What makes a good comic book adaptation?
Obviously great writing, lovable characters, big action set-pieces, sharp cinematography and memorable one-liners. Some might even say beautiful scores and big plots twists. These things are all critical in making a great comic book film or TV show; without a doubt.
But honestly, the thing that defines a great comic book adaptation are the costumes.
We recognize comic book characters by their costumes and are debatably the most important characteristic to nail when making a great comic book adaption. Some have been absolutely jaw-dropping and others leave us shaking our heads. As a side note: Make-up and CGI play a part in this ranking. Full CGI characters don’t count.
Here are the 15 Best and the 15 Worst On-Screen Costumes in Comic Book History.
25. (Worst) Fantastic 4
Bland, dull and depressing.
This is exactly how you would describe Fant4stic. There wasn’t a single redeeming quality of this cinematic disaster; not even the costumes. Even though the original Fantastic 4 films arent anything special, they at least had the iconic blue and white costumes. Instead, they are swapped out for black jumpsuits that wouldn’t even be good enough for the Matrix Sequels.
25. (Best) Ant-Man
Considered the lesser of the MCU heros, Ant-Man is seriously no joke.
Donning a slick red and black shrinking cyber suit, Ant-Man has some of the most useful powers in all of the MCU. Shrinking down to size for espionage or growing as a giant for a throw down. Ant-Man’s Shrinking Suit is nothing short of eye-popping and it’s something that many would never be ashamed to put on.
24. (Worst) Cyborg Smallville
It’s not the first time you will see a CW outfit on this list and it certainly won’t be the last.
Now to be fair, Smallville was a great show with great characters but the budget restrictions highlighted it’s limitations. Unfortunately, those restrictions carried over to the costumes.
Sometimes you would get amazingly accurate costumes and other times you would get THIS. This is supposed to be Cyborg but you would never know that from this absolutely hideous GAP outfit from 1999.
24. (Best) Blade
Badass and nothing short of it.
Wesley Snipes as Blade was one of the most iconic Comic Book characters of the late ’90s and early 00s. He is the vampire killer that every young teenager wanted to be like. With leather pants, giant black overcoat, bulletproof armor and stylish shades, this outfit is perfect. Honestly, it’s still one of the coolest outfits ever put on screen.
23. (Worst) Green Goblin
A product of the early 00s but still a questionable choice.
Willem Dafoe is nothing less than spectacular as the first live-action Spider-Man villain Green Goblin. He is menacing, scary and could crack at any second and his portrayal of Norman Osborn is nothing short of iconic. So it’s just a shame that his amazing performance is covered by a green power rangers suit for most of the movie. It was the early 2000s (a time where comic book movies were still figuring it out) but that is still no excuse.
23. (Best) Rorschach
The biggest standout in a movie full of standouts.
People have a lot of opinions when it comes Zack Snyder nowadays, but what can’t be argued is the accuracy of his Watchman adaptation. It’s character costumes are a prime example of comic accuracy and Rorschach is the biggest stand out of all of them. With his ever-changing Rorschach test mask and 1950s LA Noire trench coat, Rorschach is mysterious, deadly and the biggest stand out in the film that includes an unkillable blue Superman.
22. (Worst) Two-Face
Batman Forever‘s Two-Face is yet another tragic casualty of the Joel Schumacher Batman era.
Tommy Lee Jones does what he can with the material, but his Two-Face is an over the top Riddler clone who constantly tries to keep up with Jim Carrey. The outfit also just isn’t Two-face ether. A leopard print, red and black combo with a purple face? It’s a mess.
22. (Best) Dr. Strange
One of the best, maybe even THE best MCU costume around.
Ripped right out of the comic book pages, this is as close and accurate as a Doctor Strange costume could get. It’s easy on the eyes, has a big magic cape, and a Time Stone necklace that at a nice hint of green color to it. It’s such a clean look for Steven Strange. By far the best costume of Phase 3.
21. (Worst) Goblin
WHAT IS THAT??
There really is no excuse for the creative choices that The Amazing Spider-Man 2 took. Honestly, this design of the Green Goblin makes Dafoe’s Goblin suit look like the Mona Lisa. Goblin looks like a crackhead and there is no way around that. Just horrible.
21. (Best) Heath Ledger Joker
Why so serious?
Heath ledger’s Joker is one, of if not THE most iconic comic book movie villain of all time. It also helps that he done one of the most recognizable costumes of recent years. The dark purple jacket, and the messy makeup topped off by a permanent smile. Yes, Heath Ledger may have the most iconic Joker look of all time.
20. (Worst) Stargirl
Another appearance for a Smallville outfit.
This one is unfortunately on the bad side again. The quality of this costume looks no better than the cheap side of Party City. The mask is big and awkward, the top looks like a shirt from Kohl’s and her weapon looks like it’s made from the cheapest plastic they could find. Yes, cheap is how you define this look.
20. (Best) Hela
One of the better MCU villains also sports one of the most badass costumes.
Hela is easily a top five MCU villain on her acting and evil motives alone but it’s her black and green devil outfit that puts her near the top. With her giant black cape, the ever-changing horn helmet, the black eyeliner and the laser green secondary aesthetic, it all blends so perfectly into one complete package.
19. (Worst) Brainiac 5
Yet another CW disaster and this one is downright laughable.
If there’s one positive thing to say about the CW DC shows, it’s that they at least bring in the ratings. However, when it comes to costume design, leaving a lot to be desired is an understatement and Brainiac 5 could be the worst of all of them. He is seriously just an alien/program in a generic leather jacket, white face paint and hideous silver hair. One look at this character and you try your hardest not to laugh.
19. (Best) Swamp Thing
While the DC CW shows constantly fail to give great costumes, DC Universe on the other hand, delivers cinematic quality.
Swamp Thing on DC Universe showcases one of the finest examples of comic book accuracy ever. It’s really hard to believe that this amazing outfit was made on a TV budget. Truthfully, this costume proves that there is no excuse for cheap TV costumes and The CW needs to start taking notes.
18. (Worst) Dredd 1995
Mid-90s disaster strikes again.
Like Batman Forever, 1995s Judge Dredd was another product of studios not taking the comic book source material seriously. Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd was ridiculed for its ridiculous costume design. What with the lack of protection of the midsection, oversized gold shoulder pads and seriously what is with that crotch guard? There is no way any criminal would take the law seriously when it’s city cops are dressed in something as ridiculous as this.
18. (Best) Dr. Fate
One of the few positive CW outfits on this list.
One look at this outfit, and fans will immediately know it’s Dr. Fate. Considering the budget restrictions of Smallville, Dr Fate’s outfit looks quite great. The gold and blue compliment each other and the helmet is pretty much spot-on. It does look a little cheap and plastic at points, but gets major props for its accuracy to the source material; especially considering it’s from the CW.
17. (Worst) Medusa
Wow that wig is hideous.
When it was announced that the Inhumans movie would be canceled and shifted to an ABC TV show, MCU fans hit the panic button. Those fears were confirmed when they got their first look at Medusa. Never mind the fact that the show was an abysmal mess, Medusa’s look rivaled the CW show in terms of its awfulness. Remember, this is MCU canon, and how the MCU stooped to this level of awful is beyond comprehension.
17. (Best) Michael Keaton Batman
30 years later and Michael Keaton’s Batman is still the definitive look for The Dark Knight.
Now this will cause a debate but while Christian Bale’s Batman had the better movies, Michael Keaton’s Batman had the better outfits. Equipped with a bright yellow utility belt, the long eared cowl, the clearly obvious fake six pack and the in-your-face bat emblem; this outfit is perfect. To this day, this is the Batman outfit everyone wants to wear.
16. (Worst) Bane
Another bad appearance of a DC TV show, this time it’s Gotham.
Seriously, who is this character supposed to be? You could give hardcore DC fans three guesses and they would never guess that this was supposed to be Bane. Considering how great most of Gotham’s costumes have been, it’s puzzling to see such an iconic villain look stoop to such lows. Bane looks like a supercharged meth addict and being that he is one of Batman’s greatest foes, he deserved better than this.
16. (Best) Batgirl
The forgotten classic.
Does anyone remember the DC show Birds of Prey? If you don’t, it’s okay because hardly anyone does. It lasted only one season in 2003 and it’s everything you would have expected from a superhero show of the early 2000s. But one thing that truly stood out was this amazing Batgirl outfit. Seriously, this outfit could pass for cinematic quality if you made a few tweaks and it’s the lone highlight of Birds of Prey.
It’s truly a shame that Barbara Gordon never got her time to shine because never has Batgirl looked so good.
15. (Worst) CW Deathstroke
Cheap and plastic are on full display here.
Slade Wilson is one of the most iconic DC villains and one of the most dangerous assassins in comic book history. So when it was announced that Deathstroke would be making his appearance in Arrow, fans of the character were beyond excited.
What we got was a knockoff Nerf price pack accessory. There is seriously no excuse for allowing Slade Wilson’s iconic black and orange costume to look this cheap and plastic.
15. (Best) Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman
Slick, sexy and one of a kind. Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman outfit is still the one to beat.
Anne Hathaways Catwoman outfit was okay and it fit what Nolan was going for, but how can anyone argue against this iconic leather gem? It was easily every 13-year-old boys fantasy after they saw Batman Returns, much to the dismay of their parents. It’s still nothing short of naughty and scene-stealing.
14. (Worst) Halle Berry Catwoman
Nothing says embarrassing like this 2004 travesty.
A costume so awful, in a movie so terrible, that even Halle Berry accepted her 2004 razzie in stride. She knew from the start, that 2004s Catwoman would be a career low not only for her but for DC comics has a whole. At the center of this abomination, was this big, ugly, leather disaster with absolutely zero redeeming qualities. The less said about this travesty, the better.
14. (Best) Deadpool 2016
With his twin samurai swords, dual welding pistols and striking red and black getup, Ryan Reynolds IS Deadpool.
Honestly, there has never been a more accurate Xmen character portrayal before, nor sense. This is how you do modern leather outfits properly and blending a touch of CGI to Deadpool’s facial features was great addition to the charm. Deadpool is the character Ryan Reynolds was born to play and the outfit was spot on. The Merc With A Mouth has never looked so good.
13. (Worst) Deadpool 2009
And never has Deadpool looked so hideous.
Nobody knows what FOX executives were thinking when they took away the Merc With A Mouth’s ability to speak. Not only that, but they also thought it was smart to add Wolverine samurai swords and Cyclops laser beam eyes to him as well. They were probably thinking, “Yeah, this is what audiences want. He looks so cool.” Thank goodness Deadpool was done correctly 7 years later as the biggest silver lining to this misfire was a hilarious transition gag in the 2016 Deadpool. So not a complete waste after all.
13. (Best) Tobey Maguire Spider-Man
Now it’s time for a controversial take. The Tobey Maguire Spider-Man outfit is the definitive on-screen Spider-Man suit.
While many fans of the web slinging hero will argue that The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s outfit is the best one, that honor goes to the original. There is something just so pure about it. Maybe it’s silver web lining or the big silver spider emblem in the center. But truthfully, it has to be because it’s a practical suit with no CGI; something that seems to be lost in current Marvel movies. In terms of iconic Spider-Man suits, no one ever did it better than Tobey’s Spider-Man.
12. (Worst) Amazing Spider-Man
Sandwiched in between the Sam Rami trilogy and MCU Spider-Man, they had the unfortunate task of rebooting just four years after the beloved take of the character with Tobey Maguire. It didn’t help new Spider-Man actor Andrew Garfield’s case when he was given this horrendously tacky suit. Not only was the suit made out of revenge for the Death of Uncle Ben, but it looked like Spider-Man stitched together a dozen basketballs from gym class and called it a day.
12. (Best) Wonder Woman
Gal Gadot IS Wonder Woman.
While some a hold a special place for Linda Carter, her show has not aged well at all and neither has her outfit. But when Wonder Woman shocked the world in 2017, Gal Gadot became the definitive version of the character. It also helped that she sported one of the best versions of Wonder Woman’s armor. The metal bracelets, a perfect blend of red and blue on the breastplate, the gold lasso and iconic tiara, this is our Wonder Woman.
Hopefully, her Gold Eagle armor in Wonder Woman 1984 well take another spot on this list.
11. (Worst) Cyborg
Another Cyborg appearance and boy what a colossal misfire this was.
Justice League had a budget of over 300 million and this was the best that Zack Snyder could come up with? What really hurts is the design and the horrid CGI. The look is so blocky, clunky and fake. Zack Snyder is supposed to be a visual director and why he didn’t go with the classic look of Cyborg (when he clearly had the budget to do it) is a question that may never be answered.
11. (Best) Captain America in The Winter Soldier
Fans could debate what the best look for Captain America is but we decided on The Winter Soldier.
Never has Captain America looked so good. You don’t need the red white and blue to make a statement because sometimes subtlety is the best way to go. The Navy blue armor with the big white star in the center says it all.
Honestly, he looks even better without the helmet, that’s how good this outfit is.
10. (Worst) Captain America in The Avengers
Did we mention that you don’t need the red, white and blue to make a statement for Captain America?
Avengers Director Joss Whedon apparently didn’t get that message and delivered an outfit that has aged extremely poor. This outfit stinks. There is simply no way around that, it stinks. The colors are way too bright, the outfit looks like it’s put together with Velcro and when put side by side with the other Avengers, it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Look at the picture, even Captain America doesn’t want to be in this outfit.
10. (Best) Christopher Reeves Superman
Iconic. There’s nothing more to say here. Christopher Reeves Superman is iconic.
This is the costume that defined the character, the Comic Book Movie and an entire era for decades. To this day, many fans alike still say is the defining costume and characterization of Superman. Man of Steel is great and the costume is good, but nothing has come close to the 1978 Superman costume.
Richard Donners Superman was iconic in 1978 and will continue to be iconic to this day.
9. (Worst) Jared Leto Joker
Hot Topic is calling, they want their Joker back!
One of the most cringe-worthy, terrible, horrible, and misguided character designs in all of cinema. Nothing about Jared Leto’s Joker works here. Nothing. The capped teeth are distracting, the damage tattoo on the forehead is embarrassing and the gang-banger aesthetic was a nice attempt but the Leto Joker look was nothing short of misguided.
Sorry Leto, I guess it’s up to Joaquin Phoenix to clean up the Joker’s image.
9. (Best) Brainiac
Never has Brainiac looked so menacing.
Krypton is a show that, if nothing else, nailed the look and accuracy of some of the most iconic Superman villains ever. The crowning achievement being the design of Brainiac. With the minty green skin, chilling voice, black eyes and advanced robotic suit, Brainiac has big budget Hollywood quality from head to toe.
Here’s to hoping that a network picks Krypton up for a 3rd Season.
8. (Worst) Green Lantern
Oh hey, it’s Ryan Reynolds again and unfortunately his Green Lantern Costume might be his worst.
Everything is CGI, even the mask. The Green Lantern costume has to be the the laziest example of how not to do a superhero costume. Fans want practical costumes, they want the feeling that they could fit into that costume and be Green Lantern. Never once was this costume believable and it’s a good thing that Green Lantern didn’t kill off Ryan Reynold’s career for good.
Thank you Deadpool!
8. (Best) Harley Quinn
A controversial pick but whatever, Harley Quinn’s Suicide Squad outfit has become iconic.
As the one saving grace of Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn sports her red and blue shorts shorts, good night baseball bat, Daddy’s little monster ripped t-shirt and Property of Joker Jacket. This look led to countless merchandising sales, amazing one liners and it completely separates her from the rest of the pack.
Hardcore Harley fans dislike this outfit but the fact is, this look has forever become synonymous with this character.
7. (Worst) Rhino
Shoot the boss when he opens to reveal his weak spot!
And here is another horrible entry from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Goblin is a crackhead, Electro is a DJ and now we have Rhino with a full CGI Mech suit and an unnecessarily over-the-top Paul Giamatti. The design is horrible, the acting is horrible and the entire aesthetic of this character is horrible.
7. (Best) Daredevil
The best looking costume of the Marvel Netflix series and the definitive definition of Daredevil.
Charlie Cox was born to play Daredevil. There is no debate on that. He IS Daredevil and when he finally dawns the iconic red and black devil outfit, that’s when fans truly realized that they had something special here. The design is perfect, the colors are crisp, and the horns are just the right size.
This is the complete package.
6. (Worst) Steel
Should have called this movie Rubber because that is exactly what this suit looks like.
Never once does anyone buy that Shaquille O’Neal is wearing a full metal suit. While Daredevil is the complete package for all the right reasons, Steel is the complete package for all the wrong ones. Equipment malfunctions, a cheap and plastic rubber look, horrendous acting and terrible one liners to boot; Steel was a disaster of epic proportions.
Hopefully this costume stays locked away in the darkest pits of hell forever.
6. (Best) Iron Man
The one, the only, Iron Man.
You can’t have a list of best comic book costumes and not include Robert Downey Jr’s iconic look of the Genius Playboy Philanthropist. This is the role and the look that has defined the MCU for 10 years. Perfect colors, perfect sound effects, perfect transformation scenes, and perfect superhero powers; it’s all so perfect.
It’s such a shame that we have seen the last of Iron Man but his legacy will live on.
5. (Worst) MCU Spider-Man
Where CGI becomes so unnecessary.
This is a weird situation but Tom Holland’s Spider-Man outfit is one of the best outfits that Spider-Man has ever had. So why is it on the bad column? Because it’s covered in a layer of CGI that completely takes away from all the costume designers hard work. It just looks fake. Unlike the Tobey Maguire Spider-Man where he was almost always in an actual costume, here, you get Green Lantern vibes that Tom Holland isn’t actually in a costume at all.
Controversial? Yes. But the suit CGI completely undermines this costume entirely.
5. (Best) Shazam
No one will ever forget when Shazam’s outfit leaked online and the internet went to town on it.
People are still laughing, but it’s not at the costume, it’s how ridiculously funny Zachary Levi was as Billy Batson/Shazam. This was nothing short of perfect casting and the costume borrows a lot of influence from Shazam’s New 52 Comic run. The bright red colors, the silly cape and the over the top lightning bolt, all lend perfectly to this character and his movie.
Sure the suit might be a tad over-padded but it honestly adds to the charm.
4. (Worst) CW Flash
Yet another controversial pick but the CW delivers yet another stinker; this time for The Flash.
Now, many fans actually like this design for the character especially when comparing it to Ezra Miller’s version in Justice League. But there’s just nothing to this costume; it’s just dull. The colors are monotone, the cowl is way too big, sometimes to the point of the character looking like Megamind and overall this costume is just so bland and boring.
For an iconic character like The Flash, he deserves the best treatment possible for his costume. For some reason, it’s apparently extremely difficult to deliver on that lately.
4. (Best) Aquaman
The character that was once the butt of jokes has now silenced almost all of his critics.
This is the costume that everyone thought couldn’t work. Then, Jason Momoa showed that it could and it did. This costume is perfect and 100% comic book accurate. The shiny orange top, the smooth emerald green pants, the badass gold trident and big fins coming off the arms and legs, Aquaman has never looked so good.
Never again will Aquaman be treated as a lame character and it’s all thanks to Jason Momoa and director James Wan.
3. (Worst) Captain America 1990
Normally, bad costumes from the ’70s ’80s and early ’90s wouldn’t make this list but 1990s Captain America was so bad, that it couldn’t not be on this list.
Not only was 1990s Captain America one of the worst comic book movies ever created but the suit never fared much better. Nothing but rubber tights, a fake plastic shield and a terrible rubber cowl. What makes this costume extra cringe is the fact that the ears on the outside of the head are glued on. They didn’t even try to hide it and it shows.
Fortunately this adaptation has been mostly forgotten because of the MCU.
3. (Best) Judge Dredd
Judge, Jury, Executioner. You don’t cross a Judge and make it out alive.
And that’s exactly the kind of attitude that Karl Urban’s Judge Dredd brought to the big screen. Brooding, violent, no mercy and in complete control of every situation. That is what the 1995 Stallone version lacked in every way. The character of Judge Dredd is known to never take his helmet off and neither does Karl Urban throughout the entire film. That only adds to this incredible adaptation of this character and the design of the Judges are flawless.
Such a shame that Dredd 3D did not do better at the box office.
2. (Worst) Batman and Robin
Just look at this photo, they look like action figures.
Possibly the most infamous superhero costumes of all time, Joel Schumacher’s versions of the cape crusader and his bat-family are ones that will forever live in infamy. Everything in Batman and Robin feels like a toy commercial. From the performances, the costumes, the set pieces, to the dialogue, everything feels like it was made just to sell toys. The bat suits have nipples, there are alternate costumes and gadgets that are used in one scene and then immediately forgotten about in others. Everything feels like it was made for profit and nothing else.
The bat nipple costumes will unfortunately never be forgotten and are a cautionary tale of how not to make a costume or better yet how to make a movie.
2. (Best) Robin Titans
The best costume that Robin has ever worn.
Seriously, has there ever been a better costume that the Boy Wonder suited up in? The DC Universe streaming service does something that the CW will never do, and that’s give their costumes cinematic quality. With his comic accurate red and green, the gold R symbol and the flowing yellow cape, this Robin costume belongs in the DCEU and on the big screen. It’s that good.
There is seriously no excuse for the CW anymore.
1. (Worst) Anyone in Street Clothes
And this is what every comic book fan groans about, reducing great comic book characters to everyday outfits.
This is one of the biggest sins that any comic book adaptation can commit. No one, absolutely no one wants to see Daredevil, Luke Cage, Batman or Superman fighting business attire. Fans want to see the big red S, the devil of Hell’s Kitchen, the caped crusader, etc. Dressing your characters in street clothes is lazy, boring and everything that fans don’t want to see in their comic book adaptations.
Bottom line, not having Marvel and DC characters in their costumes completely takes away from the mystique of why we love comic book adaptations in the first place.
1. (Best) Black Manta
This shouldn’t have worked, it just shouldn’t have but it did, big saucer helmet and all.
This might be the greatest comic book costume ever made because, like Aquaman, director James Wan took a character that people thought couldn’t be adapted to live action and totally made it work. But Black Manta’s outfit was even more absurd than Aquaman’s green and orange. With his big, goofy saucer helmet, laser eyes, rocket boosters and jet pack, retractable Atlantean blade and voice moderator, this costume simply shouldn’t have translated well to the big screen. But boy did it ever and you completely buy into the fact that he is fighting Aquaman with an oversized UFO on his head.
Just that achievement alone may put Black Manta at the Pinnacle of all Comic Book Costume adaptations!