Superheroes have played a pivotal role in society for many, many decades so it's no surprise that they've been adapted for live-action for almost as long as they've been around. Putting crimefighters on television or film isn't just challenging in terms of selling their larger-than-life stories to the general public. The challenge also stems from doing justice to their distinctively unique designs. People's idea of what makes a great superhero costume has changed drastically over the years.
Outfits like the ones worn by Adam West as Batman and Christopher Reeve as Superman may have been the pinnacle of comic book fashion during their time, but that's no longer the case. With modern heroes like Captain America and Black Panther taking over the pop culture environment in recent years, audiences have grown to expect more realistic and intricately designed crimefighters. This is all to say that superhero costumes are, at the end of the day, products of their times.
With the many different superhero suits that have been adapted for live-action over the decades and the various cultural perspectives that influenced them, the question becomes: what exactly are the best superhero costumes out there? Well, as the number of live-action do-gooders continues to grow, so do the number of super suits available to judge, which makes answering the above question no walk in the park. However, after some careful consideration and a whole lot of meditation, we did it.
So, without further ado, let's rank the 20 best live-action superhero costumes ever.
20 GREEN ARROW (SEASON 4)
When it debuted, Arrow had Oliver Queen bringing justice to Starling City in a leather outfit that covered him head to toe. The costume was fine for the time, but as the show evolved, viewers were ready to see the Emerald Archer in a more comic-accurate suit. That wish came true in Season 4 when Oliver debuted an outfit that evoked the character's appearance in DC's New 52 relaunch. Green Arrow's new crimefighting suit was sleeveless, more flexible and combined green and black in a way that made it feel like a more colorful version of a modern tactical uniform. Even though Season 4 is widely considered to be one of Arrow's most lackluster entries, Oliver's costume is one thing from it that surely didn't disappoint.
19 WASP (ANT-MAN AND THE WASP)
Three years after being featured in a supporting role in Ant-Man, Evangeline Lilly's Hope Pym stepped into the spotlight as Wasp in Ant-Man and The Wasp. The hero has gone through quite a few redesigns throughout the past five decades, which naturally presented a challenge when coming up with the right live-action look for her. Fortunately, the people behind the film were up to the task, crafting a costume that retained the Pym Tech style of the first Ant-Man costume and brought together different bits and pieces from Wasp's past comic book designs. This eclectic mixture of elements resulted in an eye-popping battle suit and helmet that appeared to be sufficiently durable for combat scenarios and, in true Pym Industries fashion, remarkably high-tech.
18 ANT-MAN (2015)
Prior to Ant-Man making its way to theaters, Hank Pym's superhero costume was widely considered to be one of the silliest outfits in comics. As such, what Marvel Studios accomplished with the hero's attire in his eponymous film can't be understated. Similar to Wasp's costume in Ant-Man and The Wasp, Ant-Man's suit in the 2015 adventure took inspiration from various redesigns the hero underwent over the years. A cross between a battle uniform and an experimental suit, the costume popped off the screen thanks to its vibrant colors and futurist style, which included signature features of Ant-Man's classic duds (perhaps most prominently, his helmet) with complex design patterns that made it fit into the movie's live-action environment as a functional piece of technology.
17 THOR (INFINITY WAR)
Thor has gone through many costume changes throughout his MCU career, but the best one didn't come until Avengers: Infinity War. Following a lengthy journey that involved getting his ship destroyed, meeting the Guardians of the Galaxy and traveling to Nidavellir, Thor made his glorious return to Earth sporting an updated black-and-silver version of his original armor. The torso section was the same one he donned at the end of Thor: Ragnarok, but it felt like a new armor thanks to its chainmail sleeves and cape, both of which hadn't been part of the ensemble until Infinity War. The armor's sleek, mostly black design resulted in a much more enticing look for Thor, which added to the visual excitement of watching him in action.
16 SUPERMAN (SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE)
When it came time to adapt Superman for the big screen, director Richard Donner opted to remain faithful to the character's appearance, a decision that paid off in spades. Superman's costume seemed like it was ripped right out of a comic book page. It had vibrant colors, a big "S" symbol across the chest and even included the red trunks. The costume wasn't as intricate as the super suits we're used to seeing in modern comic book blockbusters, but what it lacked in intricacy it made up for in appeal. The suit had an endearing simplicity that served as a subtle physical representation of Clark Kent's earnestness and transparency. Even 40 years after its debut, this remains one of the best superhero outfits put on screen.
15 THE FLASH (SEASON 5)
After four seasons and three different costumes, The Flash gave Barry Allen a major fashion upgrade in Season 5. Each one of Barry Allen's first three costumes had remained relatively faithful to the character's comic book design, but none of them captured the essence of The Flash as his Season 5 outfit does. The costume is bright red and sleek, and looks more like something we would see in a big-budget superhero film. Most importantly, the fabric feels lightweight and flexible, attributes the hero's previous outfits didn't have due to their leathery material. Now, this costume is, admittedly, not perfect (the headpiece can look a little wonky from certain angles), but it's the most exciting Barry Allen has looked in the show's five-year history.
14 DAREDEVIL (NETFLIX SERIES)
Getting a superhero costume to work in the gritty environment of the Netflix Marvel universe was tricky, but Daredevil pulled it off with flying colors. After 13 episodes of fighting crime in a makeshift black costume, Matt Murdock finally got to don his snazzy red suit at the end of Season 1. The costume struck the perfect balance between embracing its comic book roots and being grounded in reality. With its kevlar lining, combat gloves and boots, Matt's costume looked tough, practical and realistic, all while remaining faithful to the style that made the Daredevil outfit so aesthetically pleasing in the first place. Adding to its appeal, the costume balanced out the show's dark undertones by imbuing the story with a touch of comic book fun.
13 MERA (AQUAMAN)
Much has been said about Arthur Curry's battle armor in Aquaman, but not enough attention has been given to Mera's suit. For the film, James Wan stirred away from the Atlantean armor Mera sported in Justice League in favor of an almost exact recreation of her comic book outfit. In keeping with the colorful nature of Aquaman, Mera's bodysuit popped off the screen thanks to its combination of blue and green hues. The suit's alien-like appearance made it easy to buy as a product of Atlantean culture, and its skintight design didn't take away from its apparent toughness. Mera's is not only one of the best costumes in Aquaman, but it's also one of the best costumes we've seen in the DC film universe.
12 CAPTAIN MARVEL
Carol Danvers has gone through three major costume changes over her 50+ year history. For her first theatrical adventure, Marvel Studios thankfully chose to use the suit she debuted in Kelly Sue DeConnick's 2012 Captain Marvel run. The end product was a costume that felt like a comic book panel come to life. The design remained faithful to its 2D counterpart, but still delivered the realistic and functional aesthetic we've come to expect from the MCU. While early set photos made people question the quality of the costume, the film dissipated any worries. Captain Marvel's costume ended up being imposing, visually striking and quite shiny. Carol has a bright future in the MCU, and we can't wait to see how her uniform evolves in future installments.
11 FANTASTIC FOUR (2005)
Put down your pitchforks. We know 2005's Fantastic Four isn't exactly the gold standard of superhero movies, but one thing that Tim Story's superhero adventure nailed was the costumes of its protagonists. Taking the core essence of the Fantastic Four's classic look, the film's designers came up with fun yet elegantly simplistic costumes that successfully brought the superfamily into the 21st century. The costumes were so well designed, that even The Thing's pants and boots inspired a sense of excitement. What's funny about the uniforms is that, even though it's been over 10 years since Fantastic Four released, they still hold up. They feel modern and fresh, which is an impressive achievement considering how many great super suits we've seen over the years.
10 BATMAN (THE DARK KNIGHT)
The Dark Knight is praised for many things, one of which is its batsuit. Following a tough night of crimefighting in which he got attacked by a dog, Bruce Wayne treated himself to a new costume, one that made him faster, offered him more protection and allowed him to turn his head. The film's designers stirred away from the archetypal Batman look, opting instead to create an innovative costume for the Caped Crusader. The resulting suit was more akin to a flexible battle armor that made Batman look much lighter and agile, a welcome change from the stiff nature of previous batsuits. The batsuit will continue to evolve in the future, but The Dark Knight's design will be remembered for years to come.
9 SPIDER-MAN (SPIDER-MAN 2)
After six movies, it's easy to take Spider-Man's live-action aesthetic for granted. However, we probably wouldn't be where we are today if it weren't for Tobey Maguire's Spidey costume, a suit that's likely best described as elegant. The raised webbing pattern was subtle, the eyepieces were just the right size, and the intensity of the colors was perfectly balanced. Now, you're probably wondering why we specifically listed the Spider-Man 2 costume. It's simple: in the film, the colors of the suit were made brighter and the spider symbols on the front and back tweaked slightly, making the design more visually striking. The costume essentially retained the best aspects of its predecessor and amplified them, thus it's spot on this list.
8 BLACK WIDOW (AVENGERS: ENDGAME)
Black Widow's costume has evolved a great deal over the past nine years. For Avengers: Endgame, Marvel gave the character what's arguably her best costume to date. Early on in the movie's marketing campaign, a banner surfaced online featuring the Avengers in their new outfits. It was thanks to this image that we got our first look at Black Widow's awesome new costume. The suit features a futuristic design pattern over her torso and arms, making the fabric seem both armored and flexible, which are musts when fighting intergalactic tyrants. The costume is shiny, modern and very comic book-like, elements that easily make it Widow's best suit yet. Here's hoping Natasha gets a costume as amazing as this one for her upcoming film.
7 WAR MACHINE (IRON MAN 2)
Following an enticing tease during the third act of Iron Man, James Rhodes finally made his debut as War Machine in Iron Man 2. In the pages of Marvel comics, War Machine is known for his bulky, tank-like appearance. In keeping with the MCU's penchant for delivering comic-accurate costumes, the armor's live-action design didn't disappoint. Built from Stark's Mark II armor, the War Machine suit was bulky, heavy duty and fairly intimidating. While not as technologically advanced as the Iron Man armor, War Machine looked like an absolute powerhouse. Rhodey's suit has been updated a few times since 2010; and while each new version of the armor has stood out in its own right, its appearance in Iron Man 2 remains the best-looking version so far.
Seven years after his infamous turn in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wade Wilson was finally given his due in 2016's Deadpool. Tim Miller's R-rated extravaganza allowed the foul-mouthed mercenary to trade the sweatpants he sported in Wolverine's spinoff film for an impressively comic-accurate costume. Due to the simplicity of the character's original design, Wilson's suit had fairly good odds of ending up in the live-action superhero costumes hall of infamy. Luckily for fans of the character, Deadpool's designers went all out in bringing the Merc with a Mouth's costume to life. Wilson's superhero (antihero?) duds embraced the attractive simplicity of the character's original costume with its vibrant colors and an unapologetic number of pouches while still feeling tactical and functional.
5 BLACK PANTHER (CIVIL WAR)
Black Panther leaped into the big screen in Captain America: Civil War. A little less than two years before the film's release, Marvel offered a look at T'Challa's costume through an amazing piece of concept art. However, despite the excitement surrounding the reveal at the time, no one was prepared for how incredible the finished product would look. The film's costume and special effects department did a remarkable job at bringing vibranium fabric to life, delivering a suit that appeared lightweight and extremely durable. The costume's sophisticated design pattern also added to its visual appeal, as it allowed the fabric to convey a sense of history and tradition. Overall, it's hard to argue that this was a costume fit for a king.
4 THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (2012)
In 2012, Sony relaunched the Spider-Man franchise with The Amazing Spider-Man. Wanting to explore uncharted territory, Marc Webb opted to give Peter Parker a new costume, one that felt plausible for a teenager to manufacture on his own. To the director's dismay, the new suit was criticized for straying too far from the classic Spider-Man design. Ironically, though, that's what made it so special. The costume looked lighter, sleeker and more rubberized than its predecessor, a design that served both as a modern interpretation of Spider-Man and a tribute to his classic look. The suit didn't enjoy a long lifespan in The Amazing Spider-Man franchise (it was redesigned for the sequel), but it remains an effectively bold and memorable take on everyone's favorite wall-crawler.
3 IRON MAN (MARK III)
The MCU has introduced many different Iron Man armors, each one more technologically advanced than the last. But even though audiences have been left in awe by suits like Bleeding Edge and Ultimate Iron Man, none of Stark's recent armors have surpassed the design of the Mark III, which made its debut in Iron Man. The film took the goofiness out of the hero's original comic book suit but kept the best aspects, such as the basic design features and color scheme. The result was a striking armor that conveyed a sense of elegance and power. The suit not only established the style of Tony Stark's armors, but it also laid the groundwork for what we came to expect from other superhero costumes in the MCU.
2 MAN OF STEEL
Man of Steel reinvented pretty much everything about Superman, including his costume. Superman's suit has been a staple of DC's iconography for decades, but director Zack Snyder realized the hero's outfit was in dire need of an update to appeal to modern audiences. What resulted was a prime example of how good superhero suits can look in live-action if adapted properly. The film's costume featured a more stylized "S" symbol and an intricate design pattern that made the fabric appear alien and highly protective. It also did away with the red trunks, giving the hero a more grounded look. The costume underwent alterations for Batman v Superman and Justice League, but neither version lived up to the awesomeness of the Man of Steel design.
1 CAPTAIN AMERICA (THE FIRST AVENGER)
To say that Captain America's costume is hard to adapt for live-action is an understatement. The red-white-and-blue spandex may work on the printed page, but the same can't be said for superhero blockbusters. That's why what The First Avenger did with the costume is nothing short of remarkable. Taking the core essence of Cap's classic design, the live-action outfit was as much a superhero costume as it was an old-fashioned battle suit. Despite its colorfulness, the suit's realistic nature allowed it to seamlessly fit into the movie's gritty war environment, making Steve Rogers an imposing presence on the battlefield. With a design that feels both timeless and a product of the '40s, Cap's live-action costume is a remarkable achievement in the world of superhero fashion.