By Annie Kim

Last Updated: October 13, 2021

Most Popular Costumes: Halloween 2021

Prepare to see a lot of “Squid Game" contestants, Scarlet Witches, and a few spooky skeletons on October 31.

As commerce and communities continue to recover from Covid-19, Halloween 2021 is poised to be a breakout celebration. Caution is still required, but top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, recently encouraged Americans to get outside and enjoy trick-or-treating this year.

Consumers are expected to spend a record $10 billion on the holiday as participation rebounds from last year’s limited festivities, but will they be dressing in costumes? Turns out, more than half of adults are eager to don their disguises this October 31.

We set out to discover what costume trends will prevail this year, so we asked over 1,200 adults what outfits they’ve planned for Halloween. We found that traditional costumes, like witches and ghosts, are still classic and popular choices, but many other people were influenced by movies and television characters.

Assessing the assortment of Americans’ costumes is particularly fun and informative. Individuals display their fandom and fantasies, while our collective choices hold a mirror to society and put a finger on the pulse of pop culture. Read on to see how popular your costume might be on October 31.

Key Findings

  • More than half of people plan to dress up in costumes this Halloween. Only 9 percent haven’t decided what they’ll wear.
  • 38 percent of all costumes are based on pop culture figures, possibly reflecting pandemic conditions that increased our immersion into TV shows, movies, and video games.
  • 11 percent of Americans will dress as superheroes or supervillains, with DC characters proving slightly more popular than Marvel.
  • 58 percent of adults are planning a coordinated costume with friends or family, indicating a strong desire for camaraderie after Covid-19 canceled most Halloween 2020 plans.

Overview

Out of the more than 1,200 people we asked, 56 percent said they were definitely wearing a costume this Halloween. Movie, TV, and video game characters dominated the results, accounting for nearly half of all costumes. Traditional Halloween costumes remain popular and were chosen by 14 percent of the public. Animals and celebrities also supplied significant inspiration, while current event costumes hardly registered at all.

As the holiday quickly approaches, 9 percent of people who plan to dress up are still unsure what to wear. If you’re in that group and looking for ideas, pay attention. The most popular selections were:

Top Costumes by Gender
Overall Women Men
1. Witch/Wizard Witch Batman
2. Pirate Fairy Ghost
3. Vampire Wanda Maximoff (Scarlet Witch) Spiderman
4. Skeleton Vampire Skeleton
5. Ghost Cat Joker

The overall top costumes were quite traditional, but trends emerged when we divided the preferences by gender.

Women want to wield magic, with three of their top five choices embodying enchantment (generic witches, fairies, and Marvel’s magical Ms. Maximoff). Men opted for more physicality with comic characters comprising three of their top choices, including a villain in the Joker.

Movie, Game, and TV Characters: Virtual Becomes Reality

After screen time skyrocketed during the pandemic, on-screen characters occupy a prominent spot in our hearts as well as our holiday plans. In fact, nearly 50 percent of people who are dressing up this Halloween plan to embody movie or TV characters across the following categories.

Movie, TV, and Game Costume Categories
Animated characters 33%
Superheroes and villains 27%
Fantasy characters 12%
Horror characters 8%
Sci-fi characters 6%
Video game characters 4%
Other 10%

Echoing recent box office trends, beloved animated characters and comic book legends proved the most popular choices. Legendary franchises and enduring icons also thrived on nostalgia, while no Halloween would be complete without the mainstays of classic horror villains.

Though the poll was limited to those 18 and older, one in three of the movie or TV-inspired costumes were animated characters. Clearly, cartoons aren’t just for kids. Animation generates appreciation on several levels, from memories of childhood classics (Disney, “Scooby-Doo") to the wry humor of adult-oriented cartoons (“Bob's Burgers", “Rick and Morty") to the appreciation for an assortment of Japanese imports.

Most Popular Animated Character Costumes

  1. “Scooby-Doo"
  2. “Toy Story"
  3. “101 Dalmatians"
  4. “Peter Pan"
  5. “Phineas and Ferb"

Superheroes and supervillains

Given an opportunity to assume any identity, many embrace the power of superheroes or the lure of mischievous villains. In fact, percent of all costume-wearers will become heroes or villains this Halloween, making up more than one in four of all movie or TV-related disguises.

Hard-core comic fans tend to split their support between the DC and Marvel universes. This year's costumes display a similar divide, with DC costumes making up 43 percent of hero costumes, and Marvel costumes making up 40 percent.

DC also took the top slot among individual characters, as the Caped Crusader led the pack, edging out his nemesis (the Clown Prince of Crime) by only a few spots.

Most Popular Superhero or Villain Costumes

  1. Batman
  2. Scarlet Witch
  3. Spiderman or Spiderwoman
  4. The Joker
  5. Lavagirl

The Scarlet Witch rode the popularity of her “Wandavision" TV series to a second-place finish among heroes and villains, and Loki's recent streaming success similarly supported his cause. Spiderman/Spiderwoman's discovery of the multiverse doubled the costume's audience and put web-slingers in the third spot.

Harley Quinn and the Hulk also had several backers, while the Teen Titans and Power Rangers were popular group costume choices.

Horror

Horror is the movie genre made for Halloween, with nearly every one of its recognizable characters ready to be a killer costume. For celebrants exploring their dark side – or hoping to give a good scare – this pop-culture corner presents a veritable murderers' row of, well, murderers.

Among the eight percent of movie or TV costumes based on scary movies, many people said they plan to don the signature mask from “The Purge", but the most popular individual characters make up a slasher cinema hall of fame.

Top Horror Character Costumes
Freddy Krueger "Nightmare on Elm Street"
Chucky "Child's Play"
Michael Myers "Halloween"
Jason Voorhees "Friday the 13th"
Pennywise "It"

That's a lineup that would give anyone nightmares – whether on Elm Street or anywhere else.

Traditional Halloween Costumes

Movies and television provide recognizable characters that make our favorite entertainment come alive, but the custom of costumes long predates streaming and social media.

Before there were superheroes or celebrities, Halloween was a celebration of the harvest and a pagan ritual that blurred the lines between life and death.

Our most common Halloween outfits still incorporate these themes: the season, the holiday, the flirtation with fear, and escapism into other eras and occupations. About 14 percent of Americans who plan to wear costumes will be wearing such traditional outfits.

Most Popular Traditional Halloween Costumes

  1. Witch
  2. Vampire
  3. Ghost
  4. Skeleton
  5. Clown

Animals

Animal costumes also have a long history among humans. Before empty storefronts magically turned to costume shops each autumn, our forebearers draped themselves in real hides.

These days it’s easier to emulate our fellow members of the animal kingdom, and seven percent of people who plan to dress up will get closer to nature as creatures that are cuddly, cud-chewing, or carnivorous.

Most Popular Animal Costumes
Cat 22%
Cow 10%
Dinosaur 10%
Shark 7%

Celebrities

With fictional characters the most popular costumes, real people have fallen out of fashion – only four percent of costume-wearing adults will be dressing as celebrities this year.

Perhaps the famous have lost some of their luster, or cancel culture has made us wary of worshipping them. Maybe everyone believes themselves to be a celebrity, now that we have social media. In a world of influencers, reality shows, and viral TikTok infamy, who needs to mimic other stars?

Musicians, especially those from decades past, were the most popular costume inspiration: Hall and Oates, Freddie Mercury, Elvis, MC Hammer, Cher, Spice Girls, and a newly liberated Britney Spears. Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress will also be recreated into a costume this Halloween.

After that came reality stars (most notably those featured in “Tiger King"), an assortment of individual actors/comedians, and a collection of other famous folks including multiple costumes depicting Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson .

Current Events

Often current events provide fertile ground for the most interesting Halloween costumes. Rooted in the now, they’re rarely repetitive and put a humorous spin on the news.

This year, very few of our study participants believe there’s humor to be mined from the state of the world, judging by the mere twp percent of costumes that will be based on current events.

It makes sense that revelers planning to socialize on the holiday don’t want to be reminded of what kept them at home and thoroughly divided the nation. Yet, predictability, those are the prime topics among the few who will use the headlines to spice up Halloween.

Top Current Event Costumes

  1. Zombie Donald Trump
  2. “Podium Guy" from the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol
  3. Plague doctor
  4. Bill Gates
  5. Covid-19 survivor

Conclusion

As the nation seeks a path back to pre-pandemic normalcy, this Halloween may provide an ideal opportunity for comfortable interaction. The return of costume parties, parades, and trick-or-treating will bring us together on the one day where masks are gladly worn by all (of course, only multi-layer masks that fully cover your mouth and nose are designed to prevent the virus’ spread. See the latest CDC guidelines for more information).

Many of this year’s costumes will be traditional favorites but movie and TV references will prove most prevalent of all, as cartoon characters and superheroes mingle among a host of scary oddballs. There will also be a number of animals on the loose, but very few famous faces or politicians.

Lastly, If you’ve made it this far and still don’t have any idea what you’ll wear this Halloween, check out our top picks for fun and creative costumes. Happy Halloween!

Our data

Savings.com conducted a survey of 1,238 adults residing in the United States using Prolific, an online survey platform. 56 percent of participants said they will be wearing a costume this Halloween. 22% reported they are not wearing costumes, and 21% are undecided. Open-ended response data were cleaned and manually grouped into categories, and unclear responses were removed from analysis.