When it comes to superheroes on the big (and small) screen, costumes have been hit or miss. Here are our picks for the ten worst stinkers of all time.

10. Aaron Johnson’s Kick-Ass

I almost feel a little guilty for including this one. After all, it’s designed to look silly. It’s part-and-parcel of the wannabe crime-fighter: with no powers or skills to speak of, Dave Lizewski fashions his own superhero costume (which provides its wearer no protection whatsoever) and heads out into the night to fight crime. Predictably, he takes it on the chin — and the nose, the jaw, the abdomen, and plenty of other places. Basically, Kick-Ass the character is designed to satisfy Mark Millar’s gleefully sadistic fantasies. A desire perfectly symbolized by this goofball costume.

9. Brandon Routh’s Superman

Kudos to Brandon Routh for filling out his Superman suit without the help of muscle-shaped padding. And when you step back and look at the whole picture, it’s not that bad. It’s when you zero-in on the particulars that it starts to go wrong. Let’s start with that S-shield. It’s so tiny, I wonder why they bothered using it at all. Director Bryan Singer said at the time that it was made smaller to accommodate the proportions of Routh’s body, but the shield has to be big — it’s Superman’s signature. Then there’s the equally tiny briefs, which look like the lovechild of a Speedo and boyshorts. The belt is one area where they tried to add some new detailing to the suit, to bring it into the 21st Century, but if they were going to go down that road, why not go all the way and push the entire suit boldly forward? The short boots, the red that’s too dark to be called “red”… it’s just filled with bad.

8. Ben Affleck’s Daredevil

I appreciate the costumers’ desire to make “real” and interesting what is, on the page, a nondescript red unitard. And Affleck gives it his best shot. But turning it into a leather outfit just screams “blood-red bondage gear.”

7. Billy Zane’s The Phantom

Just like Brandon Routh above, let’s hear it for Billy Zane committing himself fully to the physicality of this role, filling out his very unforgiving spandex costume without the need for padding. Unfortunately for Zane, a purple costume looks absurd on a real, live human being no matter how you wear it. You can tell that the costumers tried to modernize it a bit with the musculature-and-skulls screen-printing, but it didn’t help. If an outlandish costume such as this has any chance of working on a live-action person, it has to be understated. Maybe if they’d darkened the purple by a few shades, added some armor or pockets or something… Ah, I don’t know. A purple suit is always going to be a purple suit.

6. Halle Berry’s Catwoman

Where does one even begin… Catwoman easily ranks among the worst comic-to-film ventures of all time. It netted Halle Berry a “Worst Actress” Razzie Award (three years after she won her Best Actress Oscar for Monster’s Ball), as well as Razzies for “Worst Picture,” “Worst Director,” and “Worst Screenplay.” Obviously, there were a lot of things wrong with this movie. Or, well, pretty much everything. So we can’t blame it’s failure on Berry’s costume. But the outfit certainly didn’t help. It looked as though it was designed by someone who’d never read a comic book, who took the concept of a “cat woman” as completely literal and cheesy as they possibly could. Instead of interpreting the “Catwoman” comic concept in an interesting way (see Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns), this designer cut all ties with the comics and put Berry in clawed elbow gloves, a humongous black helmet thing with giant ears, nonsensical high heels, pants with fake claw scratches, and not much more than a bra up top — for no particular reason.

It’s a sexed-up she-cat. All it’s missing is fur and some whiskers.

5. Adrienne Palicki’s Wonder Woman

David E. Kelly’s modernized TV take on the Amazonian warrior — and we know there is a God because it never aired — starred Friday Night Lights‘ “it” girl Adrienne Palicki as Wonder Woman. Kelley wrote his main character as a stereotypical “21st Century Woman,” in that lonely-but-trying-to-be-powerful kind of way. He then contradicts this softer, more vulnerable side of her character by making her a smug murderer who snuffs out the lives of bad guys without hesitation. The pilot proved that Kelley knows precious little about superheroes or what makes them interesting, and that godawful costume is living proof. Fans hated it, critics nailed it to the wall and used it for target practice, and a certain someone (who shall remain nameless) referred to it as looking like a “Halloween hooker.” Fashion Design 101: when a bustier turns cleavage into muffin tops, your outfit has jumped the rails.

4. Shaquille O’Neal’s Steel

Steel is a cool character. In comic books, he’s sort of DC’s answer to Iron Man, a powerful suit created by a man who’s inspired by the selfless altruism of Superman. He’s also a very positive role model for African American boys. So why in the unholy bowels of Hellboy did Warner Bros. shove Shaquille O’Neal — a pro basketball player who doesn’t have a single acting bone in his body — into this utterly wretched, medieval theme party atrocity? Story: terribly written. Shaq: not an actor. Costume: one of the ugliest superhero ensembles ever to disgrace the silver screen. Exactly which part of this did Hollywood execs think was a good idea?

3. Pamela Anderson’s Barb Wire

Calling Pamela Anderson a “superhero” — no matter what part she’s playing — is an insult to every superhero, ever. But the part is based on a comic book vigilante, which by Batman standards, means that technically the character qualifies. That said, Anderson’s outfit is the definition of a “hot mess.” This one-piece number is its own special effect. There’s no way that top would hold her — um, both of her — in while she runs, jumps, shoots, and takes down bad guys. It’s trashy, it’s vulgar, it’s impractical, and I think it could be CGI. And yet, in a way, Anderson’s costume is one of the most faithful comic-to-screen translations ever, considering that most women in comic books are drawn to look exactly like this asinine work of sexual objectivity.

2. Val Kilmer/George Clooney’s Batman

So, there’s just — Wait, are those… nipples?


On the Batsuit?



1. Nicolas Cage’s Superman

The movie may have never happened, but it came dangerously close to doing so. We have Tim Burton to thank for making Batman relevant again as a big-screen superhero. Had this movie been made, we would also have Burton to thank for destroying Superman as a big-screen character. Burton’s take on Supes was to reinvent the entire mythos from the ground up, in a story inspired by the “Death of Superman” comic arc. The movie would have seen Nicolas Cage (of all people!) starring as a Superman de-powered by his encounter with (and apparent death at the hands of) Doomsday. After which, Superman is forced to wear a Kryptonian power suit that mimics his abilities (until those abilities rebound, of course). The ideas and designs that Burton and his artists cooked up veered waaaaay over into scifi territory, taking lots of cues from Burton’s passion for the macabre. Some prototype costume photos and videos popped up on the web a while back, showing a long-haired Cage wearing the opalescent, plastic Kryptonian suit, which came with built-in lights that looked like lightning bolts under all that plastic. Now we all know that production photos of superhero costumes tend to look pretty silly, but often, look just fine in the finished movie. (I point to the black X-Men costumes as a fine example. Remember the uproar when photos of the actors in their costumes first leaked, and everybody on the Internet lost their minds?) So is there any chance that Nic Cage’s Superman might have looked cool in the end?

No. No, there isn’t.

Looking Ahead…

This year and next brings us a whole new collection of superhero wardrobes to gawk at and judge. (And if there’s one thing we geeks love to do, it’s judge the creative endeavors of others.)

Marvel won points all around for the sharp styles sported by the six superheroes in The Avengers (seven if you count Nick Fury). Most of the costumes didn’t deviate much from what we’d already seen of those heroes in their respective movies, though I think Captain America’s 1940s costume suited him better than the modern Avengers version.

For a long while there, it looked like Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man costume might earn a spot on the list above, with its elongated proportions and those strange sneaker soles. But now that the movie is here and it’s getting tons of positive word-of-mouth, the new Spidey seems to have dodged the bullet.

And then there’s next year’s brand new Superman, played by Henry Cavill. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel promises a bolder, darker take on the Superman mythos, and the new suit worn by Cavill shows just how far they’re willing to go with that pledge. Breaking completely with what’s been seen in the past and establishing a brand new continuity, Cavill’s suit ditches the red briefs altogether, while adding new contour lines and lots of detailing.

Ultimately, as The Amazing Spider-Man proves, our reactions to a big-screen superhero’s duds are largely influenced by the quality of the movie.

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