The comic book movie craze has been in full swing for over a decade now, and in that time, we’ve seen dozens of adaptations of our favorite superpowered heroes and masked vigilantes. Sometimes, superhero films are slavish in their costume designs, their devotion to their comic book inspiration driving them to mimic the drawn images as closely as possible. Other times, however, the brains behind these adaptations decide to take some significant departures from the source material in terms of costume design. To be fair, not every deviation is a bad thing, and most of the time, it comes from a real desire to improve on what the comics started or ground them in a more realistic setting. Ocasionally — as you’ll see in a few of the entries on this list — the change is a genuine improvement.
The rest of the time, they just suck. For better or worse, here’s a look at some ofthe least accurate superhero costumes in film and television.
The concept of Falcon is a simple one. Sam Wilson is a man with an affinity for birds who takes on a bird-themed superhero mantle to fight bad guys, eventually sporting a special winged harness that allows him to fly. His origin is much more complicated than that (because comics), but he’s always been Captain America’s BFF and most frequent partner in derring-do. (He predates Bucky’s return as the Winter Soldier by decades.)
Falcon’s costume is based around his mechanical wings, which he controls almost as an extension of his body. His comic book look is basically a red jumpsuit with white trim and a face mask that has a completely nonsensical shape and a goofy beak thing over his nose. It’s not the worst look ever, but it’s not remotely something a techno-winged soldier would wear in the real world.
So thank the movie gods that Marvel found a way to take something that looks kind of lame in the comics and make it look badass on the big screen. They started by ditching the red-and-white and going with black on a more armor-based look for a much more practical get-up. The wings followed this color palette, while losing the comics’ organic look in favor of something technological. The design was refined in Captain America: Civil War, thanks to Tony Stark’s funding, which added some red accents and new uses for those wings.
14. The Atom
Pretty much all of the DC superheroes on The CW are presented differently than they appear in the comics. The inspiration is definitely in the recipe, but the TV shows strive to make the costumes grittier and more realistic. Green Arrow is missing his trademark goatee and twirly mustache, but it’s not as if you look at his green duds, bow, and quiver, and wonder who he’s supposed to be.
Like Green Arrow, Flash’s outfit replaces the spandex with leather, and the other characters on the various shows follow suit. (The only major exception is the newest kid on the block, Supergirl.) But perhaps no character on The CW deviates further from DC Comics in appearance than Brandon Routh’s Ray Palmer, aka the Atom. Debuting on Arrow, he later became a charter member of the Legends of Tomorrow.
The comics present the Atom as a standard blue and red spandex-sporting superhero, one who has the power to shrink in size. The TV shows, on the other hand, posit that Atom’s powers are technological in origin. So instead of spandex, he’s wearing a fully armored battle suit that looks like it came from Tony Stark’s lab. There are some blue and red highlights, but all of the complicated machinery and pieces — as cool as they are — would never clue you in that this guy was supposed to be Ray Palmer from the comics.
13. Green Lantern
Hopes were high for 2011’s Green Lantern, directed by Martin Campbell and starring Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan. Those hopes were dashed when the film arrived as a soulless CGI-fest with a terrible script. Reynolds gave it his best, but Campbell’s direction was largely uninspired and the story fell flat. Campbell had never directed a superhero movie before, and nowhere did this show more than in his decision to go full CGI for Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern costume (and the rest of the Green Lantern Corps, too).
Reasoning that the green bodysuit is a construct of the hero’s ring, Campbell had the on-set actors wear bodysuits which were completely replaced in post-production with bizarre, pulsing, glowing, organic-looking duds. It sounded cool on paper, but in reality, the way it followed the actors’ musculature gave it an unsettling, not-quite-human feel.
Admittedly, the comic suit has a similarly glowing quality. And the movie got the overall lines and shapes right. But something about the translation of a costume that looks great on the printed page into something that looks good in live-action has proven elusive to filmmakers. DC will get another shot when its planned Green Lantern Corps reboot moves forward. Hopefully, some talented artist out there will figure out the right way to bring this not-quite-clothing supersuit to believable life.
Strictly speaking, there’s very little the TV Daredevil costume has in common with the comic book version. They’re both red, and they both have horns on the headpiece, and that’s about it.
The comic book costume is sleek and simple. It’s a classic red unitard with a horned cowl and Daredevil’s stylized “DD” emblem on the chest. While some artists draw him with a belt or add other texturing, there really isn’t much more to it than the red bodysuit. It’s as classically straightforward as superhero attire gets.
The Netflix series showed us why Daredevil needed more protection than a Morphsuit can provide, having him frequently beaten nearly to death in his first suit, the unadorned black ninja costume. Over time, he adopted an armored outfit, which is, frankly, smarter than the comic book suit, giving the vigilante crime-fighter some actual defensive shielding.
The better costume is in: both. We’re calling a tie because the comic outfit is practically perfect in every way, but the TV’s battle suit makes way more sense for the real world (though we’re holding out hope that we’ll see a slightly brighter shade of red in season 3).
As we’ve noted before, Zack Snyder got a lot right with Watchmen, adhering very closely to Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ seminal comic book. But he took some liberties in a few other areas. Remember the out-of-left-field alien squid thing that shows up at the comic’s end? That’s not in the movie, and seriously, thank God. Just don’t mention that “Hallelujah” scene and we can be friends.
One of the biggest deviations was the character Ozymandias, who wore a costume that only a trained eye could see was inspired by the comic. In the book, Ozymandias, aka Adrian Veidt, wears an ancient Egypt-inspired purple and yellow spandex number that’s both destinctive and silly. It’s not hard to see why the grounded and gritty movie adaptation wanted to steer away from that.
What is hard to see is why the movie put actor Matthew Goode in a rubber Joel Schumacher suit — complete with nipples. (See #5 on our list.) The skinny Goode is almost laughably swallowed up by the suit’s ridiculous muscular proportions, too. Surely there are better ways of interpreting a ludicrous comic book costume without making it even more absurd? While the big screen suit itself was likely intended as a parody, more than anything, it just gave superhero fans bad flashbacks to mid-’90s Gotham City.
10. Fantastic Four
Anyone who had the displeasure of seeing Josh Trank’s Fantastic Four knows that the costumes the superheroes wore were far from the worst aspect of the film. Yet even the quartet’s classic and entirely straightforward costumes ended up being just another thing the movie couldn’t get right. Instead of the familiar — scratch that, required — blue bodysuits the Four are known for, each one got a different outfit that was tailored to their power set. It probably made loads of sense on paper, but in practice, it kept them from ever feeling like the cohesive team that have come to be known as Marvel’s First Family.
Reed Richards’ suit expanded like an accordion to accommodate his stretching abilities. Johnny Storm’s suit allowed him to flame-on without being a hyper-thermal danger to others. And then there’s the Thing…
Poor Ben Grimm didn’t even get clothes. This raises all sorts of questions about Ben’s private parts that no one wants to ponder. Maybe the idea was to present Ben as more monster than man, but it was just too weird to swallow.
9. Scarlet Witch
This is one instance where we’re all thankful that Hollywood went as far from the source material as possible. There’s a titillation factor to the comic costume for sure, but it’s insanely impractical. And for a medium that’s always struggling for legitimacy anyway… Come on.
The similarities are easier to name than the differences, mainly because there are so few. The only thing they really have in common is the color, and even that’s not the same shade of red. The comic costume is patently absurd. It starts with a bodice which is basically a swimsuit that physics could never support. Its signature element has to be the “M”-shaped headpiece, which as far as anyone can tell, serves no purpose whatsoever.
Actress Elizabeth Olson has worn two very different costumes as Scarlet Witch in Marvel’s movies so far. Her Age of Ultron costume was very simple, basically a black babydoll dress with a red jacket. Captain America: Civil War updated the look considerably, giving her black leather pants, a much longer and more stylized red jacket, and a more stylish red bodice.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it: every single thing about the movie Steel was ill-conceived. That goes for everything from dropping the character’s connection to Superman, to casting basketball player Shaquille O’Neal in the lead role.
The movie’s many problems are perfectly summed up in the superhero costume worn by the main character. In the comics, John Henry Irons wears a customized suit of shiny steel armor that covers his entire body and gives him enhanced strength and flight. (Think Iron Man but without all the high-tech weaponry — though Irons has upgraded it many times since its debut.) Partly inspired by the legend of John Henry, Steel uses a sledgehammer as his weapon of choice.
The movie’s costume, as worn by 7-foot-1-inch Shaq, kept a handful of elements, like the sledgehammer, the rivet wrist gun, and some subtle flaring on the shoulders. But everything else is gone: the S-shield, the red cape, the metallic belt/briefs combo, the cables extending down the sides of his legs, and the helmet that covers his whole face. Understandably, the movie production decided to keep the face of its star mostly visible, but couldn’t they at least have given him a helmet that fits?
The superhero suit worn by Pietro Maximoff in the pages of Marvel Comics is almost as silly as his sister’s. A blue bodysuit with a white lightning streak extending diagonally across the entire suit; it’s what would probably happen if Captain Cold designed Flash’s outfit. A major part of his look are the two bits of hair that always fly backward in a horn shape on either side of his head.
In the X-Men films, Evan Peters’ Quicksilver is most often seen wearing a metallic silver jacket, goggles to protect his eyes, and a silver wig so ridiculous, we almost feel sorry for him. He eventually got to trade up to armor (and a better haircut) in X-Men: Apocalypse before sporting his own X-Men uniform at the film’s end.
Proving that no one has ever figured out how to portray this character visually, Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s Aaron Taylor-Johnson stripped down Quicksilver’s look to little more than athletic wear. The suit he wore in that film’s final act looked as if he’d just returned from the ski slopes. His hair fared no better than Peters’, with dark roots beneath bleached white bangs. Perhaps Marvel’s version of Quicksilver only appeared in one film because no one could come up with a look for him that anyone would take seriously.
The better costume is in: honestly we’re not crazy about any of them, but we’ll give the X-Men movies extra credit for how much fun they have with the concept of someone moving super-fast. Despite Evan Peters’ preposterous wig.
6. Adam West’s Batman
Long before Christopher Reeve donned red-and-blue tights, before Billy Zane stepped into a purple spandex unitard, or Spider-Man thwipped his webs in a skin-tight bodysuit, there was ABC’s Batman. As much a product of the swingin’ ’60s as it was of DC Comics, the so-bad-it’s-good TV series starred Adam West and Burt Ward as the the Dynamic Duo.
It almost feels unfair to pick on Batman‘s costumes. They didn’t have the sophisticated synthetic materials to work with back then that we have today, after all. But as lovably obtuse as the TV show captured the ethos of a bygone era, some costuming crimes are just unforgivable.
Look at the two images above. They’re admittedly similar. But one of them depicts the Dark Knight, while the other most assuredly does not. Objectively speaking, the ABC show starred a character that we would barely recognize today as Batman. The ill-fitting briefs and gloves. The silk cape. A cowl that looks like someone took a white Sharpie and drew eyebrows on it (and what’s the outline around the nose supposed to be?). As beloved as it is today for its enduring silliness, it was also a travesty that set serious Batman stories back by decades. It wasn’t the worst of the Caped Crusader’s fashion faux pas, but it was close.
5. Every Costume from Joel Schumacher’s Batman Films
Oy… Where to begin.
In 1995’s Batman Forever and 1997’s Batman and Robin, Joel Schumacher attempted to follow up on Tim Burton’s gothic superhero tales of the Dark Knight with a pair of candy and neon colored schlock romps that tried to meld Burton’s darkness with the 1960s TV show’s camp. It didn’t work.
Burton’s Bat costumes had a rubber-ish quality to them, but Schumacher’s suits used both rubber and hard plastic. And geeks everywhere cried out in one voice when it was revealed that the new suits completed their anatomy-highlighting looks by including nipples. Yes, for a moment in time, there were Bat-nipples. And Robin nipples, too. Batgirl was thankfully saved from this fate, but Alicia Silverstone’s breasts had to have been vacuum-sealed into her suit. Silverstone also was inexplicably denied Bat ears on her costume.
And in case the camp factor might be lost on some viewers, Schumacher hammered it home by featuring closeup butt shots any time the three characters suited up, as part of a “putting on the suit” montage. Because nothing says “brooding crime fighter” like a rubber butt crack.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was rebooted in 2014, fans cried foul. Not because the Turtles were getting another fresh start; the Turtles go through so many interpretations and reboots every few years that it’s practically a tradition. The problem is their appearance.
This live-action update was the first Ninja Turtles flick to bring the titular quartet to life using photo-realistic CGI (yes, even computer generated characters have costumes). And in translating their appearance to heightened levels of “CGI realism,” fans felt that director Jonathan Liebsman took things too far. He bulked up the characters, gave them all kinds of specialized accessories (Donatello wears goofy patchwork eyeglasses, for example), and worst of all: he humanized their faces.
Look at that picture and tell us there’s not something freaky about giant turtles with human eyes and mouths. It’s just creepy. Even the foam rubber suits worn in the 1990 live-action film did a better job of capturing the look and spirit of the characters than this odd turn of events.
“But Mystique doesn’t wear a costume in the movies!” you say. And you are correct, for the most part.
She wears various outfits when she’s masquerading as other people, and in X-Men: Apocalypse, Jennifer Lawrence sported a battle suit while teamed up with the X-Men. But yeah, for the most part, when she’s just being her plain old self, Mystique in the X-Men movies is naked. Bryan Singer made this call starting with the original X-Men flick, where Rebecca Romijn played the blue shape-shifter while sporting eight hours worth of makeup and prosthetics.
It’s on this list because Singer’s decision to have the character forego clothing — reportedly a matter of logic: why would she need to wear clothes? — marked a radical change from how Mystique appears in the comics. Singer also chose to give her scales, the complex manipulation of which is how her power works.
In the comics, her skin is also blue in her “true” form, but she wears a white bodysuit/dress kind of thing that creates a sort of white stripe running down her middle, vertically. Apocalypse echoed this stripe with the character’s X-Men costume. She also has a thing for skulls in the comics, wearing a belt made of tiny skulls and a thin black headband that apexes with another itty-bitty skull.
No, no, no. Just no.
When Warner Bros. attempted to capitalize on the enduring appeal of Batman by giving Catwoman her own solo film, the studio chose to reboot the character rather than branch out from any of the existing Bat-flicks. A smart decision was made in hiring Halle Barry, one of the biggest stars in the industry at the time, to headline as the anti-heroine. Unfortunately, that was pretty much the only good decision the movie made.
Everything else, from the script to the director to the VFX to the supporting cast, was just a disaster. One-named director Pitof signed off on a super-costume that’s inexplicable. It’s widely considered one of the worst comic book movie costumes of all time.
The comic books and other on-screen interpretations typically feature the character in a black catsuit. 2004’s Catwoman instead outfitted Berry in a sultry vigilante ensemble that looks like a cheap, homemade, BDSM Halloween costume. It’s topped off with a plastic helmet that that has cat ears up north and long-sleeve gloves that have big honking claws on the fingers.
It’s literally the worst imaginable adaptation of what a “cat woman” might look like.
A famous line in the very first X-Men movie has Cyclops asking Wolverine, “What would you prefer, yellow spandex?” It’s a cute wink at the history of X-Men comics, where Logan has traditionally worn that exact, skin-tight look. What Wolverine was complaining about was the identical black leather costumes worn by himself and his teammates at the time.
Remember, this was 2000. The only real frame of reference Bryan Singer and his crew had to lean on was the blue-and-red tights worn by Christopher Reeve and those rubber-looking Batman suits from the Tim Burton films. The outfits gradually became more sophisticated and distinct to each character, but even the furthest deviation — probably the yellow-striped suits from First Class — kept the leather game going strong.
The idea was to modernize superheroes, to make them plausible in the 21st Century, and that’s not a terrible goal. But most of the superhero movies that have come along since X-Men have shown that there are other, better ways to update superheroes without losing the elements that make their appearances so memorable. Captain America comes to mind, as does The Dark Knight.
The better costume is in: the comics. The movies’ suits may be more practical, but the whole enterprise loses something with its monochrome palette.
Which other comic book adaptations do you think were completely off the mark with their costume design? Sound off in the comments.