Live-action superhero movie costumes don’t often reach the heights of inappropriateness, bad taste and absurdity that superhero costumes in comics frequently achieve. Any perverted artist can draw whatever ridiculous costume they can imagine on the page, but if someone has to actually design said ridiculous costumes in real life and then another person has to actually wear it on camera, better judgment is more likely to rule out anything too unreasonable. The fact superhero movies are more often than not putting in an effort to appeal to the family crowd also plays a role in keeping most egregious forms of sexualization at bay.
This is a list of 15 times better judgment did not pan out. The following 15 costumes could be downright uncomfortable to look at, and many of them were uncomfortable to wear as well… that is, in the cases where these costumes actually counted as “wearing” anything! Please understand, there’s nothing wrong with wearing sexy clothes, but the costumes on this list either failed at actually being sexy or their sexiness was so contextually inappropriate that they just didn’t fit in their movies… though some of these might certainly be fun to cosplay in the right setting!
15. HARLEY QUINN
This pick is inevitably going to cause some controversy because it’s easily the most popular costume on this list, and certainly the most frequently cosplayed in recent years. Margot Robbie is undeniably attractive in this costume, as are many of those cosplayers. While DC’s decision to make Harley’s outfits increasingly sexualized over the years is controversial, this is far from the worst in egregiously “hot” costumes.
So, what makes it worthy of this list? Part of this is how Harley’s shot. It would be one thing if she was just walking around casually in this costume, but the way the camera ogles her body parts can get uncomfortable. The worst part of the costume isn’t a “sexy” aspect, but the “Daddy’s Little Monster” shirt, which gets into way too much creepy territory regarding Harley’s abusive and unfortunately romanticized relationship with The Joker.
The nipples on the Batsuit are not the reason why the Joel Schumacher Batman movies are terrible. When trying to assess just what went wrong with movies so scattershot, absurd and divisive across the board, viewers will often latch on to tangible details as punching bags for the movie’s overall flaws, and the nipples on the Bat-suit have become a big one.
The costumes are bad, but the focus on them sometimes bleeds into a reading that the problems with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin were that they were campy and homoerotic, and that’s misguided. It might not be what you personally want, but there’s a place for campy, homoerotic takes on Batman. The problem with these movies isn’t the choice of tone, but how joyless and cynical they are in their presentation; thus, even in their aesthetic, they ultimately fail at being good camp. But yes, Bat-nipples!
Zack Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation was, for the most part, extremely faithful to its source material, almost to a fault. One character who did not look like his comic counterpart, however, was Ozymandias. Where the comics costume was made out of purple cloth and gold jewelry, the movie version is a direct homage to Schumacher’s Batman, with a glaring codpiece and, yes, engraved nipples.
Just like its homage or open parody to those Batman movies, the sexuality of this costume is intentional. The Watchmen movie emphasizes the idea of Ozymandias being “possibly homosexual,” having him hang out with the Village People at Studio 54 in the opening credits and placing a folder labeled “boys” on his computer. While there are subtler hints in the comic, the movie’s treatment of the semi-villainous character’s sexuality at times can feel like it almost borders on homophobia, even if that wasn’t the intention.
12. EMMA FROST
Emma Frost appears in various states of undress throughout X-Men: First Class. Even her most covered outfit is still unzipped to display ample cleavage. This isn’t too big a leap from her appearances in the comics, and if, as in her better written comic appearances, Emma was written as in control of her sexuality, this would all be perfectly enjoyable.
Despite being one of the overall better reviewed X-Men movies, however, First Class has been seriously criticized for its treatment of Emma and of its female characters in general. Emma’s portrayed as subservient despite her immense powers. All the lead women, even CIA agent Moira MacTaggert, end up having to strip down at some point, while none of the men do. Co-writer Jane Goldman says the original script was more self-aware with social commentary on 1960s-era sexism, but that a lot of that ended up on the cutting room floor.
11. CAPTAIN AMERICA 1979
Long before 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger introduced Chris Evans’ iconic take on Steve Rogers, and even before 1990’s infamously terrible Captain America flop, there was the 1979 made-for-TV Captain America movie. This has been more or less forgotten, and for a reason. It’s cheap and silly and has practically nothing in common with any other version of Captain America.
The superhero TV specials of the 1970s weren’t exactly known for their costume budgets, and this one’s among the worst designs of that or any other era. To be fair, the Captain America costume is already outlandish enough that it can be a challenge to make it look cool, but this weird ’70s motorcyclist Cap outfit didn’t seem to even try. What makes it join this “inappropriate” list is that extremely prominent and awkward bulge… but mostly because it looks… just SO bad.
It’s almost surprising that the costume of the titular character of Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s comedy Orgazmo isn’t more inappropriate than it is. Considering just how filthy the minds of the South Park creators can get, and the fact that Orgazmo’s the hero of an erotic film-within-a-film whose superpowers are all based on the idea of… well, you can guess based on his name. Hence, his costume is almost restrained.
Of course, with that big silver codpiece, Orgazmo would most likely be kicked off the set of almost any other superhero movie. And then there’s his sidekick and “weapons” manufacturer Choda Boy, whose bondage themed gear is even more blatantly sexual. In a million years, CBR could never get away with showing you any photos of Choda Boy’s costume “below the belt.”
How depressing is it that the last live-action feature film comic book adaptation focusing on a female superhero before 2017’s Wonder Woman was Elektra in 2005? This critical and commercial flop (10% on Rotten Tomatoes, $24 million at the US box office) was cited by studio executives as a reason why they refused to make more female superhero movies. Of course, the actual reason the movie was unsuccessful wasn’t that audiences didn’t want a female superhero movie, so much as they didn’t want an embarrassingly bad and moderately sexist one.
Elektra’s outfits in the comics are often sexualized, but the movie costume isn’t just sexualized, it’s downright lazy. In that pseudo-lingerie top, Jennifer Garner looks less like a superhero than a Victoria’s Secret model. It’s certainly not a practical outfit for fighting. The more dignified MCU version of Elektra’s costume was a noted improvement.
8. LOKI’S PANTS
The 2011 Thor movie has some pretty impressive costuming throughout, but there’s one article of clothing in the film that did not work. The problem: Loki’s pants. You might not have even noticed the issue, as camera angles and CGI retouches worked to hide the most glaring issues, but not only did these pants barely fit Tom Hiddleston, they drew unwanted attention to his, uh, “package.”
Given the sheer quantity of sexual awakenings Hiddleston’s Loki has inspired, there’s certainly many who’d want a good look at how this “David Bowie in Labyrinth“-esque costume looked on set. But the bulge became a source of much teasing while filming the movie, and ultimately it was decided to have been an inappropriate costuming decision. Loki’s costume was redone in subsequent movies.
7. CATWOMAN 2004
Comparing the various Catwoman costumes in movies over the years is an interesting demonstration of what makes a femme fatale costume work and what can make it embarrassing. Michelle Pfeiffer’s gothic fetish suit in Batman Returns feels perfectly appropriate within the heightened stylization of Tim Burton’s universe, while Anne Hathaway’s outfit in The Dark Knight Rises manages to feel practical without sacrificing sex appeal. And then there’s Halle Berry’s costume in the Catwoman movie.
Abandoning any influence from the classic comics design just for the sake of showing as much skin as possible, this costume is just embarrassing. Not even someone as beautiful as Halle Berry can make those ripped pants look good, and she’s not wearing that much else. The blatant objectification undoes all of the infamous bomb of a movie’s false pretenses of “female empowerment.”
The design of Juggernaut’s costume in X-Men: The Last Stand begs an important question: Why? Where did this idea for a costume come from? It certainly didn’t come from the comics. Aside from both being muscular guys with a helmet and armbands, the comics and movie versions of Juggernaut look nothing alike. So where did the idea for that out of place Leather Daddy harness and exposed midriff come from?
If you’re wondering what the most embarrassingly objectified types of female superhero costumes would look like translated onto a male bodybuilder, this is the closest approximation you can find in superhero movies. The film’s costume designer, Judianna Makovsky, is extremely talented, a three-time Oscar nominee who’s now working in the MCU. Goes to show that everyone has their off days.
5. JUSTICE LEAGUE’S AMAZONS
Talk about a downgrade. The Amazon outfits in the Wonder Woman movie were beautifully designed, stylized yet believable armor for a race of warrior women. In the Justice League movie just five months later, the Amazons returned to the screen, but their costumes were… different. There was something missing. That something was abdomen protection.
Who on Earth would run into battle without any sort of armor protecting your guts from spilling out? It would be one thing if these were characters who had always worn impractically skimpy outfits in combat situations, but that’s not the case. What Wonder Woman did right, Justice League botched tremendously. Many critics latched on to the fact the Wonder Woman costumes were designed by a woman and the Justice League ones by a man to make a point about the workings of the “male gaze” in cinema.
Of all the many things audiences and critics hated in Suicide Squad, the movie’s villain Enchantress is seriously in the running for the most universally disliked part of that movie and as one of the worst superhero movie villains in recent years. Her costume is notably terrible, neither the least bit accurate to any of the comics designs nor something anyone would ever actually wear, even a witch goddess.
Actress Cara Delevingne, while defending her character to Empire Magazine in the press leading up the movie’s release, seemed embarrassed by the costume, talking about how sexist it is that “female superheroes are normally naked or in bikinis,” a statement she claimed was about other films in the genre but is all too descriptive of Enchantress’ costuming in Suicide Squad.
3. BARB WIRE
Well, gee, where did this one go wrong? Not only was Barb Wire one of the first female superhero movies, it’s also a gender-flipped remake of Casablanca! Didn’t realize that? Both films are about jaded former freedom fighters running nightclubs who get dragged back into their former lives by love triangles in plots which climax at bittersweet airport goodbyes. Yeah, Barb Wire is based on one of the greatest films ever made.
So, why isn’t Barb Wire also one of the greatest films ever made? Well, it’s certainly not written, directed or acted with anywhere near the same skill, but there’s also the matter of distraction. Pamela Anderson in Barb Wire sure isn’t framed like Humphrey Bogart, and everything from the cinematography to the ridiculous costuming screams, “We’re only making this movie to gawk at Anderson’s boobs!”
2. HOWARD’S LADY-DUCKS
If this was a list of simply the worst superhero movies costumes as opposed to the most inappropriate, Howard himself as portrayed in the Howard the Duck movie would be fairly high on this list. That animatronic suit, while technically impressive, is incredibly creepy. But Marvel’s first feature film adaptation gets even creepier when you look at the other duck characters in the movie, notably the female ones.
Yes, the image above is cropped. In the actual movie, this duck’s chest is fully exposed. Why does a non-mammalian creature have breasts? Who knows! Or maybe more accurately, who wants to know? If you’ve ever wondered how the MPAA’s standards have changed over the years, keep in mind this particular image, which CBR isn’t even allowed to show uncensored, was in a movie rated PG.
1. ZED FROM ZARDOZ
Sometimes a costume is so outrageously bad, so ill-conceived in every single way, that it circles back around to become an astonishing work of art. Such is the case with the bullet strap overalls tied to a red diaper worn by Sean Connery in the movie Zardoz. So overwhelming horrendous, horrific and hilarious is this costume that it’s number one on this list, despite not really being a “superhero movie.”
So what qualifies it for this list? Well, Connery’s character Zed is a post apocalyptic law enforcement officer with a silly outfit who takes on a heroic role, somewhat making him a “superhero.” There’s also the aspect of Connery himself, who’s best identified with the practically superheroic James Bond. Most concretely, Zed is the main design influence on the character of Vartox in DC Comics, so his legacy shaped the world of superheroes.
Can you think of any other offensively bad superhero movie costumes? Let us know in the comments!
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