The 10 Best Bette Midler Movies, Ranked
BY ANDREA CIRIACO
October 12, 2023
In the 1980s, singer and actress, Bette Midler, became a household name and is universally recognized for her roles in popular films such as Hocus Pocus, The First Wives Club, and Disney’s Oliver & Company. Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, and initially started off performing in New York City off-Broadway productions. In the early 1970s, she gained prominence as a singer and made her feature film debut in the 1979 movie, The Rose, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Midler has captured audiences with her bold humorous films like Ruthless People and Down and Out in Beverly Hills as well as her dramatic roles specifically her performance in the 1988 movie Beaches. Out of Miss M’s impressive list of filmography, including For the Boys and Big Business, these are 10 of Bette Midler’s best movies, ranked!
10. ‘Divine Madness’ (1980)
10. Midler stars in her first concert movie, Divine Madness, which was filmed during her performances in Pasadena, California, and directed by Michael Ritchie who is best known for directing Bad News Bears and Fletch starring Chevy Chase. The concert features Midler performing her hysterical stand-up routines as well as over fifteen songs including ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ and her 1979 hit, ‘The Rose.’
After the release of her fifth album, Midler went on a worldwide tour and originally, Ritchie filmed three of her concerts during the tour and then cut and pieced them together to appear as one show. The Divine Miss M delivers a flashy and eccentric performance full of laughs and personable moments that demonstrate her capability as an impressive entertainer.
9. ‘For the Boys’ (1991)
During World War II, performer, Eddie Sparks (James Caan) wants to provide some fun for the troops who are stationed overseas and teams up with singer and dancer, Dixie Leonard. As they travel to North Africa and through the Pacific entertaining soldiers, Leonard, and Sparks endure their own share of success, love, and devastating loss that changes the course of their careers forever.
For the Boys is a musical drama-comedy that earned Midler her second Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and her second Golden Globe Award. Despite being a flop at the box office, critics praised Midler for her outstanding performance and comedic on-screen chemistry with Caan. Even though the movie is fictional, there’s speculation that Midler and Caan’s characters were based on famous USO performers, Martha Rayne and Bob Hope.
8. ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills’ (1986)
When a homeless man, Jerry Baskin (Nick Nolte) tries to drown himself in a stranger’s pool, he’s saved by the homeowner and wealthy businessman, Dave Whitehead (Richard Dreyfuss) who offers to take him in. Whitehead’s status-obsessed wife, Barbara, isn’t pleased with their new guest but to everyone’s surprise, Baskin ends up becoming exactly what the dysfunctional family needs to get back on track.
Down and Out in Beverly Hills is a ridiculous comedy based on the 1919 play, Boudu Saved from Drowning, which was adapted for the screen in 1932 by French director Jean Renoir. The movie was a financial success and critics praised Midler’s over-the-top performance and her uncanny comedic timing.
7. ‘Oliver & Company’ (1988)
Orphaned kitten, Oliver (Joey Lawrence) is taken in by Dodger (Billy Joel) a street-smart canine, and his group of ragtag dogs who are owned by a kind-hearted pickpocket, Fagin (Dom DeLuise). While out in the busy streets of New York City, Oliver ends up being adopted by a wealthy and lonely little girl, Jenny but his new life on Easy Street is threatened by a series of events and a loan shark who comes to collect a debt from Fagin.
Disney’s animated film, Oliver & Company, is a take on the classic novel, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and features a voice-over cast of stars including Cheech Marin, Robert Loggia, and Roscoe Lee Brown. Midler provides the voice of Jenny’s glamorous and spoiled poodle, Georgette, and delivers a poised, diva of a character who only Midler could successfully pull off in an animated feature.
6. ‘Big Business’ (1988)
When two sets of twins are born in Jupiter Hollow, a nurse accidentally mixes them up, and the parents – local farmers and a couple of socialites passing through town, take home the wrong set of twins. Years later, the wealthy twins become involved in a business deal that would shut down a factory in Jupiter Hollow, and when the other set of twins hear about it, they travel to New York City to try and stop them.
Midler and Lily Tomlin take on duel roles as twins in the farce comedy, Big Business, which is a playful combination of Mark Twain‘s The Prince and the Pauper and The Comedy of Errors by William Shakespeare. While the movie earned fair reviews and poor performance at the box office, critics still noted Midler and Tomlin’s double dose of hilarious antics and classic slapstick humor as the film’s only redeeming qualities.
5. ‘Ruthless People’ (1986)
Fashion tycoon, Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) despises his wife, Barbara, whom he essentially only married for her money but when Barbara’s kidnapped and held for a hefty ransom, Stone thinks he’s finally found a solution to his problem. While Stone ignores the kidnappers’ demands, the suspects try to figure out how to get their money and what to do with the obnoxious Barbara.
Ruthless People is an absurd comedy that stars Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater, and Bill Pullman in his feature film debut. Directed by the comedic team, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, Ruthless People embodies the classic humor of slapstick and screwball comedy that comes naturally to a comedian like Midler who delivers some of the movie’s best one-liners and punchlines.
4. ‘The First Wives Club’ (1996)
After the tragic death of their college friend, Elise (Goldie Hawn), Annie (Diane Keaton) and Brenda reunite for the first time in thirty years at the funeral. When the women figure out that their friend was distraught over her ex-husband marrying a younger woman, they realize that their own ex-husbands have taken them for granted and decide to get even with them once and for all.
The First Wives Club is based on the 1992 novel written by Olivia Goldsmith and also stars Maggie Smith, Rob Reiner, and Sarah Jessica Parker. Despite fair reviews from critics, The First Wives Club was a hit at the box office and today, it is considered to be a cult classic that’s noted for its exceptional cast and the effortless comedic chemistry between Midler and her prominent co-stars.
3. ‘Hocus Pocus’ (1993)
On Halloween night in Salem, Massachusetts, Max (Omri Katz), his little sister, Danny, and his friend, Allison, decide to explore an abandoned house once occupied by the legendary Sanderson Sisters who were executed during the Salem Witch Trials. When Max accidentally brings the witches back from the dead, the three must find a way to send them back to the grave before sunrise.
The spooky family feature, Hocus Pocus is an essential Halloween movie that also ranks as one of Midler’s signature performances. Midler and her co-stars, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy embody the classic humor of the Three Stooges and with a wicked musical performance led by Midler, it’s hard to believe that Hocus Pocus was initially a flop for Disney.
2. ‘Beaches’ (1988)
Aspiring singer, CC Bloom and successful attorney, Hillary Whitney (Barbara Hershey) have been friends since childhood and despite living on the opposite sides of the country, the two have remained close. Like most friends, they have their fair share of fights and disagreements, but while other friendships and relationships fade, the bond between Hillary and CC is unbreakable, and endure all of life’s happiness and hardships together.
Directed by Happy Days creator, Garry Marshall, Beaches is based on the 1985 novel written by Iris Rainer Dart and features a soundtrack that earned Midler two Grammys for Best Album and Best Song of the Year. Unfortunately, Beaches received mixed reviews, but critics still gushed over the film’s popular soundtrack, specifically the hit single and one of Midler’s most iconic songs, “Wind Beneath My Wings.”
1. ‘The Rose’ (1979)
Rose is a young rock star who pours her heart and soul into every performance and is forced to tour non-stop by her demanding manager. While Rose’s passion is to sing and entertain, the immense pressure and rock and roll lifestyle begins to take a toll on her and when she tries to cope with drugs and alcohol, her boyfriend (Frederic Forrest) tries to save her from spiraling out of control and being destroyed by her success.
Loosely based on the life of iconic rocker, Janis Joplin, The Rose earned several Oscar nominations including Best Actress Best Supporting Actor, and Best Sound, and is considered to be Midler’s breakthrough role. The film’s soundtrack consisted of songs performed by Midler including “The Rose,” which ended up becoming one of her biggest hit singles.