Superheroes have come a long way since their first forays onto screens big and small, and you only have to look as far as their costumes to see the rise in quality. Indeed, these 20 then-and-now comparisons are utterly unbelievable, taking your favorite characters from camp spandex suits to full-blown icons.
Superhero films have taken a dark and gritty turn of late, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Superman’s iconic suit. Christopher Reeve’s costume from 1978’s Superman, for example, is simple and colorful, while Henry Cavill’s suit from 2013’s Man of Steel is muscular and powerful, and it features no ridiculous red underwear.
Batman is meant to instil fear in his enemies, but Adam West’s Caped Crusader costume from the camp ’60s TV series Batman was clearly created for humor. Luckily, later incarnations have featured suits with darker and more menacing designs, such as the one sported by Ben Affleck in 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
18. The Hulk
CGI has helped create more realistic versions of fantastical superheroes, most obviously with the Hulk. That’s because the producers of ’70s TV show The Incredible Hulk seemingly did little more than slap green paint on two-time IFBB Mr. Universe winner Lou Ferrigno for their Hulk. For 2012’s The Avengers, meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo shaped the character in motion capture.
17. Wonder Woman
Lynda Carter’s version of the warrior princess from the 1970s TV series Wonder Woman is possibly the most well-known incarnation of this superhero. However, Gal Gadot has promised a “more relevant” version of the iconic heroine in Batman v Superman, and the early shots show off a more badass image.
16. Captain America
Chris Evans may have embodied the role of Captain America in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger, but in 1979 CBS made its own laughable adaptation of the comic character. This version saw Reb Brown struggle to squeeze into spandex, and the addition of a motorcycle helmet makes his appearance even funnier.
CBS’ 1970s TV series The Amazing Spider-Man wasn’t the best live-action iteration of the web-slinger; Spidey creator Stan Lee has even criticized the show. What’s more, the costume worn by Nicholas Hammond is cheap and basic, especially when compared with the sleeker variation worn by Tom Holland in the trailer for 2016’s Captain America: Civil War.
14. Fantastic Four
The production values of low-budget 1994 movie The Fantastic Four were so shabby that a Marvel executive ensured that it never saw the light of day. The 2015 Fantastic Four film did get released, though, and it featured grittier, more detailed suits, with a mo-capped Jamie Bell as The Thing.
Supergirl’s outfit also has a noticeably grittier appearance these days. Certainly, Helen Slater’s costume in 1984’s Supergirl is exceedingly bright, while Melissa Benoist’s suit from the current CBS Supergirl series has an overall muted hue to achieve a darker look.
Thor is best known through Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of the character in several movies since 2011’s Thor. But in 1988 Eric Kramer took on the role in TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns, and he was sadly saddled with his horrendous costume. He looks like he needs to shave his arms.
11. The Flash
Speedy superhero The Flash first featured on the small screen in a 1990s series where John Wesley Shipp played the part. Shipp obviously had the traditional superhero physique, but The Flash as portrayed by Grant Gustin in the current CW show has a sleek leather look that is more appropriate to the character’s agile superpower.
Julie Newmar’s simple Catwoman costume from the 1960s Batman series is a classic, and it probably gave her less headaches than the one worn by Anne Hathaway in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises. Indeed, Hathaway told Allure that the suit was a “psychological terrorist.”
9. Green Arrow
Expert marksman Green Arrow appeared as a season regular in Smallville before getting his own show in 2012. Justin Hartley took the role in Smallville, and his lime green attire is a far cry from the dark and shadowy costume worn by Stephen Amell in Arrow.
8. Green Lantern
Fans criticized the CGI suit worn by Ryan Reynolds in 2011’s Green Lantern, but at least it’s an improvement over the horrible pea green ensemble worn by Howard Murphy in 1979’s Legends of the Superheroes. Still, that didn’t stop Reynolds poking fun at his suit in 2016’s Deadpool.
7. The Joker
The Joker’s transformation from goofy prankster to nightmare-inducing psychopath is terrifying. Indeed, Cesar Romero’s colorful, mustachioed 1960s Joker from Batman is a relic of the past when compared to Jared Leto’s frightening-looking turn in 2016’s Suicide Squad.
Daredevil is known for his red costume, but the producers of 1989 TV film Trial of the Incredible Hulk bizarrely gave the character – played by Rex Smith – a black ninja suit. The recent Netflix series starring Charlie Cox, however, has a more suitably crimson number.
5. Nick Fury
It’s hard to imagine anyone playing Nick Fury other than Samuel L. Jackson now, but before Fury made it into the Marvel Cinematic Universe David Hasselhoff took up the eye-patch in 1998 TV movie Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. It’s safe to say that Jackson wears it better.
1997’s widely panned Batman and Robin featured the first big screen appearance of Bane, though it wasn’t until Tom Hardy’s portrayal in The Dark Knight Rises that the character made a mark. Jeep Swenson’s earlier iteration, though, is more faithful to the comic.
3. Harvey Dent
Tommy Lee Jones chewed the scenery as Harvey Dent in 1995’s Batman Forever, and his garish suit and make-up reflected his over-the-top portrayal. Aaron Eckhart, though, delivered a more restrained performance as Dent in 2008’s The Dark Knight, and CGI was used to create more realistic facial scarring.
2. Doctor Strange
Doctor Strange’s magical powers couldn’t help him gain ratings success – or a less cheesy sorcerer’s outfit – in a 1978 TV movie starring Peter Hooten as the title character. We’re hoping Benedict Cumberbatch’s upcoming outing fares better; he’s at least acquired a higher quality costume.
Michael Rowe made his mark as sharpshooter Deadshot in Arrow, and his military costume looks pretty good. However, Will Smith’s version of the DC character in Suicide Squad features red and black body armor that seems deadlier and more faithful to comic.