Contrary to popular belief, bringing superheroes to the big screen isn’t easy. More often than not, movies centered around colorful crime-fighters need a considerable amount of preparation before ever seeing the light of day. Aside from the special effects and heavy action, one of the genre’s most challenging aspects is successfully translating its larger-than-life characters to the real world. Most of the time, what works on the printed page doesn’t necessarily work on the big screen. Because of that, filmmakers in charge of superhero films need to find a balance, and deliver characters that remain faithful to their comic book roots, while also feeling real for general audiences.
To strike that balance, directors look over hundreds and hundreds of concept designs, eventually determining what works best for any given movie. Take the DCEU for example. Throughout its four years of existence, the franchise has accumulated its fair share of concept designs. Some of these pieces serve as examples of how much a character’s aesthetic can evolve, while others prove to be improvements over designs that ended up in the actual films. With that in mind, let’s take a look at eight DCEU characters that looked better as concept art, and seven that looked worse:
15. BETTER: STEPPENWOLF
There were countless things in Justice League that didn’t work, but one of its most glaring issues was its main baddie, Steppenwolf. The character failed to make an impact both because of his characterization and disappointing aesthetic. Rather than feeling like an intimidating presence capable of standing up to the combined might of the Justice League, Steppenwolf’s design was remarkably generic, and failed to live up to the grandness of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World comic books.
Surprisingly, the character’s original design would have made the villain a much memorable adversary. He was considerably bigger, scarier, and actually looked like an otherworldly visitor. Admittedly, this look would have probably not changed anything about Steppenwolf’s characterization, but it would have still been miles better from the design that ended up in Justice League.
14. WORSE: DEADSHOT
As far comic book costumes go, Deadshot’s is a particularly tricky one to translate to live-action. Suicide Squad took on that task, and accomplished it. The film delivered a suit that retained Floyd Lawton’s comic book flare, while still maintaining a strong sense of realism. This successful look wasn’t created overnight, though. The people behind the film actually went through quite a few designs for the mercenary before landing on the right one.
This one in particular shows how far Lawton’s design evolved. The concept art attempts to stay faithful to Deadshot’s comic book aesthetic, but it ultimately feels like a copy of Robin’s suit. The mask itself is a direct adaptation of the comics. However, it pales in comparison to the mask that ended up in the film. Taking those things into account, it’s probably for the best that this concept outfit didn’t make it to the final product.
13. BETTER: CYBORG
Cyborg is one of DC’s most visually-interesting characters, and fans were eager to see how Zack Snyder would bring the character to life for Justice League. Long before the movie came out, Warner Bros. released a piece of concept art featuring what seemed to be Cyborg’s official live-action look. The design was a fascinating adaptation of his comic book aesthetic, embracing its other-worldly elements while still retaining a grounded sense of realism.
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Sadly, the movie ended up going with a completely different visual design for the superhero. The design caused its fair share of controversy, and it left fans longing for the more comic-accurate look depicted in this piece of concept art. Admittedly, Cyborg got a much better-looking suit by the end of Justice League, but it would have still been great to see the character’s original concept design make its way into the movie.
12. WORSE: HARLEY QUINN
Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was one of Suicide Squad‘s best-received characters. She was funny, fearless and had no problem with messing with her own teammates to have fun in-between battles. Fans also embraced Harley’s aesthetic, which remained remarkably faithful to the character’s comic book look. Still, just like all the other characters on this list, there was a bit of trial-and-error process before landing the anti-hero’s look.
An earlier design of the character was much more theatrical. Harley Quinn had red makeup around her eyes, and she sported a much skimpier battle outfit. Admittedly, the ensemble is somewhat comic book accurate, but it would have been completely impractical for Harley given the powerful threats Task Force X had to face throughout the film. Overall, it’s for the best that this design stayed in the concept art phase.
11. BETTER: ARMORED BATMAN
For Batman v Superman, Zack Snyder decided to borrow heavily from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. This was particularly evident in Batman’s heavy-duty armor, which, aside from some minor changes, was lifted directly from the graphic novel. Fans loved the movie’s faithfulness to the original design, and the armor became a high point of the DCEU. Prior to settling on that design though, a few other suits were considered.
One of them was a live-action version of the armor Batman used to fight off the Court of Owls during The New 52’s ‘Court of Owls’ storyline. While the armor that Batman ultimately wore in Batman v Superman was a great nod for Frank Miller fans, it’s fun to wonder how this early design could have looked in live-action.
10. WORSE: JOKER
With Suicide Squad, David Ayer decided to explore a unique take on the Joker. This resulted in a Clown Prince of Crime that was much more theatrical, and enjoyed displaying his insanity through a plethora of tattoos. Unsurprisingly, the character’s reinvention didn’t sit well with fans, and Joker became a dark spot in the DCEU. As disappointing as Joker’s design was, however, he could have looked much worse.
As revealed by a piece of concept art included in the Suicide Squad: Behind The Scenes With The Worst Heroes Ever book, Joker was originally envisioned as having a giant set of shark teeth painted on his face. Seeing just how controversial Jared Leto’s version of the baddie has been, it’s not hard to imagine the kind of fan outrage that such a design would have sparked. Overall, it was best to leave the shark teeth in the concept stage.
9. BETTER: KATANA
Katana made her big screen debut in 2016’s Suicide Squad. The character wasn’t exactly a fan favorite, but she stood out thanks to her comic-accurate costume. The film’s designer successfully translated the character’s comic book aesthetic to live-action, making her suit feel both functional and plausible in the real world. Even with those successes, however, the costume could have been much better.
An early piece of concept art from the film showcased the character clad in a snazzy black armor. The armor was well-designed, comic book-accurate, and seemed to offer a whole lot more protection than the costume she sported in the movie. While that costume was well-received, the armor depicted in this piece of concept art would have been a more suitable ensemble for her fight against the Enchantress.
8. WORSE: DOOMSDAY
Doomsday is one of Superman’s most popular baddies, but his big screen debut in Batman v Superman was a considerable misstep. Aside from his revamped origin as a Lex Luthor/Kryptonian creation and controversial new powers, comic book faithfuls took issue with the creature’s design. The movie ditched Doomsday’s signature appearance in favor of a more generic sci-fi look that simply didn’t sit well with audiences.
Surprisingly, as proven by this piece of concept art, the creature could have looked much worse. Don’t get us wrong, the concept art itself is magnificent, but the monster depicted in it isn’t Doomsday. The creature looks remarkably strange, and lacks even more personality than what we ultimately got in the film. Admittedly, the monster’s appearance in Batman v Superman is nothing to praise, but it’s still a bit better than this early design.
7. BETTER: KILLER CROC
Killer Croc jumped into the big screen with Suicide Squad. Unfortunately, his live-action debut wasn’t what fans had hoped. The people behind the film opted to bring Killer Croc to life through practical effects as opposed to CGI. It was a commendable effort, but Killer Croc’s appearance suffered a great deal as a result, and ended up not doing justice to the character.
What most fans don’t know is that Suicide Squad could have had a much more comic-accurate (and aesthetically pleasing) version of the baddie. This particular piece of concept art features a more realistic and imposing Killer Croc. Despite his small size, the villain looks considerably more intimidating than the design that ended up in the movie. Here’s hoping the DCEU goes for a design similar to this one whenever Killer Croc returns to the big screen.
6. WORSE: CYBORG
Following a brief tease in Batman v Superman, Cyborg jumped into the spotlight with Justice League. The film tried to set itself apart from the comics by giving Victor Stone a makeover. Sadly, the new aesthetic didn’t quite stick the landing. The movie ditched Cyborg’s blend of human and cybernetic elements from the comics in favor of a fully robotic look that felt remarkably unrealistic. Understandably, fans weren’t impressed by the design.
Now, while what we ultimately got was a misstep, the hero’s design could have been much worse. In an early piece of concept art, Cyborg was depicted as having four arms, and a full-head helmet. The design of Victor Stone’s mechanical suit was great, but it was hindered by the added elements. The design ultimately made Victor Stone feel like a human spider, as opposed to a fully-functioning cyborg, which definitely wouldn’t have worked for the character.
5. BETTER: JOKER
Suicide Squad offered a radically different take on the Joker. He was heavily tattooed, had a grill, and was much more eccentric. Ultimately, changing the Clown Prince of Crime in such a drastic manner proved to be detrimental for his popularity. The character’s new interpretation was met with heavy controversy, and fans were left asking to see a more comic book-accurate representation of the baddie on the big screen. Surprisingly, Suicide Squad almost delivered that.
As this piece of concept art reveals, Warner Bros. originally considered a more classic take on the Joker, one that ditched his tattoos and grill in favor of a clean-shaven appearance and a sharp purple suit. Given how controversial Jared Leto’s Joker ended up being, it would have probably been a safer bet to stick with the villain’s original look.
4. WORSE: SUPERMAN
Superman is an extremely popular hero, so getting him right on screen is tricky. This challenge encouraged Zack Snyder to consider a variety of designs for Kal-El’s costume for 2013’s Man of Steel. As it usually happens with concept art, there were a handful of designs that didn’t make the cut. However, this one in particular stood out due to its departure from what we’ve come to expect from Superman.
In this piece of concept art, Clark Kent’s super suit emanated energy, and the material showed off the character’s muscle definition in a similar fashion to Ryan Reynolds’ Green Lantern costume. Overall, it’s clear this design most likely wouldn’t have worked for the Big Blue Boy Scout. Thankfully, the costume’s final version ended up being a perfect blend of Superman’s classic aesthetic with Krypton’s advanced technology.
3. BETTER: DOOMSDAY
Ever since his comic book introduction, Doomsday has been considered one of Superman’s most frightening bad guys. Understandably, fans had high expectations for his big screen debut in Batman v Superman. Sadly, the character ended up being a disappointment, looking more like an average CGI monster rather than the Man of Steel’s ultimate nemesis. What makes the questionable character design even more disappointing is the fact that Warner Bros. actually considered a more comic book-faithful take on the character.
As this early piece of concept art shows, Batman v Superman‘s Doomsday was supposed to stick closely to his original comic book aesthetic. The design took advantage of the creature’s more out-there elements to create a villain that inspired terror and dread. Seeing how incredible the ruthless creature looks in this piece, it’s difficult to tell why Zack Snyder went for the design we ultimately saw in the movie.
2. WORSE: ENCHANTRESS
Enchantress was poised to become one of the DCEU’s most frightening adversaries, but she ultimately failed to connect with audiences. One of the villain’s most disappointing aspects was her appearance. Despite the fact that she was an ancient, all-powerful witch, Enchantress’ design was largely uninspiring. The character went through two major costume changes throughout the movie, but neither of them resonated with fans.
Surprisingly, her appearance could have been an even bigger misstep. Going by this piece of early concept art, Enchantress’ design was meant to have a more robotic feel to it. Putting the June Moone side of her story apart, it was quite difficult to connect with Enchantress as a character, and this robotic aesthetic could have made the baddie feel even more unrealistic. While her final look wasn’t quite right, it’s still better than this original design.
1. BETTER: BATMAN
Faithfully adapting comic book costumes for live-action isn’t easy, but Zack Snyder took on the challenge for Batman v Superman. The director decided to take Batman’s suit design from The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel and bring it to life for his 2016 event film. Despite some initial concerns from fans, the costume ended up being almost identical to the one from the comics, and it instantly became one of Batman v Superman‘s most popular aspects.
As this piece of concept art proves, though, Bruce Wayne could have had an even better superhero outfit. The batsuit’s early design was originally much more high-tech, and seemed more durable than what Ben Affleck sported in the film. While the costume that Batman wore in Batman v Superman was great, this scrapped design could have made for a more suitable battle armor for the Caped Crusader.
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