The 10 Best and 10 Worst Superhero Movie Costumes:
Best #10: The Rocketeer, from ‘The Rocketeer’ (1991)
A faithful superhero costume is not always a great superhero costume, but ‘The Rocketeer’ managed to take Dave Stevens’ classic design, and bring it almost exactly to the screen. It certainly helps that the Rocketeer’s outfit is fairly mundane — brown leather bomber jacket and ruddered gold helmet — but mundane outfits often turn into hideous movie costumes (see several of the choice in the second half of this list). Joe Johnston’s interpretation of Stevens’ character finds the right balance between realistic and dynamic.
Best #9: Ghost Rider, from ‘Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance’ (2012)
The costume from the first ‘Ghost Rider’ was too slick; with gleaming leather, blinging chains, and shiny spikes on the shoulders and gloves, it *looked* like a movie costume, not something cooked up by a hellish demon. The ‘Ghost Rider’ sequel, ‘Spirit of Vengeance,’ greatly improved the character’s look by dirtying it up; gone are most of the spikes, steel, and fancy details. And what’s left is crusted in soot and grime. It looks like this creature just stepped out of the fires of hell, which is exactly what he did.
Best #8: Hit-Girl, from ‘Kick-Ass’ (2010)
One major issue, even with some great superhero costumes: They’re just too impressive for their own good. How did Peter Parker, teenage nerd, design (and sew!) that gorgeous outfit? In contrast, the costumes in ‘Kick-Ass’ look like things real (read: marginally talented) people might create for themselves. The best of a very good bunch is Hit-Girl, which nails the fashion sense of a 11-year-old girl with the bright purple wig, bodysuit, and plaid skirt, accented by a bright pink utility belt (and a couple gun holsters). She looks like a little girl playing dress-up. But she’s definitely not playing around.
Best #7: Rorschach, from ‘Watchmen’ (2009)
The Rorschach mask, which shifts and morphs into different abstract patterns, was a great idea on the page. But that’s what it was; an idea designed for the page, where it never has to be shown moving or changing. On screen, it could have gone very wrong, but director Zack Snyder stayed true to Dave Gibbons’ concept of the dark vigilante and made that flowing ink look perfect.
Best #6: Magneto, from ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ (2014)
Fox’s X-Men franchise still hasn’t gotten a perfect Magneto costume, but they came closest in last year’s ‘Days of Future Past.’ Previous versions of the Master of Magnetism were too bland, with way too much black and gray. This film finally introduced a little purple into his wardrobe, and it looked terrific. The armored torso and swooping neck are great, as is the classic Magneto helmet. The only complaint: the random black pants. He’s a different pair of slacks away from true greatness. Maybe he’ll get them in ‘X-Men: Apocalypse.’
Best #5: Captain America, from ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (2011)
As a general rule, we’re not huge fans of “realistic” superhero costumes. Superheroes are wonderful specifically because they’re *not* realistic. Why not let them embrace their incredible side? Captain America’s World War II uniform from ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is a notable exception; a man in a war zone probably cares more about function than form. This star-spangled suit makes it clear Cap’s fighting for the red, white, and blue, but it’ll also keep him well-armed and protected in a fire fight. This practical design actually trumped the more traditional outfit Cap wore in ‘The Avengers,’ and while his updated costume in ‘The Winter Soldier’ was cool, it was great to see this classic dusted off for the film’s big finale.
Best #4: Superman from ‘Superman’ (1978)
There have been many additions and innovations to the Superman movie costume over the years. He’s gained an armored “S” shield and a vinyl cape; he lost his visible underpants and belt in favor of some stylized speed lines and intricate stitching. But nothing’s ever topped the original, classic costume worn by Christopher Reeve through the first four ‘Superman’ films. There’s nothing particularly fancy about this red, blue, and yellow cloth and spandex ensemble, but on Reeve, this super-suit looked handsome, striking, and even regal.
Best #3: Batman, from ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008)
When Bruce Wayne asks Lucious Fox to design him a new Batsuit in ‘The Dark Knight,’ all the reasons he gives — he wants to be lighter and faster, and to be able to turn his head — were the same reasons director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale redesigned Batman’s threads for ‘The Dark Knight.’ Gone was the traditional big rubber suit from five previous movies; in its place, a lightweight model comprised of more than 200 individual armored pieces, along with a motorcycle helmet-inspired cowl that gave Bale more mobility than any previous Caped Crusader. The suit was not only more effective, it was more stylish as well; the look was so successful that it was brought back for ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ with no modifications.
Best #2: Iron Man, from ‘Iron Man’ (2008)
The tagline of the 1978 ‘Superman’ — “You’ll believe a man can fly” — would have worked just as well for 2008’s ‘Iron Man,’ which made an outlandish comic-book concept seem astonishingly plausible. Special effects wizard Stan Winston and his studio took the myriad Iron Man armors of comics and created this interpretation, a suit that was simultaneously futuristic and classical. It looked great standing in Tony Stark’s laboratory and even better soaring through the skies above California.
The best of the best. James Acheson’s version of Steve Ditko’s classic Spider-Man costume looks like it stepped right off the comic-book page, right down to the mirrored lenses and intricate webbing. But Acheson also gave the movie’s Spider-Man some serious flair; the webs were molded latex cut by computer and the whole outfit was painted with a metallic gloss to give it that extra special shine. In 2002, this was easily the most magical comic-book costume to grace the silver-screen to that date, the one that took everything great about the original and elevated it to new heights. To this day, it still hasn’t been equaled, even through two ‘Spider-Man’ reboots that changed (but didn’t improve) Acheson’s creation. It just goes to show that with great costuming, comes great power.
Worst #10: Spawn, from ‘Spawn’ (1997)
With huge chains, skulls, and the biggest cape in the history of superheroes, Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn is a striking character on the page. On the screen, Spawn just looked like the 90s had thrown up all over a bodybuilder. The movie sticks pretty close to the comics version, but in three dimensions Spawn just looks awkward. He’s all slimy and weirdly muscular, and the impossible cape was so impossible it could only be portrayed with computer effects, which looked decidedly un-good.
Worst #9: Daredevil, from ‘Daredevil’ (2003)
Comics’ Daredevil wears a handsome, minimalistic suit, all red with a great double-D insignia on the chest. The movies’ Daredevil wears an ugly red leather outfit that looks like it’s made out of Fruit Roll-Ups, with an awkward hood and pocket-sized insignia. This is the worst offshoot of the superhero-costumes-should-look-like-real-clothes movement that began in earnest with 2000’s ‘X-Men.’ This Daredevil looks real — real uncomfortable, real unwieldly, and real dumb. Given the simplicity and elegance of that classic Hornhead uniform, a direct translation seems like an easy slam dunk. But the suit on the Marvel Netflix ‘Daredevil’ series isn’t much better than this one. Maybe this is one character whose costume just doesn’t translate to the screen.
Worst #8: Toad, from ‘X-Men’ (2000)
Speaking of the “superhero-costumes-should-look-like-real-clothes movement” from ‘X-Men,’ here’s one of the very worst from that movie. Granted, the classic Toad costume from Marvel’s ‘X-Men’ comics, a brown-and-purple ensemble with what looks like a doily for a collar, is garish and ugly. But surely there was a better alternative than this, with Ray Park in a grungy brown jacket (with scales!) and dyed-green hair. Does he have the powers of a toad or a hobo? What kind of a human being (or mutant) voluntarily dresses like this? Where’s your self-esteem, Toad?
Worst #7: Green Lantern, from ‘Green Lantern’ (2011)
The Green Lantern credo begins “In brightest day, in blackest night.” It’s pretty clear from this picture that Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern got dressed during a very black night. No one who could see what they were wearing would go out of the house dressed in this failed experiment of a computer-generated superhero costume. Instead of wearing spandex or leather, Ryan Reynolds donned a gray suit on the set of 2011’s ‘Green Lantern.’ His green-and-black uniform was added in post-production, along with that freakish mask. This doesn’t mean a CGI super-suit couldn’t work in the future, but it was a disaster here, All the weird, unnecessary energy veins running through the costume did was complicate something that was beautiful in its simplicity.
Worst #6: Green Goblin, from ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ (2014)
To be fair, the classic Green Goblin comics costume, with its floppy purple hat and outlandish but articulated Goblin mask, would be a tough one to reproduce onscreen. Sam Raimi’s absolutely nailed Spider-Man’s costume, but even he had trouble with ol’ Gobby. His interpretation, a suit of green metal armor with a giant helmet, was no great shakes, but it was practically Michelangelo’s ‘David,’ compared to the monstrosity we got in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2.’ How would you even describe this mess? The love child of a human and Stripe from ‘Gremlins’? A Troll doll on HGH? The moment Dane DeHaan realized he needed better representation? Better yet, let’s just call it what it is: A depressing eyesore.
Worst #5: Juggernaut, from ‘X-Men: The Last Stand’ (2006)
Poor Vinnie Jones. Such a strong, intimidating screen presence forced to wear such a goofy, laughable outfit. This is yet another bastardization of a great comic-book costume. The main contours of Juggernaut’s classic look are there; the helmet (not pictured here) and the basic design of the armor. But all the leather straps and the random (and hairy!) bare midriff are an invention of ‘X-Men: The Last Stand.’ Can you imagine being the guy who had to tell Vinnie Jones he was going to play Juggernaut with a hairy bare midriff? That must not have been a fun conversation.
Worst #4: Sabretooth, from ‘X-Men’ (2000)
You may have noted in the Toad blurb that we said his was *one* one the worst costumes from the first ‘X-Men.’ Those words were chosen deliberately, because there’s an even uglier outfit in that movie, and it belongs to Tyler Mane’s Sabretooth. What is he even wearing? In the comics, Sabretooth is one of the baddest human beings alive, and he’s worn several incredibly cool costumes. Mane’s Sabretooth looks like a mutated carpet sample book. One of the few things 2009’s ‘X-Men Origins: Wolverine’ got right amidst all its own terribleness was getting rid of the furs and hair, and just presenting a stripped down Sabretooth with big mutton chops, giant claws, and a seriously bad attitude.
Worst #3: Catwoman, from ‘Catwoman’ (2004)
Tim Burton’s ‘Batman Returns’ reimagined Catwoman in a bold new light, taking the character’s old catsuit and giving it a wild modern edge. Pitof’s ‘Catwoman’ took that bold reimagining and turned it into a hideous nightmare. When Halle Berry’s Patience Phillips becomes Catwoman after she’s bitten by a radioactive cat or something, she decides to don a costume of a giant cat-eared mask, ripped up leather pants, and leather bra with no shirt. Oh and she’s also got big cat gloves with shiny claws. This woman won an Oscar, for goodness’ sake!
Worst #2: Steel, from ‘Steel’ (1997)
Shouldn’t armor look like it’s hard? Steel’s armor in ‘Steel’ looks like it’s made out of rubber. And not even hard, vulcanized rubber like a tire; this is more like the soft, squishy rubber of a super ball or something. Unless Steel’s suit is supposed to be made out of material so elastic that bullets actually bounce off it, this just doesn’t work. I mean, the guy’s name is Steel not Latex. You had one job, costume guys. And you blew it.
Worst #1: Batman, Robin, and Batgirl, from ‘Batman & Robin’ (1997)
The protruding nipples. The codpieces. The ridges on the Bat-ears. The codpieces. The bizarre silver details on the chest, arms, and legs. (And did we mention the codpieces?) ‘Batman & Robin’ is a perfect storm of bad superhero costuming, and not just for one hero, but all three leads, who conclude the film in a battle with Mr. Freeze in these specialized (and absurd) anti-cold suits. The craziest part about these ridiculous outfits is that every person on every level at Warner Bros. signed off on these things. No one had any problem with them! “Looks great, Joel Schumacher! Love the giant, shiny codpiece! We’re going to make so much money!” Between this and ‘Steel,’ 1997 was clearly the worst year ever for movie superhero costumes.