One could probably argue that the first step in creating a successful comic book movie is nailing the costume. Since the beginning of the superhero movie boom in the early 2000s, fans have poured over every leaked image of actors on set in their getups trying to see even a brief glimpse of how their favorite heroes and villains will come to life on screen.
In some cases, characters’ looks have even spelled sink or swim for a film’s box office returns. If your character doesn’t look good on camera, chances are the people watching these movies won’t even enjoy looking at the screen. When they hit, they really hit, but when they don’t…. well, you’ll be able to see the difference as this list goes on….
10 NAILED IT: Harley Quinn (Birds of Prey)
Harley Quinn’s multiple costume designs in Birds of Prey deserve special recognition on two fronts. One, they upgraded her look from Suicide Squad from the overt exercise in poor taste that was “Daddy’s Little Monster” to one that gave her a layer of tasteful sex appeal. Two, it captured the spirit of the comics written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, which reinvented the character without the influence of The Joker and served as the basis for some of the film’s plot.
Harley’s several over-the-top, sparkly, brightly colored getups in her solo-outing showed off her unique sense of personal style in a way that never distracted viewers from her actions.
9 FAILED IT: Halle Berry’s Catwoman
Yikes. Yikes. Yikes. Michelle Pfeiffer, this costume is not. Excessively gaudy, unnecessarily sexy, and completely useless from a super-heroing perspective, Halle Berry’s Catwoman costume only added fuel to the dumpster fire that was 2004’s Catwoman. While it’s obvious to point out how impractical having what’s basically a bra as the top piece of a crime-fighting getup is, those pants deserve to be scrutinized as well.
For someone who’s going to be traversing rooftops in seedy neighborhoods, wouldn’t all those tears in her pants eventually get caught on something? No one is going to buy a super-heroine who could potentially be defeated by their costume getting caught on a rusty nail or broken gutter.
8 NAILED IT: The Real Deadpool
While many superhero movies are afraid to go full-on spandex, Deadpool did it without hesitation. This costume embraced everything about its comics counterpart: pouches galore, shoulder and knee pads, and moving eyes that allowed Wade to emote properly in every scene.
Even Wade’s scarred face underneath the costume was done with taste; it’s ugly enough to be off-putting but not the strange deformity in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. Simply put, this Deadpool was well executed by a franchise that hasn’t failed yet to capture its source’s heart.
7 FAILED IT: The Green Goblins
Twice they’ve tried to bring Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis to the screen, and twice they’ve failed miserably. Actually, they didn’t just fail, they’ve produced abominations. Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin from Spider-Man looks like an off-brand Power Rangers action figure; his face doesn’t move, his body moves in robotic fashion, and the whole suit looks like one big piece of plastic.
At least the mask looks like it was somewhat inspired by the classic Goblin face and it was a victim of the time it was released in. The same can’t be said for Dane Dehaan’s Goblin from The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which looks like something nasty and suspicious hiding behind a dumpster. Just looking at these costumes is enough to give anyone nightmares.
6 NAILED IT: Shazam!
It’s just so clean! It feels like there’s nothing to dislike about Zachary Levi’s Shazam! costume. From the finely detailed golden boots and wrist-guards that evoke ancient Greek and Roman warriors, to the short white cape that falls at a perfect length, to the appropriately thick, glowing lightning bolt on his chest, Shazam’s costume is one of the best representations of a superhero in movies.
It perfectly toes the line of what a overgrown child would look like in his finest jammies and an appropriate costume for doing battle against evildoers. It’s even better when you multiply this look by six in the movie’s grand finale.
5 FAILED IT: Beast (X-Men: First Class)
While Fox’s X-Men films have their fair share of costume problems (remember the leather-daddy Juggernaut from The Last Stand?), Kelsey Grammar’s Beast is one of the few times the character designs hit. Grammar’s Beast was able to balance the man/animal dichotomy of the character to great effect, making Beast look both imposing and tender.
Nicholas Hoult’s Beast in X-Men: First Class and subsequent films, however, did absolutely none of those things. This oddly small, over-furry, cat-like costume really takes away from what is an otherwise compellingly acted character. This guy’s definitely winning one of those ugliest animal competitions in the X-Men universe.
4 NAILED IT: Iron Man (MCU)
At this point, Iron Man must hold the record for the amount of different versions of his costume to appear in movies. Dozens of different suits of armor appear littered throughout the the MCU, each a little different than the last. Any of Tony Stark’s suits could appear here and their effectiveness is based on personal preference, but this entry will focus on the OG: the Mark III.
While later suits were a little leaner, slicker, and more futuristic, there’s something about that first red and gold suit that will stick in fans brains forever. It’s a little thicker, a little clunkier than later models, but embodies the feel of the classic suits and puts it on display for modern audiences.
3 FAILED IT: The Cosmic Disembodied Faces (Galactus, Parallax & Dormammu)
Galactus (Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer), Parallax (Green Lantern) and Dormammu (Doctor Strange) are three of the most iconic cosmic villains in comics, each with instantly recognizable looks on the page. However, oddly enough, all three of these villains received similar treatment on-screen. Instead of their larger than several-planets-sized-man in purple armor, the yellow insect-like dragon, or the black battle armor wearing flaming skull designs (respectively), audiences got misty disembodied heads.
Galactus was basically a giant space cloud, with the outline of his classic design appearing inside. Parallax was also a space cloud, this time with a goofy looking skull-face. Dormammu did without the cloud-like body, and instead opted for a giant space-head. While these depictions may be somewhat realistic, they were all infinitely lamer when compared to their comics looks.
2 NAILED IT: Aquaman & Mera
These two outfits had the potential to be all-out disasters. James Wan, Jason Momoa, and Amber Heard were already playing at a disadvantage due to the public’s unflattering perception of Aquaman going into the film. Most moviegoers see the classic Superfriends version and nothing else, using the character as a punchline for decades. If they couldn’t make these characters look like badasses, all the effort in making the movie would be for naught.
Luckily, Wan put Momoa and Heard in comics-accurate costumes that looked like pure battle armor. The reveal of Aquaman’s classic suit is one of the best moments of the film, and Mera’s sleek, bright teal costume looked right at home amidst the incredible world of Atlantis. A-plus for every major character design in this movie.
1 FAILED IT: Everything In Batman & Robin
Those who thought Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin looked like an off-brand action figure should get a load of these guys. What in God’s name is up with all that silver??? Why are Batman and Robin’s crotches painted silver? Isn’t that silver going to shine VERY BRIGHT in the dark, alerting criminals to their presence from a mile away? Why do Robin and Batgirl’s domino masks look like bad face paint you’d get at the zoo? Just… why?!
So much has already been said about these atrocious costumes, but no list would be complete without them. In fact, pretty much every look from Joel Schumacher’s so-bad-its-good camp masterwork Batman & Robin could be on this list (especially Bane’s droopy lucha mask) but that wouldn’t make for as interesting an article.
Superhero movies are allowed all the creative freedom they need but sometimes, the cinematic changes do the comics real dirty