Comic books and movies (or TV) are distinctly different mediums. Each has its own visual and narrative needs, so it’s probably not entirely fair to point out their differences. But you don’t have to be a rabid fanboy (or girl) to wonder about how what was drawn on the page became something so very different on the screen.
The thing is, sometimes bringing a comic costume to the big screen is simply impossible unless you want to be laughed out of the theater. (We’re looking at you, Scarlet Witch.) But what about the times when live-action entertainment mimicked comic book art to near perfection?
Those are the cases you’ll learn about below. Just keep in mind that this is a serious, detailed investigation into something that isn’t meant to be scrutinized at this level. It’s all in good fun! These are the 15 Superhero Costumes Most Accurate To The Comic Books.
The costume worn by Melissa Benoist on Supergirl is a lovely tribute to her character’s classic look, echoing the past — in particular, the 1984 Supergirl movie starring Helen Slater — while providing some modern updates. But to find the real inspiration for the suit, you have to look very far back to one of Supergirl’s first interpretations.
That’s because all modern versions of Supergirl have her wearing hyper-sexualized outfits that no self-respecting superheroine would ever use in public. It’s usually either a swimsuit with a cape, or an absurd, midriff-revealing two-piece that’s stupidly nonfunctional (the TV show poked fun at this in its pilot episode).
The TV suit is closest to the classic one seen above, with the skirt, belt, cape length, and long sleeves all identical. The show updated the aesthetics by adding panty hose, taller boots, a more stylized “S,” and a different neckline. And, thankfully, no headband.
The biggest difference between comic Thor and movie Thor is the most obvious one: in the movies, the god of thunder doesn’t wear his silver helm. He’s rarely seen without it in the comics, but the movies have only ever shown him wear it once — in one of the opening scenes of his origin film. It wasn’t a great look in live action, and the ladies do love to ogle some Hemsworth, so losing it was probably not a matter of heated debate on-set.
There are some differences in the details, such as the arm braces and the fancy details on Hemsworth’s chest piece. And yet, many of the details that make the comic suit work have been translated directly into the film costume. The chainmail on the arms and upper legs, the flaring on the top ends of the boots, Mjolnir of course, and they both have flowing red capes that would make Superman jealous.
The silhouettes, though, are nearly identical. Basically, if you take the comic version, lose the most exaggerated proportions, and add some extra details to make it look more interesting on screen, what you end up with is the getup Chris Hemsworth wears.
13. Black Widow
Black Widow’s costume may seem like your basic black catsuit, but it’s actually quite hard to nail down its exact details, because every time viewers or readers see it, those specifics have minor differences. Its most frequently seen elements include her stinger gauntlets, a stylized belt buckle that incorporates her hourglass emblem, a zipper over the chest, a high collar, and holsters strapped to her hips. That’s certainly true in both of the images above.
But there are plenty of differences, too. The comic’s version of the suit is always shiny, as if it’s made of rubber or a high-gloss pleather. Scarlet Johanssen has worn several variations over the years, but her suit has never been shiny. It always seems to be manufactured from a more functional canvas/spandex blend. Comics are infamous for “sexing-up” their female characters, and Natasha Romanov is no exception. Her snug-fitting costume emphasizes her curves, and that zipper up front is always pulled down much further than how ScarJo wears it.
The comics also tend to bulk up the size of her stinger gauntlets, which the films have wisely made smaller and more functional. Her comic book belt is almost always made of those silver circle shapes, which likewise, the films have ignored.
Ryan Reynolds’ Deadpool uniform fell victim to Hollywood’s “Let’s make it in leather!” costuming tendency, a trend that started way back in Bryan Singer’s original X-Men. Others followed in the mutants’ footsteps, like Daredevil, Ant-Man, and nearly all of DC’s superheroes on The CW. But at least Deadpool made it look good.
Wade Wilson’s costume has always been a little more about function than form, but that’s not to say the Merc With a Mouth has no sense of style. His outfit starts with the standard red unitard, then adds lots of black straps and harnesses to hold all his gear. He typically keeps a pair of twin shooters in holsters on each hip, dual katana swords criss-crossed on his back, and a few smaller blades tucked away here and there. He also has a utility belt with the requisite compartments that connects with a buckle that bears his familiar circular logo.
The movie translated this getup quite faithfully, with the aforementioned leather bits sewn in for texture. The main difference with the film costume is that most of the red and black areas have been made into armor. It’s still skin-tight, and the movie even found a way to incorporate the character’s trademark eyepiece expressions by adding some subtle CGI to Reynolds’ mask. Clever.
11. Iron Man
The thing about Iron Man is that there’s no one definitive look for the character. By his nature as an inventor, Tony Stark is constantly building new suits while refining older technologies and imagining new ones. This is reflected in the comics, where he unveils a new version of his suit at least once a year, and in the movies too, where Robert Downey Jr. has sported a different suit in every Marvel film he’s in. Some movies have given him multiple suits, most notably Iron Man 3.
In Marvel Comics, Iron Man has come a very long way over the years. His earliest silver suits had more in common with The Wizard of Oz‘s Tin Man than superheroics. He later adopted his yellow-and-red palette, which he’s rarely deviated from since. Countless iterations later, he currently wears a sleek, cutting edge suit that can adapt and unfold ever-more weapons as they’re needed. The basic look and feel of the movie suits, by contrast, haven’t really changed much, aside from the fine points.
The details may not match any particular iteration of the comic book suits, but the film suits have captured the spirit of comic book Iron Man brilliantly. Which is appropriate, since it was the first-ever instance of a comic book publisher producing its own film property.
After all the jokes and memes and fanboy scorn, Ben Affleck actually turned out to be an acceptable Batman. (Well, after the character got over his rage issues.) He’s probably not anybody’s favorite Dark Knight on screen, but he’s far from the worst.
For his Batman v. Superman costume, director Zack Snyder basically grabbed a copy of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, handed it to costume designer Michael Wilkinson, and said, “Make this.” The short ears, the shape and length of the cape, the bat logo, the muted color scheme, the points at the top of the boots, even the flared wings on the gloves are exactly the same.
Regarding differences, the belt is a different shape, with less compartments. And Miller’s version still wears the now out-of-fashion briefs. The suit worn by Affleck has a quality that looks like layers of fabric applied atop one another, to give it some texture. But that’s really it.
Hellboy’s look has as much to do with the makeup applied to actor Ron Perlman as it does the clothes he wears. Especially since he’s often depicted shirtless; the makeup covers not just his head but his torso and arms as well, including that all-important “Right Hand of Doom.” The movies’ adaptation is very close to the original, as you can see in the images above. That’s probably due mostly to Guillermo del Toro’s dedication to authenticity when it comes to Mike Mignola’s demonic hero.
The similarities are impressive: the trench coat, the shade of red of the makeup, the belts and various items hanging from it. It’s all spot-on. The head has some tiny differences, but that’s just to accommodate actual human dimensions. There’s a noticeable difference with the size of Hellboy‘s horn stumps for example (he sands them down, but they keep growing back), but again it’s a proportional issue to keep it appropriate to the actor’s face.
The biggest difference is not one you can see in these images. Hellboy in the comics usually wears black shorts, perhaps to help Hellboy’s red skin stand out from his surroundings, visually, which are typically very dark. The movies have always kept him in long pants; this may have been done by the filmmakers to save money on makeup effects.
8. Captain America
Chris Evans has worn several interpretations of Captain America’s costume in the numerous movies he’s appeared in, with the most prevalent being the loose-fitting, military-fatigues-like suit, which is not just practical but actually looks good on film. But one suit he briefly wore in Captain America: The First Avenger was faithful to the character’s original look — to a fault.
Before the U.S. government was prepared to throw its support behind its one-and-only super-soldier, Steve Rogers was enlisted as a symbol of American patriotism during World War II. He was trotted out by the USO as part of a traveling show that entertained U.S. troops across Europe. So Chris Evans slipped into a tight spandex version of Cap’s earliest costume, from way back in the 1940s.
The whole point of the scene was to show Steve feeling underutilized, that he’d become a joke to the troops instead of an inspiration. The suit was intentionally silly-looking, which the movie amped up by adding a ballooning neck piece. Every other detail was preserved with one exception: the oft-mocked, blue, feathery flaps that were a part of Cap’s uniform for many years. That omission actually improved the movie’s costume.
While the most recent Spider-suits have introduced some modern upgrades, the original big-screen Spider-Man, Tobey Maguire, wore a brightly-colored spandex suit that could have been pulled right out of the comics. And really, comic book Spider-Man’s costume is so classic, it’s not like it’s hard to get it right. The image above is from Marvel’s now-defunct Ultimate Spider-Man series, but the costumes Ultimate Peter Parker and Marvel-616 Peter Parker wore are virtually indistinguishable, aside from the larger eyepieces on the Ultimate version.
Purists were bothered by the Raimi/Maguire suit’s raised webbing, which admittedly was a departure from the books. Still, it could be argued that the 3D effect it gave the suit was much more eye-catching. Maguire wore a subtle muscle suit underneath to give Spidey a bit more tone, and his face mask was hardened so his head would always maintain that distinctive egg shape. So you could say the suit was stylized, but it was also the most accurate version the big screen has given us yet.
Subsequent on-screen Spidey attire has ranged from bizarre (poor Andrew Garfield had to cram his big hair into a suit made of basketball hide in Amazing Spider-Man) to modern and high-tech (Tom Holland’s Captain America: Civil War suit, which was implied to be funded and designed by Tony Stark).
6. The Phantom
From a visual standpoint, it’s awfully hard to get the Phantom’s costume wrong. It’s pretty much just a purple Morphsuit with the hands and face cut out. That’s pretty remarkable from the start, since the character’s stories are usually set in the jungle where there’s literally nothing else that’s purple.
As often happens, the costume worn by Billy Zane on the big screen has more textures to it than its comic book counterpart. In this case, the costume designer cleverly doubled the suit’s muscular shading with the Phantom’s skull motif. His dual pistols survived the transition to the screen, as did his belt and holsters. His eye mask is there, and they even got the facial cutout area the right shape on the purple suit.
The main deviation is the striped briefs. They never served any real purpose anyway, their blue-and-black stripes serving only to provide a bit of contrast to all the purple. But there’s no getting around the fact that they look silly. The movie was smart to leave them out. Zane is wearing briefs atop his suit, they’re just purple briefs a shade slightly darker than the rest of the suit.
Considering Fox’s history with X-Men uniforms and how unfaithful they’ve been to the comics, Olivia Munn’s Psylocke costume was downright shocking in its accuracy. The character was introduced to the mutant universe in X-Men: Apocalypse as a villain, just as she was in the comics. In the many years since, she’s become a hero and a member of the X-Men. The movie never got her to the point of shifting allegiances, but future films could cover that.
In both mediums, Psylocke is a subscriber to the belief that it’s not enough to be a superhero — you have to be sultry, too. Every detail on the comic version has been preserved, including the (very) high hem line on the suit’s bottom, which frankly is something no one ever realistically expected a movie to attempt. The comic suit has always featured a ridiculous amount of exposure, but the movie does it one better, managing to show even more skin thanks to the little peek-a-boo at Munn’s cleavage.
Bryan Singer’s devotion to the source material is admirable, as every major line and shape from the comic heroine is preserved almost perfectly. From her purple hair to the pink sash around her waist and all the little extra straps, it’s all there even though it serves no practical purpose (unless those straps are Kinesio tape). The differences are very minor, amounting to little more than extra textures and the addition of gloves.
Line-for-line, it’s hard to find any faults in the recreation of Superman’s famous suit, as worn by Christopher Reeve. Trace your eyes along the suit from the movie and you’ll see it matches the comic suit in every way. Even the smallest of details, like the belt loops, how the neckline meets the tucked-in cape, and the length of the cape, are perfect.
If it wanted to be 100% faithful, then it fell short of the mark in only the most minuscule of ways. The boots jump out a bit, because the chevron shape cut into the tops is very subtle in the comics, while their shape in the movie makes them almost look zig-zag. The movie’s coloring looks a little off as well. Compared to the bright, vividly-colored suit seen in the comics, the suit worn by Reeve was a tad drab.
The differences between Reeve’s über-faithful suit and the ultra-modern one now being worn by Henry Cavill beg the question: is a perfectly recreated comic book suit really the most ideal way to realize a superhero in live action film? It probably depends on the suit, but the nostalgic adoration many fans have for Reeve’s Superman in no way changes the fact that his suit is just unflattering.
3. The Tick
Across comic books, cartoons, and live-action TV, Ben Edlund’s big blue hero has been depicted in different ways over the years. Sometimes he’s completely absurd, a dangerous goofball who means well but is oblivious to the damage and complications he causes. Other times, he’s a childlike but enthusiastic hero, one who loves action but is completely out of his depth in social situations.
Whatever his skewed motivations or quirky behavior, one thing he’s never seen without is his blue suit. The Tick’s costume has never really been explained. Is it a suit? Is it part of his anatomy? The antennae seem to be; he experiences pain if they’re damaged. But whatever that outfit is, it should be pretty easy to translate to live action. It’s just a blue body suit.
The 2001 live action series starred a perfectly-cast Patrick Warburton as the title character, stuffing him into a foam rubber suit that was sculpted and form-fitting. It was the comic book suit brought to life, a near-perfect re-creation in every way. The only noticeable differences are found on his face and his feet. The comic version has a built-in mask over his eyes; this was left out of the show to better show Warburton’s facial expressions. The comic’s suit also had toes, lending evidence to the anatomy theory, but the TV show’s costume was obviously modeled as shoes (and platform shoes at that!).
The plastic-looking, strangely-textured suit worn by Peter Serafinowicz on the new Amazon live-action series hasn’t been as well received by fans, though his take on the character has.
Zack Snyder’s obsession with dark, muted colors notwithstanding, when he set out to create a faithful version of Watchmen for the big screen, he largely succeeded. The movie has its pros and cons, but you can’t fault the director for how hard he tried to bring the comic to life. Many shots from the movie were framed and lit exactly like their corresponding panels in the comic.
But the movie’s costumes are hit-and-miss. Fans are quick to hate on the Ozymandias costume (and rightly so; it completely missed the mark), and a few of the others had liberties taken on their interpretation. But the costume worn by Jackie Earle Haley was spot-on. It’s perfection: the hat, the mask, the shirt, the dirt-stained trench coat, the shoes, the gloves. And even though you can barely make it out in the photo, the movie costume does indeed have pinstripe pants. The pièce de résistance was how the face mask morphed and changed when Haley moved. It was CGI, but it was cool.
1. Dick Tracy
It’s impossible to come up with a more faithful comic-to-film costume adaptation than the one sported by the hero in 1990’s Dick Tracy. That’s largely thanks to star and director Warren Beatty‘s insistence on limiting everything in the production to no more than seven primary colors — and the exact same shade had to be consistent every time a color was seen. It was an unprecedented effort intended to evoke Dick Tracy’s origins, as created in the comics by Chester Gould.
Since Beatty’s costume and production designers stuck so strictly to the director’s wants, it helped put Dick Tracy at the top of our list. By definition, the costume design’s colors couldn’t help but echo that seen in the comics. And since the outfit was crafted to match the comic’s look so precisely, Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy may be the closest thing to a carbon copy that’s physically possible.
The yellow trench and hat. The white shirt and black vest. The red-and-black striped tie. (The blue slacks in the art above are a coloring glitch. Research shows that Tracy was otherwise always depicted in black pants.) Even Beatty’s jawline was square enough to lend extra authenticity to the character.
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