10 superhero and sci-fi movies to inspire your next winning cosplay outfit
Cosplay has got nothing to do with lettuce. While it may be fun to dress a crunchy salad in some olive oil, it’s not quite as glorious as walking around with a red cape and hinting at your kryptonite allergy. Kids gravitate to dress-up, donning the outfit of their heroes and make-believe at a time when our imagination often gets the better of us. For those who’ve made a conscious effort to keep nourishing this fun knockabout spirit, cosplay allows us to keep dreaming into adulthood.
In the golden age of superheroes, it’s not surprising that escapist fantasy and sci-fi film genres are so popular. Enabling the power of wish fulfillment means people can live vicariously through on-screen characters, from the high-flying magic of Hogwarts alumnus Harry Potter to the Halloween creep factor of Pennywise from IT. This intoxicating energy can be so alluring that it makes us want to further identify with our favourite characters in costume play or cosplay.
Assembling costumes, accessories and even replica weapons requires a great deal of creativity and resourcefulness. Not every film character has a ready-made outfit and in most cases they’re designed to reference rather than recreate. True cosplayers want to mirror their heroes, and the costumes that tend to win competitions often require the ingenuity of sewing, modelling, 3D printing and acting to really sell it.
The most classic examples date back to Superman and Spider-Man. Man of Steel recently rebooted the DC Comics figurehead and remodelled his outfit to give Henry Cavill’s Superman a more alien and reptilian look and feel.
Cavill has the perfect physique and features to play the alter-ego of Clark Kent. Wearing a skin-tight suit, it’s easy to see why you shouldn’t bother calling while he’s battling General Zod or “rezoning” a metropolis. It’s no wonder cosplayers have found fresh inspiration from this picture-perfect Supe, whether by adopting a stringent diet and muscle-building gym programme or remodelling foam to chisel out the perfect six pack.
Spider-Man: Far from Home (Netflix)
Spider-Man’s store bought costumes always present the problem of what to do with the flimsy “bank robber” mask – especially when the outfits are used as pyjamas. It seems in most cases for kids, there was enough Spider-Man going on to discard or lose the mask completely to avoid running into “invisible” screen doors. Modern cosplayers are much more particular… and cool.
They may not have the web cannons of Andrew Garfield’s The Amazing Spider-Man, the mutated biochemistry of Tobey Maguire’s Spidey or the Stark Industries grade technology of Tom Holland’s body armour Spider-Man suit – but they sure as heck wear the full head mask when striking a web-slinging pose!
Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life (Netflix)
Tomb Raider became a popular video game in the 90s, whose Lara Croft, much like James Bond, came to serve as a depiction of the ideal woman. While this representation was probably designed for maximum sex appeal at the time, Croft’s skimpy adventure outfits have evolved to become more in tune with Indiana Jones.
As a global sex symbol at the time of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, there was a notable evolution in Angelina Jolie’s wardrobe going into Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life, transitioning to full-body suits. Alicia Vikander’s more rugged take on Lara Croft makes a night-and-day contrast, giving cosplayers a full spectrum of choices when it comes to playing the ever-popular and gung ho adventurer.
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Netflix)
Resident Evil underwent a similar de-escalation of sexualisation. Starting with a skimpy dress, the fictionalised film-only character of Alice had a similar journey under Milla Jovovich’s watch, moving to a more grounded depiction of the one-woman zombie-killing machine in an evolution of voice and outfit.
Arguably the best video game adaptation series, cosplayers actually tend to portray Claire Redfield more often. Her red-and-black colour scheme and toned down classic outfits are appealing and make it easier to manufacture her look.
Wonder Woman (Google Play)
When it comes to superheroes, Wonder Woman and Harley Quinn are probably the most popular cosplay characters. Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins revitalised Wonder Woman in the eponymous film, where real-life Amazonian woman Gadot spearheaded an entertaining and spectacular all-rounder of a superhero flick.
Re-igniting the fandom around Diana Prince and introducing her to new audiences, she became an overnight sensation every bit as altruistic and captivating as Superman.
Harley Quinn’s notoriety as a villain, trademark barbed-wire baseball bat and a charismatic performance from the versatile Margot Robbie has made her a staple cosplay identity. Updating her look to capture a bit of Tank Girl’s rebellious spirit, the sweet yet psychotic Suicide Squad member landed her own spin-off film in Birds of Prey, providing a host of new cosplay options.
Pivoting off Margot Robbie’s exponential acclaim and fame in a role she was born to play, the pigtails and fishnet stockings are here to stay!
Another insane clownish delight is The Joker from The Dark Knight. Heath Ledger dethroned Jack Nicholson as the definitive Joker, shedding the near-pantomime antics of the character in Tim Burton’s Batman.
Under Christopher Nolan’s grittier and more oppressive Gotham, he thrived in the shadows to concoct a scene-stealing and Oscar-winning performance that immortalised the actor, film and character. Mimicking his green hair and ghoulish makeup job, The Joker has become infamous beyond the celluloid – a popular choice that’s been given fresh meaning after Joaquin Phoenix’s immersive and Oscar-winning psychological character portrait of Arthur Fleck in 2019’s Joker.
Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings brought JRR Tolkien’s epic fantasy vision to life in such vivid glory that it reinvented pop culture. From Frodo, Gandalf and Gimley to Arwin, Galadriel and Legolas, there’s no shortage of cosplay inspiration from the breathtaking and colossal depiction of Middle Earth.
Taking this same detailed wardrobe and make-up energy into The Hobbit, Tolkien’s universe expands to include Thorin, Thranduil, Tauriel and a young Bilbo Baggins. While pulling off Smaug’s sheer size may take a team of cosplayers, there are many effective mini Smaug variations of the last “great” dragon.
If you’re looking for something more elegant and easier to store in your closet without questions being asked, try The Matrix. The Wachowskis made it okay to wear sunglasses at night again in this cannon-blast of action-packed yet surprisingly mind-bending science fiction.
Embodied by Keanu Reeves, Neo’s classic dress sense has a timeless espionage feel to it as the character opts for a trench coat, dark glasses and mostly black attire. Gravitating towards a more streamlined outfit in The Matrix Reloaded on account of being able to fly, Neo’s suave dimension-hopping wardrobe and style remains a popular cosplay choice decades after dial-up.
When it comes to minimalism, Star Trek is as simple as it gets. Starfleet aren’t all that flashy when it comes to wardrobe – unless you’re sporting a Klingon baldric – so their regulation uniforms go a long way if you’re a Trekkie. While they’re perfectly adept as wetsuits, most die-hard fans will probably admit most of their surfing happens online.
To be fair, the revitalised JJ Abrams’ Star Trek is much more smart-casual than Patrick Stewart’s onesie days on the Enterprise as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Throw Chris Pine’s awesome military style leather jacket into the ring, put the purists on hold and we have a clear winner!