September 2017 is SYFY's 25th anniversary, so we’re using it as an excuse to look back at the last 25 years of ALL science fiction, fantasy, and horror, a time that has seen the genres we love conquer the world of pop culture. For us, that means lists! ALL THE LISTS! We’ll be doing two “25 greatest” lists per day all throughout September, looking back at the moments, people, and characters that shaped the last quarter century. So keep checking back.
Please note: Our lists are not ranked; all items have equal standing in our brains.
What items in our lists were your favorites? Did we miss something? We welcome respectful debate and discussion, so please let us know in the comments!
Whether we're talking superheroes, monsters, or the heroes and villains who charge around with swords in fantasy epics, there's one thing genre movies have never had in short supply: capes. And thank the Maker, too, because no item of clothing is so wonderful, so dramatic, so divinely impractical. But what goes into making a cape truly great? Sometimes it's purely a matter of aesthetics. Sometimes the cape is average in terms of design, but it's so iconic that it's hard to ignore. And sometimes a truly great cape is like porn: You know it when you see it. With that in mind, let's feel the sartorial splendor of the 25 BEST GENRE MOVIE CAPES of the last 25 years.
Orson Krennic - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Darth Vader might have the most iconic cape in the Star Wars franchise, but with Rogue One, costume designers Glyn Dillon and David Crossman gave us a challenger to the crown. Orson Krennic somehow manages to keep his white cape all but spotless while he roams around the Death Star trading barbs with Grand Moff Tarkin. Does he have Stormtroopers follow him around with Tide bleach pens? Who knows? It's a striking effect, however it's achieved.
(Actually, the question of which is Star Wars' best cape, Darth Vader's or Orson Krennic's, is a moot one. Star Wars' best cape is Lando's, always and forever.)
Bail Organa - Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
Loathe as I am to include thing related to the Star Wars prequels on a "best of" list—except maybe "Best of Saddling Ewan McGregor with a Truly Atrocious Haircut"—the fact remains that Bail Organa, adoptive father of Princess Leia, has bang-on taste in outerwear. That includes capes, of which he wears several. Those responsible for the aesthetic look of the prequels (and, for that matter, of Rogue One) had a difficult line to walk. The original trilogy was set in the '70s and, in many ways, it looks it. Future Star Wars films had to stay believably within that aesthetic while also, in the case of the prequels, presenting a vision of a freer, prosperous Old Republic society. In the case of Bail Organa, that leads to a wardrobe that's delightfully Flash Gordon-esque. It juxtaposes the utilitarian (jumpsuit) against the bizarre (a cape that it must be impossible to wrestle with if you need to use the bathroom) in a way that's unusual and interesting.
Hela - Thor: Ragnarok
No, Thor: Ragnarok isn’t even out yet, and no, it doesn’t matter: Cate Blanchett’s flowing, oilslick-green cape still counts among the best of the last 25 years. Ragnarok, boasting costumes designed by Mayes C. Rubeo (Avatar), features an assortment of capes spanning the color spectrum. There’s Thor’s voluminous red number, Valkyrie’s (Tessa Thompson) cerulean cape, and Loki’s hunter green. But there’s one thing those capes don’t have, and its name is “Cate Blanchett," who never saw an item of clothing she couldn’t work.
Zeus - Immortals
Immortals, Tarsem Singh’s Greek mythology-based epic starring Henry Cavill as Theseus, isn’t a particularly great movie. It’s very style over substance… but oh, what style. One thing Immortals does to perfection: weird hats. Another thing: capes. We kill two birds with one stone with this outfit worn by Poseidon (Twilight's Kellan Lutz). Lutz wears this cape as well, also without a shirt, because you don’t need warmth when you’re living it up on Mount Olympus, but you do need drama. If that’s a little too risqué for you, we have shiny gold capes with a chest covering… but sans pants, because these actors didn’t spend all that time training at the gym for nothing. But the king of the capes belongs to the king of the Gods: Zeus, played by Luke Evans, who got to wear this intricately embellished gold cape. No snark: the costumes in this film are amazing. That’s because they’re designed by the legendary Eiko Ishioka, whose name you will see pop up on this list again.
Leonidas - 300
Five years before Immortals took the capes-sans-shirt look to new glam heights, 300 set the standard by sending hundreds — three hundred, even — Spartans into battle in a similar state of lack-of-dress. Armor? Pah. This is Sparta, baby. Would that shot of Leonidas (Gerard Butler) kicking a messenger into a well have become so iconic without the added panache of Leo's cape?
Phoenix - Once Upon a Time
Chances are you haven’t heard of Once Upon a Time. No, not the ABC Disney show with “what if Captain Hook, but young and sexy?” I’m talking directors Anthony LaMolinara and Xiaoding Zhao's 2017 Chinese fantasy epic, based on Tang Qi’s novel To the Sky Kingdom. This lush, visually stunning movie has angsty gods, star-crossed lovers, battles, monsters, magic... and capes. So, so many capes. It’s hard to pick just one to highlight, but gun-to-our-heads, the victor has to be the feather-laden cape worn the phoenix god when in human form. All those feathers have to be hell on the dry cleaning bill, but it's worth it for the ~drama~.
The Witch - Into the Woods
Midway through Into the Woods, Meryl Streep's crusty old fairy tale witch successfully assembles — or gets a poor, cursed baker and his wife to assemble — the four ingredients necessary to break the curse that has rendered her old and ugly. The new witch is sassy, brassy, and fabulous, boasting sky-high hair and sleeves big enough to make Anne of Green Gables quake with jealousy. It's all a bit Dynasty by way of the Brothers Grimm. Of course, such a look must have a cape, and have a cape it does, a gauzy blue confection designed by four-time Oscar winner Colleen Atwood (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha, Alice in Wonderland, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them).
M. Bison - Street Fighter
M. Bison’s (Raul Julia) outfit in Street Fighter was very normal (well, normal for 1994) until he went and popped a cape on it. It's a little puffy in a ski jacket sort of way, admittedly. A smidge on the overly color-coordinated side. And, of course, there are the gauntlets, but I’m pretty sure some niche fashion brand is trying to sell those as the first big trend of 2018. But at the end of the day, it’s Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" jacket paired with matching pants. Not that weird. But then Bison went and popped a cape on it, taking the outfit to the heights of over-the-top drama you’d expect from Mr. It Was Tuesday. He's wearing outerwear over a different type of outerwear. Game. Over!
Lucy - Bram Stoker's Dracula
Eiko Ishioka strikes again in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, starring Gary Oldman (and his weird hair protuberances) as history's most famous bloodsucker. But the cape we’re focusing on here belongs not to Drac, but to Lucy (Sadie Frost), who is lured into Dracula’s gasp while sleepwalking. And the only appropriate attire to wear while sleepwalking through a windy topiary garden at night is, of course, a bright orange dress and matching cape made of delicate enough material to catch every bit of breeze for maximum billow.
Yeah, yeah, yeah... the effects don't look that great. It was 1997. Cut Spawn some slack. Dated CGI aside, Spawn rocks one of comic history's best, most voluminous capes. There's enough fabric here to make an entire fleet of hot air balloons and still have some left over to clothe an entire small village. Superhuman strength and speed aside, Spawn's most impressive superpower is the ability to lug this thing around all day without developing one mother of a backache. Does superhero insurance cover visits to the chiropractor?
Horus - Gods of Egypt
Call Gods of Egypt a repeat of Immortals. It’s a mythology movie — Egyptian, this time around, instead of Greek, though oddly with about the same proportion of white people in the cast. It’s from a director whose early films have gained a measure of cult acclaim (The Fall and The Cell in the case of Immortals’ Tarsem Singh; The Crow and Dark City for Gods of Egypt’s Alex Proyas), only for their later films to be somewhat less rapturously received. Neither Gods of Egypt nor Immortals really caught on with critics. And, most importantly, both more than deliver on the cape front. On Game of Thrones, if you get to wear a cape there's a good chance it came from Ikea. In Gods of Egypt, Thrones actor Nikolaj-Coster Waldau gets custom-made peacock couture. And a mecha? I don’t know, man. Gods of Egypt is weird.
Capes have always been most at home in genre films, with superhero movies, vampire movies and fantasy movies typically showing them off to their best effect. However, the capes you see in these types of films aren’t typically the ones you — your average, non-supernatural Joe or Jane — could wear out the store to, say, get groceries (Well, you could, if you were OK with weird looks). Whither the contemporary fashion cape? A modern update on a classic formula that pairs old-school drama with new-school wearability? Diana Prince, in her non-Wonder Woman guise, wears one at the beginning and the end of Wonder Woman, when a present-day framing device puts her in a black dress and a burgundy cape… poncho… shawl… hybrid… thing. Eat your heart out, Superman (While we’re on the subject of Wonder Woman and capes, let’s not sleep on Connie Nielsen’s fur-accented extravaganza, either).
Ravenna - The Huntsman: Winter's War
Cedric Nicolas-Troyan's The Huntsman: Winter's War, sequel to 2012's Snow White and the Huntsman, is almost worth watching because of the gorgeous fantasy couture worn by the witchy sibling duo of Ravenna (Charlize Theron) and Freya (Emily Blunt) alone. Almost. It's not a good movie, but when you have costume designer Colleen Atwood on board, you know the clothes are at least going to look amazing. A standout is Ravenna's golden feather cape, which, if I were Charlize Theron, I would've tried to sneak off set in a duffle bag on the last day of shooting.
Syndrome - The Incredibles
The elephant in the room of any cape discussion is Edna Mode’s famous “no capes!” monologue in Brad Bird’s The Incredibles. It’s a phrase that cuts to the heart of any cape enthusiast, because… well, because yes, capes, obviously! All the same, it’s hard to argue with the woman. Capes are impractical. It’s what makes them great. In the case of The Incredibles’ Syndrome, it was his cape that finally did him in, getting him drawn into a jet’s turbine to, er, explosive effect. I like to think the cape was sentient and was willing to sacrifice itself for the greater good.
The Cloak of Levitation - Doctor Strange
It's not like we don't have a precedent for sentient capes. Doctor Strange--both the movie version, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, and his comics counterpart--has one in his Cloak of Levitation. In the comics, the cloak (cloak, cape, tomato, tomahto) is impervious to many physical attacks and can change shape to adopt the form of different items of clothing (The Speedo of Levitation, anyone?). We haven't seen all those powers in the MCU yet, but the cape as we've seen it so far is still pretty dang cool. Explains costume designer Alexandra Byrne in Marvel's Doctor Strange: The Art of the Movie, "The cloak was a huge challenge because it has to do so many things… I wanted to really continue the idea of the tone-on-tone detail: There’s embroidery, there’s leatherwork. There’s flocking. There’s printing and many more things. It just adds up to this being, this sentient cloak."
W'kabi - Black Panther
We’ve seen the cape Daniel Kaluuya’s W’kabi (in the background, over Michael B. Jordan's shoulder) wears in a grand total of two promo images so far — Black Panther doesn’t come out until next February, remember—and it’s still able to muscle established capes with more screen time (or any screen time) off this list. Look at this. It has a pattern. Capes don’t tend to, especially capes in superhero movies — it’s all solid colors, maybe with a little bit of colorful edging if the costume designer’s feeling feisty. But W’kabi’s cape, designed by Ruth E. Carter (Selma, Serenity), is a full-on pattern extravaganza, complete with some metallic flair and an interesting shoulder clasp situation. Darth Vader’s black cape? Bor-ing.
Gul'Dan - Warcraft
With Duncan Jones' Warcraft, Mayes C. Rubeo — seen previously on this list for her work on Thor: Ragnarok — had the task of designing a cape for a character who has giant spikes on his back and is also a huge drama queen. What to do? The answer, it turns out, is "design one of the most original capes in all of cinema." Rather than hanging down Gul'dan's back in an unbroken swath of fabric, this cape has tendrils that sneak around its wearer's spikes to come together in the center of his torso. The effect when the clasp is released is quite something.
Aragorn - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is finally able to ditch his dirty, road-ravaged attire in favor of something that has substantially less dust on it. Hey, if you’re going to make a final stand at the Black Gate of Mordor, you at least want to look good. Maybe take a bath or something. You know. Go to Valinor with clean hair. Completing Aragorn's ensemble is his cape, which features red lining against a black outer layer. It's eye-catching and regal without being too over-the-top; perfect for charging into enemy hordes.
Belle - Beauty and the Beast
Belle's yellow ball gown is her most iconic get-up in Beauty and the Beast but, for my money, it's her winter outfit that's most worth having a variation of in your closet. In the 1991 animated film, it was rosy pink and lined with white fur. Bill Condon's live-action remake cut the fur — a possible concession to star Emma Watson's veganism — but kept the color and the overall sense of romanticism. Capes may be a bold fashion choice, but that doesn't mean they can't be pretty and traditionally feminine, if that's what you're into. Either way, it's a perfect outfit for a snowball fight with a cursed prince.
Superman - Man of Steel
Old superhero standbys Superman and Batman get rebooted once every few years, and when they do, they get different capes. The differences aren't huge, to be sure; Superman's cape always must be solid red, and Batsy's must always be solid black. But, as for the details, costume designers have some room to play around to best complement the vision of the director. In the case of Man of Steel, Zack Snyder has aways been a very stylish director, and one who deployed not-exactly-subtle Jesus metaphors for his take on the Man of Steel besides. The cape can't be as small (for a cape) and streamlined as it was in Bryan Singer's Superman Returns. It had to be big. Flowing. Sumptuous. Regal. The "S" stands for "Sick cape, brah."
Batman's cape has gone through its own evolution. As worn by Adam West, it had an appealingly cheap Party City vibe. In the Christopher Nolan trilogy, it went tactical, tech guru Lucius Fox constructing it out of memory cloth that would let it essentially function as a hang glider over short distances.The cape worn by Michael Keaton in Tim Burton's two Batman films bridges that gap. Constructed out of a thick, rubbery material, it's less campy than West's cape while still retaining a somewhat stylized, comic book vibe that the BatBale cape largely lacks.
The Girl - A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
Vampires love blood, darkness, and a good cape. Director Ana Lily Amirpour gives us a new take on the vampire's must-wear item of clothing in A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, an Iran-set vampire noir Western in which the eponymous vampire’s “cape” is actually a chador, a traditional garment worn by many Muslim and Hindu women. Not a cape technically, sure. But capes can look so damn samey that we'd be remiss not to rain down the accolades when someone does something new.
Thor - The Avengers
Capes are an integral part of the superhero mythos, but among the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s original Avengers lineup, it’s only Thor holding down the fort. Tony, highly dramatic at the best of times, has an aesthetic that doesn’t really fit with a long, flowy cape. Ditto Cap, whose outfit is too tactical (read: boring) for the flair a cape would provide. The Hulk can’t be bothered to keep a shirt on. Black Widow doesn’t need all that fabric getting in her way when she’s flipping around, owning dudes. And Hawkeye… who cares? Thor is a demigod from space with a heaping load of Shakespearean family drama to deal with, and dammit, he’s going to wear a cape.
Vision - Avengers: Age of Ultron
It took a few movies, but Thor finally got a superhero cape buddy in Vision, who took one look at the God of Thunder's sartorial splendor and thought "Yes, please." A cape that you can create with your mind is the best kind of cape. You never have to dry clean it. You can change its length or its style depending on your mood. And God bless Vision for making it A) colorful and B) patterned, its stripy red and yellow design resembling something along the lines of an art deco computer chip. Solid colors are so boring. Sorry, Thor.
Sarah Sanderson - Hocus Pocus
If you’re a witch executed by hanging only to be resurrected after 300 years. And if you set about with your sisters to suck out the souls of all of a town’s children so you can always retain your youth. And if you fly over said town on a broomstick on Halloween night and use your siren call to hypnotize kids into walking right into the jaws of death. And if, somewhere in there, you turn a kid into a cat. If you do all this and you’re not wearing a purple cape with an oversized collar that points right to your cleavage, sending all the children watching your movie at home rocketing straight into puberty… then what even are you doing?
These were OUR favorite capes from the last 25 years. What are yours? Let us know in the comments which ones you’d put on your list!
And be sure to check out our complete “25 Greatest” lists here!