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Iconic Superheroes of the Screen — Vintage Vs. Today

Samantha Franco
(Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor)
(Photo Credit: Bettmann / Contributor)

Our favorite superheroes have transformed over the decades in order to keep up with the ever-evolving entertainment industry. From their early days on-screen showcasing bright, colorful, and easily recognizable costumes, those same heroes have been turned into hunky, darker, sexier versions of themselves. As their images continue to change, some superheroes have become almost unrecognizable in comparison to their earlier selves. Let’s look at some of the more famous superheroes and see how drastic their costume changes have been over the years.


Side-by-side Supermans from 1978 and 2013, respectively
Two versions of Superman (Photo Credit: Zayne / MovieStillsDB and Simba95 / MovieStillsDB)

Superman is an absolute superhero icon. His brightly colored suit was accurately transferred from comic book to the big screen in the 1978 film Superman, starring Christopher Reeve. A red speedo layered on a bright blue leotard is reminiscent of the comic book, and when accompanied by the bright red cape and red and yellow “S” on the chest, there would be no question of whether it was a bird in the sky… or a plane… no, it’s unmistakably Superman! 

The 2013 film adaptation Man of Steel steered away from tradition, with Henry Cavill sporting a much darker version of the suit. A deep burgundy cape and dark navy blue leotard give Superman a much grittier, muscular look. To keep with the sleek vibe, he abandoned the bright red underpants.


Side-by-side Batmans from the 1960s and 2016, respectively
Adam West and Ben Affleck as Batman (Photo Credit: GLOWWORM / MovieStillsDB and Vergyl / MovieStillsDB)

As a superhero vigilante, Batman stalks the night in search of enemies. When he comes face-to-face with foes, he is meant to strike fear in them. Although iconic, Adam West’s ‘60s Batman was less than frightening. With an overall similar look to Superman, this Batman wears a campy yellow utility belt and a pointy, scalloped cape that would allow you to spot him coming at you from a mile away. 

Batman’s later versions took a much darker turn, such as Ben Affleck’s costume in the 2016 Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Like Gotham City, this dark knight is dressed head-to-toe in grey and black. The suit outlines a muscular body and beyond the bat ears, there’s really no campiness insight. He is all business.

Wonder Woman

Side-by-side of Wonder Woman from the 1970s and 2017, respectively
Lynda Carter, left, and Gal Gadot (Photo Credits: billyg / MovieStillsDB and KingPatel / MovieStillsDB)

Everyone knows Lynda Carter’s 1970s Wonder Woman. She dons a very waist-cinching red and gold bustier with star-spangled short shorts and red high-heeled boots. Her weapon of choice – a lasso – hangs from her waist and steel wrist-cuffs act as her armor. 

Gal Gadot in 2017’s Wonder Woman sports a metallic skirt-bustier combo. A lot of aspects remaine the same, like her headband, the eagle at the top of her bustier, and her high-heeled boots. But with a more subtle look, this Wonder Woman seems a lot less “all-American” than her predecessor. Her bustier also doesn’t look like it’s suffocating her. Like seriously, how did Lynda Carter do it?

Captain America

Side-by-side photos of Captain America from 1979 and 2011, respectively
Captain America in 1979, left, and 2011, right (Photo Credits: movienutt / MovieStillsDB and Darcy / MovieStillsDB)

The difference between the Captain Americas is insane. The 1979 version looks more like Eddie the Eagle than Captain America. Squeezed into a full spandex suit, Reb Brown is equipped with a motorcycle helmet and riding gloves to really pull the whole look together. We’re not quite sure we’d trust this guy to save our life.

However, Chris Evans in the 2011 Captain America: The First Avenger adaptation of the superhero is a whole other story. Dressed like a military soldier and sporting the American red, white, and blue, this Captain America looks prepared for battle. He is readily equipped with a utility belt and a reinforced steel shield that screams “I will protect you.”


Side-by-side of Spider-man from the 1970s and 2016, respectively
Spider-Man’s look has remained nearly the same (Photo Credits: Darcy / MovieStillsDB and Atheist_Teen / MovieStillsDB)

At face value, the overall look of Spider-Man hasn’t really changed all that much. The suit is still red, the webbing detail on the suit is still present, and the face is masked with only the eyes being outlined. However, the 1970s TV series The Amazing Spider-Man just made the superhero look cheap and basic.

This is dramatically different from the 2016 Captain America: Civil War Spider-Man who looks sleek, updated, and ready to sling from building to building.


Side-by-side of Catwoman from the 1960s and 2012, respectively
Catwoman in the ’60s and 2012 (Photo Credits: GLOWWORM / MovieStillsDB and stl71 / MovieStillsDB)

Julie Newmar’s Catwoman outfit from the 1960s was certainly simple and definitely made for a great Halloween costume. Cat ears, a chunky necklace, and winged eyeliner made her look more like a pampered feline than a superhero. But she did look slinky and smooth in her sparkly black one-piece.

Fast-forward to 2012, and Anne Hathaway looks ready to fight crime alongside Batman in The Dark Knight Rises. While she does sport a lot of the same features as her earlier adaptation, this version of Catwoman is ready to zip in and out of her costume and is equipped with her own utility belt to stay prepared for anything. Her eye mask sets her apart and makes her unrecognizable from her daytime self.

Nick Fury

Side-by-side of Nick Fury from 1998 and 2008, respectively
David Hasselhoff and Samuel L. Jackson (Photo Credits: Conner / MovieStillsDB and Darcy / MovieStillsDB)

Before Samuel L. Jackson took the role of Nick Fury in 2008, David Hasselhoff starred in the character’s own 1998 movie, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. – eyepatch and all. In what seemed like a “who wore it best” competition, both actors were dressed top-to-bottom in all black, layered with a leather jacket.

Hasselhoff looks more like an action figure in his version, while Jackson looks like the badass bossman Nick Fury is. 

The Joker

Side-by-side of the Joker from the 1960s and 2016, respectively
Cesar Romero and Jared Leto as the Joker (Photo Credits: Timothy2 / MovieStillsDB and Pepito38 / MovieStillsDB)

Switching from superheroes to villains, one of the more noticeable transformations of an on-screen image is the Joker. Cesar Romero’s 1960s Joker is a goofy, mustached prankster with fluffy hair. He has a pink painted-on smile and wears a ridiculous bright fuschia suit with a green shirt underneath. 

The Joker has been reimagined multiple times, but Jared Leto’s Joker from the 2016 film, Suicide Squad, looks like a genuine psychopath. Tattoos and metal grills make this Joker look like he is about to do something sinister and crazy at all times. 


Side-by-side of Bane from 1997 and 2012, respectively
Bane in ‘Batman and Robin’ and ‘ The Dark Knight Rises’ (Photo Credits: MovieStillsDB and Zayne / MovieStillsDB)

You would never know it, but Bane made his first appearance in 1997’s Batman and Robin. This version of the character was a veiny, green-skinned strongman who wore all leather and a spiked necklace. His luchador mask gave him an “undertaker” look that was rightfully left behind in the ‘90s.

Tom Hardy made the character popular after The Dark Knight Rises, with obvious differences from its predecessor. Where this version is still extremely strong, his mask muzzles his mouth and he wears more subtle cargo pants and vests. He is definitely still scary, but not as nightmare-inducing as the former Bane. 

Harvey Dent

Side-by-side of Harvey Dent from 1995 and 2008, respectively
Tommy Lee Jones and Aaron Eckart as Harvey Dent (Photo Credits: Timothy2 / MovieStillsDB and chooky / MovieStillsDB)

More from us: Burt Ward, the Boy Wonder and… the Budgie Smugglers? Batman’s X-Rated Side

1995’s Batman Forever showcased Tommy Lee Jones as an over-the-top Harvey Dent. Divided right down the middle, he was half businessman, half red-skinned, frizzy-haired, eccentric-suited cartoonish supervillain. His one half was so brightly colored that you couldn’t lose him in a crowd. 

A more realistic interpretation of Harvey Dent was portrayed by Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight in 2008. CGI made the character look like an actual chemical burn victim without the animal print suit and crazy hair. This made his turn to villainy far more believable than in the previous film.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!