The cape. It’s more than just a costume choice, it’s a pop culture mainstay. We tend to associate capes with superheroes, and superheroes certainly wear their fair share of capes. From Superman to Thor, from Batman to Doctor Strange, capes are a frequent accessory of the brave vigilantes that heroically defend the populace against bad guys when no one else can. Capes convey a superhero’s power -- a literal banner of their presence -- or more functionally on the page, they convey motion on an otherwise skin-tight outfit. And sometimes a cape has special powers of its own that assist a superhero in their fight for all that’s good and right in the world.
But superheroes aren’t the only pop culture figures that wear capes. Capes are an important part of all sorts of pop culture ensembles. The addition of a cape says something about its wearer. Everything from the time period of the story to the aspirations of the character can be conveyed through a cape. Not to mention, capes look cool. They’re dramatic and interesting and add that extra something that makes an outfit really pop. Nowadays, we don’t wear a lot of capes, outside of Halloween. But these 20 pop culture characters do, without doubt or irony. And the inclusion of a cape in their wardrobe has made each of them all the more memorable.
As a child, Syndrome, the supervillain from The Incredibles, idolized Mr. Incredible. But when Mr. Incredible refuses to let him be his superhero sidekick, an embittered Syndrome chooses to go down a very different path. What Syndrome lacks in superpowers he makes up for in technical genius. When he reaches adulthood, Syndrome invents weapons to help him take his revenge on superheroes of all kinds. He lures hero after hero to his island and kills them with his lethal robot. Eventually, he captures Mr. Incredible there, too.
Ultimately, Syndrome’s goal is to become a bigger hero than Mr. Incredible ever was, at least in the eyes of the public. But when his own robot turns against him as he’s executing his plan, the Incredibles and Frozone must save the day and protect the populace, enraging Syndrome and depriving him of the glory he believes he deserves. While Syndrome's lack of superpowers is a liability, an even bigger one is not having Edna Mode as a super-suit designer. Had Edna created his costume, Syndrome wouldn’t have the misfortune of having a cape. The accessory was ultimately his undoing when it got caught in the blades of a plane’s air turbine, pulling him in and causing the plane to blow up. Farewell, evil Syndrome. The cape didn't work out, but you looked great in it while it lasted.
Kick-Ass’ Hit-Girl may be a child, but that doesn’t prevent her from being tough as nails. She is raised by her father — also a superhero called Big Daddy — to be a crime fighter. And while she might not have the nobility of a traditional superhero, she’s more than capable of getting the job done. She can take out swarms of bad guys bigger than her while barely breaking a sweat. Hit-Girl is lethal with both her hands (or a weapon) and dispatches bad guys without hesitation. She’s been told her whole life that she must take out criminals and gangsters — and take them out she does! Hit-Girl didn’t choose to become a masked vigilante, she was made one by her father. But she does seem to enjoy the power she wields and she’s accepted her father’s mission as her own.
Wearing a cape allows Hit-Girl to invoke the past.
In both her comic and film incarnations, a cape is part of Hit-Girl’s superhero costume. Unlike much of the rest of her ensemble, the cape doesn't serve a specific crime-fighting function. Instead, it's inspired by the many superheroes that came before her, and connects her to that tradition. Wearing a cape allows Hit-Girl to invoke the past, while her brutal actions and potty mouth subvert it at the same time.
18 THE CAPE
Would any list of capes in pop culture truly be complete without the inclusion of the superhero who takes his name from that piece of clothing? The Cape was broadcast on NBC for a short-lived 10 episodes in 2011. Despite early buzz, it never caught on with audiences and was quickly canceled. The series centered on Vince Faraday, a good cop framed for murder and presumed dead. After his supposed demise, Faraday is taken in by a group of former circus performers. The leader of the group trains him to use a special cape made of spider silk to perform illusions that let him take justice into his own hands. To keep his family safe and fight the criminals who framed him, Faraday takes on the identity of The Cape, the name of his son’s favorite comic superhero.
The show wasn’t with us for long, but it lives on in many fans’ hearts. It was also the inspiration for one very memorable line in another show. In a 2011 episode of the wacky sitcom Community, fanboy Abed prances through the community college he attends, pretending to be the Cape. When his love for the show is challenged, he declares it will last “six seasons and a movie.” If only…
17 LANDO CALRISSIAN
Lando Calrissian, the ostentatious, charismatic rogue from the earliest Star Wars trilogy and now Solo: A Star Wars Story, is almost as famous for the cape he wears as he is for losing the Millenium Falcon to Han Solo. It takes a brave individual to pull off a cape as part of their regular outfit, especially if they’re not royalty or a superhero. But Lando wouldn’t be Lando without his. His half-cape is eye-catching and flashy just like he is. The cape ensures that Lando looks good no matter what he’s doing, whether it’s giving Han up to Boba Fett or fighting with the Rebels.
Young or old, Lando’s cape helps him convey his debonair charm and confident attitude.
Donald Glover, who takes on the role made famous by Billy Dee Williams in Solo, told ScreenRant the cape was the best part of putting on Lando’s costume for the first time. He explained, “"It was really great. The cape was the best part because you're waiting for the cape the entire time but it was also a really great feeling. And it looked so different but also the same as Lando always was so, yeah, I think it was beautiful."
The Lord of the Rings’ Aragorn is royalty in waiting, although he doesn’t discover his regal roots until the end of the story. Born a human but raised by elves in Middle-Earth, he is also known as the ranger, Strider. Aragorn was a member of the Fellowship of the Ring and participates in many a battle against Sauron’s armies. He is a noble and humane leader both during battles for Middle-Earth and later as King.
When the character is visualized for movies, Aragorn, along with most of the other characters from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, wears a cape. Although these fictional stories were dreamed up by J. R. R. Tolkien, the capes worn by the characters evoke a historical time in human history when kings and queens ruled the land, people rode on horseback, and everyone sported capes whether to keep warm or to add flare to their outfits. The capes also fit in with the medieval fantasy realm of Middle-Earth, which is full of dragons and elves, dwarves and orcs, and, of course, wizards and magical rings. Aragorn’s cape packs even more meaning into its fabric. It points to both his role as a Ranger, who travels across Middle-Earth and to his future as royalty.
In both the comics and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Vision is an android who is the creation of Ultron. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, the movie version of Vision explains that he’s a combination of Ultron and Tony Stark’s J.A.R.V.I.S. programming. His body is also powered by the Mind Stone, a fact that leads to his demise in Infinity War. Vision fights with the Avengers, and although he isn’t a real person, he develops a softer side and becomes involved with Wanda Maximoff, whom he marries in the comics.
Most of the Avengers don’t bother with capes, but Vision is an exception.
When he first comes into being in the MCU he doesn’t have one. Then he catches a glimpse of Thor’s. Apparently, he likes what he sees because he quickly generates one for himself. Along with his other powers, Vision can fly, and his cape gives him extra sophistication and physical presence when he’s levitating off the ground. A cape would trip up many of the other Avengers — after all, they’re only human. But Vision can change his appearance and alter his density at will, so a cape doesn’t pose a challenge. It only serves to add a little extra swagger to his look.
14 DARKWING DUCK
He is “the terror that flaps in the night.” He is “the lone roller skate at the base of villainy’s staircase.” He is Darkwing Duck! And he holds a special place in the hearts of many a child of the 1990s. Darkwing was the superhero of the DuckTales universe. Along with his adopted daughter, Gosalyn, and his bumbling sidekick, Launchpad McQuack, Darkwing fought crime in the city of St. Canard.
Of course, Darkwing wasn’t your average noble superhero. He was egotistical and vain, and despite all the good he did, he was mostly interested in the fame and glory that could come from being the savior of the city. Darkwing Duck was a satire of traditional superheroes -- especially The Shadow -- as well as a send-up of our cultural obsession with them, and the celebrity and adoration they garner. A legend in his own mind, Darkwing dramatically announced himself before fighting bad guys, narrated his heroic activities, and spouted a signature tagline: “Let’s get dangerous!” And just like other superheroes, Darkwing sports a dramatic, billowy cape. Darkwing’s made an appearance in the reboot of DuckTales—as a superhero on an old TV show. But while his show may seem dated, those of us who grew up with him still remember: “When there’s trouble you can call DW!”
13 THE SPARTANS
The Spartans from the comic book and movie adaptation 300 don’t wear much. But of the things they do wear, the most important may be their fabulously dramatic red capes. The capes blow in the wind as they walk deliberately towards war, punctuate their movements during hand-to-hand combat, and help them identify each other during the melee. Of course, the capes don’t really help much as battle armor. But then again, outside of a shield and helmet, the Spartans don’t seem to be very invested in shielding their bodies from harm. At least the red color ensures that the enemy can’t tell if they’ve made a Spartan bleed.
Besides, nonchalantly wearing a cape with very little else looks amazing.
That, paired with the Spartan preoccupation with and confidence in battle brings an undeniable homoerotic subtext to this story of brothers in arms. The Spartans have each other’s backs. They fight fiercely and to the death. Ultimately, though, while it’s the Spartans who do the fighting, their capes may be the real stars of the show. They convey their bravery and curtain their hard bodies. The capes say so much without saying a word. 300’s Spartans evoke the ancient Greek’s depiction of warriors and heroes: naked, noble, and glorious. “This is Sparta!”
One of the X-Men, Storm, is a powerful mutant who can control the weather. While she is often relegated to the periphery in the X-Men movies, she frequently takes center stage in the comics, where she’s visited Asgard, become an Avenger, and even married Black Panther. Storm’s abilities make her a powerful force to be reckoned with. She can precisely control and direct different elements of the weather, including precipitation, fog, and lightning, and manipulate wind currents to fly, making her incredibly powerful.
Born Ororo Munroe, Storm lost her parents at an early age and could have gone down a dark path. But she found purpose after she joined the X-Men and started working toward a higher cause. Storm’s look is striking, and not only because of her cape. She has white hair and light eyes that, combined with an often-dark superhero suit, makes her an eye-catching presence. Storm hasn’t always worn a cape, though. Her costume has gone through many iterations over the years, but the cape is present in her most well-known looks. And it’s easy to understand why. The cape is a visual reminder of how her power affects the atmosphere around her.
Loki is perhaps the most obvious cape wearer on this list. His embrace of capes speaks to both his god-like status and his unquenchable desire for more. And the use of the color green in his costumes speaks to that old green-eyed monster, jealousy, which he harbors in spades. His jealousy of his brother, Thor, drives much of the action throughout the MCU’s Thor trilogy. But while Thor is all surface bravery and brawn, Loki is more subtle and duplicitous. He is the god of chaos and trickery, after all. Loki projects an outward appearance of charm and confidence to the world, but he’s a lot more slippery than that. Underneath, Loki is a schemer who frequently tricks others for his own ends.
For Loki, it's a modern, fashion-forward way of adding grandeur to an outfit.
Loki’s most iconic look combines a cape and a horned helmet. This connects him to the devil, but also to royalty, a division Loki occupies perfectly. In the MCU, Loki has also worn a cape-coat: a long-sleeved coat that flares out at the bottom to create the impression of a cape. It’s a modern, fashion-forward way of adding the grandeur of a cape to an outfit. And Loki is likely sensitive to trends and fashion, no matter what realm he's in.
10 HARRY POTTER
Early in his tenure at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Harry Potter finds himself in possession of a very special cloak. The Cloak of Invisibility originally belonged to Harry’s father, James, but after James was killed by He Who Must Not Be Named, it fell into Dumbledore’s hands. He kept it until Harry was old enough and then gifted it to him for Christmas. He explained, “Ah, your father happened to leave it in my possession and I thought you might like it… useful things… your father used it mainly for sneaking off to the kitchens to steal food when he was here.”
When a person wraps themselves in the Cloak, they become invisible, something Harry used to his advantage multiple times over the years in many sticky situations, and sometimes less dire ones. The Cloak is also one of the three Deathly Hallows. Although it was quite old, its power remained potent. Harry often relied on it for eavesdropping, hiding from prying eyes, and to catch evil-doers in the act of committing crimes and other questionable acts. The Cloak is also an heirloom that connects Harry to his father and his other paternal relatives. And it's something he can pass down to his own children when the time is right.
Another character that uses a cape to make herself invisible is Sheila from the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. This one is a deep cut, but a fond memory for those who grew up in the 1980s. Based on the D&D role-playing games, the cartoon centered on a group of six young friends who find themselves transported into the Realm of Dungeons and Dragons by a theme park ride. The children search for a way home, but along the way they get into adventures and help other people they run into.
When she puts the Cloak’s hood over her head, Sheila becomes invisible, an appropriate power given her nature.
Throughout the series, Dungeon Master guides them through the strange land and helps them in their quest. He also gives each member of the group a magical item. Sheila receives a magical cloak and is dubbed the “Thief.” When she puts the Cloak’s hood over her head, she becomes invisible, an appropriate power given Sheila was one of the least assuming members of the group. Despite her shyness, though, Sheila is also practical and protective and was a fan favorite. She is friendly and welcoming to outsiders, too, which helps the group along their way. But her ability to become invisible, when combined with the other magical powers gifted to the group, makes them a formidable team.
Dracula never truly dies and in almost every incarnation in which he’s appeared, he’s sported a cape. When Bram Stoker published the novel Dracula in 1897, he had no way of knowing his creation would have such a long-lasting legacy. But whatever era we’re in, Dracula’s always comes back. He’s starred in plays, movies, and television. He’s even taken on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and lost…maybe.
According to Smithsonian.com, though, the tuxedo and cape combo we associate with Dracula was originated in the 1924 London stage adaptation of the novel. That look was made iconic when Bela Lugosi replicated it in both the play and the 1931 film adaptation. The costume conveys Dracula’s charisma and suave charms. Dracula enjoys seducing his victims, and his sophisticated look is part of what makes him so irresistible for people like Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray, even against their better judgment. Today, the tuxedo’s optional, but the cape is almost always included when an ancient vampire makes an appearance. The cape conveys these characters' long-ago origins and their power over mere mortals. It’s a tradition that’s endured since Dracula first made his way onto movie screens almost a century ago, and one that will likely continue into the foreseeable future.
Supergirl wears a super-suit that evokes her connection to her more-famous cousin, Superman. But Supergirl doesn’t stand in her cousin’s shadow. She has all the same powers as Superman and she’s equally heroic, using the skills she has as a Kryptonian on Earth to fight crime and protect the citizens of National City.
The first season of the newest television incarnation of Supergirl explored the intricacies of designing a proper super-suit, and the reasons for including a cape.
While Supergirl’s alter-ego, Kara Zor-El and her inventor friend, Winn, try to avoid it — according to Winn, “Capes are lame!” — they soon realize that the cape helps Supergirl’s aerodynamics when she’s flying, preventing her from going off-kilter when she turns. That's a pretty worthwhile reason to include a cape in her costume. In its latest season, Supergirl’s cape became even more useful when Mon-El introduced her to its ability to perform cape tricks. Yes, cape tricks. The name may sound silly, but being able to use her cape as another weapon in her arsenal only made Supergirl a stronger, more capable hero. Supergirl’s cape is not only practical it connects her to a tradition of superheroes — an important part of who she is and how she decides to use her powers.
Spawn, formerly Al Simmons, died and went to Hell. Then he was recruited into Hell’s army and is sent back to Earth as Hellspawn, complete with magical abilities, a badly disfigured face, and a fabulous, billowy red cape. His powers originate from the necroplasm now running through his transformed body. In fact, that’s the reason Spawn’s overwhelmingly long cape never seems to get in his way.
The costume Spawn wears is an organic entity in its own right, and it can re-shape itself and act on its own when it wants, even when Spawn is unconscious. When it can’t use the necroplasm in Spawn’s body to power itself, it can also use the evil energy of the people and other things surrounding it. Between his own powers and his costume, Spawn is nearly invincible. And his cape in particular has proven useful in a fight. Spawn’s plight is confusing and dark. He’s in this world, but not of it anymore. He can remember parts of his past but can’t pick up where he left off. He made a deal with the devil but doesn’t know all of its terms. But at least he has a spectacular cape to make him look fantastic while he figures things out.
5 DOCTOR STRANGE
Doctor Strange didn’t choose his cape, his cape chose him. The Cloak of Levitation is a magical object that can fly and act on its own. In the MCU, it chooses its master like all magical relics, and the Cloak chooses Doctor Strange. In the comics, the Cloak is a gift from the Ancient One. The Cloak has a mind of its own and will fight Doctor Strange if it thinks he’s making a bad call—a useful and annoying power. And as its name suggests, the Cloak allows its wearer to levitate and fly.
Doctor Strange’s cape connects him to other superheroes, while its powers make it something totally its own.
As Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige explained to Entertainment Weekly, “He has a Cloak of Levitation that allows him to fly, but he doesn’t fly like Superman or like Thor. It’s almost got a consciousness of its own, this cloak, which, again, gives us a superhero with a red cape — which we’ve seen a few times—but allows us to do it in a wholly unique and wholly original way.” In Infinity War, fans were horrified when Thanos ripped Doctor Strange’s cape. Hopefully in Avengers 4, it and all the people Thanos wiped out of existence will find themselves whole once more.
4 DARTH VADER
The specter of Darth Vader haunts the Star Wars universe. Vader is the ultimate bad guy, an individual so twisted and corrupted he’s no longer recognizable as human. Instead, he's always clad in black body armor that is full of symbolism. According to StarWars.com, while Vader’s helmet was inspired by the helmets of Japanese samurai warriors and the Nazis, Vader’s armor was inspired by German trench armor from World War 1. That imperialist influence fits in perfectly with Darth Vader and his high rank in the Empire. And it also nods to the Empire’s fascist undertones.
Of course, capes are an important part of many Star Wars villains’ costumes. Everyone from Count Dooku to Orson Krennic to Emperor Palpatine to Captain Phasma wears one. And it connects them all to the grand tradition of the Empire. Vader’s may not be the most ostentatious of the bunch, but it may be the most menacing. When he walks with his cape flowing out behind him, he comes across as both regal and threatening. The cape is an essential part of Vader’s singular, single-colored look and we couldn’t imagine him any other way.
Batman, the Dark Knight, is only a shade removed from the villains he fights. Bruce Wayne’s desire to defend Gotham City and his ability to take on the persona of a bat to do so, borders on obsession. Fortunately for Bruce, his wealth allows him to spend a lot of money optimizing and perfecting his super-suit and other toys. Batman's cape has been an important part of his costume since the beginning, and it doesn’t just make him look great in silhouette. The cape has gone through many iterations. At its most basic level it's often portrayed as bullet-proof and flame retardant.
In other incarnations it allows Batman to parachute, and hang-glide. It’s even had blades attached to it to serve as a weapon.
Plus, the cape makes Batman seem that much more mysterious. In his all-black costume he can blend into the night and then appear out of the darkness, tying him to the bats who inspired him. The cape also distracts and confuses his opponents. If his enemies can’t differentiate between what’s him and what’s cape they can’t see where his next attack is coming from or where their next attack should go to. But most of all, Batman’s cape completes him, making him appear both dark and heroic at the same time.
Thor is an Asgardian prince and heir to the throne. As the first-born son of Odin, he’s a little rough around the edges and kind of full of himself but he’s also a loyal friend and heroic in battle. His cape stands in contrast to that of his adopted brother Loki. While Loki’s cape is green, Thor’s is red. These are complementary colors, but they couldn’t be more far apart, just like these two characters. Thor proves he is worthy of his noble red cape as his character grows and deepens. And it serves to punctuate his superhuman actions, especially when he’s flying and soaring through the air.
In the MCU, Thor doesn’t always sport a cape. In fact, from movie to movie he seems to spend less and less time wearing one. And even when he does, it becomes a little less pronounced as his story continues. But despite that evolution, his regal cape will always be his most iconic look, and the one we associate with him the most. Thor’s cape ties him to the royalty he comes from, to the medieval, but mystical realm he comes from, and to the superhero tradition he has become a part of.
Was there really any doubt who would top this list? Superman’s worn a cape since his inception, and now it’s hard to picture him without it. Like many superheroes, Superman’s red cape conveys his power and status. But unlike some superheroes, his cape doesn’t really have a functional purpose. Inverse.com observes that the point of Superman’s cape is mostly cultural. Its visual language is evocative and conveys important things about Superman and his powers. Specifically, Superman’s cape was modeled after circus strongmen from the early 1900s. Adopting a costume that nodded to these figures conveyed Superman’s overwhelming strength. Later, when Superman started to fly, the cape also became integral.
Capes trailing behind a superhero visually suggest a superhero is flying, even if they’re a static drawing on a page. A brilliant solution to a problem confronted by superhero comics illustrators.
Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound and make us believe a man can fly. He could still do those things without his cape. But his cape lends extra grandeur and magnificence to his heroics. Superman’s superhero suit is one of the most identifiable in all of pop culture, and when his cape billows in the wind, it conveys all the truth and justice he is single-handedly defending.