They’ve Got the Look: Inspiration for Sci-Fi Characters

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While these five characters had various inspirations for their personalities and purpose, their specific looks have a clear precedent.

01 joker laughs

The Joker was based on Gwynplaine from The Man Who Laughs: When Bob Kane needed to come up with the iconic look of the Batman’s soon-to-be arch nemesis, he took inspiration from the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs, starring Conrad Veidt. For those unfamiliar with Veidt, he played the first-ever film zombie in the silent classic The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1920), and was also Jaffar in the live-action adaptation of Aladdin, called The Thief of Bagdad (1940). The film tells the story of Gwynplaine, the son of an executed 17th century nobleman, whose face is ‘altered’ (cut up) by gypsies. Taken in by a travelling actor, he grows up to become a clown, but he still can’t escape enemies from his family’s past. 

01 lightning vader

Darth Vader’s Look was inspired by “the Lightning”: The greatest movie villain ever was designed after the bad guy from a forgotten, obscure movie serial from 1938. The 12-part Republic Studios serial, The Fighting Devil Dogs was about two heroic US marines who try to stop the costumed mad genius known as “The Lightning”, who can control lightning and plans to use it as a weapon to help him conquer the world.

01 McMurray Marvel

Captain Marvel(Shazam) was modeled after Fred McMurray: The character of the original Captain Marvel—mostly known as Shazam these days—was introduced by Fawcett Comics in 1939, to cash in on the popularity of Superman, who debuted a year earlier. (DC would successfully sue Fawcett for copying Superman, eventually bringing the character into the DC universe.) Artist C.C. Beck modeled the hero after his favorite actor, Fred McMurray, a popular actor who stared in films like Double Indemnity, the Caine Mutiny and the Absent-Minded Professor, as well as the sit-com My Three Sons.

01 spock namor

Mr. Spock’s appearance was based on the Sub-Mariner: Mr. Spock is one of my favorite sci-fi characters, and the best written crew member in classic Star Trek. In order to give him a non-human appearance that wasn’t too expensive to create on a weekly basis, the make-up men behind Star Trek took inspiration from the comic book character Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who debuted in Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics) in 1939.

01 wonder womans outfit

The new Wonder Woman’s updated look was based on Xena: Of course, the character of Wonder Woman was around long before Lucy Lawless ever picked up a sword to play Xena: Warrior Princess, which ran from 1995-2001. However, the original Wonder Woman had a very different outfit from the newest film version. When Gal Gadot’s version of Wonder Woman made it to the screen, they decided to go with a more Greco-Roman theme, inspired by Xena.