The 10 Best Live-Action Superhero Costumes

by Jay Malone on April 22, 2015

in Movies, Television

I love Newsarama…but Jesus, this list is a hot mess. Batman ’66? Dark Knight? The effing Crow?

Nope. No. Not even close.

Here’s the REAL list of the 10 best live action super hero costumes. Well, the real list at least according to one guy.


10. The Flash | The Flash (2014 – present)

It should tell you something about a costume, that when it first debuts, people did nothing but complain about it. “It’s too dark! The symbol is wrong!” Five months into the show, and it’s lauded as the pinnacle of superhero television, and the costume has a lot to do with that.

Built as an homage to the classic Carmine Infantino suit, with touches of the New 52 design, Flash’s costume is realistic, logical, and stylish. There are tweaks to be made for sure, but those look like they’ll be coming, judging by the closing scene of the first episode.


9. The Joker | The Dark Knight (2008)

Newsarama ridiculously included the clunky and ugly Dark Knight Batman costume on the list, and ignored the brilliance of what is the signature performance of Heath Ledger’s career. His version of the Joker, with the nervous ticks, posture, and speech patterns is iconic. His costume is as well.

A fitting tribute to the classic Joker outfit: the overcoat, pants, and waistcoat combination make for a striking figure of loud purples, greens, and oranges against the otherwise bleak backdrop of Nolan’s Gotham City. The Joker is meant to be chaos, and introducing those colors and that outlandish costume into the Batman’s otherwise structured and drab world are perfect symbols of that. 


8. Arrow (season 2 with mask) | Arrow (2012-present) 

As much as I love Arrow, Oliver’s costume didn’t really hit until he got a mask. The grease paint look just didn’t work – most fans who watched the show felt it was a silly concession, and it raised more questions than it answered – where did he keep the paint? How did he wipe it off so quickly? How could a few smudges of green paint over his eyes help obscure his identity?

When Barry Allen showed up and presented Oliver with his mask, it started a series of transitions that positively impacted both his costume and personality. Oliver is now a symbol of hope in Starling City, and his costume has added a subtler arrow motif as it has evolved. Sharp angles on the costume made by belts creating five angled arrows on his chest, arrow braiding on straps, a hood that is less ominous – Oliver’s transformation from vigilante to hero is constant, and the mask helped start that.


7. Doctor Octopus | Spider-Man 2 (2004) 

Spider-Man 2 is my favorite film with the wall-crawler, and while they’ve never quite gotten any of the costumes right for Spidey or most of his villains, they hit a home run with Doc Ock. Alfred Molina brought so much to the role with his acting ability, and mercifully, rather than reinventing the wheel with Doctor Octopus’ costume like they did with the Green Goblin, they stuck with something believable.

A simple outfit with a trench coat, gloves, pants, and glasses- there’s nothing about Doc Ock that doesn’t scream menacing or dangerous. While, as far as I can remember, this was never his outfit in the comics before this film, it felt more akin to the character than if they’d gone for the green jumpsuit he wore for decades in the books. This was a spectacular, simple costume, and it worked on every level.


6. Captain America/Steve Rogers | Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 

This one was tough for me, because I love the Steve Rogers: Super Soldier blue and white costume from Winter Soldier. But, if I’m being honest with myself, there just isn’t a better representation of Cap than with his original costume from First Avenger.

Incorporating equal parts classic Captain America with a touch of the Ultimates look, the costume Cap wears in the second and third acts of First Avenger is iconic, practical, and striking. The stars and stripes have never looked as good as they did in that film. Also, if you think his costume from Avengers is the best, you’re wrong.


5. Black Widow | The Avengers (2012) 

One of the only female costumes to actually be equal parts respectable and sexy, Black Widow is one of the premier Marvel Cinematic Universe characters, despite not yet having her own solo film (which would be bad ass). To be clear – her costume in Iron Man 2 is fine, but the one in Avengers gets it all right.

The ‘stinger’ wrist gauntlets she wears are straight out of the comics, and the black catsuit is signature Widow as well. But where the costume in Avengers really succeeds is in the subtle things – the most notable of which is the red trim around the Black Widow hourglass on her belt. I wish they hadn’t gone all Tron-inspired for Age of Ultron with the blue light piping on her costume, because in the first Avengers, Marvel nailed it.


4. Red Skull | Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) 

Hugo Weaving should have a wing dedicated to him in the Museum of Intimidating People once his acting career wraps up. He’s a creepy dude, and his roles as Elrond, Agent Smith, and the Red Skull prove that he’s not just a human actor, he’s some sort of weird other-worldly hybrid beast-man that can just be unsettling by raising his magical eyebrows.

The Red Skull costume, a mixture of practical makeup and incredibly detailed costuming, is one of the best portrayals of a villain in a comic book film. The stark black costume with the slight red piping, red emblems, and chrome Hydra belt make him an intimidating figure of menacing evil. Weaving was the perfect Red Skull.


3. Loki | The Avengers (2012) 

Of all the characters introduced thus far in the MCU, Loki has probably been the most unexpectedly popular, thanks mainly to Tom Hiddelston and his all-encompassing adoration of the character and the role. He delivers lines with gusto, commands Comic-Con panels with charismatic magnetism, and dammit, he looks good doing it.

How Newsarama didn’t include Loki on their list is baffling to me (he was mentioned as the feature of the second paragraph of their Avengers writeup). The combination of comic influences with his helmet and color scheme, coupled with the intricate detail woven into the costume is stunning. Deep emerald greens, regal golds, armor without appearing restrictive, embossed designs throughout the costume – all of it adds up to a character designed to be the centerpiece of the worlds biggest movie.


2. Hellboy | Hellboy (2004) 

When this showed up as the #10 entry on the list for Newsarama, I honestly was giddy with the possibilities of what lie ahead of me. The Hellboy costume is one of my favorites, and the films follow suit. This is the role Ron Perlman was born to play, and he dove head first into the costume and character, producing one of the greatest portrayals of a comic character ever on screen.

The makeup and costume help make Hellboy a believable character. Everything is represented – the trench coat, the right hand of doom, the horns – hell, even the color is perfect. Nothing about this costume misses, and nothing about it is wasted. There are BPRD logos on the belt and arm, subtle charms and religious iconography in pockets and on chains – it’s a nearly perfect representation of the character and personality of Hellboy.


1. Iron Man | Iron Man (2008) 

Where we agree, however, is with #1. When Marvel had the guts to kick off a cinematic universe with a character who, while recognizable, wasn’t exactly on the tip of the general public’s tongue, it was confusing. When they cast Robert Downey Jr. in the role, it was inspired, but still perplexing – could he carry a film of this magnitude? Would Iron Man be a success? Looking back now, it’s silly – Iron Man was about as big a home run as could be hit, with action figures, lunch boxes, and Halloween costumes flying off shelves since.

The suit, in particular, was remarkable. It looked sleek, dangerous, and other worldly, while still being completely practical and modern – it crossed both bridges it needed to by making you believe that a man could fly if given the right tools and ambition. And, thanks to Jon Favreau’s directing, it expressed emotion – head tilts and body language expressed in the costume were stellar, and the smart choice to cut to face shots of Tony Stark in more nuanced conversation never took the viewer out of the film. It all felt natural and real.

And it looked AMAZING. This was a flying hot rod, a muscle car built by Elon Musk, with the style of Kenny Howard. It’s a gorgeous piece of magic and machine, and it’s ability to make you suspend your disbelief for 2 hours and believe it could happen is a testament to the film.

Jay Malone (@JCorduroy) once lived in a cupboard under the stairs, has been to a galaxy far, far, away (Chicago), and frequently fights off bouts of boredom by rolling dice and pretending to be someone else. His dog looks like Stitch, and his 6 year old son was named after a Latverian dictator…just don’t tell his wife.

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