Saving the world requires brawn, not beauty. When villains are tossing the universe into disarray, unleashing killer robots to destroy the planet, or simply wanting to watch the world burn, heroes don’t have the luxury to worry about how they look. Saving the day is priority, and everything else comes second. Still, whether they’re meant to be fashion statements or not, a lackluster costume runs the risk of sending the wrong message. While heroes are meant to protect, they’re also expected to inspire, and dressing them in something that evokes emotions more along the lines of hilarity than inspiration will definitely send the wrong message.
In fact, it already has.
In various superhero TV series and movies, Costume Designers aren’t always on their A-game when it comes to visualizing an outfit worthy of screen time. There have definitely been positive exceptions (see The Avengers, Wonder Woman), but the black sheep are edging out the majority. Blame it on budget restraints or unfairly rushed turnarounds – many a hero has felt the cold sting of shame purely on account of their battle gear. We’ve all been taught to not judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to these costumes, judgment is fair game.
Keep reading to check out the 20 Worst Superhero Costume Designs Ever Put On Screen.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been cursed with high expectations ever since its pilot. Following the success of the entire MCU, a story with a smaller budget and lesser-known characters thanThe Avengers had to survive purely on its own merits. So, for that, the show deserves some credit. Unfortunately, credit can only go so far under certain circumstances.
When Agents of Shield had the nerve to create an outfit as poorly designed as the one designed for Deathlok, and assume it could get away scot-free, Marvel’s credibility took some deserved hits.
Despite the fact that this character is meant to exist in the same universe as Thor and Iron Man, Deathlok’s costume looks like a throwaway prototype from a scrapped SNL sketch.
19. Medusa – Inhumans
Inhumans is kind of like Lord Voldemort – in that it has become the Show That Must Not Be Named. In the past year, this bold (but ultimately blah) series has been beaten and bloodied by critics and audiences alike, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sneak in a few more hits when it comes to the costume department.
Of all the disappointments that this show was riddled with (and there were plenty), the long-locked, lavender-hued Medusalith Amaquelin (better known simply as Medusa) took the crown, based on looks alone. Between the bargain aisle spandex and metallic plush shoulder pads, this sort of costume doesn’t say “extraterrestrial;” it says “Party City.” While this outfit may not be the sole reason the show ultimately failed, it certainly didn’t help.
Catwoman is a staple in the Batman franchise made all the more memorable through her on-screen depictions. Actresses like Julie Newmar, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Eartha Kitt maintained solid consistency over the years in her character’s over-the-top theatrics, cooler-than-thou spirit, and, of course, black, feline-inspired costume.
Unfortunately, the magic died in Catwoman’s standalone movie starring Halle Berry.
On one hand, the costume ticks off the necessary boxes (it’s black, catlike), but in all other regards, it’s a disaster. Her shredded pleather and battle-ready brassiere feels like a costume one might wear at an underground dominatrix cage match. While Pfeiffer’s Catwoman also had similar dominatrix vibes, there was at least a vicious madness to support it.
Where Pfeiffer’s was brimming with serious Tim Burton inspiration, this one feels like rejected battle-wear from The Matrix topped with a helmet-mask hybrid someone threw together on their coffee break.
17. Atom – Legends of Tomorrow
It’s fair to say that Brandon Routh did a fine job playing the Man of Steel in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. Everything from his mannerisms to his inflections to his, yes, costume, hit the Kryptonian nail on the head. Sadly, though, while Routh also does a good job playing Atom on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, his costume leaves much to be desired (and “much” is an understatement).
This maroon misfire looks like the abandoned child of Jingle All the Way’s Turbo Man and Marvel’s Ant-Man. It’s clunky, cheap, and has the gall to steal Judge Dredd’s trademark visor. It’s also a prime example of the reason why designers need to take some creative liberties with the source material. Just because a costume might look cool in the comics doesn’t mean that it’ll necessarily translate well in a physical recreation.
Now, Marvel has taken some nasty hits on this list, but it deserves some credit where credit is due. For example, their Daredevil series on Netflix is a show that finally did the source material justice— not just in terms of its atmosphere and narrative, but in terms of costume design. It managed to inject some realism into the blind crime-fighter’s outfit, making him feel less like a comic book character, and more like a legitimate, costumed (though not cartoony) city vigilante.
Sadly, that realistic center is miles away from the Ben Affleck Daredevil we got back in 2003. Considering that Hollywood in the early 2000s was having a bit of an identity crisis following the new millennium, this costume is very much a product of its times. It’s flashy, cheap, awkwardly-fitted, and lives under the assumption that superheroes ought to take inspiration from leather-friendly strip-o-grams.
15. Barb Wire
Remember that time Pamela Anderson tried her hand at becoming a superhero? Well, “superhero” is definitely a stretch, but given the fact that her character Barb Wire was based on a Dark Horse comic of the same name, we’ll let it slide— if only to take the opportunity to shake our heads at this poor excuse for a costume.
Not unlike Halle Berry’s Catwoman, this costume is a less an outfit suitable for a hero and more an ensemble one might find in the dungeon of an urban bordello.
There’s nothing practical about this costume in the slightest.
The strapless top leaves her torso vulnerable to close or long-range weapons, the heels make running implausible (see Jurassic World), and the leather dog collar is just a leather dog collar.
14. Batman, Robin, and Batgirl – Batman and Robin
When Tim Burton was behind the wheel of the Batman franchise, his theatricality was met with open arms. With his background in animation combined with a naturally eccentric style, the results were well-suited for the Caped Crusader. Unfortunately, Burton left the director chair, passed the torch to Joel Schumacher, and the rest is history.
By the time Schumacher reached his second outing in the franchise with Batman and Robin, any shot at making sense of his style vanished into an abundance of neon lights and nipples (a body part Schumacher felt was necessary to showcase on both the Batman and Robin suits).
Everything on these suits is comically exaggerated.
The bulging codpieces and rubber muscles prove just how poorly designed these costumes are. What’s worse is that the suits undergo a makeover so as to withstand Mr. Freeze’s icy temperatures, and the upgrades (or downgrades, depending on how you look at it) are nothing more than blatant attempts to stretch potential toy variety options (of which there were plenty) to an even greater quantity.
Calling X-Men: Apocalypse a disappointment is an understatement to end all understatements. After hitting only a single pitfall in Brett Ratner’s The Last Stand, the series has been a hit with audiences and critics. When Bryan Singer made his return to the franchise with Days of Future Past, giving everyone hope, only to dash that hope away with Apocalypse, it felt like a slap in the face. And while there is plenty to discuss about this film in terms of everything it did wrong, we’re going to focus on a single blunder: Psylocke’s costume.
She earns a pass on the costume being purple, seeing as Ivan Ooze—ahem, Apocalypse—chose the matching color theme himself, but there’s plenty more to mock. Between all the straps, streaked hair, and spandex, she looks less like the comic book character she’s portraying and more like Sindel from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.
12. Everyone – The Flash
Ah, where to begin…
While The Flash has certainly garnered a hefty fanbase, as well as positive reviews from critics, let’s not forget that this is a show from The CW (which is to say its budget comes nowhere close to the likes of DC’s feature-length budgets). When it comes to its laughable costume designs, do we give the show a pass for trying or do we poke fun at it for failing?
For continuity’s sake on this article, let’s poke fun.
These bulky, awkwardly-fitting outfits look more like quality Halloween costumes than what are supposed to be authentic superhero attire. The fact that you can get a replica version of Barry Allen’s suit for under $50 on eBay speaks for itself.
11. Green Lantern
Someone in a pre-production meeting for 2011’s Green Lantern thought it’d be a breakthrough idea having Hal Jordan’s suit be 100 percent CGI. Why nobody stepped up to correct this person is anyone’s guess, but let’s just chalk it up to one of Hollywood’s many unsolved mysteries.
The Green Lantern costume isn’t just an example of bad design, it’s a prime example of Hollywood’s overindulgence of all things non-practical in the effects department (thankfully that mindset appears to be changing). It’s as cartoonish as it is unnecessary, as jarring as it is insulting to the senses, and no matter how confident WB might have been in the decision go all-in on the VFX, it’s undeserving of the Green Lantern Corps seal of approval. Thankfully, Ryan Reynolds cleaned the slate with Deadpool, but the damage is done, WB. The damage is done.
10. Captain America
If you ever wondered why Matt Salinger always looks so defeated in the Captain America movie from 1990, just take a look at his costume.
This latex monstrosity seems as painful to wear as it to look at.
It’s anyone’s guess how Salinger made it through the entire production without turning into an “enormous green rage monster” like his buddy Bruce. Especially when you pair it up with the cozy-looking uniform Cap gets in the current slate of MCU movies, this one seems torturous by comparison.
Fortunately, this movie never got a sequel, meaning Salinger never had to suffer through this outfit again, but it’s still anyone’s guess how any self-respecting costume designer thought it was a good career move to go with latex over a more costume-friendly fabric (or literally any other material).
9. Black Scorpion
In 2001, the Syfy Channel dared to release a show that had clearly been shelved since the early ’90s. Black Scorpion has your run-of-the-mill superhero backstory (character seeks equal-parts justice and revenge after family member is gunned down), but a Ccostume department so unashamedly bad that it’s difficult to make heads or tails of the titular Black Scorpion’s fashion sense.
She goes from a Robocop/Batman helmet to a goth American Gladiator one-piece.
You an argue that the questionable design choices in this costume are meant to hopefully draw people’s attention away from her face so as to hide her identity, but surely there are more creative, more dignified ways of doing so, right? This costume just reeks of meddling producers demanding unreasonable levels of eye candy.
8. VR Troopers
When Power Rangers reigned back in the ’90s, copycats were inevitable. Between Big Bad Beetleborgs and Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, attempts to leech off of Power Rangers’ success were fast and furious (whether they were actually successful is another story). However, maybe the lamest attempt at giving Rangers a run for its money was VR Troopers, a show surprisingly cohesive with the modern Silicon Valley lifestyle, with its focus on experimental tech and virtual reality.
Not only does this show feel like a lame ripoff of the surprisingly insuppressible Saban franchise, even its attempts to at least create cool-looking heroes fails miserably.
The awkward, boxy, joyless designs look like cardboard cutouts with subpar paint jobs.
7. The Commander – Sky High
When it comes to cheesy characters in kids’ movies, they usually get a pass on account of their target audience. The PG crowd can overlook design flaws as long as a movie or show can hold their attention (not an easy feat, but doable). That said, though, this defense can only be stretched so far before it starts abusing the formula—which is exactly what Kurt Russell’s costume in Sky High manages to pull off.
His blocky, patriotic getup doesn’t just look uncomfortable to wear, it’s uncomfortable to look at.
6. Super Force
Motorcycles are cool, astronauts are cool, and superheroes are cool, but for some reason, a combination of all three is surprisingly disappointing. For proof of this, look no further than the short-lived TV series Super Force.
Set in the year 2020, a former astronaut named Zach Stone dons what is meant to be a crime-fighting suit as impressive as it is intimidating (it’s neither) in order to— as you might expect— fight crime. Sadly for Mr. Stone, his noble attempts are thwarted on account of how ridiculous he looks.
This robo-Samurai costume resembles the lovechild of a Mortal Kombat character and a TIE fighter pilot.
5. Night Man
In the TV series Night Man, the titular hero committed himself to three things: fighting crime, his costume designer, and conditioning. Otherwise, why else would any self-respecting superhero settle on a costume that should never left the prototyping phase?
Wearing this costume is arguably the most heroic thing this guy has ever done.
A saxophonist named Johnny Domino (already off to a great start) gets struck by lighting, imbuing him with a unique, evil-targeting telepathic superpower. He uses this ability stand for justice, and while the accompanying powers from his super suit definitely add some oomph to his fighting style, you might argue that having to wear this mask to shoot laser beams and see in the dark isn’t a fair tradeoff. Surely his telepathy can help clue him in on how stupid he looks?
4. Fantastic Four (1994)
Will the Fantastic Four ever experience a decent film adaptation? So far, they’re batting 0 for 3 (0 for 4 if you want to count sequels), and their only real shot at redemption is joining the MCU – but we’ll just have to wait and see if that ever comes to fruition. While the 2015 and 2005 were major misfires, the unreleased 1994 version fails from every angle, most notably in its costume design.
This version of the comic adaptation saw the super quartet sporting blue spandex suits with white gloves, white belts, and white turtleneck dickies. Where they succeed in consistency, though, they fail in literally everything else. One could argue that this movie deserves to be dead and buried, but… it already is.
After Tron tried its hand at pioneering VFX on film, a TV series called Automan tried cashing in on the hype. To make a long story short, it failed. This single-season series about a computer program-turned crime fighter was a corny, cheap attempt at taking a stab at digital technology.
Automan’s “suit” is nothing more than glowing pixels imitating the shape of a human body.
Had the show’s creators known any better, they might have given the outfit a little more thought before going into production, maybe going so far as to create an actual, tangible costume. On the other hand, they could have just avoided making the show altogether. That would have definitely helped with their faulty costume and effects issues.
2. The Phantom
Billy Zane played two very problematic characters in the ’90s for two very different reasons. In 1997, he played the villainous Cal Hockley in Titanic, and his issue was obvious: he was a jerk. A year prior, however, he played the heroic Kit Walker in The Phantom, and his issue was equally obvious: his costume was horrendous.
In the 1930s, Walker is a kind of mix between Indiana Jones and The Shadow, sadly void of either hero’s sense of fashion. Not only is he donning a skin-tight purple spandex suit in order to strike fear into the eyes of his enemies, the suit comes equipped with a colored bald cap which seems to serve no other purpose than to A) adhere to the comic’s original design, and B) hide his hair. It might help to say that the black domino mask he’s also wearing is a nice touch, but sadly, it isn’t.
Question: You know what’s harder than steel? Answer: Finding a superhero costume objectively worse than the costume in Steel.
In the mid-90s, Shaq was an NBA star, a video game character, a burgeoning Hollywood star, and someone who should’ve dedicated more time than he has to apologizing for the latter. In 1997, he starred as an Army scientist-turned-superhero (at least, we’re told he’s a superhero) in Steel.
This character is named after the material from which his terrible costume is made.
By all accounts, this movie is a failure. Rocking an unfortunate 12% on Rotten Tomatoes and grossing just over $1 million on a $16 million budget, Steel became the kind of movie that studios would rather write a eulogy for than a sequel.
To add insult to injury, the movie’s main character spends actual screen time fighting evil in layered sheet metal, looking less like a hero and more like the neglected son of a thousand Ren Faire maniacs.
Which of these costume designs would you actually defend? Let us know in the comments!
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