Throwing a jacket on your back can turn a simple T-shirt and unwashed jeans into an outfit. Zip-up, button-up, hood-up, whatever the style, the feeling is often the same. Wearing a cool jacket is a confidence booster with an undertone of peace of mind from the sense of security that you’re covered no matter the weather because you got a jacket. A quality jacket can be a staple of your closet for decades. The feeling of draping on your favorite jacket can be as satisfying as donning a cape. In film production, costume coordinators go through great effort to find the perfect outfit to match characters and actors.
If you have a taste for fashion, you’ve no doubt said, “Damn, that’s a nice jacket” while watching a movie. Throughout history, several jackets that have appeared on film became a visual footnote in pop culture. James Dean’s red jacket in Rebel Without a Cause, glossy-leather dusters in the Matrix trilogy, or Clint Eastwood’s brown poncho in The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly are all examples of outfits becoming a supporting character. This happens more times than one would think. Here are ten of the coolest jackets that steal the scene in movies. Not all the jackets on this list are the most famous or iconic but we’re willing to bet they did grab your attention when they appeared on the screen.
Top Gun – Brown G-1 Military Flight Jacket
You cannot have a list of cool jackets in movies without talking about LT Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s hotshot G-1 military flight jacket in the 1986 classic Top Gun. All-American Hollywood star Tom Cruise gets to slip on this five-star bomber jacket dressed with over 15 patches throughout the film. The sequel, Top Gun: Maverick, is set to premiere in summer 2021.
The history behind the G-1 jacket dates back to the pre-war 1930s. These iconic bomber jackets were not officially adopted by the U.S. Navy until 1940, but were in development before WWII. In 1943, the U.S Army Air Force discontinued the A-2 jacket in favor of this one – then designated as the ANJ-3 (Army Navy Jacket 3). By 1947, the ANJ-3 became standardized and referred to as the G-1, made initially from goatskin leather with real mouton fur in the collar.
These iconic bomber jackets were not officially adopted by the U.S. Navy until 1940, but were in development before WWII.
Those born before the birth of the internet don’t remember the frenzy Top Gun earned when it premiered. It spawned a spike in demand for G-1 styled bomber jackets. Everyone wanted one. Today, the G-1 jacket is still being issued as a uniform item for specific military personnel on flying status in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
Smokey and the Bandit II – Red Trans Am Watkins Bomber Jacket
Burt Reynolds will forever be associated with rich mustaches and the Pontiac Trans Am. Amongst his on-screen wardrobe throughout his career, one piece that stands out is a bright red bomber jacket that co-starred with Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit II. Jim Watkins of Watkins Sporting wear designed the jacket, and Reynolds received three tailored jackets to be used in three separate films.
The origins of these jackets started with a silver bomber featuring the word Porsche. The look gained popularity, and soon people began placing orders for personalized Watkins jackets in the same style. Michael Jackson and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson were just some of the names dressed in a Watkins jacket during the 1970s.
Michael Jackson and gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson were just some of the names dressed in a Watkins jacket during the 1970s.
In 1976, Watkins made a black Trans Am jacket to be used in the first Smokey and the Bandit (1977) film. However, the jacket was cut from the movie because it did not look camera friendly on Burt Reynolds sitting inside a black interior of a black 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am. The second Watkins jacket was a silver Pontiac bomber to be used in the 1978 film Hooper. The story goes; Reynolds wore the Pontiac jacket to a production meeting with General Motors and promoted the jacket as product placement in the movie.
The last jacket is the one with the most fame, the bright red Trans Am jacket in Smokey and the Bandit II. Seeing blatant product placement in movies can be annoying (we’re looking at you, Michael Bay), but rarely does in-your-face advertising look this cool. Watkins is currently in business making custom ordered jackets by hand.
Honorable mention: The 1979 cult-classic The Warriors features a silver Corvette Watkins jacket worn by the Moonrunners gang.
Mad Max – Max’s Side-Zip Motorcycle Jacket
Set in a “Not too distant future,” Mad Max is a post-apocalyptic action movie filmed on a shoestring budget that evolved into a franchise spanning four films and counting and a video game. The film’s protagonist, Max Rockatansky, played by a then-unknown Mel Gibson, is a Main Force Patrol officer chasing down violent renegades in high-performance pursuit interceptors on the straight arrow highways of Australia.
Max’s MFP uniform consists of leather biker pants, boots, and a standard side-zip motorcycle jacket. Max’s jacket sports a silver name tag with badge number “MFP 4073” and shoulder caps riveted onto the jacket for an armored look. Armed with a high caliber revolver and sawed-off double-barrel shotgun, Max is fully equipped to enforce the lawless communities in intimidating style. Fun fact, to save money during production, Max’s uniform was the only one made from genuine leather. The rest of the MFP cast members wore vinyl uniforms.
Honorable mention has to include the sequel, Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981). Max is back with several thousand miles of wear and tear on his V8 Interceptor and his faithful leather jacket in this film. Torn, missing a sleeve, covered in oil and red dirt, Max’s black motorcycle jacket is wasteland chic.
Drive – White Satin Scorpion Jacket
Several films showcase Ryan Gosling staring into space without saying much, but none as much as the Nicolas Winding Refn directed film Drive. The film stars Gosling as Driver, a part-time Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver. The Driver’s white satin jacket with a golden scorpion on its back is the first character you see during the film’s opening act. In the movie, Driver is cool, calm, and collected at his job until a single mother and her young son give him hope for a normal life. The dream is quickly crushed with his day-job employer gets involved with a loan shark throwing Driver into an underworld of violence, murder, and always looking over your shoulder.
The satin scorpion jacket acts as a supporting actor appearing with Driver throughout the film, changing and becoming darker as he is forced to fight back to survive.
The satin scorpion jacket acts as a supporting actor appearing with Driver throughout the film, changing and becoming darker as he is forced to fight back to survive. When Drive was first released, it was criticized for not having enough car-action as the film’s trailer led audiences to believe. One person even sued for being misled, but the case was thrown out of court. Now, Drive has garnered a niche cult-following with film buffs and particular car enthusiasts. The movie Drive is like craft beer – an acquired taste.
Wolverine Origins – Logan’s Brown Shirt Collar Leather Jacket
Arguably the coolest X-Men character is Logan, aka Wolverine. While most fans appreciate Wolverine’s bright yellow and black X-Men uniform, we are more favorable to Hugh Jackman’s leather jackets in the live-action films. In Wolverine Origins, Logan finds himself sporting a soft brown leather jacket with tan stripes around the elbows while escaping the bad guys.
The jacket’s most famous scene is when Wolverine flees on a vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycle from a military convoy in pursuit. Using his metal claws, Wolverine leaves a military vehicle and helicopter in a burning heap as he walks away without a wrinkle on his jacket.
Honorable mention is Wolverine’s retro brown shirt collar leather jacket in X-Men Days of Future Past (2014). If you’re going to travel back in time to the early 1970s, you better look the part.
3:10 to Yuma – Charlie Prince’s White Double Breasted Button Closure Jacket
The original 3:10 to Yuma western premiered in 1957, and the reboot came out 50 years later in 2007, starring Christian Bale, Russell Crowe, and Ben Foster. The film’s plot centers on the transportation of notorious outlaw Ben Wade, played by Crowe, and gets him on the 3:10 train to Yuma to be incarcerated. Christian Bale plays Dan Evans, a one-legged Civil War veteran struggling as an improvised rancher. Evans volunteers to transport Wade to the train in exchange for financial support for his family. Getting him on the train proves to be a deadly endeavor as Wade’s gang of outlaws led by his second in command, Charlie Prince, played by Foster, aims to stop Evans.
3:10 to Yuma earned a spot on this list thanks to Charlie’s white leather double-breasted button closure jacket. It is shown in a distressed look from surviving the elements of 1880’s Arizona, with a stand-up collar and open hem cuffs. Charlie’s jacket is a style of jacket that should definitely make a comeback.
Kelly’s Heroes – Oddball’s Brown Tanker Jacket
If you enjoy war movies and have never heard of this classic, then you owe it to yourself to find a way to stream Kelly’s Heroes. With more stars than a planetarium, Kelly’s Heroes is an action-comedy led by a cast that includes Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas, Donald Sutherland, and the great Don Rickles. Set in Europe during the height of World War II, Kelly (Eastwood) learns of a bank across enemy lines holding 16 million worth of Nazi captured gold. Kelly’s platoon takes it upon themselves to seize this loot – without telling Uncle Sam.
Oddball’s leadership is unorthodox, but there is no questioning his brown leather tanker jacket’s coolness.
Part of the crew is a tank commander named Oddball, played by Sutherland. Living up to his name, Oddball is of a nature unheard of in the 1940s. Sutherland plays the character like a hippy from 1969, preaching about negative energy, using paint rounds in his tank to paint “pretty pictures,” and playing loud music to scare the enemy. Oddball’s leadership is unorthodox, but there is no questioning his brown leather tanker jacket’s coolness.
Easy Rider – Wyatt’s Captain America Biker Jacket
The most iconic jacket on this list is the Captain America biker jacket worn by Peter Fonda in the cult-hit Easy Rider from 1969. This is another low-budget independent film that became a staple of pop culture. Younger generations may not be aware, but those of a certain age cannot listen to Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild without thinking of a pair of custom motorcycles roaming the open plains of interstate USA.
The most iconic jacket on this list is the Captain America biker jacket worn by Peter Fonda in the cult-hit Easy Rider from 1969.
Fonda plays Wyatt in the film, sporting a black leather jacket with red, white, and blue striping down one side of the torso and around the opposite side sleeve. The theme continues in the rear with a full back American flag, matching beautifully with Wyatt’s American flag painted helmet and star-spangled Harley Davidson chopper – triple threat coolness.
In addition to serving as the lead actors, Fonda and Dennis Hopper wrote and produced Easy Rider, which co-starred a young Jack Nicholson. The film jump started a new era of filmmaking, which the aforementioned Kelly’s Heroes represent. It can be considered the Citizen Kane of counterculture with known fame of using real drugs in the film.
The Dark Knight Rises – Bane’s Fur Overcoat
The Dark Knight Rises was the last installment of the Nolan Batman trilogy. This film saw Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne going up against Tom Hardy’s Bane. For a diesel built super villain, Bane has a surprisingly keen sense of fashion, featuring two cool jackets in the film. The first is a black leather coat with a knitted folding collar and waistline buckle shown during the stock exchange heist scene.
The second jacket appears when Bane’s master plan goes into effect, calling to the people of Gotham while wearing a distressed brown colored trench overcoat with fur lining. It’s not until Batman shows up that Bane tosses aside his stylish cape to fist-a-cuffs with Gotham’s dark knight.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas– Raoul Duke’s 1960s Safari Jacket
Based on the 1971 book written by Hunter S. Thompson under the same name, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a drug-fueled rabbit hole into the heart of the American dream starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro. Based on actual events, Raoul Duke (Depp) and Dr. Gonzo (Toro) break every rule Vegas has while on assignment to cover an off-road racing event. During the first half of the film, Duke frequently appears wearing an Abercrombie & Fitch safari jacket from the 1960s sporting multiple colors. A matching clone to the jacket Hunter S. Thompson owned.
A safari jacket might seem like an odd choice for Las Vegas. But, when you find yourself in sin city with a suitcase full of drugs hallucinating on LSD, the Nevada desert can quickly feel like the Serengeti.
Cool Jackets are Everywhere
As stated earlier, this list is not a declaration of the coolest movie jackets of all time or ranking them in any order. The goal was to point out the essential qualities a good jacket can provide beyond warmth and personal shelter. They can add character or be one on their own. Besides showcasing some stylish threads, the films mentioned on this list are worth streaming if you haven’t already.
Cool jackets are everywhere, and their style is only limited by our imagination. Find one that fits you and let it age like whiskey on your shoulders.