Bringing super villains to life on the big screen is not easy task, and not in just terms of keeping them true to their comic book origins in terms of personalities and motivations. Adapting their often brightly colored and ornate costumes to make sense in the real world is equally daunting. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has handled this pretty well. From Loki’s bright green and gold-horned ensemble to Ghost’s white, super-futuristic suit, just about every MCU villain looks fantastic on-screen. Unfortunately, the villains of the X-Men film franchise have a more of scattershot success rate in terms of well-adapted costumes. Some have been true to their comic origins to a fault, while others have make modern tweaks to outfits that were originally created back in the '60s.
But good or ill, the costumes of the X-Men film franchise are always interesting in terms of adaptation. Even the heroes have been criticized and praised in equal measures in terms of their costumes. But the villains are pretty fascinating all the same, even when characters who are often seen as heroes play the role of baddies. For every cool Magneto costume we get, there is an equally lame one that blazed the trail before it. We suppose that the good and bad come equally, but the order in which they appear is not set in stone.
20 BAD: DARK PHOENIX
The problems plaguing X-Men: The Last Stand are not really on the hands of the cast. In fact, for the most part, just about everyone is cast perfectly as their respective mutants, including Famke Jansen as Jean Grey. The biggest issue in the film is actually the horrible adaptation of Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s classic X-Men arc “The Dark Phoenix Saga.”
This take on Dark Phoenix was awful and spat in the face of what Phoenix originally represented. Instead of an external force corrupting the X-Men’s infallible good girl character, the world-shattering power was in Jean all along. The least the filmmakers could have done what at make her look like she did in the comic. Instead, we got dime store Scarlet Witch.
19 GOOD: CALIBAN
The mutant known as Caliban has come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes he’s a hulking beast and other times he’s a svelte leather-clad creepy goth-looking dude. And while his appearance has changed due to various external factors in the ever fractured X-Men comic continuity, there hasn’t been a real constant aesthetic for Caliban other than his skin tone being chalk white.
This hasn’t stopped the character from popping up twice in the (almost) equally fractured X-Men film series continuity. Caliban was dressed to the nines in the film X-Men: Apocalypse. Elements of the thinner version of the character were incorporated and he was given a defining look. Something about black satin and gold trim framing the lily face just screams “don’t trust this guy.”
18 BAD: EMMA FROST
Some costumes just don’t make sense outside the realm of comic books… in fact, a lot of them don’t really make sense in them either. But context matters when it comes to comic book costumes. Emma Frost, for example, has been the subject of many overly-explotative moments in X-Men history, but these moments were often at her behest. Frost uses her womanly wares as a mark of power.
Sadly, when she was brought to life in the film X-Men: First Class, that power was not there. And while, yes in both the comics and the film she’s basically wearing white lingerie, seeing it come to life diminishes the impact of her sultry authority.
17 GOOD: PSYLOCKE
Say what you will about her diminished role in X-Men: Apocalypse or the acting ability of Olivia Munn (she’s fine, by the way; she just didn’t have much to work with), but the telepathic ninja assassin Psylocke looked awesome on-screen. The costume team took her iconic look from the ‘90s (which was definitely popularized by Jim Lee) and adapted it to film without making it look ridiculous.
This is further proof that when it comes to translating comic book character costumes to the big screen, color schemes matter. And while the outfit she wears in the film is more attributed to when she’s actually playing the role of hero instead of villain, the fact it looks as good as it does is still amazing.
16 BAD: SILVER SAMURAI
You know what we love? Awesome supervillains in state of the art battle armor who have unparalleled fighting skills and a knack for cool aesthetics. What we don’t love is cheap CGI monstrosities putting a damper on the final act of what would have been otherwise a pretty good film. The Wolverine’s interpretation of Silver Samurai shirks the former and fully embraces the former.
This version of the character went so far to avoid what makes Silver Samurai awesome as to not even give his alter ego, Kenuichio Harada, the mantle. Instead, Silver Samurai was a giant, hulking mech worn by an old megalomaniacal man. Maybe if Silver Samurai looked more like a samurai and less like Shredder, we’d be raving about The Wolverine more often.
15 GOOD: MULTIPLE MAN
It’s easy to forget Jamie Madrox ever showed up in an X-Men film. His appearance in the often maligned X-Men: The Last Stand was brief and mostly used for one gag. While Australian actor Eric Dane (Grey’s Anatomy), who portrayed Multiple Man in the film, didn’t really get enough screen time to determine whether or not he was the right fit for the character, he certainly looked the part.
The yellow splitting atom design on the green T-shirt popped and utilizing the more subdued green motorcycle jacket was a great choice for adapting the character to the big screen. We’re thankful he didn’t show up wearing his trench coat and ridiculous skullcap.
14 BAD: JUGGERNAUT IN X-MEN: THE LAST STAND
Casting Vinnie Jones (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels) as Professor Xavier’s villainous half-brother, Cain Marko (better known as Juggernaut) is not a bad idea on paper. Jones certainly has the stature and brutish charisma the character calls for, but the execution in X-Men: The Last Stand was atrocious.
Look, Juggernaut’s domed helmet is not inherently cool, but why the good people who designed the character’s costume in the film decided to make it look worse is beyond us. Also, the weird strappy gear poor Vinnie Jones is saddled with wearing is laughably ridiculous and would be better suited for a Masters of the Universe character. Give the man a giant green tiger to ride!
13 GOOD: JUGGERNAUT IN DEADPOOL 2
Now this is more like it. While technically a giant computer generated character isn’t actually wearing a costume, the version of Juggernaut we got in Deadpool 2 was leaps and bounds cooler-looking than his on-screen predecessor. While the CGI was a bit spotty at times and he was in a yellow prison jumpsuit, this is the best version of the character from an aesthetic point we’ve seen on screen (and that includes the animated version).
The filmmakers were able to make that goofy helmet Cain Marko wears actually look cool. This coupled with the exaggerated size of the villain, something that is laughably insane in the comics as well, made for a Juggernaut we’d love to see again.
12 BAD: MYSTIQUE
Rebecca Romijn looked amazing as the shape-shifting mutant assassin, Raven Darkholme, better known as Mystique. The makeup effects were incredible and the fact she leaned into practically baring it all was pretty brave. But that being said, it’s hard to replicate a costume from a famous comic villain if the on screen version isn’t wearing anything.
That’s the catch on this one. Mystique has a very cool, and instantly recognizable get up in the comics, one that would have translated to live action wonderfully. Maybe the special effects people were worried about staining white fabric with all that blue body paint. Regardless, even when Mystique would be seen with more stitching in the “prequel” films (this time played by Jennifer Lawrence), the outfits were bland.
11 GOOD: SEBASTIAN SHAW
Let’s address the elephant in the room right off the bat: Kevin Bacon was not our first pick in portraying the Hellfire Club Black King, Sebastian Shaw. In fact, Bacon isn’t anywhere on our shortlist, but somehow, he kind of makes it work in X-Men: First Class. Sure this is the comic book version we were familiar with, but it’s a cool take on the character.
Aside from more or less keeping his powers true to the comics (especially in the area of showing you how dangerous they are) the costumes for Shaw are on the money. While they may not have that Victorian flare, they are rather posh and fit the character wonderfully.
10 BAD: LADY DEATHSTRIKE
X2: X-Men United is arguably the best X-Men film in the franchise (despite having one of the worst titles), but there are a few cracks in its armor. One of the most notable is how the film handled and portrayed Yuriko Oyama, better known as the Wolverine villain, Lady Deathstrike.
There has been a lot of ill will toward actress Kelly Hu’s casting of the character seeing as how she is of Chinese decent, while Deathstrike herself is Japanese. But outside of this obvious cultural casting faux pas and the complete lack of character backstory, the costume design for her in the film was as bland as the black leather get-ups the X-Men wear.
9 GOOD: WILLIAM STRYKER
The on-screen version of known mutant-hating zealot William Stryker is different than the version of the character in the comic books in the fact that his profession shifted from evangelical fanatic to decorated military man. The veracity of the villain, however, was never diminished. And thanks a series of amazing actors, all three incarnations of the character in the X-Men film franchise are terrifying.
Whether it’s Brian Cox’s worn madness or Danny Houston’s stern righteousness or even Josh Helman’s young, snide take on the character, William Stryker is always dressed as an opposing figure who wields his authority with an iron fist. The fact such a mad man is put together so well only adds to his evil.
8 BAD: DEADPOOL IN X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE
Tomes filled with rants railing against the version of Deadpool fans got in the film X-Men Origins: Wolverine could be written (and one of them would most likely be penned by Ryan Reynolds, himself). While the getup Wade Wilson sports early in the film before his abysmal transformation certainly hearkens back to the red costume from the comics, the shirtless, mouthless, tattooed monstrosity in the final act jumps the shark and turns back to run it over.
Some choices are just plain headscratchers and Deadpool’s appearance is one of them. Why the filmmakers thought this change would somehow make sense in any context is beyond us. Maybe if it looked even remotely cool it’d get a pass… probably not, but maybe.
7 GOOD: TOAD
Change can be a scary thing for some comic book fans. However, a certain level of compromise is often met when adapting comic characters to live action. It is often in a film’s best interest to try and ground the more ostentatious costumes some of its character wear in their source material. A prime example of this is actor and martial artist Ray Park’s costume as the mutant Toad in X-Men.
While the general color scheme of Toad can still be seen, the goofy jester costume the character is known for in the comics is completely ditched and replaced with something a bit more modern.
6 BAD: ARCHANGEL
One of the biggest missteps the X-Men film franchise has taken (and trust us, there have been quite a few) is how the character of Warren Worthington III has been handled. While Ben Foster was a fine Warren in X-Men: The Last Stand, he got very little character development and even less screen time.
When X-Men: Apocalypse boasted having not only Warren back, but a version of Archangel, we were hopeful we’d get at the very least an aesthetically-pleasing version of the character. Sadly, Archangel was pretty lame and didn’t have much going for him. At the very least you think they could have made him blue. Perhaps a test audience felt there was too many blue characters already.
5 GOOD: MAGNETO IN X-MEN APOCALYPSE
Big, goofy helmets are hard to take seriously on-screen, and for whatever reason it took the X-Men film franchise several attempts to make one of comics’ most iconic big, goofy helmets look cool. In fact, Magneto in X-Men: Apocalypse looked pretty awesome from top to bottom. The power imbued mutant rocked an ensemble that borrowed bits and pieces from Magneto costumes over the years, while still keeping the classic red and purple color scheme.
To be fair, there are a few shots where the costume make look a little janky, but overall it’s one of the more comic accurate X-Men villains get-ups we’ve seen on the big screen.
4 BAD: MAGNETO IN X2: X-MEN UNITED
“Here comes Grandpa in his cossack and silly hat to punish homosapiens for being intolerant jerks.” As amazing as Sir Ian McKellen’s portrayal of Magneto was, his costume took several films to get even remotely interesting. In fact, it wasn’t until his scene in the dystopian future in X-Men: Days of Future Past that McKellen’s Magneto outfit was anywhere near its comic book origins or had any sense of flair.
Now, to be fair, a lot of the costumes in the first few X-Men films were… well, terrible. But Magneto’s was so boring it made us wonder why he bothered with one in the first place.
3 GOOD: AZAZEL
Okay, full disclosure: the character of Azazel in pretty terrible. He was the crux of one of the worst X-Men comic arcs ever committed to print, which is “The Draco,” just in case you wanted to know what to avoid like the plague, but the fact of the matter is he does look kind of cool.
Adding him to the roster of the Hellfire Club in their first and only on-screen appearance in X-Men: First Class was certainly an odd choice, but English actor Jason Flemyng (Snatch, From Hell) not only played the part well for what little he had to work with, his red visage and slick, black suit looked awesome in action.
2 BAD: APOCALYPSE
Oof, this was a bit of a tough one. Honestly, we are not envious of anyone tasked with trying to bring one of the biggest X-Men villains to life by means of practical effects. But bless the creative team’s heart, because in X-Men: Apocalypse they tried just that with the titular mutant villain. And the result was… well, not great.
The ultra-talented Oscar Isaac was giving it his all as the ancient villain, but he just couldn’t fill the (literally) big shoes of the character. Now this isn’t a swipe at Isaac’s stature, but the effects team seemed to have done very little make Apocalypse look truly imposing. Also, would it have stressed the makeup team to give him those hydraulic lips?
1 GOOD: SABRETOOTH
Sometimes subtly works best. You don’t need to have a hulking WWE wrestler run around in tight spandex on-screen -- they usually do that in their day job. When it comes to the character of Sabretooth, his first appearance in the original X-Men is mostly forgettable. But this is, of course, not fault of former pro wrestler Tyler Mane’s performance. He did what he needed to do: look big and imposing.
And he nailed it. The other aspect of Sabretooth was his outfit. It was simple and conveyed the savagery of the character as if he was truly a man of the wilderness, like a crazed Paul Bunyan without a personal hygiene regiment.