The Greatest Halloween Costumes in Pop Culture


Halloween is inarguably one of the best times of year—a holiday where you can become anyone for a whole day? Sign us up! But we’re not the only ones who enjoy passing ourselves off as other people. It’s not at all uncommon for fictional characters to take the time to dress up and party on All Hallow’s Eve, too! With that in mind, here are some favorite moments where science fiction/fantasy characters wore costumes on Halloween….


E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial

If your little sister is Drew Barrymore, then you definitely need to showcase her in an adorable cowgirl costume for Halloween festivities. The suburban backdrop of E.T. gave Steven Spielberg the perfect excuse to round up kids in homemade getups. But what’s truly special about the choice to set this tale during a hallowed time of year is how it provided Elliott with some eminently appropriate attire to go sailing in front of the moon on his bike. Can you imagine that iconic silhouette without his cape trailing behind him? I think not.


Stranger Things

Sometimes the costumes tell their own story. The action of Stranger Things’ first season is wrapped up in time for Christmas. When the second season begins the following fall, the good people of Hawkins don’t understand that they’re still in a horror series—they think everything’s gone back to normal. Celebrating Halloween should be a fun, normal activity, right? But when the big day arrives and Will, Mike, Lucas, and Dustin show up as Ghostbusters, they discover that, by some unspoken pubescent agreement, none of the other kids have dressed up. But that’s not all: Joyce Byers made Will’s costume by hand, and boy does it show! The other boys look sharp in their (way-too-slick-for-the-’80s) costumes, but Mike and Lucas get in an argument about why, exactly, Mike thinks Lucas has to be Winston Zeddemore.

Meanwhile in the other plot, Eleven’s outsider status is highlighted when she campaigns to go trick-or-treating as a ghost…just like E.T. When Hopper says no, it makes it clearer than ever that Eleven may never get to have a “normal” life.


The Nightmare Before Christmas

So it’s arguably always Halloween in Halloween Town, and the people who live there aren’t really in costumes. That is, unless you count the finest trick-or-treaters: Lock, Shock, and Barrel. What makes these costumes so genius is that their masks are really just masks of their actual faces. That’s like swimming in a pool of irony and then proceeding to drink from the Irony Fountain. Plus, it’s really hard not to love that trio—they sing fabulously together, travel by clawed-foot bathtub, and manage to trap Santa (not to mention the Easter Bunny) in a Hefty bag.


Bob’s Burgers

Louise undoubtedly has the most hyperactive imagination of anyone in her family, but we still perhaps didn’t see her Edward Scissorhands costume coming in Season 3’s “Full Bars.” Particularly not with the “actual scissors for hands” part. Sure it made digging through candy bowls a little difficult, but it was totally worth it. Points also to Tina’s terrible punning with her “Mommy Mummy” costume, and Gene’s wildly obscure recreation of Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y. ensemble.


Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Screenshot: WB

There were three Halloween episodes throughout Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s run, and while they’re all pretty amusing, we might have to give the edge to “Fear, Itself.” Dressing the Slayer up as Little Red Riding Hood when you consider her day job is a stroke of genius (and gets points for practicality since she can carry all sorts of dangerous goodies in her basket). Willow as Joan of Arc is another excellent costume for the Scoobie team—yay for chainmail!


Hocus Pocus

All Hallow’s Eve isn’t all fun and games; it’s also the perfect cover for all sorts of unsavory characters. When the Sanderson Sisters come back from the dead that night, it doesn’t turn any heads because…well, let’s face it, they just look like three ladies who had fun raiding the Ren Faire for some knockout semi-historical costumes. They fool everyone well enough to perform an inpromptu concert featuring a song that was produced about 200 years after their deaths, with no one the wiser. (Maybe they’ve been listening from beyond the grave? I’d say they were hanging out with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins in the afterlife, but he was alive when this movie hit screens.) Of course, little Dani’s witch costume is utterly precious, and Allison’s initial Ye Olde Dress of Fabulousness isn’t anything to be scoffed at either. It would have been fun if she had remained in it for the rest of the film, though, however impractical that might have been.



Screenshot: NBC

Frasier has spent this spooky season looking out at various terrifying videogames, but long before that he and Niles were surprisingly game for dressing up. Or at least they were when the library budget was on the line. In Season Five’s “Halloween”, Niles hosts a benefit for the Library Association and requests that all the guest come as their favorite literary heroes. This leads to Frasier and Daphne going with a deeply nerdy platonic couple costume of Geoffrey Chaucer and the Wife of Bath, Martin Crane insisting on Sherlock Holmes despite Niles’ protestations that Lord Peter Wimsey is just as good, Niles himself donning a fake nose to be Cyrano de Bergerac, and Roz being a fucking icon as O, from The Story of O. And as usual there’s some hilarious miscommunication because Frasier and Niles are fools, and it’s great.



Community was known for dressing its characters up in ridiculous costumes even when Halloween was months away, so the stakes are higher when the holiday arrives. The show went to new heights in season 2’s “Epidemiology.” When Troy sheds his sexy Dracula costume and finally shows up in the Aliens loader frame that Sigourney Weaver made famous to save Greendale College from student zombies? We just fall in love all over again.


Homestar Runner

This genius web cartoon series (can we call it a series? It’s not exactly apropos, but nothing else seems to fit) was known for a variety of shorts, but the cartoons they created for the holidays were always a bit extra special, and the Halloween jaunts were extra extra special because every character dressed up. One of the best was “The House That Gave Sucky Treats,” where you could choose what candies (or apples or pocket change) to give to each member of the Homestar crew. Costumes that year included Pom Pom as Michael Moore, King of Town as Hagar the Horrible, Strong Sad as Andy Warhol, da Cheat as the Hawaiian Punch guy, Homestar as The Greatest American Hero, and Strong Bad as Carmen San Diego. You should go play it right now.


Simpsons, Treehouse of Horror

Screenshot: Fox / Disney

Until the advent of the Belcher family, The Simpsons provided the greatest example of how to do Halloween. Each Treehouse of Horror episode contains beloved horror parodies, but several also feature the characters in costume: Lisa eschewing mobility to prioritize “the noble Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest”, Marge as the Bride of Frankenstein, Martin as Calliope (the muse of heroic poetry!), Milhouse as the Flash, and, my personal favorite, Bart making the subtext text by dressing as Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange. Perfection.


Donnie Darko

Image: Newmarket Films

If you had seen Frank the Bunny any time outside of Halloween, is there a chance in hell that you wouldn’t run screaming from the scene? That mask has become an icon all its own, perhaps gaining more recognition than the film itself. And then there’s Donnie’s skeleton costume, a pretty apt figure for him to assume when you consider the events of the film and what is in store for his character…as though Donnie is already dead and simply doesn’t know it. Ooh, just got chills.


New Girl

New Girl’s Halloween episode is a fun culmination of a bunch of the show’s themes: Jess feels adrift as a single person, and still can’t figure out what she wants in a relationship; Schmitty can’t get over Cece; Winston has maybe overcommitted to a safe relationship that isn’t really working; and Nick can’t even commit to a decent costume, instead wearing bee antennae and a t-shirt haphazardly sharpied with the name “Arthur”. (Get it?) (Also, for those playing along at home, I’m very much a Nick.) All of this emotional stuff comes out while Jess is awkwardly working at a haunted house—but the important part is that Jess has thrown herself into her role as a zombie, and looks incredible. Cece’s a bride, Robby is Raphael (the ninja turtle, not the painter), Winston’s a cop, Shelby is going as the high concept “Reigning Cats and Dogs” (a crown, a scepter, a cape with plush kitties and puppies sewn on, it does NOT work), Schmidt starts out in a bow tie and three-piece suit claiming to be Abe Lincoln (but really he wants to look like the groom to Cece’s bride), then transforms into Magic Mike-era Matthew McConaughey by removing the pants, keeping the vest, and borrowing a cowboy hat from a kid.

Really, everyone but Nick (ugh, Nick!) gets into the spirit of Halloween, even if their romantic lives are a shambles.


Freaks and Geeks

While boys often unjustly get flak for associating themselves with anything feminine at all, Bill Haverchuck showed no shame in dressing up as the Bionic Woman for Halloween in the episode “Tricks and Treats”… and then got bullied along with his friends for his trouble. (Which had more to do with the fact that they were trick-or-treating as high school freshman and already had said bully on their case, but it’s still unfortunate.) The scene where he arranges the costume has a reverence to it, hilarious and also poignant in the way Freaks and Geeks excelled at. We only wish more boys and men out there were dressing up as the Bionic Woman every year.


It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

The Peanuts holiday specials have always been fan favorites, and have a tendency to be startlingly moving. The Great Pumpkin outing is no exception, with Linus’s stalwart belief fueling a night-long stakeout in the pumpkin patch. Despite Lucy’s violent insistence that her brother is wrong for putting his faith in the pumpkin, she removes him from the field after he has fallen asleep and tucks him in bed. Then there’s Charlie Brown’s awful evening of trick-or-treating: every house they visit gives him a rock. Fans were so upset by his poor treatment that people from all over the world sent Charles Schultz boxes of candy for Charlie Brown.



Farscape, Kansas, Halloween

Screenshot: Syfy / Jim Henson Company

In Farscape’s 4th season there was a lot of dallying on Earth, but in “Kansas” it was for once entirely accidental…well, accidentally back in time. The crew got flung to the 1980s around Halloween, when John Crichton was still a teenager. As with E.T. and Hocus Pocus, the festivities provided the perfect cover for a gang of aliens, but they dressed up even so, figuring it would help them fit it. Chiana wound up in a clownish dress, D’Argo in a sports jersey, and Aeryn donned a 60s-style combo that made John exclaim, “You look like Cher!” Inevitably, culture clashes took place, with Chiana thinking that the middle finger was a common Earth greeting, Aeryn learning English from Sesame Street, and Rygel getting a serious high off of Halloween candy.


Parks and Rec

Another show that always put on excellent Halloween episodes—especially for the couples costumes. But my favorite has to be Ben and Leslie’s Princess Bride gear in the sixth season’s “Recall Vote.” Leslie was in a rough place that Halloween, having just been recalled from Pawnee’s city council, and she and Ben almost made the mistake of getting drunken tattoos after deciding that they’d both peaked in life. Luckily, Ann Perkins was on call to stop them, and Westley and Buttercup got home safe.



Nathan Fillion hasn’t graced our television screens as Captain Malcolm Reynolds for over a decade now, and while everyone is sad about that, we did manage to get the next best thing: Castle episode “Vampire Weekend” where Fillion’s eponymous writer, Richard Castle, dressed up in a set of familiar duds for Halloween, and got stuck explaining the term “space cowboy” to his incredulous daughter. Swoon.



What are your favorite costumes for fictional characters? Let’s rack up the list!

An earlier version of this post originally appeared on October 29, 2012.


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