15 Essential Midnight Movies Every Film Fan Needs to See

Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Silva in El Topo (1970)
Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Silva in El Topo (1970)
Anchor Bay Entertainment

In the early 1970s, a new kind of moviegoing experience began to evolve in American repertory theaters, beginning in New York and eventually growing into a nationwide phenomenon: the midnight movie. Yes, people were watching movies at midnight well before then, and we certainly watch them from the comfort of our homes late into the night even now, but this wasn’t just about the time of night. It was about the experience of seeing something you wouldn’t find during a prime theatrical matinee or evening slot. This was a place for movies that fell between the cracks, because they were too strange or too campy or too experimental. So they were sent out into the night, and there they found their audiences.

Though movie theaters have changed a lot since then, along with our own attitudes about going to the movies, the midnight movie remains a particular kind of genre of misfits. No single midnight movie is like any other one, and each presents a unique theatrical experience. Some are horrifying, others are hilarious; some are defined by audience participation and others by intense critical study. As legendary distributor, programmer, and midnight movie pioneer Ben Barenholtz once put it: “You can’t make a midnight movie; the audiences make a midnight movie.”

In celebration of those films that were made into late-night legends by their audiences, here are 15 essential midnight movies.

1. EL TOPO (1970)

El Topo, Alexandro Jodorowsky’s bizarre “acid Western” full of unforgettable imagery and love-it-or-hate-it storytelling, is generally accepted to be the first “midnight movie” as we now define it: a film curiosity that’s not for everyone, which you have to go out in the dead of night to discover. It got this reputation not out of some weird copyright loophole or from being hidden away for decades, but from one theater owner’s fascination with it. After he saw a special screening of the film, Ben Barenholtz asked if he could begin running El Topo at New York’s now-legendary Elgin Theater (now the Joyce Theater). Barenholtz showed the film at midnight on weekdays and at 1 a.m. on weekends, and people (including John Lennon, who was a fan) started showing up in droves to see what all the fuss was about.

"By the end of the first week, we were selling out every seat in the theater—600 seats—every night and it lasted more than a year," Barenholtz told The New York Times.

It was the sense of discovering the film, and of being in on something that other, perhaps more “normal,” theatergoers simply didn’t get, that helped drive the interest in El Topo, and continued to drive the midnight movie business for decades.


The Rocky Horror Picture Show is without question one of the most famous midnight movies in the world, not just because of the content of the film itself, but because of how the audience reacts to it. For more than 40 years now fans have arrived at midnight showings in costume, ready to shout at the screen, sing along, and use props. It’s a unique theatrical experience, and it’s one that initially grew out of boredom. The film’s famous midnight movie audience participation screenings began in places like the Waverly Theater in New York City in the mid-1970s. In 1977, Brian Thomson—the film's set designer—stopped by the theater to see what all the fuss was about.

“We thought it was pretty boring, and we thought if we yelled back [it would be more fun],” moviegoers told Thomson.

Another member of the Rocky Horror production team also stopped by the Waverly at some point during this period: Tim Curry, who was apparently kicked out of the theater at one point when staff believed him to be an “impostor.”

3. FREAKS (1932)

After releasing Dracula at Universal and helping to launch the talkie horror genre in 1931, director Tod Browning returned to Metro Goldwyn Mayer and started work on a pet project of his: a revenge tale about sideshow performers. Irving Thalberg, MGM’s head of production, hoped the film would be more horrifying than even Dracula, and Browning pushed the envelope as much as he could, including famously casting real deformed sideshow performers in the film. While not nearly as lurid to 2018 eyes as its reputation would have you believe, Freaks was savaged by critics and shunned by most audiences in 1932. Then, a 1962 Cannes Film Festival revival screening renewed interest in the film, and the counterculture of the 1960s helped drive it to the midnight movie circuit, where it became a cult classic in the 1970s and 1980s.


When Night of the Living Dead first arrived in the late 1960s, it immediately gained some degree of infamy not for being shown at midnight, but for being shown in the middle of the afternoon. The film’s initial release came before the MPAA rating system, and at the time horror films were often shown as matinees to attract young audiences, but Night of the Living Dead’s brutal content was seen as far too extreme for young children who could in those days simply walk up to the box office and buy a ticket for anything. Critics including Roger Ebert (who liked the film itself) warned theater owners to steer clear of allowing children to see the film, which only enhanced its reputation among thrill-seekers. Because a copyright notice was missing from the title card upon release, the film also fell into the public domain, which made it a staple of the midnight movie circuit. Throw in a couple of key long-term engagements at places like New York City's Walter Reade Theater, and an icon was born.


If Freaks is a film with a shocking reputation that perhaps doesn’t shock modern audiences as much as it did upon its release, then Pink Flamingos is a film that shocks just as much now as it did in 1972. John Waters’s self-proclaimed “exercise in poor taste,” which centers on a competition to determine the most disgusting person in the world, wasn’t just made to shock you. It was made to threaten, to dare, and to challenge, and it did so in what remains an almost impossibly fascinating way. Ben Barenholtz thought so, too. And after he hit big with midnight showings of El Topo, he chose Pink Flamingos to be its successor in the late night slot at the Elgin. More than 40 years later, even as more moviegoers are watching it at home, it remains a unique theatrical audience experience.

6. ERASERHEAD (1977)

David Lynch’s imaginative, disturbing, and intensely compelling feature film debut is one of the most fully realized arrivals of a filmmaking voice you’re ever likely to see. And while it likely never would have caught on with a mainstream audience, the midnight movie circuit made it a fast cult classic. Once again, we can thank Barenholtz for this, who by the late 1970s was the head of film distribution company Libra Films. After seeing Eraserhead’s premiere at the Filmex festival in Los Angeles, Barenholtz convinced L.A.’s Cinema Village to begin running it at midnight. After success in Los Angeles, Eraserhead began migrating to midnight shows in other major cities, including New York and San Francisco, and it caught on with moviegoers and famous filmmakers alike. Stanley Kubrick considered it one of his favorite films; George Lucas loved it so much that he asked Lynch to make the film that would become Return of the Jedi; and Mel Brooks admired the movie—and Lynch—to the point that he hired Lynch to direct his 1980 production of The Elephant Man.

7. THE WARRIORS (1979)

Walter Hill’s now-legendary action movie about a Coney Island gang trying to get through one hellish night in New York City after being framed for the murder of another gang leader first gained notoriety, ironically enough, for gang violence breaking out at early screenings. It caused a problem early on, but its reputation has only improved in the years since, and The Warriors found life beyond that initial theatrical run as a midnight and repertory cinema staple. Looking back on the film in 2014, Hill summed up his own views on why the film endured in an interview with Esquire:

“It's probably not as apparent now, as half of today's movies are fantastical, but I think the most unusual thing about the film was the fact that it didn't present the gang and gang structure as a social problem. It presented it as simply a fact, the way things are, and not necessarily negative. It presented them from their point of view. Up until then, I think all of the movies had been more like, 'Let's look at the situation and figure out why these people are not turning out to be doctors and lawyers and dentists.' This was a movie that accepted their values and essentially understood that a street gang was a defensive organization rather than an offensive one. It didn't preach to them about middle-class values. And I think that's what made the movie unique. When you look at the movie, it's more like a musical than some grimly realistic thing.”

8. THE EVIL DEAD (1981)

Made on a shoestring budget by director Sam Raimi and producer Robert Tapert, The Evil Dead is a film that built its cult status at least somewhat gradually. After arriving in theaters to box office success, the film started to gain a word-of-mouth reputation, and its cabin-in-the-woods horror vibe made it perfect midnight movie fodder from the beginning. This, coupled with the film’s reputation as a “video nasty” as the era of VHS rentals dawned—it was not legally available on video in the U.K. for nearly 20 years after its initial home release—helped inspire a kind of infamy that’s only bolstered by the film’s manic, often comic tone (something the sequel, Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn, would embrace fully). Then, the film was successful enough to get a sequel with a higher budget, Evil Dead II, that was essentially a comedy-horror remake of the first film, which drove fans back to the original once again. Even now, when the film has inspired three films (including one remake), a Starz TV series, comic books, and more, The Evil Dead stands as the original, and therefore an essential piece of horror viewing. It might be viewed at home more than the theater now, but that’s the kind of status films tend to hold onto.


The Rocky Horror Picture Show helped to establish an enduring foothold on the midnight movies circuit for films that relish camp, blur the lines of sexuality, and celebrate queerness, and by the time the 1990s rolled around Rocky Horror was joined by films like The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. The story of two drag queens (Hugo Weaving and Guy Pearce) and one trans woman (Terence Stamp) who head out across Australia on a battered tour bus to perform a drag show at a casino, the film is both an intimate portrayal of LGBTQ characters and a glitzy celebration of Australia, with a killer soundtrack headlined by ABBA and Gloria Gaynor to make everything extra entertaining. The film was a surprise worldwide hit, spawned a stage musical, and remains one of the most important landmarks in both LGBTQ and Australian cinema, but it’s also the perfect film to see at midnight so you can sing along to “I Will Survive” with everyone else in the theater.


The Harder They Come was the first major Jamaican feature film, and it was such an instant hit in its home country that star Jimmy Cliff could barely make his way to the theater where it premiered because of the crowds. In the United States, though, the film took a little longer to catch on. The crime drama about a young songwriter (Cliff) trying to find work was picked up for U.S. distribution by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, and while it was not an instant box office success here, it began to gain traction on the repertory circuit. It became one of the film’s that followed El Topo in the Elgin Theater’s midnight slot, and it enjoyed similarly successful midnight runs around the country in the years that followed. What’s perhaps most interesting about the film though is that for all its cult status as a work of art on its own, its soundtrack was an even more influential release. An essential sampler of reggae sounds, The Harder They Come’s soundtrack album helped popularize the genre in America, to the point that film critic and essayist Danny Peary observed that many people bought and enjoyed the album without ever even seeing the movie.

11. THE ROOM (2003)

By far the most famous midnight movie of the 21st century so far, The Room is a film so bad that you can’t help but be compelled by it—whether you think it’s a secret masterpiece or you’re just dumbfounded for its entire runtime. It’s also a rare midnight movie that’s become a cult phenomenon with the direct participation of its creator: director, writer, and star Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau initially distributed The Room himself, for a two-week run at two theaters in Los Angeles. During that run, a screenwriter named Michael Rousselet wandered into a completely empty theater to see the film, and was so taken with its unique brand of disastrous intensity that he was calling friends to come see it with him again even before the credits rolled. Over the next three days, Rousselet claims he got “over 100 people” to see The Room, and many of them in turn emailed Wiseau to tell him how much they enjoyed it.

"That’s when I say, ‘Let’s just show The Room once a month, midnight screening,”’ Wiseau told Entertainment Weekly.

Since then, those midnight screenings have taken place nationwide, often with Wiseau in attendance, and have included audience participation that ranges from yelling at the screen to throwing plastic spoons. The film gained a new level of cult status in 2017 when James Franco released The Disaster Artist, a film dramatizing the making of The Room produced with Wiseau’s blessing and participation.


Plan 9 from Outer Space has the infamous distinction of being branded the “Worst Film of All Time” in Harry and Michael Medved’s book The Golden Turkey Awards, and audiences and critics alike have spent the nearly 40 years since the book’s 1980 publication finding ways to refute that reputation. Yes, Plan 9 From Outer Space is undoubtedly bad, but is it really “the worst”? Surely a film would have to be far more boring and unwatchable than Edward D. Wood Jr.’s legendary film about aliens resurrecting dead humans—among them Bela Lugosi, in his last film role (he was famously replaced in some shots by Wood’s wife’s chiropractor with a cape over his face)—with its endlessly quotable dialogue, repeated shots, and hilarious continuity shifts. Whether the film is really “the worst” or not, fans keep flocking to it, either to prove the film is better than its reputation or to simply be able to boast that they’ve seen it, and so the film has become a midnight movie staple, but also something more. With such an infamous distinction, Plan 9 From Outer Space was always bound to be the subject of greater scrutiny, and some critics have reappraised Wood’s film as far smarter and more subversive than the director himself was ever given credit for in his lifetime. Here’s Danny Peary on the importance of the scene in which the alien Eros (Dudley Manlove) brands humanity as stupid:

“Don’t let the fact that Eros is a maniac throw you off—at rare moments, he is as sound a visionary as is Preacher Casey in The Grapes of Wrath (1940). Wood just had to make Eros crazy to camouflage his political message so that he wouldn’t have trouble with censors. I believe that in this one scene (in the spaceship), in this one godawful, terribly made, poor excuse for a picture, Edward D. Wood is more critical of America’s government and military strategy (that calls for an arms buildup and further nuclear experiments) than any other director dared to be.”


Originally released as a propaganda film titled Tell Your Children, meant to frighten parents and families with a depiction of the supposed dangers of marijuana, Reefer Madness began its life as a cult film soon after it was released, when legendary exploitation cinema figure Dwain Esper recut and retitled it. Esper’s effort had some success, but then the film went dormant until the early 1970s, when a man named Keith Stroup bought a print for less than $300. Stroup was the founder of a group called NORML (National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws), and began showing his refurbished cut of Reefer Madness at pro-pot events to raise money for NORML’s lobbying efforts. It became a massive midnight movie hit thanks to its campiness, salacious themes, and the sense that the people who made it really had no idea what marijuana was or how it affected the user. So, a film meant to scare people away from pot became a midnight movie hit and a cult classic because of potheads.


Bruce Lee’s first major American film (he died shortly before its U.S. release, so never saw its success) is revered as one of the greatest martial arts films ever made, and was a massive hit upon its release in the summer of 1973. As such, it doesn’t have the “so bad it’s good” or “so weird you have to see it” reputation of so many other essential midnight movies. It’s just a fantastic kung fu film that’s fun to see at midnight. What it does have, though, is a place as a key influencer of later 1970s exploitation cinema. When Enter the Dragon became a hit, distributors began recutting and redubbing all manner of martial arts films for American audiences, creating an influx of cheap Chopsocky and Chopsocky-esque films that often featured Bruce Lee clones with names like “Bruce Li” or “Bruce Le.” So we got a whole generation of a certain kind of midnight movie because of Enter the Dragon’s success, and even if you don’t like those films, you can still always go back to the original and Lee’s legendary “emotional content.”


Though it does not have the same midnight movie reputation as many of the other entries on this list, and it exists at a time when many films can simply be enjoyed from the comfort of one’s couch, Hedwig and the Angry Inch is still a kind of spiritual successor to both Rocky Horror and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Like the former, it’s the kind of film that encourages costumes, quote-alongs, and sing-alongs (at one point during the musical number “Wig in a Box,” the film itself practically demands it), and like the latter, it’s an intimate, funny, and moving celebration of its LGBTQ characters. The film began its life as a musical, and has since had renewed, Tony Award-winning success on the stage, but creator John Cameron Mitchell’s screen version still resonates, and is still begging to be seen with an audience. If you’re a Hed-head, it’s hard to imagine a better feeling than going to this movie at midnight and, two hours later, belting out “Midnight Radio” with everyone else in the theater. If Hedwig and the Angry Inch isn’t already an essential midnight movie, then we should be fighting to make it one.

Additional Sources:
Cult Midnight Movies by Danny Peary (2014)
The Rocky Horror Double Feature Video Show
Cultographies: The Evil Dead by Kate Egan (2011)

The 11 Best Movies on Netflix Right Now

Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Laura Dern and Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story (2019).
Wilson Webb/Netflix

With thousands of titles available, browsing your Netflix menu can feel like a full-time job. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed, take a look at our picks for the 11 best movies on Netflix right now.

1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

Spider-Man may be in the middle of a Disney and Sony power struggle, but that didn't stop this ambitious animated film from winning the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 2019 Academy Awards. Using a variety of visual style choices, the film tracks the adventures of Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), who discovers he's not the only Spider-Man in town.

2. Hell or High Water (2016)

Taylor Sheridan's Oscar-nominated Hell or High Water follows two brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) who take to bank robberies in an effort to save their family ranch from foreclosure; Jeff Bridges is the drawling, laconic lawman on their tail.

3. Raging Bull (1980)

Robert De Niro takes on the life of pugilist Jake LaMotta in a landmark and Oscar-winning film from Martin Scorsese that frames LaMotta's violent career in stark black and white. Joe Pesci co-stars.

4. Marriage Story (2019)

Director Noah Bambauch drew raves for this deeply emotional drama about a couple (Adam Driver, Scarlett Johansson) whose uncoupling takes a heavy emotional and psychological toll on their family.

5. Dolemite Is My Name (2019)

Eddie Murphy ended a brief sabbatical from filmmaking following a mixed reception to 2016's Mr. Church with this winning biopic about Rudy Ray Moore, a flailing comedian who finds success when he reinvents himself as Dolemite, a wisecracking pimp. When the character takes off, Moore produces a big-screen feature with a crew of inept collaborators.

6. The Lobster (2015)

Colin Farrell stars in this black comedy that feels reminiscent of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's work: A slump-shouldered loner (Farrell) has just 45 days to find a life partner before he's turned into an animal. Can he make it work with Rachel Weisz, or is he doomed to a life on all fours? By turns absurd and provocative, The Lobster isn't a conventional date movie, but it might have more to say about relationships than a pile of Nicholas Sparks paperbacks.

7. Flash of Genius (2008)

Greg Kinnear stars in this drama based on a true story about inventor Robert Kearns, who revolutionized automobiles with his intermittent windshield wiper. Instead of getting rich, Kearns is ripped off by the automotive industry and engages in a years-long battle for recognition.

8. Locke (2013)

The camera rarely wavers from Tom Hardy in this existential thriller, which takes place entirely in Hardy's vehicle. A construction foreman trying to make sure an important job is executed well, Hardy's Ivan Locke grapples with some surprising news from a mistress and the demands of his family. It's a one-act, one-man play, with Hardy making the repeated act of conversing on his cell phone as tense and compelling as if he were driving with a bomb in the trunk.

9. Cop Car (2015)

When two kids decide to take a police cruiser for a joyride, the driver (Kevin Bacon) begins a dogged pursuit. No good cop, he's got plenty to hide.

10. Taxi Driver (1976)

Another De Niro and Scorsese collaboration hits the mark, as Taxi Driver is regularly cited as one of the greatest American films ever made. De Niro is a potently single-minded Travis Bickle, a cabbie in a seedy '70s New York who wants to be an avenging angel for victims of crime. The mercurial Bickle, however, is just as unhinged as those he targets.

11. Sweet Virginia (2017)

Jon Bernthal lumbers through this thriller as a former rodeo star whose career has left him physically broken. Now managing a hotel in small-town Alaska, he stumbles onto a plot involving a murderer-for-hire (Christopher Abbott), upending his quiet existence and forcing him to take action.

The Definitive Guide to All the Cats in Cats

James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
James Corden, Laurie Davidson, and Francesca Hayward star in Tom Hooper's Cats (2019).
Universal Pictures

Regardless of whether you were impressed, confused, or downright frightened by the trailer for Tom Hooper’s upcoming film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s classic musical Cats, it’s safe to say that the star-studded cast and “digital fur technology” generated strong reactions all around. And, if you didn’t grow up listening to the soundtrack or watching performers in the 1998 film version purr and prance in furry, feline bodysuits, your shock is completely understandable.

Cats is light on plot, heavy on characters, and sprinkled with words that T.S. Eliot made up for his 1939 poetry collection Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, the basis for the musical. To familiarize yourself with all the eccentrically named cats—and find out who’s portraying them in the film—here’s a comprehensive list of every "romantical, pedantical, critical, parasitical, allegorical, metaphorical, statistical, and mystical" cat you’ll meet.


admetus cats film 1998
Really Useful Films

Played by: Eric Underwood

Admetus is a ginger and white chorus cat with no spoken lines, but plenty of strong dancing sequences—perfect for former Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood. Though some musical productions have renamed Admetus as Plato (both names are mentioned in “The Naming of Cats”), the film will feature them as two separate characters.


Played by: Bluey Robinson

Alonzo is another chorus cat, identifiable by the black patches of fur on his face and the black-and-white stripes on his head. Apart from his ensemble appearances, he has intermittent solo lines and also assists Munkustrap during the fight against Macavity. Since singer/songwriter Bluey Robinson will portray him in the film, it’s possible that Alonzo will dance less than he has in stage productions.

Asparagus, the Theatre Cat

Played by: Sir Ian McKellen

Nicknamed “Gus,” this elderly, trembling tabby has an impressive acting history, which he recounts at length during his song (along with a few disparaging comments about how the theater isn’t what it once was, and kittens these days aren’t properly trained). Who better to play one of the Jellicles’ most well-respected thespians than one of the humans' most well-respected thespians, Sir Ian McKellen?


Played by: Taylor Swift

Though Bombalurina is only mentioned by name once (in “The Naming of Cats”), she’s pretty hard to miss: the slinky, red-coated cat helps introduce Jennyanydots, the Rum Tum Tugger, Grizabella, Bustopher Jones, and Macavity. She most often sings with Demeter, her duet partner for “Macavity the Mystery Cat.”

Bustopher Jones

Played by: James Corden

Known as “the Brummell of cats,” this black-and-white, epicurean dandy frequents gentlemen’s clubs, wears white spats, and weighs a whopping 25 pounds. Jones’s genial manner endears him to just about everyone—not unlike James Corden.


cassandra in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Mette Towley

With her sleek brown coat and her regal, mysterious manner, Cassandra seems like she might’ve been worshipped by ancient Egyptians in a past life. You might recognize Mette Towley, a member of Pharrell’s dance group, The Baes, from her appearances in 2019’s Hustlers and Rihanna’s “Lemon” music video—and you can be sure that she’ll uphold Cassandra’s legacy as one of the most eye-catching chorus cats.

Coricopat and Tantomile

Played by: Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen

These striped twin tabby cats always move in unison and boast psychic abilities. Though the roles are sometimes cut from theatrical productions, we’ll get to see them in the film, played by hip hop dancer Jaih Betote and Zizi Strallen, best known for her work as Mary Poppins in the recent West End revival.


demeter in 1998's cats film
Really Useful Films

Played by: Daniela Norman

This multicolored, slightly skittish cat usually duets with Bombalurina, and together they perform “Macavity the Mystery Cat” in full. It’s often implied that Demeter has a complicated romantic past with Macavity, who tries to abduct her during his attack. British ballet dancer Daniela Norman will star opposite Taylor Swift’s Bombalurina in the film, and you can also see her in Netflix’s upcoming ballet drama series Tiny Pretty Things.

Grizabella, the Glamour Cat

Played by: Jennifer Hudson

This aging starlet is now decrepit, depressed, and shamefully rejected by the rest of the Jellicles—think Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond with more self-awareness and very raggedy fur. Even if the Cats original cast recording wasn’t the soundtrack for your childhood road trips, you might have heard Grizabella’s song “Memory;” it’s been covered by Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, Barry Manilow, Glee’s Chris Colfer, and more. American Idol alum (and general ballad-belting powerhouse) Jennifer Hudson will bring her Academy Award-winning talents to the role of Grizabella in the film.

Growltiger and Griddlebone

Played by: Ray Winstone and Melissa Madden Gray

Growltiger, a rough-riding sea captain cat, and Griddlebone, his fluffy white lover, appear during “Growltiger’s Last Stand,” during which Gus reminisces about having played the part of Growltiger in a stage production long ago. The characters have been left out of some productions, including the 1998 film, but Hooper’s version will feature them, where they'll be played by British actor Ray Winstone and Australian performer Melissa Madden Gray (whose stage name, fittingly, is Meow Meow).


Played by: Freya Rowley

Named after T.S. Eliot’s own cat, Jellylorum is a maternal calico who cares for Gus and also helps introduce Jennyanydots and Bustopher Jones. Though sometimes portrayed as older and more mature than some of the other cats, Freya Rowley (who performed as Tantomile on the UK tour of Cats) will likely bring a younger energy to the character.

Jennyanydots, the Old Gumbie Cat

Played by: Rebel Wilson

Jennyanydots is a goofy old tabby cat who lazes around all day and spends her nights teaching the basement vermin various household skills, etiquette, and performing arts. Under her tutelage, the mice learn to crochet, the cockroaches become helpful boy scouts, and the beetles form a tap-dancing troupe. Rebel Wilson is a perfect match for such a multifaceted, eccentric, and amusing gumbie cat (whatever gumbie is).

Macavity, the Mystery Cat

Played by: Idris Elba

The show’s main antagonist is a tall, thin criminal cat with sunken eyes and dusty ginger fur. While the Jellicles are plainly terrified of this “monster of depravity,” they also seem eerily impressed by his ability to elude capture and conviction. Historically, Macavity hasn’t done any speaking, singing, or dancing—he only shows up briefly to kidnap Old Deuteronomy during a rousing cat fight—but here’s hoping that Hooper has broadened the role for the film so we get to hear at least a good growl or two from Idris Elba.

Mr. Mistoffelees

Played by: Laurie Davidson

Laurie Davidson, who played Shakespeare in TNT’s Will, will take on the role of Mr. Mistoffelees, an affable tuxedo cat who peppers his magic tricks with plenty of high leaps and pizzazz. He’s generally beloved by the rest of the cats, and he also saves the day by conjuring Old Deuteronomy from wherever Macavity had hidden him.

Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer

Played by: Danny Collins and Naoimh Morgan

These two roguish calicos describe themselves as “knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tightrope walkers, and acrobats.” They’re also partners in petty crime, notorious for smashing vases, stealing pearls, and generally wreaking havoc upon their posh family in Victoria Grove. British dancer Danny Collins will join Naoimh Morgan—who actually played Rumpleteazer in the Cats international tour—to bring the spirited rascals to life in the film.


Played by: Robert Fairchild

Without Munkustrap, viewers would have little hope of understanding what’s actually happening in this vaguely plotted musical. Though there’s no song to introduce him, the striking, silver cat is still arguably the most important character: He describes the function of the Jellicle Ball, narrates the action as it unfolds, and leads the charge against Macavity’s attack. It takes a certified musical theater machine to play such an integral part, and Hooper has surely found that in Robert Fairchild, former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Tony Award nominee for An American in Paris.

Old Deuteronomy

Played by: Dame Judi Dench

In the gender-swapped role of our dreams, Dame Judi Dench will play Old Deuteronomy, the revered (usually male) town elder who chooses one lucky kitty at the annual Jellicle Ball to ascend to cat heaven, the Heaviside Layer, and be born again. It isn’t Dench’s first time in the junkyard: She was preparing to appear as both Jennyanydots and Grizabella in the original 1981 West End production of Cats when she snapped her Achilles tendon and had to pull out.

Plato and Socrates

Played by: Larry and Laurent Bourgeois (Les Twins)

Though Plato is a chorus cat mentioned in “The Naming of Cats” and included in some stage productions, Socrates was created specifically for Hooper’s film to make room for both halves of Les Twins, also known as Larry and Laurent Bourgeois. The French hip hop duo gained mainstream recognition after Beyoncé featured them in her 2018 Coachella set and subsequent Netflix concert film Homecoming.

Rum Tum Tugger

Played by: Jason Derulo

The Rum Tum Tugger is a perpetually fickle feline with a lot of rock-n’-roll flair and a pair of hips that he seems to have stolen from Mick Jagger himself. In addition to his own song, Tugger also sings “Mr. Mistoffelees” and features in a few other numbers. With Jason Derulo taking on the role for the film, there’s a good chance we’ll see a modernized, moonwalking version of this swoon-worthy cat.

Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat

Played by: Steven McRae

Skimbleshanks is a charming Scottish cat who looks like a friendly tiger and ensures that all is in order on the night trains, which includes everything from patrolling for mice to reminding the guard to ask passengers how they like their tea. With his flaming red hair and graceful precision, Royal Ballet principal dancer Steven McRae definitely has a couple things in common with his character.


Played by: Jonadette Carpio

This kitten’s name varies from production to production, but she’s usually characterized by her playful, innocent manner and her willingness to accept Grizabella when the other Jellicles try to shun her. Jonadette Carpio, Philippines native and member of the all-female Krump crew Buckness Personified, will bring her street dance background to the role in the film.


Played by: Francesca Hayward

Though lithe, light-footed Victoria doesn’t sing any lines of her own in the original musical, her gleaming white coat and balletic dance solos still make her a standout—so it’s only fitting that Royal Ballet principal dancer Francesca Hayward will bring her to life in the film, where the role has been expanded into a main character. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Taylor Swift even collaborated on a new song called “Beautiful Ghosts” that Hayward will sing in the movie.

Miscellaneous Chorus Cats

Because theater companies vary in size and scope, certain chorus cats are sometimes omitted from productions—or members of the ensemble just aren’t assigned specific characters. At this point, Bill Bailey, Carbucketty, Electra, Etcetera, Peter, Pouncival, Quaxo, Rumpus Cat, Tumblebrutus, and Victor are all chorus cat names that haven’t been given to anybody in the film, but that doesn’t mean we won’t see extra cats in the shadows. According to Dance Spirit, Corey John Snide and Kolton Krause, who played Coricopat and Tumblebrutus on Broadway, respectively, have both been cast as ensemble members in Hooper’s film.