One of the biggest challenges making a live-action version of a popular comic book is the costume. Yes, keeping the outfits is a key part for any adaptation. Some outfits are so iconic that you just can’t mess with them: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc. However, quite often, the filmmakers face the challenge that a lot of comic book costumes just don’t look as good in real life. They may be fine for the cosplay circuit but not an actual film or TV show. Also, non-comic book fans may find them just way too silly. The X-Men movies played on this, having them in just black uniforms and mocking the “yellow spandex” stuff.
True, some outfits lend themselves better on screen. In some cases, changing them up just a bit can work. The Arrowverse has found great success managing to make comic-accurate outfits work on screen. The upcoming Aquaman movie is getting attention for actually making his yellow shirt and green pants work on screen. However, several characters just look totally different from their comic book versions. Even ones who are good on screen have vastly different appearances than they do on the pages.
The first entry on this list comes straight from DC Universe’s live-action version of the Teen Titans. Fans have complained over the look of Starfire, rationalizing she's a far cry from her comic book counterpart. To be frank, a lot of this outrage is unwarranted, but they do have a point in that she departs from a more traditional "alien" look, as the TV show offers a much different, human take.
While suitable for the world established in the new DC show, the look is far different from the comic books that fans hold near and dear.
In so many ways, Hugh Jackman was a perfect Wolverine. He carried the part brilliantly; from his animalistic grunts to how he carried Logan as a man ready lose his temper at any moment, Jackman nailed a lot of aspects. That allowed fans to forgive one small detail: that the on-screen Wolverine is nearly a foot taller than he is on the comic book page. However, what fans can’t ignore is that in nine movies, not once did Wolverine wear his comic book outfit. For most of the films, he’s in black leather suits.
The solo spin-offs have him mostly in civilian clothes. He never wears an outfit that's yellow and blue or dark-brown. He never even wears his iconic mask (although a deleted scene from his second solo film indicates he had it!). It just seems off; with all the things Jackman did right in the part, he couldn’t get that great outfit!
18 CATWOMAN (2004)
You knew this was coming. You can’t do a list of the least accurate comic book movie looks ever and not include the disaster that was 2004’s Catwoman. The entire movie was a giant misfire from the script to the horrific CGI. Halle Berry did do her best training for the role and looks to be in incredible shape. Maybe with a comic-accurate costume, it would have worked out. Instead, the costume is a literal mess, boasting tacky tears across the legs -- and the mask makes it look worse.
Quite simply, this film deserved its Razzie more than any others...
In the 1990s, it wasn’t enough for Shaquille O’Neal to just be an NBA star. Instead, he tried his hand at movies, rapping and video games. A major Superman fan (he even had the S-shield tattooed on his arm!), Shaq jumped at the chance to star as John Henry Irons. In the comic, the character is a master engineer inspired by Superman to build a suit of armor for justice. Casting Shaq was already a bold choice, but the armor itself was horrible.
In the comics, it’s a shiny silver with a red cape-- and who could forget that famous shield? In the movie, the comic book look is thrown out the window for a bulky dark grey Halloween costume. Plus, we see most of Shaq’s face under his helmet (which makes the attempts at a “secret identity” laughable).
16 DEADPOOL (X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE)
You have to give credit to Ryan Reynolds. Few people could have managed, by almost sheer force of will, to make a smash hit movie out of a character that flopped the first time around. Casting Reynolds as Wade Wilson was brilliant as the man totally fit the motormouth assassin. However, in X-Men Origins Wolverine, Wade first shows up in just a red tank top and jeans, not standing out that well. That leads to the now infamous scene where Wade has his mouth literally sealed shut for that "climactic" battle with Wolverine.
Fans loathed the change, and they weren’t alone. When Reynolds managed to get Deadpool filmed, he demanded the character wear a perfect replica of the costume he has in the comics. It paid off with a hit and a sequel, proving that keeping to the comic book look really does pay off.
In 2003's Daredevil, Jennifer Garner wears an Elektra costume that barely resembles her comics counterpart -- that movie wasn't great. Garner donned a leather-red version for the ill-fated spin-off film that also failed to replicate the comic -- that movie was bad.
On the Netflix series, Elodie Yung mixes both outfits in a way, wearing a costume that's mostly black with a red bandanna/mask. She dons a darker red and black version for The Defenders. In any case, all the live-action Elektra looks have failed to capture the magic of the comic book look.
14 JEAN GREY/PHOENIX
The popular X-Men character has been through a lot of changes. That plays into the movies as well. In the first film, Famke Janssen’s hair is more dark brown than the bright red of the character. She’s also stuck wearing the same black leather outfits as the rest of the team. When Jean turns into Phoenix in the third film, her “outfit” is just ... a bright red shirt, pants and coat?!?
In the latest movies, Sophie Turner dons the same black suit as Jean. She later wears a version with blue and orange, but lacks the classic headpiece the character has donned in the comics. The upcoming Dark Phoenix has Jean in what looks like a mostly white outfit, still unlike the comics version. Both stars offer solid portrayals in their own right, but the on-screen Jean just doesn’t look as right as she does on the page.
13 THE ATOM
In the comics, Ray Palmer was a physicist who found a way to shrink himself in size. He thus took up fighting crime as the Atom, going about in a simple but effective blue and red jumpsuit. On Arrow, Ray (Brandon Routh) is a tech billionaire who wants to seek justice in his own way. He thus creates a special armored suit (which he code-names ATOM) to fight evil. In other words, the Arrowverse just made him into Iron Man.
Frankly, the suit looks way too bulky and it’s hard to see it shuffling on screen when the comic book version is sleek, and simply classic. The character himself works, but his on-screen look shows that flat-out stealing from another hero was a big problem for the Atom.
12 CYBORG (SMALLVILLE)
Say what you will about the Justice League movie. But at least it made Cyborg look almost exactly like his comic book version. An athlete stuck down in a terrible accident, Victor Stone was rebuilt by his father into a mostly mechanical being. On Smallville, his origins are a bit different and it’s explained he was “rebuilt” with special technology so he can still look human. We do get a brief hint of his true Cyborg form when Clark uses his X-ray vision. It means a far less impressive look which you can forgive given it was a CW TV budget.
The outfit itself just looks like no effort was put into it, with a silver shirt and jacket complete with a hoodie (Smallville really had a thing for hoodies). Black pants and silver sneakers complete the look which appears more like “heading for the gym” than “super-high-tech crime-fighter.” The big screen was much better bringing the character to life than the TV show.
11 SCARLET WITCH
Elizabeth Olsen was an intriguing choice for Wanda Maximoff. She played the role in a subdued manner but still hints of the amazing power of the Witch. In the comics however, the character is a stand out with her dark red hair and a variety of nifty outfits. Many of them play on her Eastern European heritage, and she iconically dons a headdress that even casual comic book fans will recognize. For the movies, though, Wanda sticks to what’s basically a red top and light red pants with a leather jacket.
It’s a far cry from a fancy super-hero suit and lacks the great character touches. Compared to the comic book version, the big-screen Witch’s look fails to be magical.
Both the X-Men and Avengers movies have done their best, but neither has been able to truly replicate Pietro Maximoff’s comics look. First, in the MCU, his typical white hair is streaked with dark strands, and the five o’clock shadow doesn’t match the usually prim and proper Pietro from the comics. His outfit does have some touches of the silver top and the white streaks, but lacks the overall slick look that makes him stand out on the page. Where art thou, jumpsuit?
In the latest X-Men movies, the character rolls around in a silver jacket with goggles and jeans. The X-Men version has had some spectacular sequences that depict Pietro pulling off incredible moves in the span of a single second. As cool as those scenes are, they'd be even better with a comics-accurate look for Pietro.
9 BLACK CANARY
We’ve had four on-screen Black Canaries so far. And not one of them looks like the comic book version. Taking a page (unfortunately, not in the comics sense) from Smallville, all the looks are reminiscent of one another, ignoring the punk aesthetic that made the comics' Dinah Lance so iconic. Who mourns for those fishnets?
Black Canary got an acclaimed redesign for a new solo series a couple years back, focusing on her double life as a rocker and hero. If only the on-screen adaptations could borrow this take, and bring along with them the look from the comics.
8 HAWKMAN AND HAWKWOMAN
Maybe they were always doomed. Hawkman and Hawkwoman have hands down the most convoluted and ridiculously complex backstory in comics. The characters are notable for their mostly golden outfits that come with green pants, glorious feathered wings and those hawk-shaped helmets. Smallville actually had an accurate version…which sadly just showed how ridiculous it could look in real life. Thus, it made sense for Legends of Tomorrow to try and make it more realistic. Sadly, they went too far.
The brown leather doesn’t fit the motif of reincarnated warriors and lacks the flash the comic versions have. When the wings do appear, they look terribly fake. The helmets look silly and the solid coloring doesn’t help either. It’s no coincidence that Legends got better when the Hawks left after the first season as they show how “fixing” a costume from the comic book versions just makes it worse.
Overall, the cinematic Rogue was, in a lot of ways, a major departure from her comics counterpart. Though she had traces of that Southern accent, she lacked the rough and tumble spunk of the '90s version (famously translated to The Animated Series), and the even earlier "villainous" Rogue. The movie Rogue would've never gotten in a fight with Captain Marvel.
The film look replicated this departure, ignoring the many classic costumes of the beloved Merry Mutant, opting to stick to street clothes and leather suits. It's a shame that even the more comic booky Days of Future Past couldn't honor the comics in her return.
There are so many issues regarding Batman and Robin that it’s hard to focus on just one. However, there’s no denying they dropped the ball majorly with Batgirl. Barbara was presented as Alfred’s adoptive niece who literally stumbles onto the secret lair of Batman. She then just gets a suit and goes out fighting crime with no training. Alicia Silverstone was wrong for the part on multiple levels.
The outfit itself looks bad, which (like some comic versions) is mostly black, but also includes these tacky silver touches that makes it way worse. There’s also that clunky, lame mask that is a major departure from the iconic cowl donned by the comics' Batgirl. Of course, even a totally accurate costume wouldn’t have been enough to save the movie. But it’s not like it could have hurt it any more.
5 ELONGATED MAN
A major touch of the fourth season of The Flash was the addition of Ralph Dibny. In the comics, he’s a funny detective with bright red hair. The show has him as a former cop who broke the rules, was fired and now a low-level private eye. A blast of dark matter gives him powers and the team helps him learn how to use them. His first costume was pretty bad, basically a single grey outfit that Ralph himself compared to wearing a garbage bag. His current outfit is better, mostly red with some silver patches on the arms. However, it lacks the fun vibe of his comic book suit.
The comic book version of the costume was more successful in characterizing the humor of the character, and notably didn't conceal the character's face as Ralph chose not to hide his identity. The TV version? Not so much.
Say what you will about the 2003 Daredevil movie, but the producers did do a great job making that iconic red costume look great on screen. Sadly, the Netflix show hasn’t been as successful. For most of the first season, Matt Murdock went around in what amounted to just a black ninja outfit with a poor mask. It made sense as he was building up to his bigger suit. But when it debuted, it wasn’t exactly what fans expected. Rather than the bright red that fit the Devil motif, you instead had layers of red and dark crimson mixed together.
Frankly, it looked more like Matt had just gotten one of Deadpool’s rejected uniforms. They did get the horns on the mask right but it lacks the great interlocked “DD” logo on the chest. Matt keeps to mostly “street clothes” in the third season before putting the outfit back on. The show is great, yet the costume doesn’t fit.
Tessa Thompson was a far cry from the comic book Valkyrie, despite bringing something to the character so adored, it was replicated in the comics after the movie. While she did a great job in the role, her outfit is far different from the comics' Valkyrie. The comic book character wears a tight, black suit with some silver armor.
For the movie, Valkyrie is usually in this jumpsuit that reflects her character's role as a scavenger. Then, for the big final battle, she dons her old armor, which looks great on film but does little to represent her classic Defenders comic book look.
2 IRON FIST
There’s been a lot of talk about the poor adaptation that is Netflix’s Iron Fist. The second season was an improvement but there were still issues involving the pacing, the storyline and the overall character of Danny Rand. Finn Jones had his moments but overall, his performance failed to captivate fans as he was intended. It didn’t help that the character looked little like his comic book counterpart. Danny wears a stuck-in-the-70s, fun green outfit with a large yellow collar which is open to show the dragon tattoo on his chest. There’s also a yellow headband/mask over his hair.
Danny is often mocked about it in the comics, but he wears it as a point of pride. It represents his long journey to become the Iron Fist, and quite frankly, it looks great in a fight. There were a lot of issues with this show, but the fact the hero never completely donned his iconic outfit just made it worse.
The comic book version of Hawkeye was a carnival worker before he became a hero. Thus, it made sense his costume was rather flashy. Fans have loved its purple tones and the realism of the arm guards for his archery. They also adore that huge mask/headpiece that’s become quite popular. On film, Clint Barton is a SHIELD agent so it does make sense his outfit doesn’t go for those flamboyant measures. However, it also looks just too bland. There is some of the purple tinges to it but it lacks some of the cool touches that make the character work for fans, even if it does borrow a bit from Ultimates.
Even in the Marvel-616 Universe comics, Clint has abandoned the jumpsuit look-- but at least has some cool shades/visor to help him stand out. The MCU Hawkeye is a great archer but just lacks the fun touches that make the cocky Clint such a winner for fans.