There have been some really BAD super villain movie costumes over the years, but not every bad guy costume has been a dud. Some costumes have been both spectacular and memorable, blending the actor and character into one seamless, cohesive unit.
To be considered for this list we’ve judged the costumes based on the following criteria:
1. How faithful is the costume to the source material? – The costume is allowed to deviate from the original design, IF the original concept is still present (i.e., no hooker Catwoman in ripped pants).
2. How does it come across onscreen? – The costume should be visually appealing and look realistic (i.e., no Riddler in a spandex onesie).
3. How well does it hold up over time? – The costume needs to be worthy of staying on this list for years to come – and not be subject to passing fads (i.e., no Lex Luthor from 1978).
4. Is it cool? Because it HAS to be cool. – Nothing will make a super villain less scary than a goofy costume (i.e., no Hector Hammond from Green Lantern).
Let’s take a look at the 25 Best Super Villain Movie Costumes…
25. Lady Deathstryke – X2
Lady Deathstryke is a beautiful and deadly cyborg and enemy to the X-Men. She has the same adamantium-laced bones as Wolverine, but instead of six blades in her arms, she has long, razor-sharp “claws” that extend from her fingertips.
Her backstory was changed considerably for the film (to the point of almost being non-existent), as was her actual costume – but her deadly fingertip “talons” remained and they looked cool enough to at least get her on the bottom of the top 25…but not any further.
24. Plaster of Paris – The Spirit
The Spirit has many women trying to kill him, and the sexy French belly dancer known as Plaster of Paris is no different. The Spirit’s deadliest foe, The Octopus (who didn’t make our list), hires the midsection-shaking assassin to use her feminine…ehem…”attributes” as well as her three-pronged throwing daggers and sword to kill the hero.
Plaster of Paris isn’t in the film very long, but as you can see, her outfit is a direct copy of the comic version – sans the white hair. Regardless of that minor change, her costume makes her easy enough on the eyes to dance her way onto this list.
23. Jigsaw – Punisher: Warzone
Billy “The Beaut” Russo was a charming and handsome guy until he tangled with the Punisher and was thrown through a plate-glass window. The encounter left his face horribly disfigured, earning him the nickname “Jigsaw.” He has no special powers, but can go toe-to-toe with the Punisher in a fist fight. Jigsaw is one of those characters that could have turned out really, REALLY goofy on film – but didn’t.
It’s easy to draw random lines on his face in the comics, but onscreen, the makeup job had to be spot on or audiences just weren’t going to take him seriously. Fortunately, they were able to pull off the look and make him an interesting (looking) villain – one who actually looked like he’d been through a meat grinder.
22. Venom – Spider-Man 3
Venom is technically an alien symbiote who bonds with a particular host (Peter Parker, Eddie Brock, Ms. Marvel, Flash Thompson) to give them superhuman abilities. It also gives the host an uncontrollable urge to assert their power and has a VERY bad attitude. This choice will be slightly controversial in the fanboy universe, as most Spider-Man fans didn’t like the inclusion of Venom in the film and therefore hate his look as well.
Truth be told, though, Venom only needed to be in an all black outfit (check), have large white “eyes” (check), a mouth full of sharp teeth (check), sharp, claw-like fingers (check) and the ability to “spin” webs like Spider-Man (check). For those reasons alone, we consider this costume to be a success. The only drawback is when his mask pulls back to show Eddie Brock’s (or rather, Topher Grace’s) face while he is speaking – that just looks dumb.
21. The Lizard – The Amazing Spider-Man
Dr. Curt Connors caught a tough break losing his arm during wartime, but he thought maybe luck was going his way when he discovered a way to splice reptilian DNA with his own, giving him the ability to grow back his lost appendage. However, a side effect of this “cure” was a violent temper, superhuman strength, speed, and oh yeah…he turns into a giant lizard! A film version of The Lizard could really only be pulled off with the help of CG and motion-capture technology, as a man in a suit would probably look too Godzilla-esque.
Fortunately, the filmmakers were able to successfully achieve an old-school comic book look for The Lizard, and it pays off onscreen. Even though he’s missing the purple pants (another famous Marvel character already wears those), The Lizard looked and moved as we always pictured he would.
20. Sandman – Spider-Man 3
Ex-high school football star Flint Marko (a.k.a. William Baker) turned to a life of crime after being kicked off the football team for attempting to fix a game in order to help satisfy a mob debt owed by his friend. After escaping from prison on Ryker’s Island, Marko winds up on a beach where the sand has been irradiated by a nuclear test. The sand bonds with his DNA, becoming part of him – hence, Sandman was born!
Aside from origin, the movie version of Marko/Sandman is identical to the comic version – though the end scene of the sand monster was unbelievably horrid. Still, we like it enough to put him on the list.
19. Skeletor – Masters of the Universe
Skeletor is a powerful sorcerer and the ruler of Snake Mountain in the realm of Eternia. He’s also the main thorn in He-man’s side – always trying to take control of Eternia with his army of minions. His real name was Keldor but his face was horribly and accidentally disfigured with acid, which prompted him to take on the persona of Skeletor.
Properly recreating the look of a skeleton face over Frank Langella’s face with only makeup is no easy task, but Master of the Universe manages to pull off the feat quite nicely – especially for an older film. It’s a solid effort and deserves a spot on our list.
18. Azazel – X-Men: First Class
In the comics, Azazel is the leader of an ancient race of beings known as the Neyaphem and fathers a child with Mystique – who would later be known as Nightcrawler. He possesses the ability to teleport himself and anything he’s touching, anywhere he wants, can heal himself from just about any wound and is a master swordsman.
In the movie X-Men: First Class he’s a Russian assassin of sorts, and except for the mod-style suit, he is the spitting image of the comic – down to the red skin, goatee and battle scar under his left eye.
17. The Baroness – G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Anastasia Cisarovna (a.k.a. The Baroness) grew up in European high society, but aligned herself with radical groups throughout college. She became an expert in cryptography, psychological and bio-chemical warfare and eventually joined the terrorist organization known as COBRA. She’s as ruthless as she is beautiful, which makes her the perfect girlfriend for COBRA’s second-in-command, Destro.
Her costume in the comics is simply a tight leather suit and black-rimmed glasses. It doesn’t seem like something that Hollywood could screw up – but just look what they did to Catwoman with Halle Berry *shudder*. The movie version of the Baroness’ outfit is exactly what it needs to be – sleek, sexy and badass.
16. Red Mist – Kick-Ass
Chris Genovese, son of mafia boss John Genovese, was just like any other teen – he loved comic books and was always desperately trying to impress his father. To that end, he befriended vigilante Kick-Ass, then betrayed him to capture Big Daddy and Hit-Girl. He has no super powers and can’t really fight, but he’s got a lot of money and a slick-looking ride – basically, an entitled super-jerk.
Red Mist’s movie costume is a slight departure from the comic book version as the color black and a wig were added – but that wasn’t enough to eliminate it from our list.
15. The Mandarin – Iron Man 3
Let’s set the record straight up front – The Mandarin is on this list solely because of the costume. The movie version of the character is so far separated from the comic version that he shouldn’t have even been called “The Mandarin.”
All that aside, Iron Man 3 managed to capture the look and overall color scheme of The Mandarin fairly well – too bad they didn’t do that with the rest of the character, too.
14. Yellow Bastard – Sin City
Roark Jr. is the child-raping, murderous pedophile son of the powerful Senator Roark – a vile, disgusting human being who eventually gets his comeuppance from Detective John Hartigan. In the Sin City comic by Frank Miller the entire story is told in black and white – save the splash of yellow given to Roark Jr. as The Yellow Bastard.
The movie version of the character does a great job of recreating that yellow effect on Roark Jr. – especially the bulbous head and sunken eyes that make the character so creepy.
13. Prince Nuada – Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
Prince Nuada Silverlance is the son of the one-armed elf king Balor, and hates all of humanity so much that he encourages his father to build an indestructible army of magical, mechanical robots called “The Golden Army” just to wipe humans from existence. If it wasn’t for the actions of his twin sister, Princess Nuala, Nuada probably would have succeeded.
Prince Nuada is the only selection on our list where the comic was inspired by the movie, and not the other way around. However, we’re still comfortable placing him on here because the costume is so well done.
12. Emma Frost – X-Men: First Class
Emma Frost is a beautiful and powerful mutant. She has the power of telepathy (which she used to cheat her way through school) and also has the ability to turn her skin as hard as diamonds. She eventually uses her powers to become the White Queen of the Hellfire Club and runs the Manhattan Academy – which, unlike Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, teaches young mutants how use their powers for less-than-noble purposes.
Like most female comic book superheroes/villains, Emma Frost is usually drawn very busty and scantily dressed (typically a midriff top or leather-style lingerie with thigh high boots). X-Men: First Class manages to nail that look in every aspect – but then that’s not too hard to do when January Jones is cast in the role.
11. Catwoman – Batman Returns
Catwoman, a.k.a. Selina Kyle, has been around the DC Comics world since 1940. She’s more of an anti-heroine than an actual villain, with her loyalties typically falling more on the chaotic neutral side – doing what best suits her needs, lawful or unlawful. Six women have portrayed either Catwoman or Selina Kyle in a live-action setting, and the character’s costume has changed many times over the years – from a green cat suit, to a skin-tight purple cat suit, to the black PVC/leather outfit she currently wears.
Anne Hathaway’s costume in The Dark Knight Rises was pretty much a dead ringer for the comic version, but she was never referred to as “Catwoman” during the film, so we left her off. That leaves Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns in her tight, black spandex outfit, which may always be our favorite of the group.
10. Frost Giants – Thor
The Frost Giants are a race of colossal beings who dwell in Jotunheim – one of the nine realms. They despise those from the realm of Asgard (Odin and Thor especially) and have been at war with them for thousands of years in an attempt to bring eternal cold and darkness. The Frost Giants have had several different looks in Marvel Comics over the last five decades, but for the movie Thor they resemble the character Laufey, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965.
Onscreen, the rich blue “cold” skin color looks incredible and the war markings etched into their skin increase their badass appeal. It’s a winning look all around.
9. Dr. Doom – Fantastic Four
Victor von Doom (a.k.a. Doctor Doom) is the highly intelligent, megalomaniacal, former friend/rival of Reed Richards and main villain to the Fantastic Four. His powers and origin were modified for the film – mixing, classic, modern, and new elements to create the character – but thank goodness they didn’t change his costume.
From the trademark green-hooded cape/jacket to the iconic metal mask – everything from the comic is essentially there, including the belt buckle and golden grommets on his shoulders. Even his metal armor made it into the movies, though following in the Ultimate continuity of comics, this skin become metal as well. The character may have been weak, but his outfit was fantastic.
8. Violator – Spawn
In reality (comic book reality, that is) Violator is oldest of the Phlebiac Brothers, a group of demonic siblings with a human mother and a demon father. His demon form is about what you would expect for something born in Hell: long sharp teeth, claws, red eyes and a vicious, feral demeanor – nothing extraordinarily original.
However, it’s the recreation of his human form – the Clown (played by John Leguizamo in a “fat suit”) – that earns him a spot on our list. The film almost perfectly brings to life every aspect of the Clown’s appearance, including his short stature and protruding pot belly.
7. Penguin – Batman Returns
The portly Oswald Cobblepot has been an umbrella-wielding thorn in Batman’s side since the very start. He’s highly intelligent and considers himself to be of upper-class ilk – he certainly dresses like it in his tuxedo, top hat and monocle.
Like most films tend to do, his rather disturbing childhood origin was changed, but fortunately his outfit was left completely in tact.
6. Loki – Thor & Avengers
Loki is not only Thor’s adopted brother (having been taken in by Odin after he killed Loki’s Frost Giant father, Laufey), he’s also a powerful sorcerer and skilled fighter. The “god of mischief” is bent on all-consuming power and jealousy-filled vengeance against Thor for being Odin’s favorite.
Trying to realistically bring bright, green spandex with yellow horns to life on the big screen wasn’t an easy task, but the movie version of Loki manages to make the colors of the costume work, while still capturing the essence of the comic book inspiration.
5. Red Skull – Captain America: The First Avenger
Johann Schmidt, a. k. a. Red Skull, has always been obsessed with all-consuming power – and he’ll do anything to possess it in his seemingly never-ending quest for world domination. Schmidt was trained by Hitler himself and given a red mask to instill fear in all his enemies; later, the mask would become his actual face, and thus the Red Skull was born.
Many people thought it wasn’t possible to pull off the makeup effects necessary to bring the Red Skull to life, but somehow Christopher Townsend and his effects team managed to combine both practical effects with digital effects to gives audiences this impressive and , dare we say, scary visage.
4. Mystique – X-Men
Raven Darkholme has been good, bad, REALLY bad, and everything in between as the beautiful and deadly mutant shape-shifter, Mystique. Her ability to mimic anyone, down to their clothing, has made her one of the most dangerous adversaries the X-Men have faced.
Bryan Singer went outside the box with the makeup job he chose for Mystique. It’s basically actress/model Rebecca Romijn nude, covered in body paint and make up appliances, with slight modifications done for Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of a younger Mystique in First Class.
3. Two-Face – The Dark Knight
At one point, the villain obsessed with duality, Two-Face, was actually Gotham’s best district attorney, Harvey Dent. He has no real super powers to speak of, but the accident that scarred his face also made him psychotically obsessed with duality – which made him a dangerous foe for Batman.
While Joel Schumacher went in a decidedly goofy and more comic-influenced direction with his version of Two-Face in Batman Forever, director Christopher Nolan chose a darker, grittier route for The Dark Knight – and it worked.
2. The Joker – The Dark Knight
One can’t mention Batman without also mentioning one of his deadliest (and most insane) foes – The Joker. No one really knows who Joker is – his real name has never been revealed – or where he truly came from. Most say he was the petty crook Red Hood until falling into a vast of chemicals that permanently scarred him – but no matter how he came to be The Joker, anyone who crosses him or tries to stop him usually ends up regretting it.
Tim Burton’s goofy, clown-inspired interpretation is widely considered to be the cinematically “iconic” version of the Joker, but we chose Christopher Nolan’s darker, more sinister recreation for this list instead, as we felt it remained more faithful to the version seen in during Joker’s “Silver Age” – i.e., 1980s classics like The Dark Knight Returns, Death in the Family and The Killing Joke.
1. Doctor Octopus – Spider-Man 2
Doctor Otto Octavius was a brilliant nuclear physicist trying to change the world – until an experiment went horribly wrong, causing an explosion (there’s that classic comic trope again) which fused four mechanical arms permanently to his body, while simultaneously giving him mental control over them. The incident also left him partially insane, and this once-genius scientist turned to a life of crime and became one of Spider-Man’s greatest nemeses.
Doc Ock isn’t number one on our list for his actual costume – after all, it’s just a trench coat over some plain pants and a white t-shirt. Rather, we’ve ranked it this high because of the fantastic mechanical arms attached to him. Sam Raimi’s decision to use practical effects to replicate the arms whenever possible paid off in spades, as that (along with a much better story and action) helped turn Spider-Man 2 into, what many consider, to be the best installment of the five-movie franchise.
With up to three new comic book-based films releasing each year for the foreseeable future, audiences will finally get a glimpse at a new and diverse group of super villains in live-action.
As movies like Batman vs. Superman, The Avengers 2, Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man all introduce us to flesh-and-blood versions of Brainiac, Ultron, Thanos and Yellowjacket, there will surely be plenty of modifications to our list – so be sure to check back whenever a new superhero movie is released.
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