5 Actors Who Could Have Played the Joker

Heath Ledger as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008)
Heath Ledger as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008)
DC Comics // 2008 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved

While taking on the role of any iconic comic book character comes with a lot of expectations and pressure, no character is as daunting to an actor as the Joker. The legendary DC villain has been portrayed by Hollywood heavyweights such as Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill, but the bar was officially set when the late Heath Ledger took on the part for Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight (2008), and earned a posthumous Academy Award for his portrayal. Actors have tried to do the role justice since, most notably Jared Leto, but have failed in the eyes of critics.

Though Joaquin Phoenix’s take on the character in Todd Phillips’s upcoming standalone Joker film looks promising, it's hard to imagine anyone capturing the character in the same slightly-charming-but-definitely-psychotic way that Ledger did. Still, a variety of actors have come close to landing the ultimate villain role over the years. Here are just a few of them.

1. Ray Liotta

Actor Ray Liotta poses for a portrait while promoting the film 'Slow Burn' at the Toronto International Film Festival September 12, 2005 in Toronto, Canada
Carlo Allegri, Getty Images

For Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, Ray Liotta was eyed to play either the Joker—a role that ultimately went to Nicholson—or the Caped Crusader himself, which Michael Keaton ended up playing. The Goodfellas actor reportedly turned down the opportunity to join the cast, but seemed to later regret the decision.

"I remember right after a movie I did, Something Wild, Tim Burton wanted to meet me for Batman,” Liotta told The Playlist in 2011. “And at that time, I said, ‘What are you kidding me? I’m an actor.’ But now it’s changed; now it’s good because if you do that you get other movies.”

2. Adrien Brody

For The Dark Knight (2008), Academy Award-winning actor Adriene Brody was reportedly passed on in favor of Heath Ledger. And when 2017’s Justice League was announced, the actor expressed interest in the role again. When asked about the possibility of finally wearing that menacing grin, Brody told Metro:

“I would do it if I feel I can contribute something valuable and that the role would be interesting to me. To me, the villains are way fun! But [studios] don’t offer me those roles. If there is an opportunity to do something like that and play a comic book hero or villain, that’s not something I’m fundamentally opposed to.”

Ultimately, Justice League did not include the Joker.

3. Tim Curry

Actor Tim Curry attends the premiere of 'Kinsey' at the Beekman Theatre on November 10, 2004 in New York City
Peter Kramer, Getty Images

Batman: The Animated Series famously featured Star Wars hero Mark Hamill as the Joker, but The Rocky Horror Picture Show star Tim Curry was originally cast as the villain. While there have been a number of rumors over the years as to why Curry abandoned the role, the actor set the record straight in 2017. “I did play Joker for a while, but I had bronchitis and they fired me—and hired Mark Hamill. That’s life,” Curry told ScreenGeek.

4. Willem Dafoe

Fans have rallied for Academy Award-nominated actor Willem Dafoe—who went on to play the Green Goblin in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man—to play the Joker for years. And in fact, he was considered for the role in Burton’s Batman, however was never officially offered the part. While talking to The Hollywood Reporter in 2017, Dafoe stated, “[Screenwriter Sam] Hamm said something about how physically I would be perfect for the part, but they never offered it to me."

5. Ryan Gosling

yan Gosling attends 'The Nice Guys' photocall during the 69th annual Cannes Film Festival at the Palais des Festivals on May 15, 2016 in Cannes, France
Pascal Le Segretain, Getty Images

Though Ryan Gosling never addressed the reports, it’s believed he was offered the role of the Joker for David Ayer’s Suicide Squad (2016). The Wrap claimed in 2014 that Jared Leto—who eventually won the role—was being eyed for the part only after Gosling turned it down due to not wanting to sign a multi-film contract. Considering how poorly the film did with critics, Gosling was smart to say no.

The Psychology Behind Kids' L.O.L. Surprise! Doll Obsession

Jack Taylor, Getty Images
Jack Taylor, Getty Images

Isaac Larian, the founder and CEO of toymaker MGA Entertainment, is an insomniac. Fortunately for him, that inability to sleep forced him to get up out of bed one night—a move that ended up being worth $4 billion.

Larian’s company is the architect of L.O.L. Surprise!, a line of dolls with a clever conceit. The product, which retails for about $10 to $20, is encased in a ball-shaped plastic shell and buried under layers of packaging, forcing children to tear through a gauntlet of wrapping before they’re able to see it. The inspiration came on that highly profitable sleepless night, which Larian spent watching unboxing videos on YouTube. It resulted in the first toy made for a generation wired for delayed gratification.

The dolls first went on sale in test markets at select Target stores in late 2016. MGA shipped out 500,000 of them, all of which sold out within two months. A Cabbage Patch Kid-esque frenzy came the following year. By late 2018, L.O.L. Surprise! (the acronym stands for the fancifully redundant Little Outrageous Little) had moved 800 million units, accounted for seven of the top 10 toys sold in the U.S., and was named Toy of the Year by the Toy Association. Videos of kids and adults unboxing them garner millions of views on YouTube, which is precisely where Larian knew his marketing would be most effective.

A woman holds a L.O.L. Surprise doll and packaging in her hand
Cindy Ord, Getty Images for MGA Entertainment

The dolls themselves are nothing revolutionary. Once freed from their plastic prisons, they stare at their owner with doe-eyed expressions. Some “tinkle,” while others change color in water. They can be dressed in accessories found in the balls or paired with tiny pets (which also must be "unboxed"). Larger bundles, like last year’s $89.99 L.O.L. Bigger Surprise! capsule, feature a plethora of items, each individually wrapped. It took a writer from The New York Times 59 minutes to uncover everything inside.

This methodical excavation is what makes L.O.L. Surprise! so appealing to its pint-sized target audience. Though MGA was advised that kids wouldn’t want to buy something they couldn’t see, Larian and his executives had an instinctual understanding of what child development experts already knew: Kids like looking forward to things.

Dr. Rachel Barr, director of Georgetown University’s Early Learning Project, told The Atlantic that unboxing videos tickle the part of a child’s brain that enjoys anticipation. By age 4 or 5, they have a concept of “the future,” or events that will unfold somewhere other than the present. However, Barr said, they’re also wary of being scared by an unforeseen outcome. In an unboxing video, they know the payoff will be positive and not, say, a live tarantula.

L.O.L. Surprise! is engineered to prolong that anticipatory joy, with kids peeling away wrapping like an onion for up to 20 minutes at a time. The effect is not entirely novel—baseball card collectors have been buying and unwrapping card packs without knowing exactly what’s inside for decades—but paired with social media, MGA was able to strike oil. The dolls now have 350 licensees making everything from bed sheets to apparel. Collectors—or their parents—can buy a $199.99 doll house. So-called “boy toys” are now lurking inside the wrappers, with one, the mohawk-sporting Punk Boi, causing a mild stir for being what MGA calls “anatomically correct.” His tiny plastic genital area facilitates a peeing function.

Whether L.O.L. Surprise! bucks conventional toy trends and continues its popularity beyond a handful of holiday seasons remains to be seen. Already, MGA is pushing alternative products like Poopsie Slime Surprise, a unicorn that can be fed glitter and poops a viscous green slime. An official unboxing video has been viewed 4.2 million times and counting.

The 8 Most Anticipated Horror Movies of 2019

Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Jessica Rothe in Happy Death Day 2U (2019)
Michele K. Short, Universal Pictures

Between Hereditary, A Quiet Place, and Halloween, 2018 was a killer year for horror moviesand 2019 is shaping up to be just as impressive. While remakes seem to be dominating the schedule in the coming months, there are plenty of sequels, adaptations, and even a few promising original titles coming out as well. Here are some of the scary movies we're most looking forward to seeing this year.

1. Us

In 2017, Jordan Peele revolutionized the horror genre with Get Out. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker plans to do the same again with Us, which features a predominantly black cast—a rarity for a horror movie. "I dedicated a lot of myself to creating a new horror mythology and a new monster," Peele said of the film. "I think that monsters and stories about monsters are our best ways of getting at deeper truths and facing our fears as a society ... It’s also important to note that this movie, unlike Get Out, is not about race. It is instead about something I feel has become an undeniable truth. That is the simple fact that we are our own worst enemies." Us, which stars Elisabeth Moss and Lupita Nyong'o, arrives in theaters on March 22, 2019.

2. IT: Chapter 2

Stephen King fans were thrilled with 2017's IT, the second adaptation of the horror master's beloved 1986 novel. Andy Muschietti is sitting in the director's chair again for the second chapter, which will follow the Losers Club as they return to Derry, Maine in their adult years. While Bill Skarsgård will reprise his role as Pennywise, impressive new additions to the cast include Jessica Chastain, Bill Hader, and James McAvoy. The film debuts on September 6, 2019.

3. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

If you’ve been a horror fiend since childhood, you’ll no doubt remember Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark book series. The books included memorable illustrations by Stephen Gammell, some of which no doubt haunted many children’s nightmares. The film adaptation will be released on August 9, 2019.

4. Zombieland 2

Venom director Ruben Fleischer's feature debut, 2009's Zombieland, was an instant hit with both horror and comedy fans. And they've been waiting 10 years for a sequel. Finally, we’ll be getting a second film this year with Fleischer directing and Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and even Bill Murray all confirmed to return. Zombieland 2 is set to hit theaters on October 11, 2019.

5. Happy Death Day 2U

The hilariously bad-but-fun Happy Death Day (2017) surprised audiences with how flat-out entertaining it was, so much so that fans were thrilled to hear there were plans for a sequel. Much like the original movie, the second film will follow protagonist Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) as she’s killed every single day. But this time, the killer is coming for her friends, too. Happy Death Day 2U premieres on February 14, 2019.

6. Pet Sematary

Though Mary Lambert's original Pet Sematary (1989) was not met with much critical acclaim, fans of the Stephen King novel were pleased with the adaptation, and are excited to see the story come to life again. The remake, which is directed by Kevin Kölsch and Dennis Widmyer and stars John Lithgow and Jason Clarke, debuts on April 5, 2019.

7. Child’s Play

When rumors began swirling that there was going to be another Chucky movie, and that it would be a remake of the original Child’s Play at that, people—including the original series creator Don Mancini—didn't initially seem too excited.

But as more details—including a cast list that includes Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry—were made public, interest in the project seemed to grow. Child’s Play hits theaters June 21, 2019.

8. The Prodigy

Creepy kids will never fail to make terrifying horror movie villains. In The Prodigy, Taylor Schilling’s character discovers something supernatural might be happening to her son when he starts acting as if he’s possessed. (Spoiler alert: He probably is). The film will be released on February 8, 2019.

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