Although Spider-Man is widely considered the heart of the Marvel Universe, whether on the comics page or onscreen, Captain America is its indisputable conscience.
We’re not talking about those “Rappin’ with Captain America” PSAs from Spider-Man: Homecoming, either. Armed with his signature adamantium/vibranium shield and an unwavering moral compass, Marvel’s First Avenger has delivered countless motivational quotes that can be applied not only to superheroes, cosmic threats and world wars, but also to everyday life.
However, that almost-superhuman ability to inspire isn’t a result of the super-soldier serum, because Sam Wilson seemingly inherited the trait when he was passed the mantle of Captain America by Steve Rogers.
Here are 10 of the most powerful Captain America quotes to inspire, from both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Marvel Comics Universe.
‘You’re doing what you believe in, and that’s all any of us can do.’ – Steve Rogers
Full quote, from a letter to Tony Stark: “My faith’s in people, I guess. Individuals. And I’m happy to say that, for the most part, they haven’t let me down. Which is why I can’t let them down either. Locks can be replaced, but maybe they shouldn’t. I know I hurt you, Tony. I guess I thought by not telling you about your parents I was sparing you, but I can see now that I was really sparing myself, and I’m sorry. Hopefully one day you can understand. I wish we agreed on the Accords, I really do. I know you’re doing what you believe in, and that’s all any of us can do. That’s all any of us should… So no matter what, I promise you, if you need us — if you need me — I’ll be there.”
In the 2016 Marvel Studios film Captain America: Civil War, the Avengers are splintered by a disagreement over the Sokovia Accords, an international agreement to regulate the activities of “enhanced individuals” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a treaty supported by Tony Stark but opposed by Steve Rogers.
A largely philosophical dispute about accountability turns deeply personal with the revelation that Rogers’ childhood friend, Bucky Barnes, who operated for decades as the brainwashed assassin known as the Winter Soldier, murdered Stark’s parents. That opens a wound that seemingly can never be healed.
However, Captain America offers hope of reconciliation in a letter he leaves for Iron Man that not only underscores his opposition to the Sokovia Accords but also his understanding of the choices Stark made.
‘I don’t measure people’s lives… I save them.’ – Steve Rogers
Full quote: “I don’t let people die because it’s the lesser of two evils, or expedient, or because it serves the greater good… I don’t compare the act against something else — I see someone who needs help… And I help. You think it’s a weakness. You think it’s simple… But you’re wrong. It’s what makes us human… Which is exactly what we’re supposed to be fighting for. I know who I am. I rescue the helpless. I raise up the hopeless. I don’t measure people’s lives… I save them.”
Any comic that involves the time-traveling chrono-terrorist Kang and his variants is bound to be at least a little confusing, and 2014’s Avengers #34 is no different. Captain America is taken into the far-flung future to face Iron Lad and his future selves, Kang the Conqueror and Immortus, who insist the Sentinel of Liberty’s entire heroic ideology is “extinct.”
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Unsurprisingly, Steve Rogers refuses to accept that: While Kang and his variants operate across, and outside, time, on a multiversal scale, Captain America is far more concerned with the human costs.
‘No, you move.’ – Steve Rogers
Full quote: “Doesn’t matter what the press says. Doesn’t matter what the politicians or the mobs say. Doesn’t matter if the whole country decides that something wrong is something right. This nation was founded on one principle above all else: the requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world — ‘No, you move’.”
In Captain America: Civil War, Sharon Carter delivers an impassioned eulogy for her aunt, S.H.I.E.L.D. co-founder Peggy Carter, built around the legendary agent’s advice to compromise when possible, but to never betray principles, punctuated by the memorable phrase, “No, you move.”
Those were familiar words for Marvel Comics readers, who remembered Steve Rogers first delivering them — or at least a version of them — in 2007, in The Amazing Spider-Man #537.
In that issue, part of Marvel’s “Civil War” crossover, Captain America delivers the forceful words not at a funeral, but rather to Spider-Man, who, just as in the Marvel Studios film, is on the opposite side of the conflict.
‘You did the hardest part. You took the jump…’ – Steve Rogers
Full quote: “That’s great. You did the hardest part. You took the jump, you didn’t know where you were gonna come down. And that’s it. That’s those little brave baby steps you gotta take. To try and become whole again. To try and find purpose. I went in the ice in ’45 right after I met the love of my life. Woke up 70 years later. You got to move on. Got to move on.”
Following Thanos’ Snap in Avengers: Infinity War that wiped out half of all life in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, those left behind struggled to pick up the pieces and discover a way to move on with their lives.
That included Captain America, who, in a therapy session for survivors, offered support to a man who went on a date for the first time since losing the love of his life five years earlier. His encouragement to “try and become whole again, to try and find purpose” holds as true for those confronted by a world changed by a cosmic-level catastrophe as it does for someone shaken by a more relatable loss.
‘The world must never again make the fatal error of mistaking compassion for weakness!’
Full quote: “I still remember how you sneered at democracy … how you call Americans soft … timid … too spoiled to fight for freedom! You mocked free men! You boasted of your contempt for liberty! Feel my grip, Zemo! It’s the grip of a free man! Look into my eyes, tyrant! They’re the eyes of a man who would die for liberty! The world must never again make the fatal error of mistaking compassion for weakness! And while I live, it won’t!”
Discovered in the icy North Sea waters by the Avengers nearly 20 years after his disappearance, Captain America awakes to find the world greatly changed, even if some of his enemies remain the same. In 1964’s Avengers #6, the World War II hero is confronted with Baron Heinrich Zemo, a Nazi scientist consumed by hatred for Captain America, following an encounter that left the villain’s signature purple hood permanently stuck to his face.
Despite being aided by the newly formed Masters of Evil, Zemo fares about as well in his reunion with Captain America as he did in their previous confrontation. No match for Steve Rogers in hand-to-hand combat, the villain is forced to endure the well-deserved taunts of the Sentinel of Liberty even as he’s handed a (honestly, well-deserved) beat-down, reminding him that freedom will always win in the fight against tyranny.
‘As maybe the world’s leading authority on waiting too long, don’t.’ – Steve Rogers
Full quote: “I’ve seen her flirt, up close. This ain’t that. Look, as maybe the world’s leading authority on waiting too long, don’t. You both deserve a win.”
Although we’re accustomed to Captain America rallying his teammates on the battlefield or lifting up the downtrodden with words of inspiration, it’s not often we hear him dole out advice about romance. But why shouldn’t he? After all, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Steve Rogers carried a flame for one woman, Peggy Carter, for nearly eight decades — one that not even decades frozen in ice could extinguish.
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It’s Peggy to whom Steve obliquely alludes in his advice to Bruce Banner in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron. Noticing the chemistry Bruce shares with Natasha Romanoff, Steve remarks simply, “It’s nice.” Bruce attempts to dismiss their interaction as mere flirtation, but Steve knows it’s something more.
Steve famously sacrificed himself in 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger by crashing Red Skull’s plane, loaded with Hydra weapons, into the Arctic, thereby saving countless lives. In their heartbreaking radio farewell, Steve asks Peggy for a rain check on a long-promised dance — one he isn’t able to cash for another 78 years, and then only with the aid of time travel in Avengers: Endgame.
‘A single individual who has the right heart and the right mind… can win a war.’ – Steve Rogers
Full quote: “I believe in an idea, an idea that a single individual who has the right heart and the right mind that is consumed with a single purpose, that one man can win a war. Give that one man a group of soldiers with the same conviction, and you can change the world.”
Captain America is arguably at his most inspirational when he’s leading good men and women into battle — whether they’re superheroes, like the Avengers, or soldiers, like the legendary Howling Commandos of World War II.
In Marvel’s 2009 comic Dark Reign: New Nation, Steve Rogers delivers a rousing speech to the elite Army Rangers unit as they facing overwhelming odds on what looks to be the beaches of Normandy.
Although his words are tailored to warriors charging into a seemingly hopeless battle, the sentiment is far-reaching: It’s about confidence, perseverance, and finding like-minded allies.
‘The only power I have is that I believe we can do better.’ – Sam Wilson
Full quote: “I’m a Black man carrying the stars and stripes. What don’t I understand? Every time I pick this up, I know there are millions of people out there who are gonna hate me for it. Even now, here, I feel it. The stares, the judgment. And there’s nothin’ I can do to change it. Yet I’m still here. No super serum, no blond hair, or blue eyes. The only power I have is that I believe we can do better. We can’t demand that people step up if we don’t meet them halfway.”
Set in the wake of Avengers: Endgame, in which the half of humanity snapped away by Thanos suddenly returns, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier addresses not only the inequities exposed by The Blip but also the complicated legacy, and secret history, of Captain America.
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Sam Wilson’s reluctance to pick up the shield left to him by Steve Rogers is put to the test by both the actions of John Walker, appointed as the new Captain America by the U.S. government, and by the discovery of Isaiah Bradley, a Black super soldier imprisoned and experimented upon after the Korean War.
When Sam finally takes up the mantle, and dons a new, winged Captain America costume provided by Wakanda, he delivers a fiery speech about racism, responsibility and the desire for change.
‘You get hurt, hurt ’em back. You get killed… walk it off.’ – Steve Rogers
Full quote: “Stark, you worry about bringing the city back down safely. The rest of us have one job: Tear these things apart. You get hurt, hurt them back. You get killed… walk it off.”
Leading the charge against a homicidal robot and an army of drones in Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America offers guidance that could be considered glib commentary on the impermanence of death in superhero fiction, or a perhaps-inappropriate foreshadowing of Quicksilver’s own demise in the 2015 film.
However, it works every bit as well as advice for never giving up, no matter how daunting, or frustrating, the situation may seem: “You get killed… walk it off.”
‘It’s tempting to want to live in the past… But it’s where fossils come from.’ – Steve Rogers
Full quote: “It’s tempting to want to live in the past. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable. But it’s where fossils come from. My job is to make tomorrow’s world better. Always has been.”
The 2010 Marvel Comics miniseries Captain America: Man Out of Time recounts Steve Rogers’ rebirth in the modern era, and his efforts to make sense of a world so radically different from the one he remembers.
Early in his career with the Avengers, the team battles the time-traveling Kang, who banishes Captain America back to 1945, where he begins to come to terms with his place in the present, rather than memories of his life in a bygone era.
He realizes his duty isn’t to the past — “where fossils come from” — but instead to tomorrow. It’s a good lesson for everyone, not only time-displaced super soldiers.