Who Wore It Better: Comparing 15 On-Screen Superhero Costumes
We’ve had so many superhero films over the past two decades. With all the subsequent recasts, reboots and television adaptations, there were bound to be repeats of popular characters. Some characters have been adapted more than others and they weren’t always done well. Now, for this list, we’re talking about their costumes and only their costumes. If you’re looking for a comparison of acting talents, you won’t find it here. The performances of these actors and actresses have already been scrutinized so thoroughly anyway. No, we’re more interested in the quality of their outfits, the function and whether or not the actors pulled those outfits off.
If there’s one thing we know about superheroes, it’s that not all costumes work well in live-action adaptations. There’s a reason why they didn’t really go for yellow spandex in the X-Men films. So we’re also giving points to the alternative that captures the essentials or does a better job at making a classic comic book look work well on-screen. Just to clarify: for each entry, we’re comparing the look of one adaptation of a character to another adaptation of that same character. We’re also going for more contemporary adaptations, so as great as it was, Christopher Reeves’ Superman will not be showing up here. All clear? Let’s begin.
Blink was first adapted to the big screen in X-Men: Days of Future Past in which she is was played by Fan Bingbing (pictured left). Her costume in the film is far less vibrant than that of the comic book character, which makes sense because it’s in keeping with the tone of the film. The markings on her face are there and so are the right colors, even if her skin isn’t completely purple.
The Gifted provides us with a new adaptation of Blink, one played by Jamie Chung (right). Here she’s a more prominent character and while the eccentricities of her comic book character’s design are all there, they’re much more subtle. There’s just a hint of purple in her hair and the markings on her face are only occasionally noticeable. What really distinguishes these two adaptations are the eyes. The pupils are not as pronounced in Fan Bingbing’s costume so it doesn’t seem unnatural, like they do in Jamie Chung’s Blink. They’re both great, but Fan Bingbing wins this one.
The Devil of Hell’s Kitchen was adapted to film back in early 2003 for Daredevil in which the titular character was played by Ben Affleck. Keep in mind that this was back when people were just starting to take superhero films seriously, Hollywood just hadn’t quite gotten the hang of it yet. Ben Affleck’s Daredevil outfit (pictured right) is more leather-fetish-chic than tragic superhero, and even though it’s relatively faithful to the comics, the emblem didn’t translate well. It just looks silly.
Now we have the costume worn by Charlie Cox (left) in the Marvel Netflix series Daredevil which may not be the most faithful adaptation of the suit, but it looks great. The essential parts of the costume are there, even the horns, but it’s far less garish thanks to the darker shade of red and the restrained use of leather. Charlie Cox looks great in it and the costume actually helps with our immersion into Daredevil’s gritty world, which is why his costume wins this comparison…by a lot.
Three different Spider-Men, three different designs, all of them of fantastic quality. Tom Holland’s Spidey outfit (pictured center) obviously had the most functions because it was designed by Tony Stark. It had some pretty cool features but it didn’t feel like Spider-Man, at least, not in the way most of us knew him. In that regard, Andrew Garfield’s suit (left) felt like an updated design while still staying faithful to the comic book source material.
But the best suit has to be Tobey Maguire’s costume (right) in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, simply because it looks like it was taken straight out of the pages of an Amazing Spider-Man comic. It stands out because its design is so clearly unique to Spidey, whereas the other two blend almost too well with more contemporary superhero costume designs. The devil is in the details. Here it’s the web design netted over the red areas of Maguire’s suit and the prominence of the emblem. Those are features that the other designs seem to try and hide in order to maintain a sense of realism. It shouldn’t work, but it does, which is why Maguire takes this one, by a hair.
The Batman costume in The Dark Knight trilogy (pictured right) was constantly evolving but always consisted of separate armor pieces. It fit Christopher Nolan’s world perfectly and it added to the titular hero’s frightening vigilante persona. The features of the suit were heavily explored, including its weapons, utilities and flexibility which made it look and feel believable to the audience.
Ben Affleck’s Batman suit (left) from Dawn of Justice and more recently in Justice League looks far more low-tech, but allows us to really see Bruce Wayne’s combat skills, unlike Christian Bale’s relatively stiff suit. The mask also compliments Ben Affleck’s head a lot more than Christian Bale’s did for him so from a purely aesthetic standpoint, Affleck’s suit is better. The DCEU Batman emblem might have put some people off, and for good reason, but all in all, that Batman suit has a solid design. It’s mostly because of movement. Bale’s outfit looked great when he was standing still and brooding , but in combat, it looked clunky and uncomfortable. Affleck’s Batman suit is clearly a lot more comfortable and looks great both stationary and in combat, which helps us believe that he really could take on a whole army by himself. Affleck’s suit takes the cake for quality and function here.
Right away, Brandon Routh’s Superman costume (pictured center) from Superman Returns gets credit for remaining faithful to the comics in appearance. Underwear on the outside was a little dated even in 2006, but they stuck with it and made it work. Routh’s outfit also gets points for including the Man of Steel’s signature curl in his hair. Unfortunately, in comparison to the outfits we have on television and in film today, it cannot compete.
Tyler Hoechlin’s suit (right) is a bit better but it’s still not the best. That’s partly because it doesn’t seem to mesh well with the cape or Hoechlin’s physique. That’s where Henry Cavill (left) succeeds. He looks great and though it may not be the classic Superman look, the parts of the suit fit together and most of the crucial, recognizable features are all there. It’s of much better quality and the details in the material make it look as though it would be able to endure whatever Superman can. As Superman, Henry Cavill is the clear victor here.
10. JEAN GREY
You’re probably thinking that even though they’re playing the same character, comparing Sophie Turner’s Jean Grey (pictured right) to Famke Janssen’s (left) is pretty much like apples and oranges, right? It’s true that they’re costumes are wildly different, but we can still compare the key points. For example, does Famke Janssen’s outfit do a better job at expressing the Phoenix? Definitely. Does Sophie Turner’s natural hair color help the character at all? In a way. Her character certainly looks more believable, even if it’s not the same eye-catching fiery color that Famke Janssen and the comic character had.
Right now, we only have these two outfits to compare and Famke Janssen’s is clearly better because it conveys the darkness and fiery temperament of Dark Phoenix without going over-the-top. Early images of X-Men: Dark Phoenix show Sophie Turner consumed by the supernatural Phoenix Force, but it doesn’t show a costume, so we can’t really judge the look just yet. If that crackling, fiery aesthetic is the essence of the costume, we’ll give this one to Turner, only because that look would better encapsulate everything terrifying about the Dark Phoenix, more so than the black, smokey power emanating from Famke Janssen’s Jean Grey in X-Men: The Last Stand.
9. PROFESSOR XAVIER
It’s difficult to judge these two. For some, the clear choice is Patrick Stewart (pictured left), but you have to remember that we’re going purely for aesthetics here. With Stewart, it’s not just the elegant pinstripe suit and bald head, it’s his powerful on-screen presence. That still counts for something here since it matters when it comes to appearance.
McAvoy (right) looked great as a young Xavier, but bald? It took some getting used to, but it grows on you. He just doesn’t carry the same wisdom and experience in his appearance as Stewart. What we’re basically saying is that McAvoy just isn’t old enough to believably play Xavier at that point when he’s bald and in a wheelchair. He looks okay in general, but not great as the character. There’s the distinction. It’s why Patrick Stewart is undeniably the champ here.
Where Ian McKellen’s Magneto costume (pictured right) was quite conservative with its colors and the style, Michael Fassbender’s costume seemed to be just a little more ostentatious. Ian McKellan’s Magneto looks regal without any kind of fancy ornaments, armor or symbols. It’s a simple suit with a cloak draped over it. Even his helmet seems to be relatively simple in terms of style. It’s clearly about function, but it’s also about introducing mystery to the character.
Fassbender’s Magneto looks as though he wants to make a statement and he attempts to do so with every detail of his costume. His armor pieces, his bright lilac colored suit, long flowing cape and helmet marked with a symbol. This is clearly a man who wants to wage war. They both do a great job at making statements, but only one can really be taken seriously on-screen and that’s Ian McKellen’s Magneto costume. Magneto is a serious character with a lot of darkness, mystery and complexity to him. Ian McKellen’s outfit conveys that far better than the Michael Fassbender’s, whose outfit, in comparison, seems to be trying too hard to tell its own story.
Hank McCoy is the highly intelligent mutant with a highly irregular mutation: blue fur and feral features. When he first appeared as Beast in X-Men: The Last Stand, portrayed by Kelsey Grammer (pictured left), he looked like a blue monster, but one with a touch of class. What would have otherwise been unruly fur was combed back and you could tell that this person (at first glance, a monster) was trying to retain his humanity.
The Beast costume in X-Men: First Class says a lot about a younger Hank McCoy but it seems to be of much poorer quality. Grammer’s costume was basically just blue and fur so it still felt organic, but Nicholas Hoult’s suit (right) seem to contain more prominent prosthetics as well, which clearly limit Hoult’s facial expressions and makes the whole thing look more like a decent Halloween costume as opposed to one from a multi-million dollar film. We’re definitely going with Kelsey Grammer’s Beast costume.
Do we go with the Sabretooth costume that humanizes the villain or the one that helps to portray him as an almost mindless beast? The design worn by Liev Schreiber in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (pictured left), allowed the huge canines and claws to speak for themselves as to the ferocity and predatory nature of Sabretooth. The costume worn by Tyler Mane (right) may be a lot more wild, but it’s closer to the classic look of the comic book character, it’s just been translated to film.
We have to give credit to Sabretooth’s X-Men design for taking the comic look into account. It would have been fantastic if it weren’t so unruly. The hair, beard and ragged coat are great, but the eyebrows are a bit much. For that reason, we’re going to have to give this one to the X-Men Origins costume, which seems more put together and true to the character himself as a hidden predatory animal.
5. GREEN GOBLIN
We know, we know, they played two different characters. Willem Dafoe was Norman while Dane DeHaan is Harry. If we were talking about their characters, you’d be right, but we aren’t talking about their characters. We’re focusing purely on the Goblin personas they wear and both of these costumes very clearly convey the madness of the Green Goblin.
Only one however, is actually believable. That’s Willem Dafoe’s costume in Spider-Man (pictured left). With the exception of the unreasonably menacing helmet, we can believe that the suit and glider may have been designed for military use. DaHaan’s suit (right) in comparison is just a crazed kid playing with his company’s toys. The story behind his Goblin is that it’s partly due to an inherited disease, but it doesn’t look that way. It looks like bad dye and cheap make-up. We’re definitely giving this one to Willem Dafoe’s costume, which is slightly more faithful to the comic book character’s look and allows for more depth than just evil mania permeating through the whole character.
At first glance, it might seem as though, besides a slight difference in the shade of blue skin and red hair, both Rebecca Romijn (pictured left) and Jennifer Lawrence (right) essentially had the same costume and make-up, but there’s a little more to it than that. A lot of effort went into the costume Rebecca Romijn wore in the original X-Men trilogy. Her costume was comprised of individual silicone being placed across her body and, according to Romijn, it took a team of four and approximately eight to nine hours just to get into it.
The effort and time did not go to waste, because it looks as though it is a part of her. Lawrence used to go through that same agonizing process but in recent films, her costume has begun to look more noticeably synthetic, which isn’t good. That’s because the whole process has been streamlined by the use of a body suit. It’s not something you’re bound to notice right away, but once the difference is seen, it cannot be unseen.
Battle-hardened and ready for a fight: that’s exactly the kind of personality all three of these costumes convey and all three are quite faithful to the costumes (if you can call them that) worn by Frank Castle in the Punisher comics. As such, we’re going to have to judge this one solely based on which actor was more able to pull the look off. We’ll start with the oldest iteration of the three: Tom Jane’s costume from 2004’s The Punisher (pictured right).
The emblem is clear but it isn’t forced. It fits him well, and goes great with that long black coat. Ray Stevenson’s costume (center) is pretty faithful to one of Frank’s looks, with the exception of the faded skull emblem. Jon Bernthal’s costume isn’t as clean cut but it looks more believable. His look also conveys a military background thanks to his hair. But because they’re all so similar and they’re all done really well with respect to their films or television shows, we’re going to have to call this one a draw between all three of them.
It’s almost painfully obvious who would win when comparing these Deathstroke costumes. The problem with the Arrowverse costume (pictured left) is that it looks bulky and cheaply made, especially when it comes to the helmet. Joe Manganiello’s Deathstroke costume (right) is far more form-fitting and each item seems to have a specific function. The shoulders do look a little wide but we’re fairly certain that that’s just because Manganiello himself is pretty broad shouldered and chested.
In fact, you can see that because only the important parts like chest, shoulders and hips are armored while the rest is just fabric. It allows for flexibility. Meanwhile, we have no idea what Manu Bennett’s body is like beneath that suit because it’s all seemingly covered in unnecessary padding that constricts his movements. Joe definitely has the better costume and we can’t wait to see him fight in it.
1. THE FLASH
The Arrowverse Flash, played by Grant Gustin (pictured left) has a suit that does its primary job: withstanding G-force velocity. It doesn’t need the armor that the Justice League Flash’s suit has. The Arrowverse suit looks good enough that we’d believe it would remain intact in high speeds. That being said, the Justice League Flash costume just looks better.
It looks like it really fits Ezra Miller (right) and it even has little wires which we’re assuming is supposed to keep the armored costume together when the Flash goes into high velocity. Neither of them look all that practical — no superhero costume actually does — but we’re going to have to give points to the Arrowverse suit for at least making it look as though the person wearing it is kind of a scientist, which the film seems to forget Barry Allen is, from time to time. Still, Ezra Miller’s suit looks great and that’s the most important thing here, so we’re giving this one to him.