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Who Are the Best Captains in Pop Culture?

Best Captains in pop culture

Submitted for your consideration on this fine Friday: who is your favorite fictional captain, and why?

We’ve covered the finest Star Trek captains in the past (the correct answers are Sisko and Kirk, I will not be taking questions at this time), but there are a whole lot of captains to be found across popular culture. From books to television to movies to comics and video games, we love a man or woman in uniform, bravely commanding or messing up a whole lot or managing to do a bit of both. But when I ask who our “best captains” are, I don’t mean just who you’d want to follow into battle—that would probably be Picard—but really who has clicked with you personally.

We have a wide range of expectations when it comes to a captain’s personality—we seem to like them either stoic and upright (Captain America, Captain Picard), roguish and winking (Han Solo, Captain Jack Sparrow), mean old pirate king (Captain Hook, Captain LeChuck), or mysterious and obsessive (Captain Lorca, Captain Ahab). With so many captains to enjoy, can we even pick just one?

I can’t. Here are a few of the many captains who have won my favor:

Captain Marvel sits with her head in her chin and a smirk.

Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers (MCU)

The most powerful Avenger. Could crush you to death with her thighs. Cat person.

Monica Rambeau aka Spectrum in Marvel Comics.

Captain Marvel, Monica Rambeau (Marvel Comics)

Can convert her body into pure energy, which is honestly goals. Has lead the Avengers. Gorgeously immortal.

Jared Harris as Captain Crozier on the Terror

Captain Francis Crozier (AMC’s The Terror)

Smartest guy in the room. Likes more than a bit of drink. Friend ’til the end.

Camina Drummer on the Expanse

Captain Camina Drummer (Amazon’s The Expanse)

Knows a thousand ways to kill you. Takes absolutely no one’s BS. French-braided perfection.

Captain James Flint on Black Sails

Captain James Flint (STARZ’s Black Sails)

Canonically queer king. Winner, all-around aesthetic. Best upgrade from a literary character.

Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)

Actual Emissary touched by the Prophets. Better than you. Doesn’t have time for this.

Leela on Futurama

Leela (Futurama)

Fashion icon in her one outfit. Avid environmentalist. Masterfully deals with male nonsense.

Nemo in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

Captain Nemo (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill)

Comeback superstar. Good at any depth of water. Antihero extraordinaire.

Captain Jack Harkness Torchwood

Captain Jack Harkness (Doctor Who, Torchwood)

The original canonically queer TV captain. Swashbuckling action hero. Wears a coat better than anyone else.

Kate Mulgrew as Captain Janeway on Star Trek Voyager.

Captain Kathryn Janeway (Star Trek: Voyager)

Effortlessly in charge. Cool under pressure. Incredible hair up or down.

Captain America sitting on a backwards chair, looking at you with pity.

Captain America, Steve Rogers (MCU)

Came from nothing. Would die for those he loves and/or give up allegiance to the government. Could do this all day.

Sam Wilson as Captain America

Captain America, Sam Wilson (Marvel Comics)

As Falcon, the first African-American superhero in mainstream comics. A legend. Deeply cooler than his friend Steve Rogers.

Captain Phasma (Star Wars)

Is Gwendoline Christie. Silver armored queen. Deserved better.

captain georgiou

Captain Philippa Georgiou (Star Trek: Discovery)

Is Michelle Yeoh. I’ve said enough.

Captain Planet

Only exists at the behest of five teenagers’ jewelry. Radical environmental activist. Good with puns.

These are the captains that first spring to mind when I think to myself, “Self, who are some of your very favorite captains out there in our pop culture landscape?” But I have overlooked many, many captains, I know. Surely you will tell me about them in the comments.

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Kaila is a lifelong New Yorker. She's written for io9, Gizmodo, New York Magazine, The Awl, Wired, Cosmopolitan, and once published a Harlequin novel you'll never find.