When I think of actresses who have truly shaped my childhood, one of the first that comes to mind is Bette Midler. While I didn’t see most of her iconic films as a kid, the one that stood out to me was the kid's horror comedy, Hocus Pocus – and eventually her character from that film ended up becoming one of my favorites.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten the chance to really watch all of her best work from her time in the spotlight, and honestly, this actress has some amazing projects that you have to check out. From films to television specials, these are the best Bette Midler movies and TV shows and how you can watch them streaming.
Hocus Pocus (1993)
I mean, we had to start off with Hocus Pocus. In this classic Disney film, a teenager moves to Salem with his sister and his parents and ends up lighting a black-flame candle on Halloween night. This awakens the spirits of the Sanderson sisters, who’s only wish is to gain power and look young again by stealing youth from children.
I feel like with a lot of people of my generation, this is the first film you think of when you hear the name Bette Midler, and for good reason. The Hocus Pocus cast is amazing, but she is on another level with her character acting. The fact that she was able to perfectly deliver so many clever lines so effortlessly and still look amazing while doing it – with those horrible fake teeth in, as well – just shows how effortless she makes acting look. This is, hands down, one of my favorite Halloween movies, and I can’t wait for the sequel. I’m so excited for the Sanderson sisters to come back to life.
The Rose (1979)
Next up on the list, we have the drama, The Rose. This film, which is loosely based on the life of Janis Joplin, follows the story of a fictional rockstar and her time in the spotlight, as well as her struggle with drugs and trying to make it day by day.
This was one of the few roles that Midler received an Academy Award nomination for, and for good reason. She is just so damn good and I could rewatch this movie a million times and not get sick of it. Watching her sing is like a whole different experience, and combining that with her acting skills makes for an excellent film.
Buy The Rose on DVD/Blu-ray on Amazon. (opens in new tab)
The Politician (2019 - 2020)
We now take a look at the Netflix original series from creator Ryan Murphy, The Politician. With a star-studded cast, this series tells the story of Payton Hobart, a normal man from Santa Barbara who is very passionate about the world and is in a different political race every season, following his adventures and hijinks in politics and government.
Midler wasn’t in the first season, but her main character in Season 2 of The Politician, Haddassah Gold, was comedy gold (pun intended). She was so funny and performed so well, and it’s shows like this where I remember just how funny she really is. It makes me want her in more satires/comedies like this, because she rocks it.
Stream The Politician on Netflix. (opens in new tab)
Divine Madness (1980)
Next up, we have Divine Madness, which is a little bit different from the other films on here. It's a concert film that follows the singer and her backup singers, the Harlettes, during their concerts in 1979, performing many of her most popular songs and her beautiful voice.
While it’s not a scripted film like many of the others here, I put the movie here because this is where we really get to see her true personality and how talented she is. Her voice is out of this world and something that I will listen to on a daily basis, and those who have never listened to her sing live before should watch this. You’ll have a whole new appreciation for her.
For The Boys (1991)
Another film that earned her a nomination for an Academy Award was For The Boys, which was released in 1991. The musical dramedy is all about real-life performer Dixie Leonard and her partnership with Eddie Sparks as they travel across the country during the 1940s to put on shows for the troops.
As the second role on this list that earned her an Oscar nomination, and won her a Golden Globe, Midler is stellar in For The Boys. Not only does it show her musical talent once again, but her comedic timing is just on fire and perfect. Definitely one of my favorite movies that I think more people need to see if they like musical dramedies.
The second television entry on this list isn’t a show or a miniseries, rather, it's a television film, and I need to talk about Gypsy. This 1993 made-for-television film, based on the stage musical of the same name, stars Midler as Rose Hovick, a stage mother who will stop at nothing in order to get her daughter noticed so she becomes a headliner.
This film was just so damn good. Growing up, I’ve experienced some awesome made-for-television films, but Gypsy knocks all of them out of the park with it’s stellar cast, incredible music numbers, and of course, Bette Midler in the lead role. It’s not surprising to know that her voice was beautiful in every way possible. She was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special for her part in the movie.
Outrageous Fortune (1987)
Starring Midler and Shelley Long, Outrageous Fortune is a comedy that tells the story of two women who unknowingly are sharing the same man. However, when he suddenly vanishes, both of them go on an adventure to find him, discovering that he’s not exactly what he seems.
Again, Midler is just funny. I saw it in Hocus Pocus as a kid and I see it even more now as an adult when I watch her in older movies such as this one. Both leads have some amazing chemistry. She was even nominated for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for the Golden Globe Awards for her performance.
Down And Out In Beverly Hills (1986)
If you want a film about a dysfunctional family, boy, do I have one for you. Down and Out in Beverly Hills is another comedy, which follows the story of a rich family that lives in the coveted location of Beverly Hills, California, but their lives are turned upside down when they save the life of a homeless man who was suicidal, making their already dysfunctional home a little bit more crazy.
Four words – Bette Midler/Richard Dreyfuss. That’s it, that’s the sentence.
On a real note, both share awesome chemistry and made me laugh more times than I’d like to admit while watching this film, and I’d really love to see them in another film together. It would be something fun, for sure.
Rent/Buy Down and Out in Beverly Hills on Amazon. (opens in new tab)
The Addams Family (2019)
They’re creepy and they're kooky. You know who they are – The Addams Family. In this animated version of the classic creepy family, we follow as they move into a bland neighborhood, and create even more tension when Wednesday happens to make friends with the daughter of a radio host who is quite the opposite of the family themselves – a conformist, gasp.
I have always adored this family. I grew up watching the movies from the 1990s with Anjelica Huston and the entire iconic cast. I am so excited for the Netflix series, Wednesday. And, this film was super enjoyable, too. But, Bette Midler as Grandma was just the perfect casting among everyone else here. She got everything about the character that we have seen before into her voice and was able to portray her perfectly. If Grandma appears in the live-action Wednesday, please bring her on to play her; she would be perfect.
The Glorias (2020)
Next up, we have a biographical drama called The Glorias. This film is all about Gloria Steinem, based on the book, My Life on the Road, and how she learned and changed as time went on, from her childhood all the way to her older years as a feminist journalist and activist.
The fun part of this film is that the role of Gloria Steinem is actually portrayed by four different actresses, which is something that’s always intriguing to see. Midler actually plays Bella Abzug, a real-life social activist and someone who worked closely with Steinem, and her portrayal is great.
Next up is the dramedy, Beaches, and this film tells the story of two friends with completely different lives – one a rich debutante and the other an entertainer – and how their difference affected their relationship over the course of their lives.
The film didn’t do so well with the critics back then, but it was a commercial success thanks to the strong performances of Midler and Barbara Hershey. It was supposed to have a sequel, but it was never made, so we'll have to be satisfied with the popular original.
The First Wives Club (1996)
Starring Midler, Goldie Hawn, and Diane Keaton, The First Wives Club is a comedy that is all about three women who want one thing – revenge. But, not that bloody kind. All they desire is justice for themselves after their cheating husbands left them for younger women.
I could go on for hours about how fun this film is, but since I can’t do that, I’ll simply say this - the three core cast members have awesome chemistry. I want more movies with them together.
Ruthless People (1986)
Last but not least, we have Ruthless People. In this dark comedy, we follow a couple who are looking to get revenge on their former boss, so they kidnap his wife. But, as time goes on, they learn that there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than they expected.
I can’t function when actor Danny DeVito and Bette Midler are on the same screen together. And, I mean that in the best way, because I’m laughing so hard. As the stars of this film, they really do knock it out of the park and I’d give anything to see them on the same screen again. Hollywood, listen to me – we need more of these two together.
Stream Ruthless People on Amazon Prime through AMC+. (opens in new tab)
Rent/Buy Ruthless People on Amazon. (opens in new tab)
So many films and TV, so little time. But, whatever you pick from Midler’s catalogue, you’ll surely be entertained.