The 9 Best Supervillain Movie Costumes

By Matthew Catania in Daily Lists, Movies
Friday, October 21, 2011 at 8:05 am
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Here is the not-so-long-awaited sequel to "The 9 Worst-Dressed Movie Supervillains." I'm sure after reading that list many of you thought "Comic book art just doesn't translate to real life. This so-called author has terrible fashion sense for putting the movie version of [insert character name here] on your list! Besides, he forget [insert other character name here]" I actually don't know what you guys said yet as I wrote this in advance. I'm just predicting there will be at least one of you out there. This is my preemptive rebuttal to the blogosphere.

Now let's talk about this article. Yes, there are indeed many supervillain costumes that turned out great on the big screen. Hats will be tipped to excellent achievements in make-up and prosthetics as well as clothing. Some of them are more comic accurate than others, but each captures the essences of these illustrated adversaries. Not all of them are from good movies, but they're all visuals worth remembering. Plenty of effort went into combining the best traits of the source material with what works on film. They are standards to judge other supervillain costumes by. These costumes should be appreciated for translating idiosyncrasies rather than going for the homogenized, mundane style that Hollywood wants to shove down the public's throats.

9) The Shredder, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
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The Shredder of the original TMNT movie looks like he stepped out a Kevin Eastman drawing. Shred-head wears maroon because he did so in the colorized TMNT reprints (and also because being defeated by his own failed kung-fu treachery qualifies him as a maroon). The biggest difference is that the movie costume has sleeves. Sometimes he wears a crumpled cape to add majesty as King of the Foot Clan. Putting a samurai helmet & giant razor blade on a ninja is an instant recipe for a badass costume. He's got all the right offensive armor. They even figured out a simple solution to let James Saito breathe through the faceplate without radically deviating from the comic's design (unlike some entries on the worst-dressed list).

8) Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger
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In the comics, the Red Skull usually wears an olive jumpsuit or period-accurate Nazi uniforms. The movie went with the uniforms but didn't want them to be historically accurate because of all the inflammatory Hakenkreuze. The movie Red Skull mostly wore a black SS dress uniform modified with jagged red piping. He also had a dark green tunic of similar design as a callback to his classic jammies. Both featured replicas of the HYDRA logo from the comics (all HYDRA agents in the comics are film are still Nazis even though they have their own emblem.) His uniforms look distinctive for the head of the Third Reich's fictionalized special weapons division without looking too futuristic for WWII. The Red Skull's face isn't a mask in the movie, so the make-up caps everything off by making it look more organic than in the comics, yet still be instantly recognizable.

7) Mean Machine Angel, Judge Dredd
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Did you wonder why the last list was "Worst-Dressed Supervillains" but this list was "Best Superman Costumes"? This guy. He's not anything approaching well-dressed, but as a supervillain costume he looks spectacular. Mounds of prosthetics and some grungy clothes were layered onto Christopher Adamson for him to play the Cursed Earth's favorite inbred hillbilly cyborg, Mean Machine Angel. The practical effects are blended so artfully with the actor that it actually looks like a cadaver infused with spare parts was cast in the role. They even made one of Adamson's arms disappear without CGI. The mechanical parts have the appropriate ugly industrial appearance that adds realism to an unrealistic character. He's missing a robotic eye, but he does have a dead organic one which is creepily humorous. The reason Mean Machine looks so great onscreen is that he was designed and built by Chris Halls (a.k.a. Chris Cunningham), who had previously illustrated the hooligan in the comics.

6) Emperor Ming the Merciless, Flash Gordon
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Ming the Merciless has gone through plenty of costume changes since his comic strip debut in 1934. The 1980 movie featured his ceremonial robes and his military dress uniform; they're highly ornamental costumes that show that Ming can sit back and let his henchmen do his legwork because he is the most powerful man in the universe. The movie costumes are heavily inspired by the retro aesthetics of the comic strips, which only enhances their alien sensibilities. His giant collar rivals those worn by the Prydonian Academy and Doctor Strange; his ring shows off his wealth not just because of the size of the rock but also because it's a universal remote that makes neat-o sound effects. Red, black, and gold are the only colors he wears because the Emperor is very strident when it comes to what hues are permitted on Mongo. And if you don't like the dress code, he's got a death ray for you.

5) Poison Ivy, Batman & Robin
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Poison Ivy's first costume in Batman & Robin makes her look like she stepped out of A Midsummer's Night Dream, and this is a good thing. This regal outfit reflects her dream of subjugating the world with fiendish flora. The peculiar leafy eyebrows hint that she's dangerous and ethereal without the need to dye her skin green like some modern comics. Matching opera gloves have been added to her comic accurate stockings covered in vines. The leafy bodice is a bit rubbery, but at least she's not a hypocrite who kills plants to make her clothes. The whole ensemble is surprisingly tasteful and elegant for a Joel Schumaker film. It even looks stunning when she does the best gorilla striptease since Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus. Bonus points for her not having the ridiculous cone hair that marred her latter appearances.

4) Loki, Thor
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The most important thing to get right about Loki is that he wears absurdly large horns on his head, a test I'm happy to say that the Thor movie passed with flying colors. While the comics let the horns overshadow whatever headpiece they're attached to, the movie integrates them into a cohesive helmet. Similar horns also appear on All-Father Odin's helmet, giving him a reason to wear them as family regalia not just to show that he's a nogoodnik. He wears lots of rich greens and gold armor that make him look medieval yet slightly futuristic. His stylish cape holds it all together. But really, the rest of Loki's outfit is just icing on the cake that is his bitchin' awesome helmet. Seriously, why can't I get a high-end replica of that right now?

3) Catwoman, Batman Returns
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It may be hard to imagine, but most of Catwoman's costumes consisted of skirts, capes, bright colors, and mod fashions. Many evoked neither cats nor burglars. Luckily her costume in Batman Returns drew most of its inspiration from Batman: Year One, where her iconic mask was replicated to protect her secret identity and show she's obsessively fond of cats. Vacuum-sealing Michelle Pfeiffer in shiny vinyl made sure she always looked sleek and sexy, and while the corset and high heels aren't practical, they emphasize the fetishism inherent in every incarnation of the character. Pfeiffer played the role with such gusto that the costume never appears degrading. Unlike Spider-Man's supposedly homemade suit, Catwoman's outfit doesn't look improbably perfect yet it doesn't look rubbish either. Its white stitching mirrors how the pieces of Selina Kyle's psyche were put back together wrong after her rebirth because of shoddy feline necromancy. The essence of Catwoman has been distilled into an instantly recognizable outfit with just enough dominatrix mixed in to show you she'd sooner give you the lash than purr for your amusement.

2) Venom, Spider-Man 3
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Amidst all the vitriol for Sam Raimi's mishandling of his least favorite foe in Spider-Man 3, most fans overlook the fact that Venom actually looked great. Since about half of his appeal is being a cool looking symbiotic costume, that's a big deal. Sandman may have been more comics accurate, but he's neither hard to replicate nor as interesting to look at. The costume department took everything that made Venom cool and added more detail to it. Instead of being just a glossy black bodysuit, it has the fabric texture and the raised webs from movie Spider-Man's tights. The webs are distorted from when Spidey tore the suit off himself, which visualizes the agony the rejected symbiote must have felt; he looks even more like a twisted doppelganger of Spidey than he usually does. Equipping him with jagged alien eyes, discolored talons, a slavering mouth filled with fangs and an elongated tongue brings the horror movie aspects of the character to life. It's a travesty that he kept peeling back his monstrous mask to show off his much less intimidating Topher Grace face. This is a costume that really deserved a whole movie to itself, not just 10 minutes of screentime.

1) The Joker, Batman
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And the big winner is 1989's Joker! This is the best costume because it doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. It doesn't even have any Tim Burton motifs that have lost their charm in his later movies. It just takes everything that worked with Cesar Romero's Joker (a solid adaptation itself) and runs with it. This Joker is the perfect counterpoint to the dour gothic-industrial Gotham City and its Caped Crusader. Purple is the ideal color for the Clown Prince of Crime because it symbolizes both royalty and madness. These are the clothes a man who refuses to blend in; even his "disguises" mock the very idea. The movie understands that the Joker is at his scariest when he looks like a children's TV show host. His bright friendly appearance perfectly belies that he's a sadistic psychopath. The make-up people even remembered to make it so Jack Nicholson could only smile, which is way more disturbing than Heath Ledger's scars could ever be. He's dressed to the nines because he's the consummate egotistical showman, and his acid-spraying orchid boutonnière makes the ensemble even classier. Truly, these are the clothes of a man who enjoys his job. And that fellow's job is gassing innocent people to death so their corpses look as exuberant as he is.

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