LOS ANGELES — Cats tend to get a bad rap in movies. They’re always evil, scheming and untrustworthy — or at the very least, they’re coughing up hairballs. Halle Berry won a Razzie Award for worst actress for squeezing into that skin-tight suit and tail to star in 2004′s “Catwoman,” but hey — at least she had enough of a sense of humor to show up and accept the ignominious prize in person.
With the documentary “African Cats” opening this week, here’s a look at the five most memorable cinematic felines:
— Puss-in-Boots from the “Shrek” movies: Antonio Banderas was a total scene-stealer when he voiced this character in the 2004 sequel “Shrek 2.” A tabby cat decked out in tiny Zorro duds in a nod to Banderas’ starring role in 1998′s “The Mask of Zorro,” Puss is sent to take out the ogre Shrek, which would make way for a fairy-tale ending for Fiona and Prince Charming. Instead, the kitty ends up warming to the big green guy and fighting on his side. The character alternates with catlike agility between sword-fighting bravado and saucer-eyed vulnerability, and Banderas plays him with a sexual ambiguity that adds a hilariously subversive layer of humor. Puss also goes along for the ride in 2007′s “Shrek the Third” and is the only reliable source of comedy in last year’s “Shrek Forever After.”
— Mr. Tinkles from the “Cats & Dogs” movies: He’s soft and white and fluffy but don’t let his looks or his cutesy name fool you. This power-hungry Persian is hell-bent on ridding the world of those enemy dogs and ensuring world domination for his species. Sean Hayes voices the character with wonderfully manic fury, and the fact that this cruel kitty was such a contrast to the flamboyantly charismatic role Hayes played on “Will & Grace” when the original “Cats & Dogs” came out in 2001 was part of the joke. Hayes returned to the part last year in the sequel “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore,” which featured Mr. Tinkles locked up in a cell, Hannibal Lecter-style.
— Fritz the Cat (1972): He curses and smokes pot, sparks riots and indulges in orgies — and the best part of all is, he’s animated. Fritz, the star of “Fritz the Cat,” engages in such wild and shocking activities, it earned an X rating — a first for an animated movie. Based on the Robert Crumb comic strip, director Ralph Bakshi’s satire follows the adventures of Fritz (voiced by Skip Hinnant) as he mingles with hippies, Black Panthers and Hell’s Angels. The movie tends to meander and it can get a little heavy, man, but it’s still a hoot. (Crumb, however, hated the film so much that he subsequently killed off the Fritz character.)
— Blofeld’s cat from the James Bond movies: Such a sweet and docile kitty, sitting there in its master’s lap, minding its own business, enjoying nice pets on its soft, white fur. Only the cat’s master is Blofeld, one of James Bond’s most persistent enemies. The word “supervillain” was created with Blofeld in mind. And so the cat, by association, must be evil, too. Since Blofeld only appears from the chest down in his first two Bond films — 1963′s “From Russia With Love” and 1965′s “Thunderball” — the cat is a defining characteristic, and clearly must be in on all these diabolical schemes for world domination. The cat is such a trademark, it was famously parodied in the “Austin Powers” movies with the hairless Mr. Bigglesworth and Mini-Mr. Bigglesworth.
— “Cat” from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1961): Blake Edwards’ classic romantic comedy provided one of the defining roles for Audrey Hepburn: Holly Golightly, the New York party girl who, outwardly, seems to live a glamorous life, but in truth is full of insecurities and neuroses. Distraught on her way out of town in the film’s final scene, she kicks the orange cat — whom she’s intentionally never named — out of the cab in the rain to live among the rats and garbage cans. But she quickly runs back to find him, and George Peppard waiting for her, in an emotional, climactic reunion in an alleyway. They kiss with the cat sandwiched between them. “Moon River” swells in the background. The end. I cry every time.