Everybody loves Harley Quinn. The lovable and chaotic antihero has quickly become a DC icon, with some arguing she is the fourth DC pillar after Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. Whether you agree with that or not, one thing is true: Harley is among the company’s most popular and versatile characters, easily transitioning between villain and hero, sidekick and protagonist, often in the same story.
Originally known as Harleen Quinzel, a respected psychiatrist working at Arkham Asylum, Harley debuted in Joker’s Favor, one of the best episodes from Batman: The Animated Series. The character has been stealing hearts and kicking ass ever since, appearing in multiple animated and live-action projects and becoming increasingly more prominent in the last few years. Hell, Lady Gaga herself will play Harley next year — has there ever been an actress better-suited for a role? But who among all the Harleys is the best? Live-action Harley? Anime Harley?
HBO Max Harley? The competition is tight, but one thing’s for sure: Harley Quinn will take the top spot.
Sirena Irwin voices Harleen Quinzel in the 2017 film Batman vs. Two-Face. She does a good job with what she’s given ,but spends all her time as the psychiatrist rather than the killer harlequin.
Irwin only voices Harley at the end of the film, although the scene was ultimately deleted from the film’s final cut.
Jenny Slate voices Harley Quinn in the 2017 hit The Lego Batman Movie. The actress delivers a softer and unexpectedly sweet take on the character. It works within the film’s context — it is super kid-friendly — but her version of Harley is too much sugar, not enough spice.
Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite features a similarly soft version of Harley Quinn, voiced by Laura Bailey, who’s also voiced Catwoman in a few video games. However, Bailey successfully retains a glimmer of Harley’s disruptive persona and squeaky desperation, creating a funny and annoying version that fits the film’s kiddie tone while respecting the character’s essence.
The Big Bang Theory‘s Melissa Rauch voices Harley in the 2017 animated film Batman and Harley Quinn. Harley is the film’s deuteragonist, assuming an antihero role and reluctantly working with Batman and Nightwing to stop Poison Ivy from destroying the world.
Batman and Harley Quinn is crass and sophomoric, offering a tackier version of Harley. However, Rauch does great in the role, assuming a thick New York accent and embracing the film’s chaotic nature. It’s a valiant effort that fits the story’s tone, even if it’s not necessarily the best depiction of Harley Quinn.
Batman: The Brave and the Bold is one of the best Batman shows, yet it remains unfairly underrated. The show offers some of the best versions of many iconic DC characters, including inspired takes on Nightwing, Catwoman, Joker, and, of course, the Caped Crusader himself.
The show’s portrayal of Harley Quinn is good, but not great. Meghan Strange voices the character, hitting every note without necessarily making the role her own. The Brave and the Bold does good by Harley, but considering its outright amazing depictions of several other DC characters, its version of Harley can’t help but seem overly safe and, dare I say it, slightly forgettable.
The best live-action version of the Birds of Prey isn’t the 2020 film with Margot Robbie, but the short-lived 2002 WB show, aptly titled Birds of Prey. Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Legend), a 1980s icon, plays Dr. Harleen Quinzel, acting as the show’s primary antagonist and orchestrating most of the show’s main conflicts.
Sara offers a more confident take on Harley. Abandoning the character’s notorious taste for disruption, Sara adopts a more cunning and clinical approach, resulting in a version that blends Harleen’s intellect with Harley’s love for chaos. Birds of Prey is far from a masterpiece, but it’s also far better than many remember. Sara’s deliciously wicked take on Harley is daring and surprisingly good, and it’s a shame we didn’t see more of her.
Love it or hate it, Injustice remains the best evil Superman story. The film adapts the 2013 video game Injustice: Gods Among Us and tells the story of Superman’s descent into villainy after the Joker tricks him into killing Lois Lane and destroying Metropolis. As the Man of Steel becomes a tyrant obsessed with enforcing global peace, Batman recruits former heroes and villains to form a resistance against his former ally.
Who would’ve thought Community‘s Gillian Jacobs would be such a great Harley? The actress is genuinely brilliant as Harley, delivering a refreshing take on the character that is original enough to stand out without betraying her essence. Jacobs’ Harley is playful but decisive, aloof but clever, and a bona fide riot that lightens the otherwise bleak film.
Hynden Walch has voiced Harley Quinn a lot. The prolific voice actress, well known for voicing Starfire across the Teen Titans franchise, has voiced Harley in numerous projects, including the animated films Batman: Assault on Arkham, Batman: Hush, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, and the underrated animated show The Batman.
Assault on Arkham might be Walch’s finest turn as Harley Quinn. The actress is the perfect mix of sweetness and rage; her tone is soft, but her intent is absolutely deranged, creating the ideal sweet spot for Harley. Walch is a stellar Harley, to the point where it’s a shame she hasn’t appeared in more projects as the murderous clown.
Two-time Oscar nominee and Barbie icon Margot Robbie was the first live-action Harley on the big screen, and she’s a very tough act to follow. Robbie has played Harley Quinn in three projects so far: David Ayer’s critically reviled Suicide Squad, Cathy Yan’s divisive Birds of Prey, and James Gunn’s acclaimed The Suicide Squad.
All of Robbie’s projects share something in common: they’ve disappointed in one way or the other. However, Robbie remains the undeniable star in each, stealing every scene she’s in and delivering a comprehensive, hilarious, and even endearing take on Harley. The Australian actress is fun, frisky, sexy, aloof, savage, and unhinged; she is everything a live-action Harley Quinn should be. It’s unknown if Robbie will return amid James Gunn’s DC shake-up, but hopefully, she will. We haven’t seen nearly enough of her Harley.
Few voice performers are as instantly recognizable as the one and only Tara Strong. In a career spanning over 30 years, Strong has voiced multiple iconic characters across film and television, including a few DC legends. However, her work as Harley Quinn remains iconic, with the actress voicing the character in multiple shows and direct-to-video animated films.
Strong’s best performance as Harley Quinn thus far is arguably in the 2018 animated/anime masterpiece Batman Ninja. Strong delivers an utterly demented take on Harley, upping the cute factor to 1, but balancing it with a healthy amount of good old-fashioned madness. There’s hardly a moment when Harley is on-screen when she’s not maniacally laughing, relishing the chaos she’s causing. Strong is an incredibly gifted voice actress, and her Harley is simply one of a kind.
Arleen Sorkin is who most people think of when they think of Harley Quinn. Much, if not all, of the character’s traits come from her; Sorkin took what was supposed to be a minor sidekick and turnedher into a bona fide star through sheer charisma.
Batman: The Animated Series laid the groundwork for Harley’s characterization, with Sorkin building it from the ground up. The actress emphasized Harley’s obsession with the Joker, arguably Harley’s defining characteristic for the first decade of her existence, which was excellently showcased in the seminal episode Mad Love. Sorkin’s contributions to the character are too big to ever be matched; in the eyes of many, she is Harley Quinn, plain and simple.
Like most mainstream characters, Harley Quinn was due for a much-needed revamp, especially after years of continuity. The comics made a considerable effort to update her, but it was the R-rated, animated Max show Harley Quinn that introduced the definitive modern version of the character.
Two-time Emmy nominee Kaley Cuoco (The Flight Attendant) voices the ultimate version of Harley. Finally freed from the Joker’s influence and embracing her long-hinted-at attraction to Poison Ivy, this Harley is the absolute star, uncompromisingly claiming the spotlight that should’ve always been hers. Cuoco makes the best of the show’s R-rating to deliver a volcanic performance. Her Harley is mercurial, intense, foul-mouthed, and passionate, an antihero for the modern age. Cuoco’s Harley makes a strong case for Harley being the fourth DC pillar; she’s that good in the role. All hail Kaley Cuoco, the perfect Harley Quinn!
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