From the earliest days of science fiction film and television, countless costume designers have been charged with delivering to viewing audiences one very important message: You’re in space now, baby. And the only garment that can duly handle such a message? The space cape, naturally.
The Star Wars franchise alone has given us space capes numbering in the dozens, including the most iconic space cape in all of pop culture history. Paring the entire history of space capery down to 25 capes is a tough task, but one worth accepting so that you, the loyal space cape acolyte, can see what’s come before.
25) BRAIN GUY, MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000
Any man who carries around his own brain in a bowl knows how to accessorize. As with the rest of Mystery Science Theater 3000, there’s a certain charm to the cheapness of Brain Guy’s space cape; calling it RenFair-adjacent probably overestimates how much it cost to make.
Brain Guy’s space cape is undeniably on the basic side of the space cape spectrum, but what it lacks in flair, it makes up in comfort—it is, after all, paired with what is essentially an old-schoolnightgown.
24) KANTOS KAN, JOHN CARTER
Extreme props to James Purefoy, who did his bit to even out the gender ratio of completely impractical armor with his midriff-bearing number—paired with a cape, naturally—in the underrated 2012 film John Carter.
23) KOSH, BABYLON 5
With the top-to-tails muchness of the encounter suit worn by Vorlon ambassador Kosh on Babylon 5, it can be tough to see that there is, in fact, a space cape in the mix here. But don’t let it slip by you. This cape is sparkly, it’s gigantic, it’s the a sci-fi version of the time Ralph Macchio dressed up as a shower curtain in The Karate Kid.
22) COLONIAL DRESS OUTFIT, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
The 2000s Battlestar Galactica series was a thoughtful, philosophically rich meditation on religion, what it means to be human, and post-9/11 cultural shifts. It wasn’t particularly campy, and the outfits were mostly military in nature. The OG Battlestar Galactica, though? Space cape central. Whenever Apollo (Richard Hatch) and Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) needed to get fancy, they would don their ceremonial capes, complete with gaudy gold trim. Is it velour? Is it faux suede? Whatever it is, it’s all ‘70s.
21) THE SIXTH DOCTOR, DOCTOR WHO
The Sixth Doctor is best known for an outfit that paired a colorful patchwork jacket with yellow striped pants, a blue spotted cravat, and a shirt with question mark-adorned lapels. If a man—well, time lord who can change genders, whatever—is that flamboyant a dresser, do you honestly think he never wore a cape? Please. Unlike the more staid, black cape worn by his first incarnation, the Sixth Doctor’s cape (seen here in “Revelation of the Daleks”) was a bright blue number with gold piping and frog closures in the shape of Six’s signature question marks. He looks a bit like he belongs in a circus, but hey, it fits.
20) TRELANE, STAR TREK
Trelane (William Campbell), from the first season of Star Trek‘s original trilogy, is defined by being a massive drama queen. And what says “drama queen” better than a cape modeled after 18th century France, paired with a cravat? Well, abducting a starship crew so you can use them as your playthings until your mommy and daddy tell you to knock it off. But also the cape.
19) NIOLANI, LOST IN SPACE
Given Coco Chanel’s old “before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off” advice, if you’re wearing a dramatic space cape, you probably don’t need to pair it with a giant, spiky hat. Unless, that is, you’re Lost in Space’s Niolani, who kidnaps men to work as slave laborers for the construction of her all-female colony. Niolani may be this list’s first black latex-loving, weird hat-wearing female alien and straw (wo)man argument about the would-be evils of feminism, but she will not be its last.
18) SKELETOR, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE
Yes, Skeletor’s cape counts as a space cape. He’s on a distant planet that boasts high-tech gadgetry, so I will give Masters of the Universe the space cape benefit of the doubt. The film actually has quite a few of them, with Evil-Lyn’s shiny silver number being the closest competition Skeletor’s more traditional black cape has.
(I guess He-Man’s cape is cool, too?) But does Evil-Lyn wear her cape during any Shakespeare-caliber monologues like the one shown above? No. Does she go on about the “loneliness of evil”? No. Skeletor doesn’t just wear the cape. He is the cape.
17) ZARINA, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY
The entire history of Western civilization led up to the moment GIFed above, from the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century episode “Flight of the War Witch.” Julie Newmar, playing a character named Zarina the War Witch, does a dramatic turn to the camera, revealing a cape adorned with rhinestones and shoulderpads befitting the episode’s 1980 release. Joan Crawford weeps.
16) THE BATWING SUIT, FLASH GORDON
You may think of Star Wars as the OG of “You get a cape! And you get a cape! Everybody gets a cape!” brand of futurism. But the real pioneer is Flash Gordon, which started as a comic series in 1934 before being adapted as a series of film serials in the late ‘30s and early ’40s.
It doesn’t take long until Earthman Flash Gordon (Buster Crabbe) clues into a fashion must of interstellar adventure: You just gotta have a cape. (Also: never wear pants when you can wear booty shorts instead.) In Flash Gordon: Deadly Ray from Mars, we’re introduced to the “Batwing suit,” which is essentially a cape that functions as a hang glider, allowing its wearers to jump from improbably high distances without being turned to mush upon landing. Your move, Batman.
15) COUNT ZARTH ARN, STARCRASH
Released in 1979, the fantasy space opera Starcrash is a blatant ripoff of Star Wars. Though the plot of Starcrash—or what plot there is in the thinly written cheesefest—isn’t particularly similar to that of what we now know as A New Hope, a lot of the details read as borrowed: a planet-sized weapon, laser swords, a mystical force, a neurotic robot sidekick with a thick accent. And, of course, space capes. Here’s a lesson in carpentry for you: what makes a cape great isn’t just the cape itself, but how it’s worn.
In order to achieve perfection, the cape and its wearer must operate as a single symbiotic being, with each half feeding off the other’s dramatic influence. Starcrash‘s Christopher Plummer—yes, Christopher Plummer is in Starcrash—wears a space cape, but he doesn’t really work it, possibly because that’s a tough thing to so when you spend half your screentime sitting on a chair, visibly drunk. Picking up his slack is Joe Spinelli as the resident villain, a Darth Vader stand-in named—wait for it—Zarth. The cape is red velvet. Spinelli flings it. He gives it maximum billow. He enfolds himself in its tender caress.
14) PRINCE BARIN, FLASH GORDON
When Flash Gordon got rebooted by director Mike Hodges in 1980, it got… well, “80s-ified,” which in this particular case means “everything is neon.” There aren’t as many space capes as there were in the ‘30s serials—there’s a vastly shorter running time in which to fit them, after all—but what this newer incarnation of the space-trotting classic lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. Read this next part very carefully: Neon Space Robin Hood Timothy Dalton.
13) OSWALD CABAL, THINGS TO COME
Just as Flash Gordon was introducing eager moviegoers to the good word of the space cape, none other than H.G. Wells was doing his part with Things to Come. Okay, Wells probably didn’t have any input into the costume design of Things to Come, but he did write it, making the 1936 film the only movie ever penned by the sci-fi legend. The film is a passionate defense of scientific progress as a way to end war. In Things to Come, technological advancement means (among other things) a heckton of capes, worn by men and women alike. Raymond Massey, playing the pro-science leader Oswald Cabal, pairs his cape with man sandals and a RompHim, making Things to Come even more ahead of its time than originally thought.
12) SULU, STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK
The Star Trek franchise has never had as many capes as Star Wars, due to the latter’s more prominent fantasy influence. That said, the final frontier has a few characters who appreciate the way of the cape—primary among them is Sulu, who wore a leather jacket/cape in The Search for Spock. The armholes and relatively slim silhouette make the cape a more practical affair than than most of what you’ll find in the Star Wars universe; Sulu, at least, has no mobility issues when he needs to drop a dude who calls him tiny. For those who like this look, the blazer/cape combo has actually seen a resurgence over the last several years.
11) BARBARELLA, BARBARELLA
The most iconic scene in Roger Vadim’s camp classic Barbarella is notable for what its heroine doesn’t wear. Namely, over the opening credits we see a young, gorgeous Jane Fonda, playing the movie’s interstellar explorer heroine, writhing around in zero gravity as she sloooowly removes her space suit, piece by piece. Later on, Barbarella’s journey to Tau Ceti to retrieve scientist Durand Durand requires her to wear a variety of flesh-bearing outfits, several of which feature capes. In keeping with the film’s over-the-top, kitschy visual aesthetic, they’re mostly sparkly affairs that you could probably recreate with $15 worth of cheap, scratchy fabric from Wal-Mart.
10) PAUL ATREIDES, DUNE
David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classic Dune is… not a good movie. Let’s go further: it’s very, very bad. Like, mind-bogglingly, “How did a major studio let this movie happen?” bad. However, it does have a few positive elements. Like: Sting’s metal bikini. Brad Dourif’s eyebrows. And space capes—particularly the space cape worn by Kyle MacLachlan at the very end of the film, when he’s standing there, literally slack-jawed at finally having been revealed as the long-foreseen Chosen One. His gormless expression isn’t the best acting choice, but it doesn’t take away from his the quality of his cape, which is, for some reason, embroidered with pink mold spots. Look, I don’t really know what’s happening here, but I do know it’s unlike anything else on this list.
9) HELA, THOR: RAGNAROK
Though superheroes are commonly associated with capes, the MCU is actually pretty light on them. Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow and most of the rest of the franchise’s principal lineup sport more tactical-themed outfits. Holding down the space cape front for the MCU is the Thor trilogy, where a dozen-plus characters get capes of their very own. Only one of those characters, however, is played by Cate Blanchett. Or shall I refer to Thor: Ragnarok’s Hela as… Cape Blanchett?
8) THOR, MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE
Thor has undergone a lot of changes since he was first introduced in the MCU back in 2011. He gained a half-sister, lost an eye, gained and lost a girlfriend, lost his hammer, gained a sweet smoking jacket, and discovered the restorative powers of coffee. His red cape, too, has been through the ringer. In the first Thor (pictured), it was a voluminous affair boasting high shoulders. In Thor: The Dark World, the shoulders had come down to Earth (well, Asgard) a little; he goes from a full cape BumpIt to really aggressive shoulderpads.
By the time Ragnarok rolls around, the cape is flush against Thor’s shoulders. By the end of the film, the cape’s been ripped in half. Think of it like an inverted alien space God version of that old Texas saying: “The higher the hair, the closer to God.” Thor’s cape becoming less and less dramatic mirrors the character’s transition from the hubris-heavy God of Thunder to a more grounded, humble hero.
7) THIRD DOCTOR, DOCTOR WHO
In Doctor Who, each of the Doctor’s incarnations has his own distinct visual aesthetic. For the Third Doctor, played by Jon Pertwee from 1970 to ’74, that aesthetic is full dandy: ruffled shirts, velvet smoking jackets, and lots and lots of capes. It’s hard to pick one cape that stands above the rest, but—oh, no, who am I kidding? It’s not hard! It’s the tartan Inverness cape. Whenever you can choose a tartan Inverness cape, you always do.
6) ORSON KRENNIC, ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY
Rogue One’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) is a dramatic S.O.B. who wants to make sure everyone knows that they stand amid his achievement, not yours! And what says, “Look at me. I’m really important!” better than a cape? We’re not talking some subtle, over-one-shoulder-capelet affair, either. This thing is big and it’s white (a.k.a. difficult to keep clean) because Orson Krennic is a glorious, vain showboat. It’s not the most practical garnet for striding across a beach planet… but hey, that scene got cut, anyway.
5) KILAAK QUEEN, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS
In the 1968 Ishirô Honda film Destroy All Monsters, an alien race known as the Kilaaks have a foolproof plan to take over the Earth: by mind-controlling an assortment of monsters—among them Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan—into destroying its major cities, then stepping into the ashes to claim the planet as their own. You rang, Pacific Rim? We don’t see much of the alien race that controls the kaiju in Guillermo del Toro’s 21st-century reimagining of ‘60s monster movies, but we see enough of them to know they don’t wear space capes. The Kilaaks, however, wear glittery space capes, which—even better!—are paired with matching hooded jumpsuits that make members of this terrifying alien race look like nothing so much as giant, sparkly condoms.
4) PADMÉ AMIDALA, STAR WARS: EPISODE III -REVENGE OF THE SITH
Star Wars, if you didn’t know already, is rather heavy on the capes. It makes complete sense, then, that the galaxy far, far away’s resident clothes horse, Padmé Amidala, would own a few outfits that fall in the cape/cloak neighborhood.
There are the velvet one and the animal print one and the one from Delia’s and the one that looks like she just slung a blanket over her shoulders for maximum comfort and warmth on her midnight ice cream run. But Amidala’s best cape is also her saddest, and her last: the blue sequined number she wore with her “water gown”—in other words, the outfit she was buried in. If you’re going to be buried, be buried in a cape. And if you’re going to be buried in a cape, be buried in the best.
3) NYAH, DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS
Fulfilling this list’s “dominatrix space cape” requirement (yes, of course there is one) is the 1954 film Devil Girl from Mars. In in this film, Mars was home to a literal Battle of the Sexes—one that women had won, breaking the shackles of gender inequality to usurp men’s political power, eventually leaving the latter impotent and the entire Martian race at risk of dying out. Devil Girl from Mars’ attitude towards the feminist movement: Not great, Bob! On the plus side, this is a movie that gave us Nyah (Patricia Laffan), a Martian leather mama who takes a jaunt on down to Scotland so she can kidnap some Earth men to use for breeding stock. With her all-black outfit, voluminous cape and helmet, she’s kind of like a genderswapped Darth Vader, if Darth Vader were into black latex and liked to show off his gams.
2) DARTH VADER, STAR WARS
…and speaking of Darth Vader! What, did you think there’d be a list of space capes without thespace cape? Stylistically, Darth Vader’s cape isn’t the standout entry on this list. It doesn’t have the funky fabric of a Barbarella space cape or the quirky design of the Third Doctor’s tartan Inverness. It’s… a big, black piece of fabric. It’s the most basic cape there is. But it’s also the most iconic cape there is, to the point that it’s unimaginable to try to conceive of any appreciation of space capes without including it. Billowing out behind Darth Vader as he strides down the halls of the Death Star, this cape tells you all you need to know about the pure, menacing evil of this character. It’s iconic for a reason. But being iconic alone isn’t enough to get you to the number one spot, even within your own franchise.
1) LANDO CALRISSIAN, STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
With space capes, as with Highlanders, there can be only one—and the one, in this case, is the space cape worn by Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) in The Empire Strikes Back. At once futuristic and of its time, Lando’s blue-and-gold number brings some much-needed visual flair to the Original Trilogy. Not to knock the OT’s costume design, which is iconic for a reason, but… well, it’s a lot of white, black and beige, isn’t it? Why stick with that when you can have gold brocade?
Of course, there are far more spaces capes than just these 25. What are your favorites? Let us know!