While we do a lot of complaining about on-screen superhero costumes here at CBR — either on the grounds of not being comic book accurate or being too comic book accurate and hence unworkable in the real world — the fact of the matter is, most on-screen superhero costumes are rather good. A lot of effort goes into these designs and for the most part they do the job. That being said, there are some outliers that might muddle your perception of on-screen superhero costumes. Sadly, this is especially true for female superhero costumes. Much like in the comics, over the years, women have been subject to some rather controversial costume designs.
We’ve seen everything from costumes that reveal way more than it should, especially considering the fact that it’s supposed be an outfit one wears into battle, to shamefully poorly designed piece of clothing that should not even be referred to as a superhero costume. The bottom line is, sometimes, female superhero costumes end up looking like anything but that and can only be described as embarrassing. So, today we decided to take a closer look at 15 of the most embarrassing female on-screen superhero costumes, both on the small and big screen.
15. BLACK CANARY (ARROW)
There are times that we wish we could call up Arrow writers to ask them why they hate Black Canary, because that’s the only possible explanation for what they did to this beloved comic book character. After she finally took on the mantle of Black Canary from her sister Sara, Dinah Laurel Lance suited up in her superhero costume.
Sadly, it was one of the worst costumes in the Arrowverse.
There’s nothing incredibly offensive about her outfit. It’s not too revealing, it’s not too flashy, but it’s not a Black Canary costume. It’s not a superhero costume. Laurel’s leather getup is adorned with way too many buckles. Seriously, just look at how many buckles this costume has. Her outfit looks more suited for a specific paid service than that of a vigilante.
14. MEDUSA (INHUMANS)
Marvel’s bold decision to bring the Inhumans to the small screen was a gamble from the start — one that did not pay off. The show was panned by critics and audience alike to the point where discussing anything any further would be pretty much pointless. Still, we couldn’t in good conscience make a list of embarrassing female on-screen superhero costumes without including Medusa.
While Medusa’s appearance wasn’t the pivotal factor that rendered the Inhumans unwatchable, it certainly didn’t do it any favors. From the cheap-looking wig and the unrealistic depiction of trichokinesis to the awful lavender-colored spandex costume with metallic plush shoulder pads, everything about Medusa’s look was a cringe-fest. Nothing about this costume screams of royalty or extraterrestrial origin. Even looking at it is embarrassing enough, let alone having to wear it.
13. ENCHANTRESS (SUICIDE SQUAD)
Suicide Squad has been overwhelmingly criticized on all possible grounds. And while there are some differences among the opinions of critics and audience alike, the villain Enchantress is almost universally disliked. In an already horrible film, Enchantress managed to reach new levels of terribleness, with her costume as the most glaring flaw.
Not only does Cara Delevingne’s costume have nothing in common with any of the costume designs from the comics, it doesn’t even look like anything anyone would ever wear anywhere.
But hey, the studio got a model to play the character so why not put her… talents to good use, right? Well, how about no. Honestly, this costume does not only look embarrassing, it makes us sick. The actress herself has expressed disappointment over the overly sexualized female superhero costumes, possibly referring to her own as well.
12. THE AMAZONS (JUSTICE LEAGUE)
If you’re looking for proof that women should be writing women, as well as designing costumes for women, you need not go further than Justice League. As you probably remember, in Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman movie the Amazons wore beautifully designed intricate pieces of armor that not only looked captivating but actually served their intended purpose. Those costumes were designed by a female designer.
On the other hand, the costumes we saw in Justice League, a movie with a male director and costume designer, were obviously designed with the intent to be skimpy rather than combat-ready. As expected, the redesigned and, honestly downgraded, Amazons costumes sparked a lot of controversy. And given the already bad reviews the Justice League movie was getting, this is the last thing they needed. But there’s no way they couldn’t have anticipated this, and yet they ran with it anyway.
11. HARLEY QUINN (BIRDS OF PREY)
We could sit here all day picking apart Birds of Prey bit by silly bit and we still wouldn’t be done with it. The show’s depiction of one of the most iconic Batman villains, Harley Quinn, is perhaps one of its worst offenses. Portrayed by Mia Sara, Harley Quinn was the main villain of the series, but she didn’t live up to her name or any of the lore.
A big problem everyone had with this version of Harley Quinn was her costume — if it can even be called that.
Granted, the poor design of the costume can partially be excused on the grounds of the awful fashion trends that plagued the early ’00s. However, that doesn’t mean this atrocity is off the hook. The costume fails in the most essential detail — the diamond pattern, which for some reason needed to be cut out on her collarbone.
10. ARCLIGHT (X-MEN: THE LAST STAND)
X-Men: The Last Stand may have been deleted from the X-Men movie timeline, but unfortunately, it lives on in our minds. We still remember it rather well, much to our dismay. A particularly bad memory are the Morlocks. To be more specific, the Morlock known as Arclight and her horrendous costume.
We get that the Morlocks are supposed to be this underground, impoverished group of mutants. However, their costumes looked more like outfits worn by either punk-rock bands or their audience. Arclight is perhaps the best example of this, with the appalling fishnet shirt. It’s just a very lazy design, which had nothing to do with the character’s comic book appearance nor does it look like an outfit any sane person would wear to battle.
9. DARK PHOENIX (X-MEN: THE LAST STAND)
There’s nothing offensive or downright horrible about the Dark Phoenix costume from X-Men: The Last Stand. That being said, it is one of the most dull, uninspired, bland costumes we’ve seen. It’s not even fit to be called a superhero costume. At best, it can be described as a slightly goth-inspired dress you’d find in an Evanescence or Within Temptation music video.
Much like most other costumes in the X-Men franchise, the Dark Phoenix costume Famke Janssen was wearing in X-Men: The Last Stand doesn’t really draw inspiration from the comics.
Look, we’re not saying put her in a tight dark red spandex with a flaming yellow phoenix across the torso. But, you need to do better than this. Whatever this is, it’s just embarrassingly bad. Even for a mess of a movie like X-Man: The Last Stand.
8. BARB WIRE (BARB WIRE)
With an approval rating of 28% on Rotten Tomatoes and six Razzie Awards nominations it’s easy to conclude that the 1996 Barb Wire movie starring Pamela Anderson in the titular role is not a good film. Books could be written about everything that went wrong with this picture, but for now, we’re just going to focus on Anderson’s costume.
Yes, we’re aware that Barb Wire’s costume in the movie is pretty close to the one she wears in the comics. But this type of outfit just doesn’t work in live-action. It’s blatantly obvious that the movie and the costume were only made the way they were to give moviegoers an opportunity to gawk at Pamela Anderson’s chest. Not that this was necessary, given that pretty much everyone was already too familiar with Ms. Anderson.
7. SILVER BANSHEE (SMALLVILLE)
Silver Banshee has always had a weird, but petrifying look. So, when the character appeared on Smallville we were surprised to see that she did indeed look both weird and petrifying — albeit for all the wrong reasons. As to what the costume designers were going for with this look, remains a mystery till this day.
What we do know for sure, is that the result was a haphazard slash between a zombie and a mummy.
Smallville’s Silver Banshee doesn’t frighten us because she’s genuinely scary, but because she’s the very definition of overkill. She’s not weird in a sense that she’s a unique but still believable character. She’s weird because there’s no way anyone is going to believe that the person in this ridiculous, cheap-looking Halloween costume is supposed to be a villain.
6. THE HUNTRESS (BIRDS OF PREY)
One year after Smallville’s first season, The WB decided to expand its superhero universe with Birds of Prey — a show based on the DC Comics series of the same name. Unfortunately, Birds of Prey will probably be remembered as one of the worst comic book adaptations ever made — for TV and otherwise. A mixture of horrible early ’00s trends and bad decisions nipped the show in the bud.
The regrettable fashion choices we all made in this dreadful era can all be found in Birds of Prey. All it takes is one look at Helena Kyle, aka the Huntress, and you’ll get the idea. If someone had shown us this picture without context, we’d easily confuse the Huntress with a sexy goth vampire costume. Everything about this costume screams overly sexualized female hero and it just looks cheap.
5. ELEKTRA (ELEKTRA)
For all its faults, the DCEU at the very least managed to produce an awesome female superhero movie. Before Wonder Woman, the last female superhero movie was Elektra. With a Rotten Tomatoes score of 10% and a box office gross of $24 million, Elektra stands as one of the worst superhero movies ever made. Everything about this movie was downright embarrassing and just awful on every level.
You need not look further than what Jennifer Garner was wearing for a superhero costume in the film.
Granted, Elektra Natchios’ costume is sexualized in the comics as well, but not in the same way. The pseudo-lingerie outfit Garner wore in the movie would fit in much better at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show than in a superhero movie.
4. BATGIRL (BATMAN & ROBIN)
Bat-nipples have been a topic of discussion ever since Joel Schumacher’s Batman films unfortunately saw the light of day. The costumes in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin have sparked a lot of controversy due to the campy and homoerotic tone the costumes helped to create. Schumacher’s Batman movies are criticized on various grounds and with good reason. However, the dreadful costumes are almost always the first to take on heat. If for no other reason than for being the most obvious flaw.
Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl costume may not have been as severely criticized as George Clooney’s Batsuit or Chris O’Donnell’s Robin costume, but it did have a similar design. This bulky Batgirl costume with overly accented Bat-nipples is definitely among the most tasteless superhero costumes of all time.
3. EMMA FROST (X-MEN: FIRST CLASS)
X-Men: First Class is one of the better reviewed movies in the X-Men franchise. However, it still got a decent amount of criticism for the treatment of Emma Frost, as well as female characters in general. Not only did the movie completely miss the mark with Emma’s personality and overall portrayal, it also showed her in some rather regrettable outfits.
It’s true that Emma Frost is a character who — both in comics and on-screen — mostly appeared in various states of undress.
However, X-Men: First Class put too much emphasis on her looks and not nearly enough on her truly immense powers. A woman dressed in an outfit that reveals more than it conceals acting submissive and relying solely on her sexuality is not the same as a woman in the same outfit who radiates with power, with her sexuality being a mere afterthought.
2. MAXIMA (SMALLVILLE)
Smallville is a known offender in the costume department. It would be impossible, and dishonest, to make a list of embarrassing costumes without including the horrible outfits that passed for superhero costumes on this show. In season eight, Smallville introduced Maxima, Supes’ ideal mate from the planet Almerac. Maxima came to Earth in pursuit of the Kryptonian wearing a rather skimpy outfit.
Her intentions and nature were perfectly reflected in her costume. However, less isn’t always better. One would expect a queen from another planet to wear something more befitting to her status. Not that the character in the comics had a much better costume, but the one Maxima wore on Smallville felt more like an exotic dancer’s outfit. Possibly a high-end one, but a dancer nonetheless.
1. CATWOMAN (CATWOMAN)
Alright, do we even need to talk about why the costume Halle Berry wore in the dreadful Catwoman movie is one of the worst thing to happen to female superheroes on-screen ever? It’s been fourteen years since this movie came out and there’s nothing we can say about this costume that hasn’t already been said.
Not only did the outfit not have any real connection to any of the character’s looks from the comics, it was downright offensive.
One look at this design and it’s clear that showing as much skin as possible took priority over authenticity, functionality and plain good taste. To put it simply, this costume is objectification at its peak. It’s not just embarrassing, it’s distasteful. And to think this film was supposed to stand for female empowerment.
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