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.

2. THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)

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.

4. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)

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.

5. PINK FLAMINGOS (1972)

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.

9. THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT (1994)

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.

10. THE HARDER THEY COME (1972)

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.

12. PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE (1959)

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.”

13. REEFER MADNESS (1936)

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.

14. ENTER THE DRAGON (1973)

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.”

15. HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2001)

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)

Star Wars Fans Are Petitioning to See J.J. Abrams's The Rise of Skywalker Director's Cut

Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
Joonas Suotamo, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, and John Boyega in Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker (2019).
Lucasfilm Ltd.

We've all seen the use of petitions in Hollywood before, such as when disappointed Game of Thrones fans signed the now-iconic petition for HBO to remake the final season of the epic series with "competent writers." Unsurprisingly, the petition didn't work—but it did likely cause some mild humiliation for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

According to ComicBook.com, a new petition has popped up for another major fandom: Star Wars. This one is calling for the release of the supposed three-plus-hour director's cut of The Rise of Skywalker, which is believed to be director J.J. Abrams's personal telling of the final film in the Skywalker Saga. This new plea for the "J.J. Cut" has already amassed more than 6200 signatures on Change.org.

As ComicBook.com reports, the studio cut Abrams's work down to two hours and 22 minutes to adhere to the estimated patience of the average moviegoer. However, on Reddit, user egoshoppe stirred up some controversy by claiming that Abrams was "devastated and blindsided" by the changes that were made to the most recent film, and that they were made without the director's approval. The person claimed to have gotten information after speaking "with someone who worked closely on the production" of The Rise of Skywalker. Whether or not the claim is true, it has made fans even more determined to see the film's original cut.

Though the Game of Thrones petition didn't work, if enough people come together, maybe we could get at least a bit more footage from The Rise of Skywalker than was released in theaters. The Force is strong with these ones.

[h/t ComicBook.com]

The Real Names of 30 Famous Actors

Brad Pitt promotes Ad Astra at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.
Brad Pitt promotes Ad Astra at the 2019 Venice Film Festival.
Maria Moratti/Getty Images

There’s no business like show business for having to leave your birth name behind. Movie stars throughout the past century have often adopted new names for a ton of reasons, from evading racial bias to pure whim. Here are 30 celebrities who you may not know changed their name, and who you may never look at the same way again.

1. Brad Pitt

One of the simplest stage name changes for one of the most famous men on the planet: It’s difficult to think of Brad Pitt as anything other than Brad Pitt, but the Oscar-winning star of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was born William Bradley Pitt. Does Bill Pitt have the same ring to it?

2. Rihanna

Rihanna attends the "Queen & Slim" Premiere at AFI FEST 2019 presented by Audi at the TCL Chinese Theatre on November 14, 2019 in Hollywood, California
Rihanna attends the Queen & Slim at AFI FEST 2019.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Like Brad Pitt, the actor and singer from Barbados goes by her middle name professionally. She was born Robyn Rihanna Fenty. "I get kind of numb to Rihanna, Rihanna, Rihanna," she told Rolling Stone, noting that her close friends and family still call her by her first name. "When I hear Robyn, I pay attention."

3. Michael Caine

English actor Michael Caine, throwing a punch, August 1965
English actor Michael Caine, throwing a punch, August 1965
Stephan C Archetti, Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Some actors streamline their names to be more memorable, which is what Maurice Micklewhite did when he became Michael Caine in 1954. He considered becoming Michael Scott (that’s what she said), but picked Caine because of Humphrey Bogart’s film The Caine Mutiny. In 2016, after a half-century of using the stage name and being unbelievably famous, Micklewhite finally legally changed his name to avoid hiccups at airports.

4. Audrey Hepburn

A photo of actress Audrey Hepburn
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

The daughter of a Dutch noblewoman, Hepburn was born Audrey Kathleen Ruston and baptized as Edda Kathleen Hepburn-Ruston. Her professional name is sleeker, but it still would have been lovely to see "My Fair Lady starring Edda Hepburn-Ruston."

5. Cary Grant

Cary Grant is pictured in a publicity photo circa the 1940s
Cary Grant is pictured in a publicity photo circa the 1940s.
Getty Images

Hepburn’s co-star in Charade played a man with a lot of aliases, which had to have been at least a little familiar since Cary Grant began life as Archibald Leach. In 1931, Leach impressed the general manager of Paramount Pictures, B.P. Schulberg, enough to score a contract with the caveat that he pick a name that sounded more American. They came up with "Cary Grant" together.

6. Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe
A photo of Marilyn Monroe.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Most everyone knows that Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson and that she was a natural brunette. Before acting, she modeled and sometimes flip-flopped her name, going as Jean Norman. But when she signed with 20th Century Fox, an executive there changed her name to "Marilyn" because she reminded him of Broadway actress Marilyn Miller. Monroe is Norma Jeane’s mother’s maiden name.

7. Albert Brooks

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Charley Gallay/Getty Images for TCM

Is there any need to explain why Albert Einstein changed his name to Albert Brooks? The legendary comedic factor and filmmaker was born into a showbiz family. His mom was a singer, and his father was a comedian on the radio. His brother, the late Bob Einstein, didn’t have the same need to change his name.

8. Tina Fey

Tina Fey attends the 2018 Tony Awards Meet The Nominees Press Junket on May 2, 2018 in New York City
Jenny Anderson, Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions

It seems appropriate that Tina Fey, who is famous for playing 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, is actually named Liz. Born Elizabeth Stamatina Fey, the former head writer of SNL and creator of 30 Rock has used the shortened form of her Greek middle name since early in her career, which kicked off in grand fashion with a banking commercial (and by "fashion" we mean: "Check out that swell vest").

9. Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling of 'Four Weddings and a Funeral' speaks onstage during the Hulu segment of the Summer 2019 Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles in 2019
Rich Fury/Getty Images

Vera Mindy Chokalingam got her start doing stand-up, where she noticed that emcees would butcher her last name or mock it, so she shortened it. She also chose to go by her middle name, which her mother chose for her because she watched a lot of Mork & Mindy while she was pregnant.

10. Spike Lee

Spike Lee attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California.
Spike Lee attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California.
John Shearer/Getty Images

The legendary filmmaker goes by Spike, but his birth name is Shelton, which is also his mother’s maiden name. She gave him the nickname "Spike" when he was a baby because he was tough. With that in mind, "Spike" has been his identity since almost the very beginning.

11. Natalie Portman

Natalie Portman attends the premiere of FOX's "Lucy In The Sky" at Darryl Zanuck Theater at FOX Studios on September 25, 2019 in Los Angeles, California
Natalie Portman attends the premiere of FOX's "Lucy In The Sky" in Los Angeles, California.
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Getting a professional start at a very young age, the Israel-born Neta-Lee Hershlag was an understudy on Broadway at 11 and starred in the hitman movie The Professional before she turned 13. To protect her family’s identity, she adopted her grandmother’s maiden name as her stage name.

12. Vin Diesel

Helen Mirren and Vin Diesel attend the 45th Chaplin Award Gala at the on April 30, 2018 in New York City
Helen Mirren and Vin Diesel attend the 45th Chaplin Award Gala in New York City.
Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images

“Vin Diesel? Of the New Brunswick Diesels?” It’s no surprise that “Vin Diesel” is a made-up name, but it’s interesting that Mark Sinclair didn’t come up with it because of his acting ambitions (even though he’s been acting since he was a child). Vin Diesel became Vin Diesel when he was a nightclub bouncer in New York City, which is why his name makes him sound like a nightclub bouncer. He’s the one who made us believe a bouncer could become an international movie star.

13. Helen Mirren

A name like Ilyena Lydia Vasilievna Mironov makes it sound like Helen Mirren was born to Russian royalty, but she was the child of an immigrant diplomat-turned-taxi driver in London. Her father, Vasily, and British mother, Kathleen, Anglicized the family name to Mirren in the 1950s. In 2003, after four decades of stellar work (plus Caligula), Mirren was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, making her name even more impressive.

14. Sir Ben Kingsley

Sir Ben Kingsley arrives for the European premiere of "The Jungle Book" at BFI IMAX on April 13, 2016 in London, England.
Sir Ben Kingsley arrives for the premiere of The Jungle Book at London's BFI IMAX.
Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

The celebrated actor changed his name, like so many actors do, as a survival technique. He wasn’t getting stage work under his birth name, Krishna Pandit Bhanji, but almost immediately got roles once he started going by Ben Kingsley. Unlike other actors, Kingsley has completely absorbed the stage name as his own, even signing his paintings with it.

15. Awkwafina

Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
Awkwafina attends the 2020 Critics' Choice Awards in Santa Monica, California.
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Critics Choice Association

The show is called Awkwafina is Nora From Queens because Awkwafina is Nora from Queens. Born Nora Lum, the rapper-turned-actor chose her stage name at 15 and views it as a full alter ego that embodies that wild, teenage energy that she learned to tone down in college. She carried the name over into her acting career for Ocean’s 8, Crazy Rich Asians, and The Farewell.

16. David Tennant

David Tennant speaks onstage during the ‘Call of Duty: WWII Nazi Zombies’ Panel at San Diego Convention Center on July 20, 2017 in San Diego, California
Joe Scarnici, Getty Images for Activision

The guy who became an actor because of Doctor Who—and then became The Tenth Doctor and married his favorite Doctor’s daughter, who played his cloned daughter in an episode of Doctor Who—was originally named David McDonald. He picked a stage name for the rather boring (and common) reason that there was already another actor named David McDonald in the union. Since Tennant started working at 16, he did the 1980s teen thing and named himself after Neil Tennant, the lead singer of the Pet Shop Boys.

17. Demi Moore

Actress Demi Moore attends the signing of her memoir "Inside Out" at Barnes & Noble Union Square on September 24, 2019 in New York City
Demi Moore at a book signing of her memoir, Inside Out, at Barnes & Noble Union Square.
Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for ABA

Model Demi Gene Guynes changed her name when she married musician Freddy Moore at the age of 18 and held onto the name after their divorce a few years later, having used it for her role on General Hospital. There’s also some confusion about her first name, with some publications referring to her as Demitria despite Moore confirming that Demi is indeed her birth name. Of course, the more popular confusion about her first name can be cleared up like this: It’s pronounced Duh-Mee, not Dimmy.

18. Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton arrives at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival in Santa Barbara, California.
Michael Keaton arrives at the 31st Santa Barbara International Film Festival in Santa Barbara, California.
Jennifer Lourie/Getty Images

Batman star Michael Keaton is an example of an actor who needed to change his name because there was already an actor in the Screen Actors Guild with his birth name. Since actors’ names are their trademarks, it’d be like someone named Coca-Cola wanting to join the Soda Union. When you know that Keaton’s birth name is Michael Douglas, you can probably imagine why he had to pick a new moniker. He thought about becoming Michael Jackson. Ultimately, he went with “Keaton” and not for any particular reason (though there is one pervasive rumor—more on that below). Yet to this day, he has never legally changed it; he still goes by Michael Douglas in real life.

19. Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton at the 2020 Writers Guild Awards West Coast Ceremony in Beverly Hills, California.
Diane Keaton at the 2020 Writers Guild Awards West Coast Ceremony in Beverly Hills, California.
Amy Sussman/Getty Images for WGAW

Ever since Michael Douglas changed his name to Michael Keaton, a rumor has floated around that he chose his now-famous name because of an attraction to Annie Hall actress and all-around titan Diane Keaton. Michael has dismissed the rumor, but not even Diane Keaton is actually a Keaton. The actress was born as Diane Hall; she chose her mother’s maiden name as her stage name. (And yes, the fact that she shares a surname with one of her most famous characters was very much intentional.)

20. Chevy Chase

Chevy Chase attends the premiere of The Last Movie Star in Hollywood, California.
Chevy Chase attends the premiere of The Last Movie Star in Hollywood, California.
Michael Tullberg/Getty Images

The former SNL star's nickname/stage name was given to him by his grandmother, who took it from the medieval English ballad "The Ballad of Chevy Chase." But Cornelius Crane Chase is named for his grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt Crane. It turns out that Chase's Community character’s father being named Cornelius was a nice inside joke.

21. Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg attends Netflix’s ‘Quincy’ New York Special Screening on September 12, 2018 in New York City
Brad Barket, Getty Images for Netflix

Whoopi. Funny name for a funny person (and a serious actress with an EGOT under her belt). She started life as Caryn Elaine Johnson, and her silly nickname-turned-stage name means exactly what you think it means. “I was a bit of a farter!” Goldberg admitted during an interview with Graham Norton. “The theaters I was performing in were very small, so if you were gassy you had to walk away farting, and people would say I was like a Whoopee cushion.”

22. Fred Astaire

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in Carefree (1938).
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers star in Carefree (1938).
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

With a natural gift for performance, Frederick Austerlitz became the most famous American dancer of the 20th century. Like Spike Lee, it was Fred Astaire's mother who changed his name: When the family pursued a vaudeville career for their two children, she dropped the last name and replaced it with Astaire when he was 18.

23. Ginger Rogers

Astaire’s dance partner didn’t go by her birth name either: Virginia Katherine McMath changed her name after winning a Charleston (the dance, not the city) competition in 1925 and heading on tour. Ginger comes from her first name, and Rogers is her stepfather’s last name. She initially toured as "Ginger and her Redheads."

24. Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah attends the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, Illinois.
Queen Latifah attends the 2020 NBA All-Star Game in Chicago, Illinois.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

When Renaissance woman Queen Latifah released The Dana Owens Album in 2004, she was being true to her roots. Born Dana Elaine Owens in 1970, she changed her name when she was eight years old after finding Latifah (meaning delicate, sensitive, or kind) in a book of Arabic names at a time when others in her New Jersey neighborhood were switching to names with Arabic origins. When it came time to go pro, she added the “Queen” to evoke strength.

25. Jamie Foxx

Jamie Foxx attends a screening at Cinemark Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, California
Jamie Foxx attends a screening at Cinemark Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles, California.
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

When Eric Marlon Bishop was starting out in comedy, he felt that female comics were put up on stage first since there were fewer of them. Looking for a somewhat androgynous name to misdirect emcees picking which stand-up hit the stage next, he chose Jamie, and he landed on Foxx as an homage to comic legend Red Foxx.

26. Bea Arthur

Bea Arthur at a podium on stage.
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

Two things that might surprise you about The Golden Girls star: One, she was in the Marine Corps. Two, she was born Bernice Frankel. She married another Marine, Robert Aurthur, after she was honorably discharged, and modified that new last name to act as her stage name.

27. Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga attends Lady Gaga Celebrates the Launch of Haus Laboratories at Barker Hangar on September 16, 2019 in Santa Monica, California
Lady Gaga attends the launch of Haus Laboratories in Santa Monica, California.
Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Haus Laboratories

It’s appropriately mysterious that there are conflicting accounts as to how Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta came by her stage name. The root of it stemmed from producer and then-boyfriend Rob Fusari comparing Germanotta’s sound to Queen’s "Radio Ga Ga." Fusari takes credit for the full name, saying his phone autocorrected “Radio” to “Lady” when he texted her one day. (He relayed this version of the story when he sued his ex back in 2010.) Gaga disputes that recollection, however; she says she liked how the stately elegance connoted by “Lady” offset and played with the craziness evoked by “Gaga.”

28. Jackie Chan

Actor Jackie Chan makes a public appearance
Kiyoshi Ota, Getty Images

Peerless as a modern martial arts star, Chan was born Chan Kong-sang in Hong Kong. He picked up "Jackie" while working in construction during college, where he worked with a man named Jack who thought highly enough of Chan to call him "Little Jack." More surprisingly, Chan’s mom called him Pao Pao ("Cannonball") as a baby, and it’s slightly disappointing that it didn’t became his stage name. Pao Pao Chan is an ideal martial arts movie star name. Jackie’s cool, too.

29. Portia De Rossi

Portia de Rossi attends the Nate and Jeremiah for Living Spaces Upholstery Collection Launch at Casita Hollywood on October 3, 2018 in Los Angeles, California
Portia de Rossi attends the Nate and Jeremiah for Living Spaces Upholstery Collection Launch in Los Angeles, California.
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Living Spaces

Usually aspiring actors will change a name they find clunky to something almost blandly inoffensive. The opposite is the case for Amanda Lee Rogers, who legally changed her name at the age of 15 to the Shakespearean "Portia." "In retrospect, I think it was largely due to my struggle about being gay," de Rossi told The Advocate. "Everything just didn’t fit, and I was trying to find things I could identify myself with, and it started with my name."

30. Kirk Douglas

Some of the time you learn an actor’s real name, and it makes perfect sense why they wanted to make the change. Other times you learn that Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitch and wonder why he abandoned the raw power of that name. He grew up extremely poor but was able to attend the American Academy of the Dramatic Arts on scholarship where one of his classmates was Betty Joan Perske (a.k.a. Lauren Bacall).

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