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Every Screen Version Of Harley Quinn Ranked Worst To Best

Since her humble beginning as the Joker's lovelorn sidekick in 1992's Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn has risen to the heights of superheroic success. She's in cartoons. She's in movies. She's in video games. She's on T-shirts. She's an enduring Halloween costume choice. Harley isn't just a breakout character but a bona fide icon, beloved across the world for her trademark blend of comedy and heartbreak. Like all the best comic characters, she contains multitudes. Some love her as the tragic girlfriend, some enjoy her slapstick charm, and some gravitate to her as an independent anti-heroine. All of these renditions are Harley Quinn, just as Adam West's 1960s swinger and Christian Bale's Dark Knight are both Batman. She is many, and yet she is singular.

Not all Harley Quinns are created equal, however. There are smoldering failures among her many on-screen portrayals, as well as soaring successes. Where's a fan to start, given the sheer number of Harleys to choose from? We're here to answer that question the best way we know how — by examining each and every on-screen Harley Quinn and ranking them from the utter worst to the absolute best. Pin up your pigtails, it's going to be a bumpy, joke-filled, mallet-swinging ride.

Birds of Prey has a pretty boring Harley Quinn

Long before the Birds of Prey were best known for being led by the fantabulously emancipated Harley Quinn, they were tearing up the 2002 TV screen ... for a year, at least. Only one season was ever produced of the series, after its impressive premiere numbers gave way to a steep decline in viewership. It's an odd little series, notably averse to comic book canon. Sure, it's got Oracle working out of Gotham's clocktower, but it also has a telepathic Black Canary, a Gotham that's been abandoned by Batman, and a Huntress who, in addition to being Bruce Wayne's estranged daughter, was born to a Catwoman with literal cat powers that she can also manifest through strong emotion.

Nothing, however, tops the show's take on Harley Quinn for sheer strangeness. The show's antagonist, Harley is a conniving psychiatrist out for revenge on the Gotham elite who incarcerated her Mr. J. It's not a terrible idea on its own, but Mia Sara's Harley shares little in common with the maven of mayhem that fans know and love. She smirks in lieu of cackling, coolly lays out her complex plans, and generally lacks the anarchic glee that makes Harley such a beloved character. This makes sense, given Birds of Prey's sleek approach to superheroics, but it sure does make for sub-par Harley content.

Justice League: Gods and Monsters is too edgy to be cool

One of the best things about superhero stories is their flexibility. Alternate universes aren't just possible within DC and Marvel's cosmic confines. They're often the order of the day. Soviet Superman? Check out Red Son. Wonder Woman tackling Jack the Ripper? Behold Amazonia. Batman and Tarzan teaming up to take down a 1930s Catwoman cult? Yeah, that one's real too.

But where that openness to ideas leads to truly inventive storytelling, so too does it create some real stinkers. Enter Justice League: Gods and Monsters, in which DC's premier good guys are re-imagined as brutal, world-conquering colossi with little interest in accountability. This world's Harley Quinn is similarly dark. We find her, clad in ripped lingerie, taking apart corpses to construct the perfect family scene. She's taken down by Batman — here a vampire — but not before we see her hit every tired item on the "Hardcore 2010s Superhero Media" checklist. Chainsaws? Check. Reflection in a shattered mirror? Check. Girlish affectations contrasted against bloody violence? Check. It's the kind of Harley somebody might love upon putting away childish things at 12, then find abhorrent a few years later once they realize that R-rated content doesn't maturity ensure. It's brutal, bloody, and all the more boring for it.

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is just run-of-the-mill Harley

It's not that Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay is bad, exactly, nor is its portrayal of Harley Quinn. Generally speaking, both are exactly what you might expect: violent, quirky, uninterested in ethics. Committed DC fans will have fun seeing lesser-known characters like Punch and Jewelee and Scandal Savage brought to animated life, while more casual watchers can enjoy some decently choreographed fight scenes. It's something to put on, which is more than can be said for some of the other entries on this list, even if it's best watched with chatty friends or while doing chores.

But really, that's where the praise has to end, especially when it comes to Harley. Hell to Pay's Harley is what you might get if you asked a computer to generate a portrayal based upon the Harley Quinn merch available at any given geek convention — recognizably Harley, but without any memorable scenes, lines, or moments. Hell to Pay gets that people like Harley because she's a cheery nutcase, so it spits out scenes in which she laments not being able "to give [Jewelee] a makeover ... with a baseball bat!" It's not bad, exactly, but it's also not scintillating stuff. She's the exact average of the Harley that lives in the public imagination, a perfectly adequate portrayal that meets the minimum and goes no further. It could be worse ... but it could also be a whole lot better.

Batman: Assault on Arkham is a mixed bag when it comes to Quinn

Set in the universe of the Batman: Arkham video games, Assault on Arkham throws pretty much everything it can into a dark, twisty mix. King Shark? He's here. Dirty bombs? They're here. Ill-advised intra-Suicide Squad hookups? They happen. Harley, accordingly, is a patchwork of her most attention-grabbing traits, all of which have been emphasized to the point of absurdity. This isn't a bad thing, exactly. Any decent portrayal of Harley Quinn needs to involve at least a little absurdity. But at the end of the day, this is a Harley Quinn who bites the ears off her therapists, seduces Deadshot by waiting, naked, in his bed, and slams extendable batons around instead of anything so twee as a mallet.

Does it work? Sort of. Hynden Walch's performance as Harley is wonderfully nuanced, which goes a long way in sanding down the script's rough patches. Yet this Harley is so clearly calculated to appeal to the most id-driven, adolescent fans around that she never stops being faintly off-putting and, frankly, exhausting to watch. One wants to take the movie by the shoulders and tell it that it's okay, everyone takes superheroes seriously now, it doesn't have to keep throwing around blood and sex like the ickiest possible confetti in order to appeal. There's fun to be found in Assault on Arkham's Harley, but one has to run a bloody, sticky gauntlet to get to it.

Gotham has a unique take on an iconic character

Gotham's Harley isn't Harley, technically. Instead, she's Ecco, right-hand woman to Gotham's Joker-who-isn't-technically-Joker, Jeremiah Valeska. Like her inspiration, she too began as a professional woman who, in her legitimate work with a devious Mr. J, plummeted into gleeful insanity, deranged devotion, and a whole lot of violence. Like everything in Gotham, she's the classic character seen through a new prism, at once identifiable and entirely new. What results is strange but largely satisfying.

For the most part, what makes Ecco work as a version of Harley Quinn is what differentiates her from the character as we know her. Harley has always been a tragic figure, as known for her pitiful dependence upon the Joker as for her cheeky one-liners. But Ecco's story is sharper in its sadness, accelerating Harley's dedication into literal worship. Ecco shoots herself in the head to prove herself to Jeremiah, leads cults centered around him, and helps him fake being brain dead for years. There's a quasi-religious edge to Ecco that Harley lacks. She often seems to be more of a supplicant than a desperate lover. It's an odd take best left outside mainstream DC storytelling, but it's intriguing to indulge in, within the refracted world of Gotham. Ecco isn't Harley, but she's isn't not Harley, resulting in something that's more interesting than not.

Batman Beyond features an older and wiser Harley Quinn

Batman Beyond chronicles cantankerous septuagenarian Bruce Wayne's attempts to pass on his crime-fighting expertise to the teenage Terry McGinnis. For the most part, the old Batman villains are either entirely gone or represented through the effect they had upon Gotham's underworld. The Joker, for example, is glimpsed mostly through the Jokerz, a street gang that furthers his aesthetic and anarchic ideals. The Dee Dees, twin girls in Raggedy Ann wigs and go-go boots, are among its most famous members and the only ones with an actual connection to the Clown Prince of Crime himself.

Who reveals this? Their "Nana Harley," who bails the girls out jail at the end of the Return of the Joker movie and rails against them for being "rotten little scamps." The implications are tantalizing. Is their grandfather the Joker? Did the Dee Dees turn to crime to emulate or scorn Harley? How did she escape the supervillain life, or is she still part of it, however quietly? Return of the Joker's plot rests upon a scheme decades in the making, in which Harley very nearly got the chance to play mother alongside Joker's father to a brainwashed Tim Drake. How might the foiling of that domestic bliss have led to the stout, cardigan-wearing grandma we glimpse at the end of the movie? These are questions with no answers, but the fact that Nana Harley inspires them all is enough to make her appearance memorable.

The Lego Batman Movie's bad guy is a whole lot of fun

It's hard to categorize the Lego movies' take on DC Comics characters according to any typical standard. Sure, Batman, Wonder Woman, and uh, Condiment King, are present, wearing their usual costumes and wielding their usual powers. But this Batman blasts his own dubstep tracks about being super rich and uber-brooding, this Superman boasts about the Phantom Zone having "the sickest baddies," and, well, they're all Lego minifigures. If these portrayals are comparable to anything, it's the 1966 Batman show. They entertain precisely because they're such dramatic departures from the characters as we know them.

How does Harley Quinn fare in this kaleidoscopic landscape of plasticized adventure? Pretty well, really. Voiced by the irrepressible Jenny Slate, the PG-rating allows the character to return to her goofier roots. This Harley poses as an employee of "Phantom's Own Laundry Service," roller skates her way through the Joker's lair, and cycles through every comic accent, from the stuffiest English marm to a vocally-fried millennial. She's genuinely funny, an aspect of the character often buried beneath violence and sex appeal, and actually gets to play the psychologist to a bummed-out Joker. Sure, she's telling him to decouple his self-worth from Batman's opinion of him to further his villainous schemes, but still, it's a more serious incorporation of Harley's professional past than most versions allow. This Harley might be made of plastic, but she's all heart.

The Batman's Harley Quinn isn't for everyone

Between the now-iconic Batman: The Animated Series and the cheeky Batman: Brave and the Bold, there aired another cartoon dedicated to the Caped Crusader: 2004's The Batman. A sleek take on the superhero, its details were often unique ... and controversial. Fans remain split to this day over the unruly mane of hair The Batman granted this version of the Joker, to say nothing of his shoelessness. 

Harley was no exception to this change-making. The Batman debuted her as a psychologist, as in her classic origin, but this Harley hosts a call-in advice show called Heart to Heart with Harley. She's more diva than doctor, accurately analyzed by an in-universe Dr. Phil parody as dispensing shoddy advice to obscure her own insecurities. Finally axed by her network for ambushing Bruce Wayne with a date he ditched (for Batman-related reasons, of course), she takes to the Joker's side immediately, becoming the mallet-wielding moll fans adore. It's not a take for everyone, most especially those who find Harley's fall from grace all the more affecting for its unlikeliness. Here, The Batman's version doesn't have far to travel, given that she was already a huckster for hire with a shady online degree. But The Batman isn't Batman: The Animated Series, and the change suits its slicker, slightly cynical style. She's not a Harley for everyone, but she's worth giving a chance.

Batman and Harley Quinn takes the character back to her roots

Batman and Harley Quinn is a purposeful throwback to Batman: The Animated Series on a whole lot of levels. Its visuals are a wholehearted return to 1992, embracing Bruce Timm's legendary designs over the blockier look of its DC Animated Original contemporaries. Moreover, Timm co-wrote the story, and BTAS veterans Kevin Conroy and Loren Lester returned to voice Batman and Nightwing, respectively. Harley is no exception to this trend, clad in her original costume and lacking the bloodlust so many 2000s adaptations instilled in her.

The movie itself is middling and prone to the same excess as all the other movies under the DC Animated Original umbrella. Case in point: In an attempt to create a sexy shot, animators accidentally portrayed Harley with two pairs of buttocks and were rightly and roundly mocked by fans of all stripes. Yet beneath this slopped-on sludge of sexuality, there lies a Harley that is, in fact, quite a lot of fun. It's a real delight to spend time with a Harley who knows how to tell a joke, sings karaoke, and sometimes wants to do the right thing, even if it's through the wrong means. The movie would unquestionably have been better if it hadn't allowed its team to indulge every impulse, but if you can deal with that sort of foolishness, you'll find a refreshing take on Harley to enjoy.

Harley Quinn is having a whole lot of fun in Justice League Action

Every generation gets its Justice League cartoon, and this one's is a bright-eyed ballista of a series, in which the fights are fierce, the jokes are plentiful, and the priority of the show is made clear in its title — action, action, action. It's a whole lot of fun, and Harley Quinn is along for the ride.

This is Harley at her most, well, Harley. For example, take her voice. Tara Strong has played Harley before, but here, she cranks her performance up to a bizarro baby doll pitch that works like gangbusters. That more-is-more approach is Justice League Action's Harley in a nutshell, really, and it's pretty gosh darn delightful. Yeah, it's nice to spend time with Margot Robbie's mafiosa once in a while, but how fun to watch Harley be a cartoon character in the truest sense of those words. She chases down enormous, cybernetically-empowered chimps! She and Poison Ivy take the Justice League's jet out for joyrides! She somersaults her way around Gotham City because running, while more efficient, is a whole lot less fun! It's impossible to spend time with this Harley and not end up with a smile on your face and a refreshed love of superheroics in general.

DC Super Hero Girls makes Harley Quinn family-friendly

In an era when Harley Quinn is at her most culturally visible and her least kid-friendly, it's a feat of serious magnitude to pull off a totally G-rated take. That's exactly what DC Super Hero Girls does and with serious aplomb at that. Launched alongside a whole host of tie-in comics, dolls, pajamas, and school supplies, DC Super Hero Girls re-imagines the leading ladies of the DC Universe as high school students, looking to make the world a better place while maintaining their GPAs.

Harley is at her energetic best here, underscored by an unexpected willingness on the part of the cartoon to get downright macabre. Yes, she's a schoolgirl who bonds with childhood bestie Barbara Gordon over getting to go to Gotham-Con, an occasion they celebrate with a lavish dance sequence. But cockroaches tumble around their feet as they do it, and the chalk body outlines of a crime scene join in with a festive jig. This is a Harley you can watch with your kids, as delightful as she is cognizant of the fact that even kids like a bit of black humor now and then. So on the one hand, she calls Barbara everything from "Babsie-Wabsie" to "Babbbly-boo," while on the other hand, she occasionally tries to bash Robin's brains in with a klieg light. Teen Harley is a new take for sure, but one so natural it's a wonder she took so long to arrive.

Harley Quinn finally gives the character her very own spotlight

Having conquered video games, movies, and television, Harley Quinn reached truly stratospheric heights in 2019 when she gained her own animated series. Harley Quinn isn't Batman: The Animated Series, Gotham Girls, or any of the other ensembles she's been part of. No, Harley Quinn is all her, all the time. The first episode makes this point explicit by having her break up with the Joker, a decision that could've sunk the entire enterprise. Sure, she's had a lot of adventures on her own, but isn't Harley Quinn defined by her relationship with her dear, demented Puddin'? Can she truly exist without him?

Harley Quinn doesn't just say yes — it dares you to say no. In kicking Joker to the curb, the show launches its protagonist into the wider wilds of the DC universe and finds that a character as zany and kinetic as she has a lot to bring to all sorts of superheroic tables. This isn't to say it's perfect, far from it. At its worst, it's a middle schooler's joyride through the DC universe that thinks being crass is the same thing as being interesting. But at its best, it's the story Harley Quinn always deserved and a triumphant capstone on a breakout character's long career as a scene-stealer. At least, the scenes are all hers, and she makes the manic most of them.

Gotham Girls allows Harley to be her own woman

Gotham Girls was unprecedented in a lot of ways. For one thing, it was a cartoon created exclusively for the web, which in 2000 was nearly unheard of. For another, it was focused entirely on the women of Gotham, especially Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, and Batgirl. Though its Flash-powered animation looks jerky and flat to modern eyes, it was a revelation at the time, and in today's superheroic landscape of Wonder Woman movies and girl-centric cartoons like DC Super Hero Girls, it was a true trailblazer.

Harley here is the Harley of Batman: The Animated Series, from her voice acting to her design. She's a wonderful take on the character, but as Gotham Girls unfolds, the character winds up going in a very different, unique direction. Inhabiting a female-dominated world changes Harley subtly, freeing her (and the other characters) to be weirder, wilder, and generally more interesting. None of them have to be the girlfriend, the sidekick, the femme fatale, or anything else so simple. They can, simply, be — Harley most of all. She's not the Joker's pet in Gotham Girls but a villainess in her own right, and if she's anything to anyone, she's the clownish counterpoint to Poison Ivy's composed cool. Watching her get to be a goofball ne'er-do-well sans baggage is a little like a vacation from other Harley portrayals. You'll go happily back to them eventually, but a break every now and then is a wonderful refreshment.

Suicide Squad features Margot Robbie's fantastic performance

Forget your problems with Suicide Squad as a whole for a moment and focus on Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. In the midst of characters like Enchantress and Deadshot, scowling and serious about their plans for revenge and absolution, there's a gleeful, bouncing Robbie, stippled with stick-and-poke tattoos and utterly giddy over the chance to do some property damage. That's not to say she doesn't have desires of her own, nor sorrow in her past. Of all the members of the Suicide Squad, she's the most aligned with emotional goals. She longs for love and stability, most potently glimpsed when Enchantress grants her visions of a home with the Joker, complete with children, dishwashers, and a kiss before the man in the purple Lambo goes off to support his family.

But she can't ever have this life, of course, and not just because the Joker is the kind of guy who likes to show affection by pushing girlfriends into vats of unknown chemicals. Harley herself is a jigsaw puzzle of a person, her romantic streak at war with her love of chaos. Robbie leans into this contradiction with grinning aplomb, utterly comfortable in this central discomfort. Her Harley lies at the intersection of several ley lines. She's a girlfriend, a gangster, a psychologist, and a hellraiser. Robbie illuminates certain of these facets more than others, as the story demands, but she never forgets their existence, nor the glittering whole they create.

Batman: The Animated Series is where it all began for Harley Quinn

Decades have passed since the debut of Batman: The Animated Series, but the years have hardly dimmed the legendary series' luminous reputation. If anything, love for BTAS has only deepened. Adults revisit their favorite episodes and realize, with mature eyes, how much it got right. Lesser Batman adaptations debut and throw BTAS' triumphs into sharper contrast. And with every passing year, the series' unique contributions to the Dark Knight's mythos only embed themselves more deeply within the medium-spanning DC Universe — most prominently with Harley Quinn.

Initially intended to be a brief walk-on role for Arleen Sorkin, an old friend of series creator Paul Dini's, Harley Quinn took on a life of her own from the first frame of her appearance in "Joker's Favor." Many have played the role by this point, but no one has ever captured Harley's particularly lopsided charm as well as Sorkin, whose Harley plays jump rope with the line between comedy and tragedy. She's a joyous failure, a cackling cast-off, a psychologist who ran away and joined the circus. Lesser takes on the character demand that Harley forsake this muddled middle ground for something simpler, but BTAS got it right the first time. Harley is, frankly put, a mess, and that's why she's one of the most potent characters in the DC universe.