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Movie Costumes that Stole the Show, For Better or Worse

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A character’s costume in a movie is an incredibly important part of the film. Not only does it set the character’s tone for the audience, it can help actors enter the role and inhabit the character in a meaningful way – even if all they’re working with is just a pair of glasses or a briefcase.

But costumes don’t start and stop with a movie. They can carry significance for audiences long before the movie hits screens – whether because they’re interpretations of costumes their favorite comic book characters have worn, because they don’t accurately represent the historical period the movie is set in, or because they’re just plain offensive, for some reason or another. And when they’re done wrong – or just right – they can really get people talking.

Let’s take a look at some of the most discussed costumes in film history – and talk about why they made such a splash.


George Clooney – Batman & Robin

It’s safe to say that Batman & Robin was one of the more… controversial films in the Batman franchise. Terrible puns, over the top gadgets and a shaky plotline, its wacky feel harked back to the days of the live action 1960s Batman TV show with Adam West – but not in a good way.

But none of that bothered fans as much as the Bat Costume design. In addition to the directorial decision to include excessive closeups of rubber-clad bottoms and crotches, the costumes included – well… Bat-Nips.

While director Joel Schumacher tried to explain that the costumes were inspired by Greek statues, fans said they felt the Bat-Nips were the straw that broke the Bat-Camel’s back.


Rebel Wilson – Pitch Perfect 3

The Pitch Pefect film franchise is near and dear to many people’s hearts. But, when fans first got their hands on a photo Rebel Wilson shared on social media featuring her and co-stars Brittany Snow and Chrissie Fit as a promotion for the third installment of the series, some of them were understandably upset.

While Snow and Fit’s outfits were sleeveless, Wilson’s matching outfit covered considerably more skin – a wardrobe choice which caused many fans to accuse the production of body negativity.

The outcry was so severe that the film’s costume designer, Salvador Perez, had to get involved and explain that the the choice of outfit was left to the actresses, saying that “Rebel, Ester & Hana Mae wanted sleeves.”


Ryan Reynolds – Green Lantern

2011’s Green Lantern, starring Ryan Reynolds in his first – but not last! – superhero role, was a bit of a fiasco for a variety of reasons. But one of the most discussed aspects of the movie was Ryan Reynold’s costume – or lack thereof.

Created entirely in CGI, the costume was added in post production, and the first time Reynold’s got to see his suit was in the film’s first trailer. Wearing the motion tracking body suit onto which the CGI costume was later added wasn’t such a great experience, either, with Reynolds later saying it was “made of actual woven misery.”


Doug Jones – The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water received thirteen Oscar nominations and won four – but the costume which brought the mysterious amphibian man at the center of the film to life was quite polarizing for viewers. Some hailed it as realistic and believable, while others felt that it was downright ridiculous.

Del Toro, on his part, was quite happy with the end result, saying he “wanted to make the Michelangelo’s David of amphibian men.”

Did he succeed? You be the judge.


Robert Downey Jr. – Tropic Thunder

Even mentioning Tropic Thunder can get some people angry – and with good reason. Ben Stiller’s 2008 war comedy film touched upon sensitive subjects from the get-go, but what it really made fun of was method acting.

What got people really riled up, though, was the character played by Robert Downey Jr. Downey played an Australian method actor… who was playing an African American character, complete with brown face paint. There’s a name for that kind of thing, and it’s steeped in a pretty bleak history, so we won’t say anything further, other than “yikes!”


Lily James – Cinderella

Starring Lily James, Cinderella was a visual treat, and very visually faithful to the original animation. But some fans thought the movie was, perhaps, a little too faithful. Looking at James’ slim waist, some viewers criticized the film for making it appear unnaturally slim, and accused the filmmakers of fostering an unrealistic beauty ideal.

The filmmakers, on their part, responded by stating that Lily James’ waist was not altered in any way – she was simply naturally slim, and wore a corset. “There are no visual effects and there’s no cruelty,” they said in their official response. “We don’t harm the actors with corsets.”


Brie Larson – Captain Marvel

In the comics, Captain Marvel wears an iconic red, blue and gold costume – but in the film’s first trailer, Brie Larson is seen wearing a black and green outfit.

Fans were concerned. That is, until other fans, familiar with the original Captain Marvel comics pointed out that in older iterations of the character, she did indeed wear a green suit, before switching to the new, more recognizable colors.

The film’s production later released more promotional materials, some containing photos of Larson wearing the iconic red, blue and gold – and fans were appeased.


Sylvester Stallone – Judge Dredd

There was nothing wrong with Sylvester Stallone’s costume in 1995’s Judge Dredd per se, you see. In fact, it was highly accurate and faithful to the way it is drawn in the original comics. What was wrong, though, was how Stallone wore it – or how he didn’t wear it, to be percise.

The character of Judge Dredd was created as a complex critique of authoritarianism and police brutality, and as a character meant to embody those things, one of Dredd’s most important character traits is the fact that he never takes his helmet off. His face is, was, and always will be covered by his helmet.

So when Stallone removed the helmet within the first 20 minutes of the movie, fans didn’t take kindly to it.


Evangeline Lilly – Ant-Man and the Wasp

Characters that have been around in comics, in one form or another, for decades, have a lot of fans, a lot of history, and a lot of emotional investment in them. So when a film adaptation reinterprets a costume, some fans can get a little uppity.

Take Evangeline Lilly’s Wasp costume, from Ant-Man and the Wasp. Sure, it looks great – but fans of the comics were used to seeing her wearing a bright, black and yellow outfit, not a muted grey one.

A lot of thought went into the costume however, making it both cool to look at and easy to move – and breathe in. Especially the helmet. “We tested 30 different shapes, which was incredibly time consuming, but the costume had to look absolutely perfect,” Lilly said.


Olivia Munn – X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse introduced a lot of much loved characters from Marvel’s comics to the big screen – not the least of which was Psylocke, portrayed by Olivia Munn. Munn’s costume was pretty faithful to her character’s outfit in the comics, but some people felt it was a little too outdated and revealing.

Munn, on her part, responded by saying the following: “Apocalypse is the one who dressed her and gave her that outfit. The thing about Psylocke is that, I can see the way that she’s dressed but it has nothing to do with how strong she is and how powerful she is.”


Marilyn Monroe – The Seven Year Itch

It’s safe to say that the scene featuring Marilyn Monroe’s white dress in 1955’s The Seven Year Itch is one of the most iconic moments in cinema history.

The film’s production was quite aware of the scene’s explosive potential, and actually filmed it on a real New York City street – after inviting journalists and photographers to document the scene and spread it to millions of readers as a promotional stunt for the film.

The photos did cause quite a stir – but not everyone was happy about them. Marilyn Monroe’s then-husband, Joe DiMaggio, was quite upset with them, and they were, allegedly, one of the reasons the two eventually divorced.


The Amazons – Justice League

2017’s Wonder Woman, starring Gal Gadot, was more than just a movie. It was a cultural phenomenon, putting female power and empowerment at the heart of its story. The Amazons’ costumes in the film were a reflection of that: rugged, utilitarian and tough, the Amazons looked like real warriors, rather than over-sexualized models – and audiences loved it.

So when Justice League came out a few months after, and the Amazons made a second appearance – this time in dolled-up, skimpier versions of their original warrior garb, the public outcry was pretty understandable.

The creators of Justice Leage, on their part, explained the new outfits by saying the films were set in different time periods, and that the Amazon’s leather armor had changed over time.


Jena Malone – Nocturnal Animals

In Nocturnal Animals, Jena Malone played the colorful museum curator Sage Ross – a small, but pretty memorable role, thanks to her weird, haute couture outfit. Many viewers were pretty critical of it, saying it didn’t look like something anyone would wear.

The film’s director, Tom Ford, however, had a different take on it. A fashion designer himself, Ford wanted to put her in “the most ridiculous piece” he could come up with.

The film’s costume designer, Arianne Phillips, said that “It kinda takes someone from the art world to pull off a runway piece.”


Milla Jovovich – The Fifth Element

Luc Besson’s 1997 science fiction epic, The Fifth Element, is highly renowned, and with good reason. It features phenomenal acting, amazing set pieces, a quirky sense of humor – and beautiful, outlandish costumes and outfits.

But one outfit stands out in the film in particular. When Milla Jovovich’s character is first resuscitated in the lab, she is clothed in a very revealing outfit made of white straps of cloth, which resemble medical bandages. Jovovich, on her part, later said she didn’t mind the outfit at all, saying it felt like she was wearing a bikini. “I just really got into the character and I definitely didn’t feel constraints,” she went on to say.


Shefali Chowdhury and Afshan Azad – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

During the Yule Ball in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry, Ron and Hermione get to go the Yule Ball – or, essentially, Wizard Prom.

Instead of going with the girls they’re really interested in, however, Ron and Harry ended up going with Padma and Parvati Patil. And while Padma and Parvati weren’t the focus of the scene, some fans were critical of the way they were dressed for the ball. You see, Parvati and Padma’s actresses, Shefali Chowdhury and Afshan Azad, were given outfits which many fans said were actually very simple things, that would, in India, usually be worn around the house, rather than donned for a fancy black tie event.

The film’s costume designers explained their choice, however, by saying they were trying to put an emphasis on Hermione’s dress.


Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad was one of the most anticipated and talked about films of its year – not the least thanks to it featuring one of the most popular super villains in the DC universe: the Joker’s upbeat and psychotic assistant, Harley Quinn. Played by Margot Robbie, which was hailed as an excellent choice for the role by fans and critics alike, the character was well received… but her outfit? Less so. Robbie was quoted as saying she liked “wearing hot pants because they’re sparkly and fun,” and that the short shorts fit the character’s personality – but did admit to feeling a little self-conscious in them.


Bryce Dallas Howard – Jurassic World

2015’s soft reboot of the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World, was a pretty big hit with audiences – although it did receive its fair share of criticism. One thing that many viewers noted was, of all things, the footwear of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire.

Claire is a high-strung executive at the park, who ends up being chased by dinosaurs for much of the movie. And she does most of her running wearing high heels – which audience members found very unlikely. But Howard actually had a pretty reasonable explanation for this: “I’m better equipped to run when I have shoes on my feet,” she said. “I don’t think she would carry around flats with her.”


Ryan Reynolds – X-Men Origins: Wolverine

Deadpool, starring Ryan Reynolds, first came out in 2016 but this wasn’t the first time Reynolds played Deadpool on the big screen. He actually portrayed a different version of the character way back in 2009, in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Unlike the faithful 2016 adaptation, the 2009 version was not well received by fans. Rather than being the fast talking, big mouthed anti-hero we all know and love, Origins‘ Deadpool had his mouth sewen shut, and was presented shirtless – and mindless.

Director Gavin Hood later admitted he saw his take on Deadpool as a mistake, and said the studio found it difficult to find a place for an authentic Deadpool in a PG-13 rated movie. And while he accepted the criticism, he suggested fans could think of the 2009 version as an “embryonic Deadpool.”


Maureen O’Sullivan – Tarzan and His Mate

The first Tarazan movie first came out in 1934 – and if you think Maureen O’Sullivan’s Jane costume is skimpy by today’s standards, back in the day it was considered downright outrageous – and it was criticized accordingly.

But the filmmakers’ original plans for her character were to actually have her nude for the duration of the film, kept modest only by strategically placed props and camera angles – so while the outfit may have been hailed as scandalous, it was actually a step up from what was originally intended!


Princess Merida – Brave

Brave was celebrated as an empowering, feminist film, thanks to its portrayal of Princess Merida as not conforming to traditional Disney Princess beauty standards. Her hair was tangled and messy, her waist wasn’t waspish, and her face wasn’t covered in layers of animated makeup.

So, when Disney released a newer, 2D drawing of the princess, in which her hair looked like she had just visited a hair salon, her waist was trimmed down and her eyes covered in makeup, people weren’t very happy. Disney, on their part, explained this by saying the princess was dressed up for a special coronation.


Gal Gadot – Wonder Woman

It’s not just the Wonder Woman Amazons’ outfits that were criticized – Gal Gadot’s outfit received some pushback from fans as well.

Unlike the Amazons’ outfits Wonder Woman’s outfit was criticized for being too skimpy – it was rather the muted colors that replaced the original bright red and blue outfit made iconic by Linda Carter back in the ’70s.

The costume’s designer, Michael Wilkinson, explained their choices by saying that “We wanted to create something incredibly strong and portray her as a legitimate fighter.”


Karen Gillan – Jumanji

When trailers for 2017’s Jumanji sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle first hit the internet, fans were critical of the outfit worn by Karen Gillan’s character. It was gratuitously skimpy, many claimed – but Gillan responded by asking fans to wait until they’ve seen the film before they call foul.

After watching the movie, it turns out there really was a good reason for her skimpy outfit: the film’s characters get sucked into a video game, and Gillan’s character, Martha, is transformed into a video game avatar meant to be critical of the way many games portray women.


Jennifer Lawrence – X-Men: First Class

The character of Mystique has been featured in countless comic book iterations over the years. Being a shapeshifter, she takes on many forms and dons many outfits, but she is classically portrayed wearing a figure-hugging white dress with long slits on both sides, allowing her to move with ease.

In the X-Men film franchise, however, she’s depicted as wearing… nothing at all. This is explained by saying that she can’t shape shift real clothes she’s wearing, which would hinder her ability to change personas in a tight spot – but many fans were not convinced this wasn’t gratuitous.

Behind the scenes, Jennifer Lawrence actually spent many long hours in the makeup chair, having layers upon layers of body makeup applied to every part of her body before shooting – so she wasn’t exactly naked on screen.


Theda Bara – Cleopatra

Looking at actress Theda Bara in 1917’s Cleopatra today, you probably wouldn’t find anything too out of line. But back in the day, her outfits were deemed entirely too revealing – and viewers were quite shocked by how much skin the actress was showing.

The costume designers, on their part, however, explained that they designed the outfits to be “in attune with the period,” painstakingly researching the period’s clothing, jewelry and makeup conventions in order to make sure they accurately represented the type of clothes the historic Cleopatra might have worn.


Chris Evans – Avengers

In the original Captain America movie, Chris Evans’ outfit as the All-American superhero, Steve Rogers, was flashy, designed to turn him into a sort of mascot for American G.Is fighting World War II.

But after the events of that movie, when Rogers joined the modern-day avengers in the first Avengers movie, his costume felt out of place, oddly flashy and colorful. Fans made their discontent with the outfit known, and by the next film, Chris Evans was wearing a significantly more “modern” and combat-appropriate costume.


The X-Men – X-Men (2000)

In the very first X-Men movie, the characters wear all-leather, black jumpsuits. While today, leather outfits and muted colors are standard for superhero film adaptations, back then some fans were expecting the X-Men team to wear their comic book yellow and blue suits.

Director Brian Singer seemed to anticipate this, and when Wolverine first wears his X-Men uniform, he raises an eyebrow. Cyclops, in return, asks him “What would you prefer, yellow spandex?”


January Jones – X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class was a pretty great film – but one part many people weren’t fans of were the outfits and gratuitous displays of skin by some of the female characters in it, especially considering none of the male characters were showing anywhere near that amount of skin.

January Jones’ character, Emma Frost, in particular is almost always seen in either lingerie or in body-hugging outfits with excessive cleavage.

Jane Goldman, one of the film’s co-writers, later said the film originally had a lot of social commentary on sexism, which would have contextualized that nudity – but that it was, unfortunately, left on the cutting room floor.


Matthew Goode – Watchmen

Zack Snyder’s film adaptation of the graphic novel masterpiece Watchmen is generally hailed as one of the most accurate comic-to-film adaptations of all times. Many of the film’s frames match up almost exactly to the original comic’s illustrations – not to mention dialogue and the progression of plot.

One place in which Snyder deviated heavily, though, was in the outfit of Ozymandias, played by Matthew Goode. Rather than the comic’s lavish purple costume, the film version of Ozymandias’ outfit is more reminiscent of a Batman costume, complete with carved muscles and dark leather.

Snyder, on his part, explained this by saying he felt it fit Ozymandias’ personality better, and that it was a fully conscious choice.


Tom Hiddleston – Thor

2011’s Thor introduced Marvel fans to Chris Hemsworth and his take on the Norse God of Thunder – but more importantly (some might say) it introduced us to British heartthrob Tom Hiddleston’s Loki. Fans instantly fell in love with the villainous trickster god – but one thing they didn’t like was his costume’s pants, which, unfortunately, seemed to… not quite fit him. It wasn’t just audiences who noticed, though – apparently, his outfit was cause for much teasing on set, as well. There were even rumors he had been edited post-production to appear less on display.


Mickey Rooney – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Some movies are timeless – but some don’t age well at all. Social conventions and understanding of what is hurtful – and why – have, happily, developed over the years, and some things that were acceptable once are now understood better and make us uncomfortable when we see them.

One such thing is Mickey Rooney’s makeup and depiction of an Asian American character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

It truly is an offensive getup – but we do have to remember that the film was shot in very different times.


Halle Berry – Catwoman

When studios decided to release Catwoman, starring Halle Berry in the titular role, fans weren’t convinced it was the best idea. When they saw her outfit, which deviated from the classic cat-suit and replaced it with shredded leather, they were convinced it wasn’t.

The film was a huge flop, and Halle Berry later said it was one of the greatest regrets of her career – but thankfully, the character was redeemed a few years later in The Dark Knight Rises, with a much more faithful representation by Anne Hathaway.


Evan Peters – X-Men

Quiksilver is one of the more interesting characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, because he was portrayed twice, in two separate franchises: once by Evan Peters in the Fox-owned X-Men franchise, and once in the Disney-owned Avengers franchise, by Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

When fans saw the X-Men version in trailers, they were a bit concerned. He was wearing a silver biker’s jacket, goggles and a shock of silver hair – a look that, while it could potentially work in a comic book, wasn’t sufficiently cinematic. But ultimately, Evan Peter’s performance bought fans over, and he ended up becoming a fan favorite!


Jamie Foxx – Django Unchained

Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained is one of the best movies to come out in recent years – but one thing about it bothered viewers. No, it wasn’t Django’s colorful costumes – but rather, his black tinted, golden framed sunglasses. While they look awesome, they are totally not period accurate. This kind of sunglasses would only be introduced in the 20th century – and fans were quick to point that out.

But since it’s the genius Tarantino, we’re entirely willing to let it slide.


Henry Cavill – Man of Steel

Zack Snyder’s take on superman, 2011’s Man of Steel, drew a lot of criticism for its portrayal of the beloved Kryptonian, Kal-El – not the least of which were about the way actor Henry Cavill’s outfit looked.

With dark, muted colors fitting the new Superman’s dark, muted personality, many fans said it simply didn’t feel like the Superman they knew and loved.

Personally, we think the outfit is the least of the film’s issues – but that’s a different conversation altogether.


The Redcoats – Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the greatest adventure film franchises of all time – but one thing it isn’t, is period accurate.

A big part of the franchise’s first film is Captain Jack Sparrow’s feud with the Royal Navy’s Redcoats – but as any history buff could tell you, these uniforms were only introduced a century after the period in which the film was set. Still, the film features undead zombie pirates and cursed Aztec gold – so maybe historical accuracy wasn’t really a top concern.


Ben Affleck – Daredevil

Despite its recent cancellation, Netflix’s Daredevil, starring Charlie Cox, is easily one of the most popular superhero screen adaptations today. But before Charlie Cox, a very different actor played a very different version of the visually impaired Devil of Hell’s Kitchen.

Back in 2003, Ben Affleck donned the red superhero outfit and portrayed a very different version of Matt Murdock. Costume designers attempted to create a costume that was as faithful to the comic version as possible, but the end result left us wishing we were vision impaired too.


Kristen Stewart – Twilight: Eclipse

The Twilight Saga‘s film adaptations have a lot of cringe-worthy aspects to them, but one of the most talked about was Kristen Stewart’s wig in Twilight: Eclipse.

The actress had to wear a wig because her previous film role in The Runawaysrequired her to cut off her long brown locks in order to accurately portray rock legend Joan Jett – and Twilight fans were left with… well… with this.


Willem Dafoe – Spider-Man

Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man film features a lot of great moments and characters, not the least of which is Willem Dafoe’s terrifying take on the Green Goblin. But while Dafoe is fittingly terrifying, his outfit could have definitely look less… Power Rangers-y?

Raimi originally wanted to use CGI instead of the clunky helmet, but eventually chose to go with the costume we are all familiar with today. Thankfully, Dafoe’s acting more than makes up for it.


Carrie Fisher – Return of the Jedi

No list about outrageous film outfits would be complete without Princess Leia’s slave outfit.

The golden metal bikini has since become one of the most iconic outfits in film history, much loved by fans and cosplayers alike.

But not everybody loved it – including Carrie Fisher herself, and it has been hailed as exploitative, especially considering it was worn by the only female character to be featured in the entire original Star Wars trilogy.


All characters – Inception

Christopher Nolan’s Inception is a movie that’s full of little details that are almost impossible to catch during the first, second and even third viewing of the film, if you don’t know to keep an eye out for them. There’s so much going on that many little details just get covered up by the action.

Some of these details can be found in the outfits worn by the film’s characters. Every outfit has an accessory, item of clothing or a quirk meant to tell us something about the specific character that’s wearing them – and they’re full of little Easter eggs that are definitely worth looking out for the next time you watch the mind-bending movie.

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