me."

Prolific writer and activist George M. Johnson wrote that people should "let the Joker rest with the best that did it," referring to Ledger, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 28. Added advocate April Reign in response to Johnson's tweet, "This is my thought as well. Why anyone would even ATTEMPT this after Heath is beyond me."

One user posted that Hollywood should give up on producing any more Joker movies and "stop trying to continue" with the character, since "Heath Ledger did it the best, it will never be topped and nothing else will come close."

In the heat of passion over the Joker, professional Fortnite player Nate Hill even tweeted, "Heath Ledger's Joker was so good the character should be retired ... I will compare every Joker to Heath and they always will fall short."

Over on Instagram, the debate was just as hot. 

One individual wrote that Ledger is the best Joker, and that "anarchist Joker will always be my favorite." Another argued, "You can't compare them. Heath Ledger was the best [live] action Joker to date but that doesn't mean someone else can't be an amazing Joker as well. I get it Heath set the bar but Phoenix is one of the best actors out there and his Joker can be iconic as well.. no need for comparison." 

Someone else took the time to watch the trailers for Joker and The Dark Knight, and came way feeling Phoenix was better than Ledger. "Okay. Watched both trailers with a clear head. Still gotta say Joaquin Phoenix," user @vincent.murphy.7127 posted. 

Though there are two major sides to this intense debate, some fans refused to choose a favorite Joker and instead argued that comparisons simply can't be made, as the two actors appear to be playing different forms of the same character. 

In response to Looper's own tweet about the matter, user @Selsinite wrote, "Joaquin is portraying the early developments of the Joker character... Heath Ledger is the developed character in the years following. It'd be silly to compare the two."

Another fan shared a string of tweets on the subject, writing that "people have got to stop comparing every actor that takes on the Joker's role to Heath's interpretation" of the character. "There [are] so many different faces and personalities of the Joker and seeing different actors portray the character is fascinating," they posted. "Also, I know lots of people see Heath's role as legacy because he passed away during the filming of The Dark Knight, I understand that!! He also worked extremely hard for the role. But every actor has different interpretations of the character, which works well for the Joker. Each actor has a different creative mind and want to do a different adaptation of the legendary comic villain. No actor has actually done the Joker 'wrong', that's down to opinions (and script, ain't that right, Suicide Squad?) They've all followed the comics with a twist."

"Each of these Jokers not only looked different but had a different personality. That's the beauty of comic book characters. You can have many versions of them. There's literally no reason to bring up Heath Ledger's Joker every time they cast a new one," Twitter user @one_illuminati posted. User @boliver36 felt the same: "Jack Nicholson's Joker is the Joker. Heath Ledger's Joker is the Joker. Cesar Romero's Joker is the Joker. Jared Leto's Joker is the Joker. Mark Hamill's Joker is the Joker. Joaquin Phoenix's Joker will be the Joker. There's room for more than one. Stop being stupid."

On Instagram, user @desouzamusic85 wrote, "Too early for this and stop comparing. Both have their own take and style of the Joker. Also, this is an origin story so you're seeing the transformation where as in Dark Knight, it's full fledged Joker so it'll be different takes. This is something I wouldn't even compare because it's too different."

Another fan said that fighting takes the fun out of being a fan: "Can we stop comparing, 'Who did this character best?' Please? Ugh, online fandom is just taking the fun out of everything I swear. Half these characters come from comics with multiple realities/versions anyway. I'm sure Joaquin Phoenix and his Joker will be fine." 

It was Twitter user @TBroomey who had arguably the most impactful comment to add to the discussion when they shared two pictures of Phoenix and Ledger smiling alongside each other with a caption highlighting their friendship. "Heath Ledger and Joaquin Phoenix were friends. So, how about we stop with the extreme comparisons of their Joker performances and propping up one to s*** on the other? It's disrespectful and tasteless. Heath would be proud of what his peer has accomplished." 

Taking into account everyone's thoughts on the Phoenix-versus-Ledger debate, it's evident that some fans are set in their stance while others are holding out until they see more footage of the upcoming Joker movie to make any hard-and-fast calls. It goes without saying that these are just a selection of the thousands of responses fans posted after seeing the Joker teaser, and opinions are bound to change as the film nears its release date. 

Whether you're a fan of Phoenix, a longtime Ledger-lover, or someone who doesn't want to pick sides just yet, keep an open mind about Joker (and try to avoid getting into any social media fights) as you wait until the film opens in theaters on October 4.