Some movie costumes are fantastic and instantly become iconic. Others, however, are impractical, inappropriate or occasionally just plain bizarre. Would you want to run in high heels or attempt to do a battle pose in Spandex, after all? Here are 20 of the worst offenders in movie history – so far, anyway.
40. Red swimsuits, Baywatch (2017)
The one thing everyone remembers about Baywatch on TV is how scandalously sexy everyone looked in those red swimsuits, especially when running in slow motion. This was amped up even more for the movie version. “The essential spirit of Baywatch is that sexy vibe,” star Zac Efron told the NZ Herald website in 2017. “In this movie, we definitely take it to an extreme.”
The new Baywatch gained an R rating for its risqué content, which not everyone was happy about. Efron’s co-star Dwayne Johnson said in the NZ Herald interview, “Even though this is not a movie made for kids, they will sneak in the way we did when we were kids trying to see an R-rated movie.”
39. Natalie Portman’s stripper outfit, Closer (2004)
When Natalie Portman played a stripper named Alice in the movie Closer, many were shocked. It wasn’t just that Portman was better known for more wholesome characters like her one in Star Wars, and it wasn’t just the doll-like outfit or the pink wig. It was the fact that during the movie there was a wardrobe malfunction.
It goes without saying that the one brief freeze-frame garnered a lot of attention. The stripper outfit itself actually became downright iconic, however. It’s a popular choice for dressing up, and both Victoria’s Secret Angel Elsa Hosk and Twilight actress Kristen Stewart have used it for a Halloween costume.
38. Tom Cruise’s samurai armor, The Last Samurai (2003)
Back in 2003, Tom Cruise raved about The Last Samurai to the website Urban Cinefile. “It was a real transition time in Japan with the Industrial Revolution going on in the United States,” he said. “[The Japanese people] know we’re going to honor their culture and attempt to explore what it is.” But no-one checked to ensure the samurai armor was accurate.
Sure, Cruise’s samurai armor looks great. But it’s not at all what an actual samurai (or an American man accepted into their fold) would have worn back then. Because while the movie takes place in 1876, the armor design is from two centuries before that. And it can’t have been just a very old set of armor, because the material wouldn’t have lasted that long.
37. Maureen O’Sullivan’s Jane outfit, Tarzan series
The beautiful Maureen O’Sullivan – mother of Mia Farrow – played Jane opposite Johnny Weissmuller’s Tarzan from 1932. And back in that era sensibilities were rather different, and audiences didn’t approve of an actress being so scantily clad. Even if she was supposed to be in the jungle.
Upon O’Sullivan’s death in 1998, the Chicago Tribune newspaper printed a quote from her regarding the famous Jane outfit. “It started such a furor,” were her words. “Letters started coming in. It added up to thousands of women objecting to my costume. In those days, they took those things seriously.”
36. Marilyn Monroe’s pink dress, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Marilyn Monroe’s dress in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was very sexy indeed. But a real-life scandal affected its design. Originally, Monroe had been prepared to wear something even more risqué for the era, but then news got out about something she’d been trying to hide. Yes, she’d once posed naked for photographs.
The whole of Twentieth Century Fox went into a panic. And there was absolutely no way Monroe could wear the more revealing dress, not with the scandal making headlines. Costume designer William Travilla had to quickly create something else, so he came up with the pink strapless gown. But despite it being more modest than the original, it’s considered one of Monroe’s sexiest outfits.
35. Michael Chiklis’ Thing costume, Fantastic Four (2005)
The comic book movie Fantastic Four was a bit of a damp squib, and the uninspired costumes didn’t help. But what made things worse was the incredible difficulty Michael Chiklis had wearing the costume which transformed him into The Thing. It affected him so badly that he had to see a therapist.
Chilkis told the New York Times newspaper in 2005, “Once they glued the suit on me, I couldn’t get it off without help, no matter how hard I struggled… I couldn’t eat real food, and I lived on protein drinks during the entire shoot. Going to the bathroom was horrendous. It was a physical and psychological nightmare.” All that for a costume no-one even really liked.
34. Lily James’ dress and corset, Cinderella (2015)
When Lily James’ Cinderella look was revealed, people focused on just one thing – the actress’ tiny waist. If it was real, social media users said, it couldn’t be healthy. As the film was about to come out, James spoke out about it to the show E! News. But she unfortunately might have made things even worse.
You see, James said she had gone on a liquid diet to fit into the dress. “If you ate food [in the dress] it didn’t really digest properly,” she told the show. Though she added, “I think it’s so important to be healthy and confident and natural.” The whole process sounded unpleasant, and it led people to question exactly what message Disney was sending.
33. Jacqueline Bisset’s white t-shirt, The Deep (1977)
Everyone remembers diving flick The Deep for just one thing – Jacqueline Bisset’s clingy white t-shirt, which showed a little too much as she came out of the water. Director Peter Yates reportedly once bragged that that single t-shirt made him rich. But it also made Bisset into a major movie sex symbol.
Bisset herself wasn’t happy to be just a pin-up, though. In a 1982 interview with Roger Ebert she said, “I’d like to get my public image nearer to my reality,” and lamented that people had “a lot of misconceptions.” Many years later in 2018, she told the New York Post that on seeing the outfit onscreen she thought she was “going to die!”
32. Tim Curry’s Frank-N-Furter outfit, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
Tim Curry’s Frank-N-Furter costume is one of the most iconic in history, despite The Rocky Horror Picture Show managing to be both a box-office flop and controversial. It didn’t gain its cult following till much later. But now barely a Halloween costume party happens without a Frank-N-Furter.
Designer Sue Blane is to thank for the costumes. In 2011 she told Blu-Ray.com, “Luckily Tim had worked in a corset before so he took to it like a duck takes to water.” She was also impressed, she said, with the Frank-N-Furter costumes she had seen at live viewings of the movie. Not bad for a film that was actually banned in some places.
31. Theda Bara’s Cleopatra costume, Cleopatra (1917)
Most of Theda Bara’s 1917 Cleopatra silent film is lost now. It’s sad, but maybe not all that surprising when you consider its content. Bara reportedly bore most, if not all, for the movie and it was quickly declared “obscene.” Some churches apparently located copies of the film and destroyed them.
One of the most remarkable surviving images from the film shows Bara in a sort of snake-themed metal bikini, which would probably raise eyebrows even today. A list of cuts required to be made to the film also survives to the present day. And it makes reference to “objectionable costume” and “snake breast plates” having to go.
30. Ben Affleck’s Daredevil costume, Daredevil (2003)
Ben Affleck’s red leather suit in Daredevil wasn’t outrageous or anything. It was just bad. It looked far too tight for anyone to actually fight in, and well, it had an air of S&M about it. It was proof that trying to stick too close to a comic book design doesn’t always work, and even Affleck himself didn’t like it.
Back in 2006 Affleck told reporters on the red carpet for Hollywoodland, “By playing a superhero in Daredevil, I have inoculated myself from ever playing another superhero. Wearing a costume was a source of humiliation for me and something I wouldn’t want to do again soon.” Yet he ended up playing Batman in 2016.
29. Sharon Stone’s white dress, Basic Instinct (1992)
Sharon Stone’s dress in Basic Instinct, while attractive and form-fitting, is more infamous for what it revealed. In one of the most notorious (and freeze-framed) scenes in recent movie history, Stone uncrosses her legs and gives the audience a look at what’s under the dress.
There’s been controversy about that scene for a long time. According to Stone, she didn’t know until the movie hit theaters that she had exposed herself, and on finding out she slapped the director. Considering how deliberate it was, how can anyone truly believe that? But the costume itself is so iconic that in 2012 it went on display at London’s V&A Museum.
28. Rebel Wilson’s outfit, Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)
When behind-the-scenes photos started emerging from Pitch Perfect 3, fans were annoyed. Most of the girls in the movie had been given cute striped halter-neck tops for one scene. But plus-sized actress Rebel Wilson was stuck with a sleeved version. People stated their displeasure on social media, and sent supportive messages to Wilson.
But costume designer Salvador Perez ended up tweeting a response to the controversy. He said in March 2017, “I let each actor decide how their costume fit, it was their choice, Rebel, Ester and Hana Mae wanted sleeves.” He added, “To me it is about dressing women however they look and feel great, whatever size they are.”
27. Brandon Routh’s Superman costume, Superman Returns (2006)
Fans didn’t love Brandon Routh’s Superman outfit when pictures of it were first released. The “S” wasn’t right, some of them said, and the neckline was too high. But there was another aspect of the suit everyone latched on to – the crotch area. There’s been a longstanding rumor that the size of Routh’s anatomy had to be made smaller via CGI.
Before the film came out, costume designer Louise Mingenbach told Newsweek magazine that there had indeed been problems with the crotch of the suit. “Was it too big? Was it not big enough? Was it too pointy? Too round? It was somebody’s job for about a month just working on codpiece shapes,” she said. But no – Routh’s crotch was not so big it needed CGI reduction. Maybe he started that rumor himself?
26. Anne Baxter’s Nefretiri outfit, The Ten Commandments (1956)
Epic The Ten Commandments gained critical acclaim back in its day, and the costumes were part of the reason why. They were beautiful, especially the blue gown Anne Baxter wore as Queen Nefretiri. But unfortunately it’s far from historically accurate. The shade of blue on the dress simply wasn’t one that could have been created in 1350 B.C.
But there was also the question of what Baxter was wearing underneath the dress. In some scenes, despite the censorship of the time, the outline of her breasts can be seen. Was this done on purpose or was it an accident? Either way, it ensured the costume is still talked about today.
25. Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin outfit, Spider-Man (2002)
Fans were thrilled when a live-action Spider-Man movie was greenlit. But they were less thrilled when the first pictures of Spider-Man’s enemy the Green Goblin were released. The talented Willem Dafoe had been stuck in a green plastic suit that people decried as looking like something from Power Rangers. Remember that TV show? Kitsch is an understatement.
But Dafoe himself apparently not only liked it, he insisted on being inside it during all the fight scenes. Therefore, he had to learn his own stunts. To be fair to the creators of the costume anyway, the comic book version with the pink hat and boots would be very difficult to translate to the big screen.
24. Emma Watson’s Belle ball gown, Beauty and the Beast (2017)
Belle’s gold-yellow ballroom gown from the original Beauty and the Beast is one of the most famous and beloved Disney princess dresses ever. So fans were disappointed when the live-action version for Emma Watson turned out to look a bit different. It was too plain, people said, or too small.
A lot of work did actually go into the ballgown. Ten people spent 238 hours creating it, and it was covered in embellishments including gold leaf and crystals. But there was no getting around that it just didn’t look anything like the original. And fans of period dresses absolutely went to town on it.
23. Jane Fonda’s Barbarella outfits, Barbarella (1968)
Barbarella was a bizarre tour-de-force of sexy space fashion, there’s barely another way to describe the movie. There were eight costume changes in the movie altogether, and the outfits usually contained more plastic than fabric. Barbarella also fell out of them frequently. They’re all amazing, but one in particular is really something.
Barbarella’s “nightclub outfit” featured windows for the stomach and one of the breasts. Then to preserve her modesty there was a brown leather bikini beneath that, worn over tights for whatever reason. And to complete the ensemble she also had a patterned cape. Don’t wear any of this to a real nightclub, though, you’ll probably get thrown out.
22. Olivia Newton-John’s leather pants, Grease (1978)
Olivia Newton-John’s pants in Grease were problematic for a couple of reasons. First, there was the fact that they were barely suitable for wear. “The pants have a broken zip and I had to be stitched into them because they were made in the 50s,” Newton-John told Reuters Television in 2019. But the bigger problem, perhaps, was what critics said they represented.
Some consider that Grease is anti-feminist in its outlook. By the end of the movie, the argument goes, Sandy has changed for Danny by transforming into a smoking leather-clad biker girl, but he hasn’t made the same effort for her. That being said, the black pants make for a really, really cool look.
21. Marilyn Monroe’s white dress, The Seven Year Itch (1954)
There are few movie images more iconic than Marilyn Monroe’s white dress being lifted up by the air from a subway grate. But the backstory behind it isn’t really a happy one. While that scene was being filmed, Monroe had to contend with thousands of fans crowding around hoping to get a glimpse of her underwear.
But even worse was the reaction of Monroe’s husband, Joe DiMaggio, to the dress-lifting scene. He saw everything that was going on on-set, and he was infuriated. Some allege that once Monroe was done filming at the grate, he physically attacked her at their hotel room. One thing’s for sure: they divorced less than a month later.
20. Raquel Welch’s fur bikini, One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Raquel Welch’s fluffy bikini in the movie One Million Years B.C. made her an instant sex symbol. And this was despite the fact that she didn’t exactly have much to do on screen besides, well, be pretty. In its contemporary review of the movie, Variety noted, “Miss Welch gets little opportunity to prove herself an actress, but she is certainly there in the looks department.”
Welch never really wanted to wear the bikini, however, or even do the movie in the first place. In fact, she assumed that hardly anyone would even see the film. Still, it appears that the star isn’t ruling out a return to the two-piece. In 2020 she told the Sunday Post, “I’m not sure if I will ever wear [the bikini] again, but you never know. Perhaps one day the script will drop through the door for Two Million Years B.C..”
19. Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn hot pants, Suicide Squad (2016)
When she made her screen debut as a character in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn was seen in a jester suit. But such an ensemble was nowhere to be seen in the 2016 movie Suicide Squad. Instead, actress Margot Robbie was dressed up like a weird and wacky sex symbol – all tight clothes and hot pants.
In 2016 Robbie said to The New York Times, “As Margot, no, I don’t like wearing that. I’m eating burgers at lunchtime, and then you go do a scene where you’re hosed down and soaking wet in a white T-shirt. It’s so clingy, and you’re self-conscious about it.” Notably, for her second outing as Harley in Birds of Prey, that costume had changed.
18. January Jones’ Emma Frost underwear, X-Men: First Class (2011)
The folks behind X-Men: First Class may have dropped the ball somewhat when it came to designing a movie version of Emma Frost’s costume. In comics, the character wears sexy, skimpy outfits all the time; what January Jones ended up being given, however, was a bunch of what was essentially just white lingerie, coats and capes.
Fortunately, Jones actually liked her outlandish Emma Frost attire. In 2011 she told MTV, “I have a lot of very interesting costumes in that movie. There’s nothing like a cape that makes you feel really tough.” Movie critics, on the other hand, weren’t impressed by either the outfits in question or Jones’ performance.
17. Malin Akerman’s latex, Watchmen (2009)
Malin Akerman’s character in Watchmen may be named Silk Spectre, but she actually wears a bright yellow-and-black latex leotard. And it doesn’t look like the most comfy thing to walk in – let alone fight in. Akerman seemed to feel that way, too. In a 2009 interview with MTV, she said, “The costumes were definitely a big challenge.”
Akerman went on, “[My costume is] definitely not the most comfortable thing to wear for 18 hours straight. It’s very constricting, and then you add heels, the corset and a blonde wig to that. When they say, ‘Get up and fight,’ you go, ‘Excuse me, in this outfit?’ It also takes on the temperature of whatever the room is. If it’s really hot, you’re boiling. If it’s really cold, you’re freezing.”
16. Halle Berry’s Catwoman costume, Catwoman (2004)
Critics not only hated the 2004 Catwoman movie, but they also seemed to dislike Halle Berry’s weird strappy catsuit. IGN said, for instance, “The costume alone cannot make a bad movie, though this one sure gives it the old college try.” Reno News & Review went even further, suggesting that Berry should “burn that damn costume for all to see.”
And while Berry didn’t quite go that far, she too hates the poorly judged flick. In 2005 she actually showed up in person to collect a Razzie award for her “Worst Actress” performance in the film and announced, “First of all, I want to thank Warner Bros. Thank you for putting me in a piece of s**t, god-awful movie!” Me-ow.
15. Ryan Reynolds’ CGI suit, Green Lantern (2011)
Superhero flick Green Lantern was unfortunately a disaster in almost every respect. It probably didn’t help that Ryan Reynolds wasn’t wearing a traditional costume; instead, everything about his Green Lantern suit was computer generated. And, in fact, the leading man didn’t even know what he looked like in the movie until its first trailer was released – though perhaps he wished he’d never known the truth.
The Green Lantern costume was such a flop, moreover, that Reynolds ended up poking fun at it in the superhero comedy Deadpool. At one point, the eponymous character yells, “Please don’t make the super-suit green… or animated!” – a clear reference to the ensemble he was made to wear in the earlier movie.
14. Michelle Pfieffer’s Catwoman costume, Batman Returns (1992)
Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman is generally considered to be one of the best-ever portrayals of the character. And the star still shone despite being in a tricky-to-wear suit. In 2017 Pfeiffer told The Hollywood Reporter, “It was the most uncomfortable costume I’ve ever been in. They had to powder me down, help me inside and then vacuum-pack the suit.”
Pfeiffer went on, “I had those claws, and I was always catching them in things. The face mask was smashing my face and choking me.” Then, when Good Morning America asked the actress if she had any advice for the latest Catwoman, Zöe Kravitz, she said, “Make sure, whilst designing the costume, they consider how you’re going to go to the bathroom.”
13. Milla Jovovich’s bandages, The Fifth Element (1997)
The Fifth Element’s costumes were created by director Luc Besson and fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, and they were specifically designed to look totally out of this world. For example, Milla Jovovich – who played Leeloo – was given a dress that looked as though it was made completely out of bandages. And it seems that she had mixed feelings about it, too.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 1997, Jovovich said that she had found the costume “a bit embarrassing,” adding, “In the fashion world, most of the guys are gay, and they have the etiquette not to notice. But those English guys working on the set were whistling and stuff.” She continued, “My character’s all about what’s inside. It’s not really about her clothes.”
12. Jennifer Garner’s red corset, Elektra (2005)
Elektra saw Jennifer Garner reprising her role as the titular superhero – despite apparently dying in previous movie Daredevil. But while the makers of the follow-up promised that Elektra would have a more comics-accurate costume the second time around, that wasn’t actually the case.
In a 2005 interview with the BBC, Garner discussed Elektra’s outfit and said, “I knew the comic book fans weren’t happy with her wearing black in Daredevil. So, it was important for her to be in red.” Those involved in making the attire perhaps should have been less focused on the color, however, and more alert to it looking like cheap underwear.
11. Bryce Dallas Howard’s heels, Jurassic World (2015)
After the long-awaited Jurassic World came out, fans were left with a question – and it wasn’t dinosaur- or even science-related. Instead, viewers pondered why Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire never took off her very impractical heels throughout the duration of the movie. And even while running from danger, she never twists her ankle or injures her feet in any way.
Howard herself didn’t agree with the criticism, though. In 2015 she told Yahoo!, “From a logical standpoint, I don’t think [Claire] would take off her heels… I’m better equipped to run when I have shoes on my feet. So, that’s my perspective on it. I don’t think she would carry around flats with her. I think she’s somebody who could sprint a marathon in heels.”
10. Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow suit, The Avengers (2012)
Spare a thought for the stars playing female superheroes, as they don’t always have it easy. During the press tour for The Avengers, Scarlett Johansson told Collider of her super-tight screen outfit, “It’s like 800 degrees in my costume… and it’s a unitard, and I have nothing underneath it!”
It seems, too, that Johansson was terrified of her Black Widow garb from the start. Speaking on Inside the Actors Studio in 2017, she said of the costume, “I mean, who wants to get into something like that? You just think, ‘Oh God, really? Couldn’t it have, like, I don’t know, some sort of a peplum skirt or something?’”
9. Carrie Fisher’s gold bikini, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
The whole Star Wars franchise is packed with amazing costumes, but perhaps none is more famous than the gold bikini Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia sports in Return of the Jedi. Fisher admitted to some trepidation about the outfit, though, saying on a 2016 episode of Fresh Air that when George Lucas showed her the item, “[she] thought he was kidding, and it made [her] very nervous.”
Still, there was an upside. Fisher continued, “What redeems [that scene] is I get to kill [Jabba the Hutt], which was so enjoyable. I sawed his neck off with that chain that I killed him with. I really relished that, because I hated wearing that outfit and sitting there rigid straight, and I couldn’t wait to kill him.”
8. Olivia Munn’s purple latex, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
Olivia Munn had been a big admirer of her X-Men character, Psylocke, before she was cast in the movie franchise. And the actress tried to make the superhero more than a costume. In 2016 she explained to Collider, “Just because [Psylocke’s] dressed like that, she’s not this promiscuous, slutty girl.”
Before getting into the outfit, though, Munn had to rub lubricant all over herself; even so, she still broke the latex. Then, once the movie was released, the look was panned, despite it adhering more or less to the comic books. In a movie that contained some pretty serious scenes, the ensemble was judged as looking both silly and far too sexy.
7. George Clooney’s Batsuit, Batman and Robin (1997)
Everything about Batman & Robin was a hilarious catastrophe. But if the script and comedic scenes were bad, the Batsuit was arguably even worse. For a start, George Clooney couldn’t get it off easily and thus had to pee in it. Also, it featured something not usually seen on superhero outfits: nipples.
And years later, the Bat-nipples are still mocked. Yet director Joel Schumacher has stood by his decision. For the 2005 documentary Shadows of the Bat: The Cinematic Saga of the Dark Knight he said, “The bodies for the suits — the inspiration for them are Greek statues that have perfect bodies. It never occurred to me not to put nipples on the men’s suits because I didn’t know the male nipple was a controversial body part.”
6. Emma Watson’s pink dress, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)
Emma Watson’s Hermione wore a pink dress during the Yule Ball scenes in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. But while this was a perfectly appropriate outfit, fans of the franchise weren’t happy. You see, in the source material, Hermione’s Yule Ball gown is periwinkle blue. Some even considered a pink version out of character.
The costume designer for the films thought differently, though. In 2017 Jany Temime told Cosmopolitan, “[Hermione] was a tough girl. She was a girl [who only hung out] with boys. And now she appears at the Yule Ball and she’s in pink. People look at her as being a girl – and a very pretty one, which was not established before.”
5. David Bowie’s pants, Labyrinth (1986)
For many adults who saw Labyrinth when it first came out, there was one pressing question: was David Bowie wearing a codpiece in the movie or not? But after one blogger scrutinized the issue in detail, apparently it seems likely that the star didn’t need any help in that department.
Yet while Labyrinth’s creators got into hot water for making Bowie’s bulge so obvious, they seem to have no regrets. In a 2016 interview with Empire, designer Brian Froud referred to the musical icon’s attire as “perv pants,” adding, “Every so often you go, ‘Oh, my God! How did we get away with that?!’”
4. The Amazon warrior armor, Justice League (2017)
The Amazon armor in Wonder Woman was refreshing, as it seemed like the kind of stuff a person could actually fight in. When images of the Amazons in Justice League were released, however, fans may have been dismayed to realize that their outfits were much skimpier by comparison.
Some even considered the armor change sexist. And Jessica Chastain appeared to agree, retweeting the pictures and writing, “Hey men, what would you wear to fight? Hint: don’t expose your vital organs. Ugh, I miss [Wonder Woman director] Patty Jenkins.” Still, the actresses portraying the Amazons actually revealed that they didn’t mind the new costumes.
3. Sacha Baron Cohen’s mankini, Borat (2006)
Not every movie costume is a literal crime in some places, but the infamous “mankini” from Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat could be. You see, in 2017 six Czech men were arrested for “minor hooliganism” after posing in the dubious swimwear in Kazakhstan’s capital. Kazakhstan is, of course, the very real place from which the fictional Borat hails.
Sacha Baron Cohen actually offered to assist the men, writing on Facebook, “To my Czech mates who were arrested: send me your details and proof that it was you, and I’ll pay your fine.” Still, as the people of Kazakhstan have mixed feelings on Cohen, you should probably avoid ever wearing a mankini for laughs in the country.
2. Karen Gillan’s skimpy costume, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
When the first pictures of the Jumanji sequel emerged in 2016, some weren’t impressed. While all of the male stars – Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black – were seen wearing sensible clothes in the photos, Karen Gillan was sporting an outfit that looked, at best, much too small for her. Gillan noted what was going on, though, and promised that there would be a payoff.
It turned out, you see, that the characters seen in the pictures were the video game personas that the main characters of the movie take on. In 2017 Gillan told the Evening Standard, “It looks absurd that the woman is dressed like that and then the men are covered — but that is exactly the trope that we were highlighting in 1990s video games. She’s meant to be like Lara Croft. That’s the reference – this ridiculous male fantasy.”
1. Sean Connery’s barely-there costume, Zardoz (1974)
Once he had hung up James Bond’s stylish tuxedo for good, Sean Connery decided to try something different – very different. Specifically, he took on the role of Zed in the bizarre sci-fi movie Zardoz, and Zed’s costume was little more than some bright red material to cover his modesty and boots that went up to his thighs.
Surprisingly, Connery apparently didn’t mind the outfit. When Vulture asked director John Boorman about the ensemble in 2014, he said that he had simply told the famously bad-tempered actor, “This is what you’ve got. This is what you’re going to wear.” And, supposedly, there was “never any argument” about it, either.
But if you think those outfits are strange, they’re nothing compared to the weird view Hollywood has of women. Yes, female characters are often seen on screen in bizarre situations that bear little resemblance to the stuff actual women go through. And throughout them all, their hair and makeup remain completely flawless to boot.
Although female-led films are on the rise, there’s still no accounting for how Hollywood often treats its heroines. It appears, you see, that screenwriters continue to fall back on stereotypes when depicting the fairer sex. After all, how many women do you know who can fight in high heels or run in pumps at a speed that would make Usain Bolt blush? How many sleep with full faces of makeup that mysteriously remain flawless even after hours of shut-eye? And is it realistic that most of the Disney princesses have dead, barely mentioned mothers? Well, those are just some of the many things that the movies get totally wrong about women.
20. Heroines are always gorgeous
Unfortunately, in most cases, women who want to make it in Hollywood have to be at least fairly good-looking. And as a result, characters who aren’t supposed to be pretty end up being played by drop-dead gorgeous actresses in film adaptations. Not only that, but any perceived physical flaws are either modified or ignored completely. Take Mortal Engines’ Hester Shaw, for instance; while the original book reveals that she has a very noticeable facial scar and only one eye, the movie version sees her with two eyes and a blemish that doesn’t really diminish her beauty.
More problematically, this occasionally applies to real-life people who are portrayed in biopics. And this was the case with Joan Clarke – the mathematics expert who appeared in The Imitation Game. You see, the actual Joan was said to not be particularly attractive; indeed, a co-worker once harshly described her as looking like “the back end of a bus.” In the movie, however, she was played by the very good-looking Keira Knightley. So, where’s the sense of reality?
19. Women can’t drive
Women are no worse at driving than men, and statistics bear that out. But if you paid attention to films – particularly older ones – you’d think that every woman at the wheel was a halfwit. What’s more, for all the expert female drivers in movies – not least Letty in the Fast and Furious franchise – jokes about lady motorists persist on screen.
Even the beloved family classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang falls prey to this stereotype. “If women want to drive motor cars, they should learn to operate one,” Caractacus Potts tells Truly Scrumptious at one point. Luckily, these days, a comment like that would probably be met with an eye-roll if not a pointed word or two.
18. Women wake up looking flawless
Movie women often seem to have some magical power that grants them the ability to wake up looking beautiful. In reality, though, this is rarely the case, as anyone who’s emerged from bed with messed-up hair and eye gunk will tell you. And the notion of waking up with lipstick still on and perfectly applied would be laughable to most women – not least because the cosmetics would have likely rubbed off onto the pillow.
Fortunately, this trope is being subverted a little now. In hit animation Frozen, for instance, Anna wakes up looking a complete mess – just as most women do. Then there’s the fact that men in films also occasionally emerge from slumber with not a hair out of place as well as a noticeable absence of beard stubble. Maybe it’s time to follow the animators’ lead?
17. Women can turn evil when they lose a man
There’s a particular stereotype in film that involves a woman’s life revolving entirely around a man. And when the female character inevitably loses her object of her affections, she goes off the rails and may even try to murder him. Fatal Attraction gave audiences a word to describe this person: “the bunny boiler,” after a crime that Glenn Close’s character commits in that movie.
It should be noted, though, that other films have used the “bunny boiler” stereotype and run with it. My Super Ex-Girlfriend for example, jazzed up the trope by giving the obsessive woman superpowers. Yet Glenn Close regrets that she helped spawn the concept. In 2017 she told The New York Times that the ending of Fatal Attraction “[made] a character [she] loved into a murdering psychopath.”
16. Women don’t discuss things other than men
There’s a particular threshold for film critics called the Bechdel Test, which was named after its creator, Alison Bechdel. And for a film to pass the test, two or more named female characters need to talk about something other than a man. Yet while this bar may seem rather low, a surprisingly large number of films – even the Twilight movies – don’t clear it.
Yes, plenty of female-led films that are otherwise critically acclaimed still flunk the Bechdel Test – although some are on the borderline. La La Land, for instance, is thought by some to fail on a technicality, as most of its female characters are only named in the credits. So, if you’re an aspiring screenwriter, avoid this doom by making sure that you properly flesh out the women in your work.
15. Every woman wants to be a mother
Motherhood is hard, of course, and mothers are naturally worthy of respect. Not every woman wants kids, though, and that decision should be respected, too. Alas, movies often fall short in this regard. You see, women who are at best neutral towards having children often end up with babies by the time that the credits roll. And this even tends to apply to those who flat-out announce that they will never have children.
Jurassic World falls victim to this trope via the character of Claire, who initially says that she’s not sure she wants children. But her sister claims that she’ll ultimately change her mind, and by the end Claire is a surrogate parent to her nephews. The movie came under quite a lot of fire for this plot point, too, with some saying that the storyline was downright sexist. The fact that the film’s other non-motherly character, Zara, gets eaten by a dinosaur didn’t really help matters, either.
14. Unequal attractiveness doesn’t work both ways
Another tried-and-tested movie trope sees a relatively unattractive man married to a stunningly beautiful woman – although Hollywood standards usually mean that the male in question isn’t eye-searingly ugly. It’s the sort of thing that usually gets a laugh, too, especially if there’s a more classically handsome guy around. Mark Wahlberg’s character almost explodes in The Other Guys, for example, when he sees that the wife of Will Ferrell’s cop is played by Eva Mendes.
Meanwhile, the opposite state of affairs ?— average-looking woman with extremely attractive man ?— is hardly ever shown on screen. This, of course, is just not true to life, as relationships that last into marriage tend to be based on things other than just looks. And while Hairspray somewhat subverts the trope when plus-size Nikki Blonsky’s Tracy Turnblad gets with Zac Efron’s Link Larkin, Blonsky is far from unattractive herself.
13. Women often get hysterical
Many moons ago, the ancient Greeks believed that the uterus moved around a woman’s body, with this process subsequently bringing on uncontrollable hysteria. And while medical science certainly knows better now, the trope of the hysterical woman still persists on screen – especially in horror movies. Remember the Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer franchises?
The hysterical female character is usually a burden and annoyance to the people around her, too, with a slap to the face seen as the – obviously problematic – remedy. At least the whole stereotype is neatly lampooned in Airplane!, which sees people literally line up to snap a woman out of hysteria – and using sillier and sillier weapons as they go.
12. Childbirth is a cakewalk
You’d never guess that childbirth is actually agony from watching certain movies. When Luke and Leia are born during Star Wars film Revenge of the Sith, for instance, there’s no blood, while their mother, Padme, still looks pretty well made-up throughout, too. But, to be fair, there are some pretty good reasons for this cliché.
Back in Hollywood’s Golden Age, you see, it was forbidden by the Hays Code to show childbirth at all. And, let’s be honest, it does take quite a strong viewer to be able to stomach certain parts of the process. At least Children of Men shows a baby entering the world in a rather realistic manner, although that may make some wince.
11. Slim women are actually fat
The media is often accused of creating negative body images in women and girls, and movies can probably take at least some of that blame. For example, in The Devil Wears Prada the slender Anne Hathaway’s character is damned as being “fat.” And seeing a size six being labeled in this way may just have an effect on impressionable girls.
Even cozy romcom Love Actually sees this kind of body shaming, with Martine McCutcheon’s character, Natalie, called “plumpy” by her own dad. Yet McCutcheon defended the film’s script to Cosmopolitan in 2017. “Every woman thinks there’s something wrong with them when in actual fact… they are perfect and lovely as they are,” she said. “[Natalie] was meant to be the embodiment of that.”
10. Women can’t take showers normally
Women in movies don’t tend to just go about the normal business of getting themselves clean in showers. Instead, they tend to behave as if they know perfectly well that cameras are there and that others are watching. And such scenes aren’t typically intended to reveal that, yes, a woman takes care of her bodily hygiene, either; instead, they’re so the audience can see her almost naked.
The uber-example of this is of course the famous shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, with its subtext of voyeurism and sex having been analyzed by film critics for years. However, when Janet Leigh filmed that scene, she was definitely wearing clothes – despite any assertions to the contrary. “Because the cutting was so fast and accompanied by that music, you’re, like, ‘By God, I saw her nude,’” Leigh told journalist Ed Gross in 1984.
9. Hair and makeup always stay put
The creation of the kick-butt action girl seems to have posed something of a conundrum to filmmakers. After all, people who are fighting tend not to look particularly pretty by the end; they’ll sweat for a start, and they may be covered in blood, too. Their makeup certainly won’t hold either. But as female leads should also be beautiful at all times, what to do? Well, just dishevel the hair slightly and make sure that any injuries a heroine incurs are small!
Even Princess Leia is not immune from this trope. During the first Star Wars film, she goes through a lot — imprisonment, danger and peril – and yet her hair, face and outfit all remain virtually flawless. How on Earth did those buns stay intact?
8. Women care too deeply about their nails
It’s a familiar scene: when an action heroine comes straight out of a fight, all she notices is that she’s broken a nail. Temple of Doom’s Willie Scott and Batman Returns’ Catwoman are among those leading ladies who bother themselves with a trivial concern that no real woman would be thinking of in the moment.
And while there are legitimate reasons for a woman to freak out over breaking a nail – the resulting pain, perhaps, or fear of the risk of an infection – you won’t see such matters discussed much in films. Instead, this cliché is used mostly to highlight the vanity of the female character in question.
7. Most stepmothers are wicked
It’s true that children who have lost their mother may feel that their father’s new partner is trying to replace her. And as a result, kids may well see their stepmom as evil. Yet, of course, stepmothers are typically far from horrendous ogres in real life – despite what big-screen fairy tales may suggest.
Yes, in Cinderella and Snow White, the respective stepmothers have their work cut out for them – or, at least, they certainly do when it comes to earning children’s trust. Luckily, there are still several films that celebrate non-biological parents. Disney’s Enchanted – a parody of the House of Mouse’s own princess movies – even has the main character becoming a stepmother.
6. Younger women always date older men
A number of actresses have spoken out about the inherent ageism of Hollywood. In 2015, for instance, Maggie Gyllenhaal told The Wrap that at 37 she’d been dismissed for a role in which she would portray a 55-year-old man’s lover. Rather astonishingly, though, she was considered suitable to be the romantic interest to a then 65-year-old Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. And that’s by far the only example of a woman being paired with a man decades her senior.
Plus, when an age-appropriate couple comes along, they raise eyebrows. When Monica Bellucci was cast in Spectre, for example, the media expressed some astonishment that an “older woman” had scooped a Bond girl role – despite the actress only being three years Daniel Craig’s senior. It was largely business as usual, though, as the other two Bond girls in the film were each a couple of decades younger than Craig.
5. It’s not hard to fight in a skimpy outfit
When female superheroes are dressed up as eye candy, audiences don’t always follow. Catwoman saw Halle Berry forced into a truly ridiculous and highly impractical costume, for instance, and yet the movie was a complete box-office bomb. Yet studios still persist in ensuring that kick-butt women fight while scantily clad.
After Olivia Munn was cast as Psylocke in X-Men: Apocalypse, however, she explicitly chose to wear the clingy leotard that her character sports in comic books. “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,” the star told Collider in 2016. Even so, a one-piece is more practical in battle than Catwoman’s bra and pants.
4. Mothers are simply forgotten
Look closely at Disney movies, and you’ll find something curious: Pocahontas, The Little Mermaid’s Ariel and Aladdin’s Jasmine, to name only a few, are all motherless. And while sometimes late moms are mentioned in passing, these losses have little bearing on the stories being told. It’s almost as though Disney heroines never think about their mothers, in fact.
Nevertheless, it seems that Disney has got the memo, as many of its more recent princess characters have moms that are still alive. And in the live-action remakes of Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, the previously barely remarked upon dead mothers are finally talked about on screen, too.
3. High heels are practical
Rather weirdly, big-screen female warriors who are otherwise sensibly dressed will wear high heels into battle. But why? They’re difficult to walk in, let alone fight in. And perhaps the most bizarre example of this phenomenon comes via 2015 blockbuster Jurassic World, in which Bryce Dallas Howard somehow manages to run away from a T. rex while in pumps that are several inches high.
Still, this trope was given a neat twist in The Dark Knight Rises. In the superhero flick, Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman is mockingly asked by a goon, “Those heels make it hard to walk?” She responds, however, by disabling him with a stiletto boot and then replying, “I don’t know. Do they?”
2. Women don’t have body hair
Even in movies that are seemingly tailor-made for female audiences, women don’t seem to ever have unshaven armpits or legs. In certain ways this is true to real life, of course, but on occasion the smoothness really stands out. Some fans have questioned, for example, why Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman has no body hair – not least because she was shielded from such societal pressures when growing up.
But this particular screen cliché may slowly be phased out. At the very least, Domino from Deadpool 2 openly sports armpit hair, with this coming at the suggestion of actress Zazie Beetz. Only time will tell, then, whether filmmakers let their stars follow in Beetz’s lead.
1. Most women are fine with stalking
Yes, Hollywood movies have implied that stalking and coercive control are perfectly legit ways of proving your devotion. In Passengers, for instance, Chris Pratt’s character Jim decides that he wants to share his life with Jennifer Lawrence’s attractive space colonist. How does he achieve this? By essentially trapping her on a ship with him without her consent. Yikes.
And there’s yet more harassment presented as romance in The Notebook. At one point in the beloved weepie, Ryan Gosling’s Noah warns that he will kill himself if Rachel McAdams’ Allie doesn’t go out with him. Now that’s a big red flag, to say the least. But that’s not all, either; Noah also writes Allie a letter every single day even though she doesn’t want to talk to him. In real life, though, if you ever encounter a Noah or a Jim, run for the hills.