best movie costumes of all time

The 10 Best Movie Costumes Of All Time

In Cosplay Costumes Central by Caleb

Many of the greatest, most memorable films have remained etched in the minds of audiences everywhere because of, at least in part, the costumes. Costume making is an art form of its own, one which deserves its own recognition — which is why there is an Oscar Award for “Best Costume Design”. Below is a list of the best costumes ever to have been worn on film.

The ten best movie costumes of all time are:

  • Mad Max’s Warrior Costume
  • Moulin Rouge’s Hindi Sad Diamonds Dance Costume
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark’s Explorer Outfit
  • Black Swan’s Odile Ballerina Costume
  • The Dark Night’s Purple Suit Outfit
  • Edward Scissorhand;s Black Outfit
  • Cleopatra’s Golden Queen Outfit
  • Star Wars’ Black Life Suite And Mask
  • Memoirs of a Geisha’s Golden Silk Flower Dress
  • Gone with the Wind’s Burgundy Ball Gown

But how will we decide? One method would be to simply pick from the Oscar winners for costume design and, though that will be taken into account, that is not how we are going to ultimately decide.

The Top 10 Best Movie Costumes Of All Time

A great costume is more than just exquisite colors, fabrics, and knitting; it is also about how memorable the costume is, and what it shows us about the characters that wear them. The criteria for assembling the list is as follow:

I. Style and Uniqueness

 This governs the intrinsic creativity, beauty, and awe that a costume is made with and that it inspires in its viewers. This category determines how complete and, quite literally, awesome a given costume is.

II. Iconicness

There’s a reason that the costumes from some characters in some movies dominate the face of cinematic history. Iconicness is judged by cultural impact, how memorable something is, and it represents how well a story is received by the audience — as well as setting a trend for the things will be from then on.

III. Revealing Character & Story

A costume is only as great as it helps to reveal who the character is who wears it. Perhaps being one of the more underrated aspects of costume design, taking into account films who portray complex and rich characters, a great costume will help to communicate to the audience who and what the character is. This complicated aspect of costume design deserves ample recognition.

III. Revealing Character & Story

A costume is only as great as it helps to reveal who the character is who wears it. Perhaps being one of the more underrated aspects of costume design, taking into account films who portray complex and rich characters, a great costume will help to communicate to the audience who and what the character is. This complicated aspect of costume design deserves ample recognition.

Based on these criteria, we will present a list of the top 10 best costumes of all time (with a little bonus list at the end). These costumes range from the most immersive sci-fi and fantasy, to historical pieces, to blockbuster films that took cinema by storm.

10. Warrior Costume, Mad Max: Fury Road, Imperator Furiosa

It’s hard to pull off a look that is exactly right. When you think of a story and a time and place, sometimes those two things come together perfectly. This is no doubt the case with Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Mad Max.

A dirt soaked, beat up warrior outfit with a weaponized prosthetic arm, leather shoulder pad, complete with light armor and belts. It doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to the gritty action pic genre.

9. Hindi Sad Diamonds Dance Costume, Moulin Rouge, Satine

There is no shortage of stunning costumes in the 2001 Moulin Rouge film — perhaps none more iconic than the scarlett red dress — but the costume worn during the Hindi Sad Diamonds dance sequence is more intricate and aesthetically rich.

Satine dons a sparkling lace top and a sliced ocean blue skirt with a jewel filled headdress that radiates in even the darkest room. This Indian inspired costume is one of the more breathtaking costumes in recent film history and stands amidst a movie with awesome costume design.              

8. Explorer Outfit, Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Indiana Jones

If you heard that someone was wearing a brown leather jacket, a tan button down shirt with the first couple buttons undone, a pair of khakis, a dark brown 10-gallon hat, a leather satchel connected by a strap going cross chest, a holster drooping just below the belt line, and holding a brown bullwhip in one of his hands, who would you guess it is?

Indiana Jones dignifies the look of the restless adveraturer, always seeking the treasured price, and always resourceful in even the most dire situation.

7. Odile Ballerina Costume, Black Swan, Nina Sayers (The Swan Queen)

Dark, a little creepy, and mesmerizing — these are true for both the film and Natalie Portman’s donning costume in Black Swan.

With the bird-like makeup drawn back by the dark lines resembling wings, with the laced mask around her face, and the black ballerina skirt whose appearance seems like it belongs in an Edgar Allen Poe poem, the Odile costume has stuck in the minds of audiences everywhere in this taught psychological examination of obsession and art.

6. Purple Suit Outfit, The Dark Knight, The Joker

Nolan’s Batman trilogy is a site to many spectualur costumes from Bane to Scarecrow to the Dark Knight himself; but the royal purple hue of Joker’s costume is layered with complexity and intrigue.

Past Joker portrayals have steered into the clown aspect of the Joker’s history, but — save the makeup — the carefully detailed and iconic Ledger portrayal is darker, and is complicated by the deep purples, greens, grays, and blacks that make up his — can we say? — fashionable dress.

5. Black Outfit, Edward Scissorhands, Edward

Black is not always the color worn by the evil lords and sorcerers; sometimes it is worn by the chronically misunderstood.

The “constructed man”, with a scared pale face, wolverine-esk sharp scissor knives for hands, belts and buckles securing his tight leather outfit, and a bush of loose hair, Edward’s outfit and appearance produces endless intrigue and a deep sympathy for the mysterious character.

4. Golden Queen Outfit, Cleopatra (the film), Cleopatra

Some historical figures carry a reputation of being “larger than life”; and as a full golden jeweled outfit with robes that resemble eagles wings will attest to, Cleopatra fulfills everything and more that this historical figure stood for and is remembered as.

The golden costume represents Cleopatra’s power and grace, and the audience gets the feeling that Taylor not only is Cleopatra, but carries a frightening amount of self-assurance and capability behind shining robes.

3. Black Life Suite And Mask, Star Wars, Darth Vader

Most any costume in the Stars World deserves a place on an all-time costume list, from the simple Jedi robes that inspire a tantric ambience, to all the strange creatures with strange costumes, and even — yes — to Leia’s famous bronze captive bikini costume, Star Wars has it all. But none is more iconic than the suite worn by the Sith Lord, Darth Vader.

Having a villain dressed in a black outfit and a complete mask is nothing new; and a lot of movies elect to have their villains hidden in this way. But when you talk about who and what set the standard, in addition to being able to carry a traumatic emotional narrative behind the mask, Darth Vader is the exemplar of how to do a terrifying and deeply mysterious villain through costume design.

2. Golden Silk Flower Dress, Memoirs Of A Geisha, Sayuri

Memoirs Of A Geisha is home to a number of exoctic and delightfully intricate costumes. The light gold and red flower dress that Sayuri wears with her white makeup and purple flower in her hair is a testament to the breathtaking potential that that design can produce.

The dress could be simple enough, but the layers added with the red undergarment and the subtle addition of the flower and trees make it rich with detail. The film that already stands out for the high level of aesthetic taste, the golden flower dress is soothing to the eyes.

1. Burgundy Ball Gown, Gone With The Wind, Scarlett O’Hara

Sometimes great costumes are accompanied by one of the most acclaimed and culturally impactful films of all time. The beautiful, intelligent, yet conceited Scarlett is expressed wonderfully in the majestic red dress she wears in Gone With The Wind.

The dress hugs her skin tightly, is detailed by intricate asymmetrical feather shoulder pads which give an exoctic vibe, a revealing neckline, and all of which give off something of a royal air. The costume is completed by a mesh tulle shawl around her arms and long red gloves. Though perhaps not the most famous of the many outfits Scarlett wears, the outfit matches her and her memorable character like few other things can.

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3 Movies With Crazy Elaborate Movie Costumes

For the bonus, we are going to focus on movies that, collectively, really took it all the way in terms of costume design. Some of the movies we mentioned above could definitely qualify for this list too — Cleopatra, Memoirs Of A Geisha, and Moulin Rouge in particular — but we are going to pick three different, well deserving movies for this list to keep things fresh and deserve some special recognition for the sublimity of their costumes.

3. The Great Gatsby(s)

It’s no secret that both Redford’s a Dicaprio’s Gatsby each one an Oscar for costume design. Though it might be cheating just a tad, we are going to include both to kick the most elaborate movie costumes.

They both bring the spirit of the roaring 20’s to life — Dicaprio’s perhaps even more so — with the dash of vibrant, heavenly colors, clean pressed fabrics, and delightful, character-revealing costumes. They smell of a place that is just slightly too good to be true and, as the story reminds us before the end: some things don’t last forever and, if they do, they aren’t real.

2. The Lord Of The Rings

What costume list would we complete without mentioning the LOTR trilogy? Before every director used ample amounts of CGI (thank Peter Jackson for the Hobbit trilogy), there were costume designers that made hundreds, if not thousands, of equally detailed costumes that beautifully completed characters, and that immersed us seamlessly into the story.

The standard for excellent sci-fi and fantasy and costumes is measured, in particular, by how much they either distract or help us engage with the story. It’s hard to argue that the Lord of the Rings trilogy did anything but imprint a unique and memorable epic story within us that will not easily be forgotten or topped any time soon.

1. Shakespeare In Love

If you are going to have a conversion about bringing a time period to life, Shakespeare In Love simply has to be mentioned. Within dozens of intricate and telling pieces, from De Lesseps golden and silver wedding gown, complete with detailed emblems interwoven fabrics, to the ambitious flowering crown costume, to even the laced sea blue and silver dress, there’s are so many magnificent displays of a time in history long forgotten.

Shakespear himself dons a range of simple dark tunics to gold threaded royal blue shirts. This movie is a spectacle of design.

There are so many films who deserve to be recognized for the professional costume work that is put into them. This is simply a list among many, and the great thing about fashion is that the “best” is always open for interpretation.