Captain America has one of the most iconic costumes in all of comic book history, if not pop culture at large. Since his debut in "Captain America Comics No. 1" in 1941, his design by the legendary "King of Comics" Jack Kirby has remained largely unchanged. It's deceptively simple and effectively sublimates the "rah-rah" patriotism as the heart of the character without being too in your face (a single step further would be overkill), and the chainmail texture of his suit harkens back to previous champions of lore.
How did the Marvel Cinematic Universe fare with its attempts at bringing this instantly-recognizable costume to the big screen? The results have been mixed, but they've given us plenty of versions to consider. It would be safe to assume that Cap's many wardrobe changes were at least partially commercially-motivated since a new costume means a new action figure to add to your collection. Cap is hardly alone in this regard, as virtually every MCU character outside of the Hulk has sported a new look in every subsequent installment. Let's take a look at every Captain America costume in the MCU, ranked from the very worst to the very best.
Quite possibly the worst-ever version of a Marvel Comics superhero suit — if not in the history of comic book movies — the Captain America costume from this schlocky 1990 direct-to-video film is truly atrocious. You'd find better-looking threads at any Spirit Halloween pop-up store. While technically taken straight from the pages of the comics, this Cap (as played by Matt Salinger, son of renowned author J.D. Salinger) sports a poorly-tailored mask with faux rubber ears and pronounced winged flares.
The crummy look of the costume should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the infamous Cannon Films Group that developed the project, whose shoestring budgets and penchant for cinematic dreck are the stuff of legend. It's a shame, as the film directed by Albert Pyun (of the underrated B-movie "Omega Doom") sports a noteworthy supporting cast in Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty, Melinda Dillon, and Darren McGavin, the latter two reuniting as castmates from the perennial holiday classic "A Christmas Story."
Yes, this is not a proper Captain America costume, but you can't deny that James Rhodes' Iron Patriot suit from "Iron Man 3" borrows inspiration from The First Avenger. In yet another patriotic publicity stunt, the U.S. government decks out Rhodey's War Machine armor with Cap's reds, whites, and blues, even adding a star logo around the arc reactor in his chest. It's a compelling visual, and a design we wish the character had rocked longer.
The comic book origins of the Iron Patriot are vastly different from the MCU version. Following the events of a covert invasion of Earth by the shapeshifting alien Skrulls (soon to be dramatized in the Disney+ "Secret Invasion" miniseries), a victorious Norman Osborn becomes head of S.H.I.E.L.D. (yes, really), co-opting Stark technology to become the Iron Patriot. Obviously, if there's an MCU (or Earth 616 if you prefer) version of Norman Osborn we've yet to meet him, but there's a strong possibility this remarkably fidelitous costume may return in the upcoming "Armor Wars" streaming series.
Marvel's second stab at a proper superhero uniform for Captain America was an embarrassment to the point that "Avengers: Endgame" co-writer Christopher Marcus even referred to it as "terrible" in an interview with SYFY WIRE. It was so derided that Cap's "Avengers" suit was mocked in "Avengers: Endgame," with Tony Stark snarkily pointing out to Steve Rogers that it "did nothing for your ass," though some sections of MCU fandom may disagree.
The problems are various, from the awkward compromise of the spandex-but-not-spandex fabric of the bodysuit to the incredibly dorky-looking helmet. In a suspension-of-disbelief-straining moment, when Cap doffs the helmet aboard the helicarrier, it magically turns into fabric instead of thick vacuformed rubber. It's not intimidating, it's hardly inspiring, and it stands out against the generally well-conceived costumes of the rest of the Avengers crew. In fairness, this could be intentional as there's an implication that S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and Cap fanboy Phil Coulson had a hand in designing it, based on propaganda and memorabilia from Steve Rogers' WWII years. One thing this suit has going for it? It's the only time Cap wore comics-accurate red boots.
Speaking of intentionality and Cap's origins, the retro duds that the government stitches for Steve on his initial U.S.O. propaganda campaigns are purposefully lame. They're meant to inspire a snicker from the audience as Steve recreates the image from the cover of his inaugural appearance, clocking a Hitler cosplayer onstage flanked by a bevy of red-white-and-blue Rockettes-style dancers. Within the context of the film, Rogers is clearly embarrassed to be wearing the outfit.
When Cap goes rogue with his team of "Howling Commandos," however, this costume gets a major upgrade. He looks genuinely badass when he pairs his nominally comics-accurate top with standard fatigues, a brown leather jacket, and a helmet borrowed from one of his "Star Spangled Singers." If he'd kept this look for the remainder of "Captain America: The First Avenger" we would not have complained. At worst, this costume calls attention to the inherent silliness of superhero outfits. In fact, since its beginning in "Iron Man," the MCU has frequently indulged in self-referentially undermining itself. At best, it has a plausible narrative explanation for looking as goofy as it does.
This may be a controversial choice, but Cap's streamlined look in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" feels lacking. Inspired by the character's appearance in the 2011 comic "Secret Avengers," gone is any shred of red, and the white highlights associated with his classic look have been replaced by a matte silver. The suit is meant to look more tactical, befitting Cap's relatively-new role as a S.H.I.E.L.D. enforcer, but the materials used are so synthetic it's painfully obvious. It's underwhelming and fails to make an impression against the film's largely gray tableaus.
The primary innovation of this mark 3.0 Captain America costume is the helmet. Calling back to his superior look in "Captain America: The First Avenger," this helmet is more redolent of actual U.S. military combat gear. Much of the MCU's Phase One borrows from the 2002 Marvel comic book "The Ultimates" by writer Mark Millar and artist Bryan Hitch. An attempt to update the Avengers for the 21st century, "The Ultimates" also originated a version of Colonel Nick Fury that bore an obvious resemblance to Samuel L. Jackson. It was in those pages that Cap donned this more practical-looking helmet, an interpretation that would endure in all post-"Winter Soldier" MCU iterations of the costume.
John Walker — a.k.a. Super-Patriot, a.k.a. Captain America II (though as we learn in "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier," he's actually Captain America III) — made his MCU debut on Disney+, portrayed by Wyatt Russell. Walker has gone through a number of looks throughout his publication history, but Russell's in particular harkens back to one of the comics' more memorable costumes when he was working as a sleeper agent within the West Coast Avengers.
The star emblem is no longer front and center but instead asymmetrically positioned — a subtle nod to the characters' warped sense of morality — and the traditional red stripes run horizontally across his chest instead of vertically. In the comics, U.S. Agent typically substitutes Cap's navy blue for jet black, but for "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" they kept the classic American Flag color scheme. That is appropriate as this "Captain America" is even more of a propaganda tool than Steve Rogers ever was. One knock against this costume is the helmet, which Wyatt Russell (handsome progeny of Hollywood royalty Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn) looked so dorky wearing that it quickly became the subject of derisive internet memes. One assumes Walker will have a new costume when he returns in 2024's "Thunderbolts."
The first proper Captain America uniform made its big screen debut in 2011's "Captain America: The First Avenger." The context of the film's period setting presented a challenge for costume designer Anna B. Sheppard, who had previous experience with WWII-era films like "Schindler's List" and "Inglourious Basterds," as well as the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers." How was she to evoke the unmistakable costume of Cap's four-color origins while still credibly grounding it in a sense of wartime functionality?
Her solution was to use authentic materials like leather and metal. The bright red abdomen stripes were incorporated into paratrooper-esque straps. The material is textured and canvas-like, looking pragmatic and archetypal in equal measure. The brainchild of Howard Stark, this uniform is purportedly crafted from a bulletproof and flame-retardant Kevlar/Nomex polymer weave, a mouthful of science-speak that should be familiar to any Batman fan. While the suit is bulky and ill-fitting, it is nonetheless a suitable prototype for the sleeker costumes to follow. Notably, when Cap needs to get through to his brainwashed former sidekick Bucky Barnes in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," he dons a replica of this uniform to invoke a sense of nostalgia in his wayward friend.
Following the events of "Captain America: Civil War," Steve Rogers abandoned his title and responsibilities as Captain America. To reflect his new Ronin-like status (as in the Japanese tradition, not the MCU alias adopted by Clint Barton), the outfit from his previous MCU appearance has become weathered, distressed, and muted, with nary a moment of helmet action in this film. Rogers has also symbolically torn the white star emblem from his chest, an understandably character-motivated desecration of his costume. Less explicable is why his red stripes have faded into a shade of dull brown.
Not a quirk of the uniform, but worth mentioning: this particular Cap look also coincides with Rogers' long hair/bearded phase. Regardless of how he looks from the neck down, you don't have to do a deep dive on the internet to know that this cosmetic choice was a welcome one for many thirsty MCU fans.
A welcome upgrade from the calamitous costume of the first Avengers film and the drab duds of "The Winter Soldier," Cap's look in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" is a solid step in the right direction. In many ways, it's a deft melding of those two designs. The patriotic color scheme has been restored, but it retains tactical details like elbow pads, shoulder armor (replete with an Avengers "A" logo), and the advanced combat helmet. The "Secret Avengers"-era horizontal torso stripes have been replaced with two triangular flourishes emanating from the sides of his star emblem. More red accents are present in this iteration, which pop against the blue hue that dominates his suit. It effectively toes the line between comic book iconography and the faux-realism that the MCU trades in.
As with other superhero franchises (save, say, "Aquaman"), Marvel Studios is fond of trying to "ground" the look of their characters by busy-ing their costumes up with unnecessary details and/or waiting an excruciatingly long time to put their heroes in costumes that accurately reflect their look in the comics (see: "Wandavision" and the closing scene of "Spider-man: No Way Home"). This particular Cap outfit was so effective, it would remain largely unchanged in the follow-up "Captain America: Civil War."
In 2015's "All-New Captain America #1," Marvel comics' Sam Wilson ceded his mantle as Captain America sidekick the Falcon to take up the title of his departed colleague. Anthony Mackie's MCU counterpart followed a similar trajectory, becoming the new Captain America at the conclusion of the Disney+ limited series "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier." As in the comics, Sam's suit is an amalgamation of his Falcon wingsuit and the traditional signifiers of the Star-Spangled Avenger.
Sam's Captain America suit is one of the more faithful costumes in the MCU, though early concept art took many liberties (thank heavens these were scrapped). As in the comics, Sam retains his red-tinted aviator goggles, now incorporated into a kind of half-cowl. White dominates the torso section, and the horizontal stripes from the Secret Avengers era are back. The impressive wardrobe was the product of costume designer Michael Crow (a veteran of multiple MCU projects) and Ryan Meinerding, who serves as head of Marvel Studios' visual development. They didn't have to stray far from the striking look from the comics, they just had to manifest it, and they did so expertly. We can likely expect modifications to this look when Wilson returns to theaters in "Captain America: New World Order," which is set for release in the summer of 2024.
It may have taken 21 MCU films (seven featuring Steve Rogers), but with 2019's landmark blockbuster "Avengers: Endgame" the craftspeople at Marvel Studios eventually nailed Cap's costume. Pity that it was also Chris Evans' last outing as Steve Rogers.
Cap's post-snap attire builds upon the strong foundation of the "Age of Ultron"/"Civil War" era and finally incorporates a scale-like texture on his midsection reminiscent of the chain-mail look of the comics. There's still an abundance of brown in the gloves, boots, shield harness, and belt, but this design nonetheless feels more traditionally "capital-C-capital-A" Captain America than anything we've seen in the MCU to date. While muted, the red accent stripes are appreciated, and the costume would likely pop more if Cap wasn't so sooty and battle-damaged for the majority of his uniformed screen time in "Avengers: Endgame." Good things come to those who wait, as the MCU has become notorious for tinkering with their hero designs, refining them over years until they truly reflect their comic book counterparts without coming across as ridiculous.