The release of Tom Hooper’s hyperrealistic Broadway adaptation Cats represents one of 2019’s biggest critical and commercial cat-astrophes. Nobody likes this movie; not the musical haters for whom the Andrew Lloyd Webber score sounds like the eponymous animals fighting in an alleyway, not musical fans who have balked at the disturbing ‘digital fur technology’ used to make Idris Elba and Judi Dench look like they suffer from a cocktail of tropical diseases. Nobody!
Luckily, cats have nine lives, and in the past century or so of motion pictures, they’ve enjoyed some much more successful depictions. The animals have been used to signify everything from bad luck to sensuality because they’re so endlessly mysterious and watchable. Why else would funny cat videos reign supreme on the internet?
Here are some of cinema history’s most memorable feline performances, from the most stereotypical roles to some genuinely stirring animal acting. Somebody get Jonesy his long overdue Oscar!
The perfect living accessory to any manic pixie dream girl’s world of whimsical ennui, the ironically untitled Cat is the pet of the similiarly slinky, unreadable Holly Golightly in this mid-century romantic classic.
Holly’s half-hearted attempt to get rid of Cat, and her ultimate decision to chase after him in the rain, makes up Breakfast at Tiffany’s swooning climax. I like to think that after our nameless protagonist and Holly end up together, they name the cat Tiffany. Why not? Who’s going to stop me, Truman Capote?
What has twelve legs, a hollow bus interior for a torso, and always arrives on time? My Neighbor Totoro’s Catbus, of course! Clearly inspired by Alice In Wonderland’s Chesire Cat, Hayao Miyazaki’s grinning creation is instantly loveable when he rolls up to Satsuki and Mei.
Cats are frequently the subject of myth in Japanese storytelling. Miyazaki’s folksy, magical realist version of a benevolent cat spirit brings their fuzzy power to a western audience in this huge crossover animation hit.
Movie cats are often employed to suggest the shadowy mysticism of another place – unknowable, but similar to our own. Hausu? Hausu and its cat are on another fucking planet.
Blanche, the white cat in Nobuhiko Obayashi’s absolutely bonkers Japanese horror comedy, is first introduced as a kind of straight man: a blank-faced, fluffy witness to the decapitated heads, carnivorous pianos, and people-turning-into-bananas of the film’s wacky plot. Until the last ten minutes or so, when Blanche starts spewing an impossible amount of blood from her mouth to flood the house.
We all know Sigourney Weaver’s embattled Ripley was the only human survivor of the events of Ridley Scott’s Alien. But what about the resourceful lil American Shorthair tabby cat she brought with her, through 57 years of cryostasis?
Jonesy is the true MVP of the Alien franchise, surviving an attack from the xenomorph and hissing at Aliens baddie Paul Reiser to let the audience know he’s no good from the get go. If only we knew what happens to him after he and Ripley are separated in the second film; we pray he’s somewhere warm without any xenomorphs, getting plenty of pats.
Blofeld’s Cat – James Bond
One of the OGs! Stroking a cat serenely on your lap while explaining your plan for world domination is one of the quickest ways to establish yourself as a world-class, old-school bad guy, thanks to the character of Ernst Blofeld in eight James Bond films, beginning with 1963’s From Russia With Love.
Sadly, it doesn’t look like the white-haired Persian cat who acts as Blofeld’s scene partner is having such a good time being bad – see below for a cat actor’s authentic reaction to the kind of explosions and carnage that are all in a day’s work for a supervillain.
Tabbies are pretty over-represented in this list, huh? Ulysses is the poor ginger cat that the Coen brother’s pathetic protagonist Llewyn Davis is forced to tote around Brooklyn, trying and failing to return him (or her, as exposed in one of the movie’s most hilarious sequences) to his owners.
Is Ulysses the lost soul of Llewyn’s dead musical partner, roaming the earth as an anchor of sorts for Llewyn’s own aimless state? That’s a common interpretation. But even if Ulysses is nothing more than a cute sidekick, he more than earns his place on this list.
This Turkish documentary about the streetcats of Istanbul pulls off the task of making an audience feel emotionally invested in the inner lives of a community of cats for about two hours.
The purring cast are simply that diverse and watchable, from the carefree Gamsiz to bad bitch Psikopat. By focusing on just seven of the thousands of stray cats who lead surprisingly charmed lives in Istanbul’s rapidly modernising urban sprawl, Kedi tells a stirring story of empathy, freedom, and, somehow, humanity.
Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart star in this 1958 Technicolor supernatural romance about a New York witch who entrances a human man into falling in love with her. The audience, however, is similarly helpless to the enchantment of Pyewacket, Novak’s feline familiar.
Apparently as many as 12 cats were required to perform the challenging role, which requires a lot of witchy glaring and body language. The Siamese is an intrinsic part of Stewart and Novak’s twisty love affair, making it clear that more third act complications in rom-coms should be caused by the devious machinations of naughty magic cats.
Of all the cats on this list, this wretched animal seems to be the one that most disliked performing in a feature film. Clearly told to just sit still and look cute while a poorly animated black circle is superimposed over its mouth to accommodate Eric Roberts’ lethargic voice acting, this cat deserves a long holiday more than any working human I know.
To be clear, you should not watch the infamously terrible A Talking Cat!?! just to enjoy the cuteness of the titular cat. But if you’re a prisoner of war somewhere and your captors throw on this movie to get government information out of you, the cat is huggable enough to focus upon for a few hours until your brain melts.