During my wild ride through the natural horror genre, cockroach movies were the most difficult ones to watch. There is something so inherently vile and disgusting about these poor insects. I have personally witnessed two cockroach infestations, one of which I will never forget. Especially the scene where I hear scraping from inside the microwave, proceed to remove the outer lid with a screwdriver and gaze upon at least 50 cockroaches wriggling inside the damn machine! This was nothing compared to this New York cockroach infestation, with over one million German cockroaches located in a single apartment. The swarm was “ankle-deep”.

In case you were wondering, the official name is katsaridaphobia or cockroach phobia. These are fascinating creatures with an extremely bad reputation that’s almost completely unwarranted. The mosquitoes, for example, are far worse and infinitely more dangerous insects. The worst thing that a cockroach can do is give you a mild food poisoning as they rarely carry diseases themselves. And burrow into your ear. No biggie. If you want to know more about this I recommend you read this BBC Future article: Cockroaches: The insect we’re programmed to fear.

In these movies with cockroaches, they most often used Madagascar hissing cockroach which some people keep as pets. The largest specimens can reach 10 centimeters or 4 inches. Although there were also some German and Trilobite cockroaches. All of them used live cockroaches with only a couple resorting to the CGI or practical effects. This creates an additional sense of authenticity and horror. I mean the images themselves are enough to make squirm, let alone prolonged scenes of roaches crawling all over naked bodies. As always, we will first go over honorable mentions of cockroach movies before moving on to our eight finalists.

Honorable Mentions

Here, we will be going over movies with cockroaches where they are not the main threats in the movie. Usually, there will be a nasty scene or two with them. Exactly because of this, those scenes look pretty horrific as they went overboard on the gross factor. The movies are pretty good and can take you on an exploration journey through genres you overlooked or forgot.

Damnation Alley [1977]

This post-apocalyptic road movie is based on the novel of the same name by Roger Zelazny. With a simple and straightforward story, it can be a nice introduction into the seventies post-apocalyptic sub-genre. It also features one hell of a vehicle that’s popular even today! Landmaster is a vehicle constructed by Dean Jeffries at a cost of $350,000 just for this movie. This is before the release of Mad Max and the second wave of mostly desert post-apocalyptic movies. In Damnation Alley we follow four soldiers who managed to survive the nuclear apocalypse. They receive a signal from Albany, New York and decide to try to get there in their huge all-terrain vehicle.

The landscape is filled with huge scorpions and, you guessed it, killer cockroaches. During their travels, our band of survivors will run into a city that’s infested with cockroaches. A decently sized chunk of the movie is dedicated to this ordeal. Just like in most of the cockroach movies, we are dealing with regular-sized roaches. I think this was a wise decision as those giant scorpions did not look good. Roaches on the other hand were predictably repulsive and disgusting.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation [1990]

Directed by Brian Yuzna (Society, The Dentist, Bride of Re-Animator), known for his nasty and sleazy scenes, this is one of the cockroach movies with the most disgusting scenes. We follow a news reporter trying to get to the bottom of a woman’s death that appears to be caused by spontaneous combustion. She meets Fima, an enigmatic bookstore owner that seems to have some sinister intentions. The scene where a cockroach-like creature is emerging from the reporters’ mouth is one of the nastiest scenes on this whole list.

With a visceral and nightmarish atmosphere, Initiation is very different from other Silent Night, Deadly Night movies. If you’re not familiar with the franchise, it’s about a killer Santa Claus character, a theme that was dropped with this iteration. And while you might think that Initiation is a classic B movie, truly bizarre scenes and ludicrous plot set it apart from others. If you add to that really good pacing and mysterious story, you got yourself quite a movie. Especially if you’re looking for movies with cockroaches.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master [1988]

It is no surprise that one of the most popular horror franchises features cockroach scenes. It’s been a couple of years since I went through all the Freddy movies so I almost forgot about The Dream Master. Directed by Renny Harlin (Exorcist: The Beginning, Deep Blue Sea, The Long Kiss Goodnight) it picks up a year after the events in the third part. Kristen, Kincaid, and Joey are alive and well but Kristen still thinks that Freddy is alive. Kincaid and Joey show her the old boiler room to prove that he’s gone once and for all. However, the next time they fall asleep…

Opening with a scene where a girl finds a cockroach in her sandwich, this movie is a standard-issue eighties horror. Compared to the rest of the cockroach movies on this list, this one has the least footage. The segment starts with a really disturbing workout accident and continues with a nightmarish transformation sequence. Man, oh man, these eighties body horror movies were something else. Nowadays these scenes are so rare. And the humor was somehow weirdly appropriate, especially Freddy’s comebacks. As always, it’s always a good idea to binge-watch this franchise.

Twilight of the Cockroaches [1987]

Leave to the Japanese to make a cute animated movie about a society of cockroaches living in a messy apartment. Think Joe’s Apartment but a strange twist. Meet Seito, a single guy living the life of a single guy. This means that his apartment is a true paradise for cockroaches as they actually created an entire society unknown to him. This will change when Seito meets a girl… Before you start thinking that this is completely made up, let me introduce you to German cockroaches. They are very social insects with complex communication, kin recognition and many other aspects that you usually wouldn’t prescribe to a bug.

Very artistic and atmospheric, Twilight of the Cockroaches was primarily oriented towards the Japanese audience. This, actually, makes it even more interesting and moody to the viewers from the rest of the world. Too bad the relationship between cockroaches and humans wasn’t properly explored. They focused on the impending doom of the cockroach society and a “view from below”. This is also the only movie with cockroaches that’s animated. Just to put that in perspective there are three animated mainstream movies about ants and lions. Not counting sequels. So, if you’re looking for a different perspective on cockroaches check out this cute flick.

Men in Black [1997]

I eventually decided to leave this movie in the Honorable Mentions sections, although it was really close to the main list. I mean, any cockroach movies list would be incomplete without this movie. After all, the main villain in Men in Black is a giant cockroach-like creature. Possibly the best-looking monster on this list, Edward is one ugly-looking motherfucker. An instant cult classic, I think that I don’t need to tell you much about the adventures of Jay and Kay. Just to warn you not to watch the latest installment in the franchise Men in Black: International. The original trilogy is always a fun watch.

12 feet tall, with huge teeth, two antenna and six legs, Edgar the Bug is one formidable and scary-looking bug. The reveal happens towards the end of the movie, as a finale of the whole operation. The fact that Edgar is actually a giant cockroach was hinted as soon he landed on Earth. Back in my weed-smoking days, I used the first words he uttered so much. “Sugar, I need sugar!”. Vincent D’Onofrio, Pyle from Full Metal Jacket and Orson Welles from Ed Wood, will be forever remembered by his amazing performance here. Extremely entertaining and still looking good, especially after that 4K remaster, Men in Black is always worth one more watch.

Creepshow [1982]

This homage to cult horror shows from the fifties like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror has become exactly that! And how could it not with a director like George A. Romero and a writer like Stephen King. It’s comprised of five tales of dread and horror. For this list we will be focusing on the fifth and final story aptly titled “They’re Creeping Up on You”. I think you can already guess what’s it about. Upson Pratt, an evil businessman suffering from germophobia lives alone in his lofty, hermetically sealed apartment. One night, during a thunderstorm, he notices a single cockroach crawling on the floor. Soon, that one cockroach will turn into his worst nightmare.

Claustrophobic and very intense, They’re Creeping Up on You is one of the best episodes featured in this anthology. The final scene is truly something else and it rivals Initiation with the grossness. They’ve used over 20.000 live cockroaches while making it and it fucking shows. The episode also works well as a psychological horror story. We follow this asshole who’s trying to distance himself from the society and everything else in this special apartment. If you’re looking for movies similar to Creepshow I recommend you check out the official sequel Creepshot 2 and the unofficial third and final part titled Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.

Cockroach Movies

At first, I was only able to find just a few movies with cockroaches but soon, like their real counterparts, they started crawling out of the woodwork. We have just a couple of movies featuring giant roaches with most of them counting on strength in numbers. So, without further ado let’s jump in this infestation.

8. They Crawl [2001]

Looking like it was shot a couple of years earlier, They Crawl opened with a lot of good scenes. The stunts, car chases and crashes all looked great and gave the movie a lot of authenticity. I just started thinking that this is going to be another sturdy nineties movie when they started veering off. Ahh, the nineties, a time when a police detective could come to the crime scene wearing a tracksuit. Dancing a fine line between a serious movie and a movie so bad it’s good, They Crawl turned out to be neither. Granted, there’s a lot of cockroach footage with some nice special effects. It plays like a big, blockbuster movie but is actually a small science fiction flick and this can be funny at times. Especially since it ripped-off a lot of scenes from those movies.

After a bus driver goes crazy and crashes his bus into the building, spunky detective Gina O’Bannon is tasked with finding out why he did it. After consulting with a coroner, she thinks that the culprit might be a strange cult called Trillion. At the same time, army guy Ted Gage decides to visit his brother only to find out he died in an explosion. Gina gets the case as it seems that the two cases are connected. Before you get excited, Mickey Rourke has about four minutes of screen time here. The rest of the cast is relatively familiar making They Crawl a bearable experience. Especially if you want to get fucked up and trash it while watching. Compared to the rest of the cockroach movies, it’s pretty much the worst, although it has this sleazy quality.

7. They Nest [2000]

Also known as Creepy Crawlers, it was pretty logical that this movie was made a year earlier than They Crawl. It follows Dr. Ben Cahill, a man with a couple of problems troubling him. His wife just left him and he’s also having a small issue with alcohol. He decides to chill out for a few months on the Orr island not knowing that the island is a death-trap! Set in Maine and featuring a pretty nasty story, you would think that this movie was written by Stephen King. However, that is not the case. This is a cheap and fairly entertaining movie with cockroaches. With a nice pace and cliched story it sort of like just flows. Like a television movie should.

This is one of two movies with cockroaches set on an island. Surrounded by water and cockroaches, our doctor will have his hands full. Full of cockroaches that is! They Nest is an unpretentious B movie and not ashamed of it. We have seen it a million times and we can easily watch it one more time. The cast was likable with a few familiar faces like John Savage and Dean Stockwell. I also liked the creativity of the cockroach scenes. They are well-thought-out to max the gross-out effect and put to good use poor roaches. Cheap and effective, I even looked away from the screen during one scene. And I’m not easily disgusted. Cockroach movies can be a bit disturbing, especially if you’re already drunk.

6. Bug Buster [1998]

The working title for this movie was Blatella which translates to cockroach and I think it was a much more appropriate title. Yes, I know that Bug Buster sounds better for a cockroach movie, but our buster appears only towards the end of the movie. Which is a shame since he was one hell of a character. Played by Randy Quaid, this military-style exterminator with over-the-top commercials and acting was just plain fun. Speaking of the cast, we will have the honor to watch two Star Trek veterans in this movie! James Doohan as the sheriff and George Takei as a scientist trying to figure out what’s happening in the small town of Mountview. One of the first scenes in the movie features a young lady laying half-naked on the bed, moaning and covered in cockroaches. And just when you think that this movie couldn’t get more stranger, you realize that the girl is young Katherine Heigl! In the best tradition of cheap and schlocky B movies, they reused that scene at least three times. With good effect!

We follow a family who just bought a local diner and decided to settle in this small town. However, settle they will not as soon dead bodies start showing up all over town. No one knows who or what killed them… Very cleverly edited and with a great atmosphere, Bug Buster is a perfect cockroach movie for relaxing. The commercials featuring General George S. Merlin, Pest Eliminator were hilarious! Especially since you know that there is someone real with the same commercial out there. We were also never too far away from another scene where roaches are crawling over people and objects. The script was also tongue-in-cheek with lines like “five dead humans and one dead bimbo”. As a cherry on the top, we have a short but effective shitting scene, something I haven’t seen in a long time.

5. Terra Formars [2016]

After I rounded up all of the cockroach movies, I thought that this is going to be the last one for sure. Terra Formars looked like one of those The Asylum productions, trying to appeal to science fiction and creature feature lovers. However, this is a competently shot and a very intriguing movie. Directed by Takashi Miike (Audition, 13 Assassins, Ichi the Killer) and based on the manga series of the same name, this is the only science fiction movie on this list. Most of the story happens on Mars with occasional cuts to crappy old Earth. After the overpopulation problem became huge in the 21st century, we decided to terraform Mars. To do this, scientists launched rockets filled with special moss and cockroaches to spread it throughout the planet. Now, 500 years later, the terraforming seems complete and the first manned mission is on its way to the Red Planet. Comprised of criminals convicted of various crimes, who must make sure that everything is okay on the surface. Soon they will discover that everything is not okay, on the contrary…

Terra Formars has a C grade eighties science fiction movie vibe. The way the jokes are constructed and characters developed just screams eighties. Visually, the movie looks great. I really liked the CGI and the creatures themselves looked, well, they looked like creatures. At every turn, I’m trying not to give away too much of the plot or other stuff because this is the reason why you should watch this movie. You will be constantly surprised. And when I thought they couldn’t possibly surprise me anymore, they did. The story takes crazy and unexpected turns, characters are killed randomly and stuff happens for no reason. At the same time, the concepts that are presented here seem well-thought-out and innovative. Especially if you like this sort of stuff. You will also learn a lot of interesting things about various insects and don’t ask me to tell you why. This is a surreal and pulpy ride that needs to be seen to be believed.

4. The Nest [1987]

Produced by Julie Corman, Roger Corman’s wife and based on the book of the same name written by Eli Cantor, The Nest has the best poster of all the cockroach movies. The image of a giant cockroach trying to overpower a girl in her underwear later became iconic. I mean, the opening scene features a cockroach wriggling in a cup of coffee with a man talking on the phone in the background. You can guess what’s going to happen next. The Nest is your typical Jaws copy complete with crooked city players looking to make money and trying to attract tourists. In a small town where nothing ever happens, something started happening. First sheriff’s house was overrun with cockroaches and now dead, mutilated bodies started appearing. While investigating the case, he questions the mayor but he seems apprehensive like he’s hiding something. That something might have to do with the research facility that a company called Intec has built near the city…

Surprisingly gory and with a lot of body horror, The Nest strikes a perfect balance between humor and horror. It was perfectly suited for the eighties but it still packs a decent punch. Characters are well developed albeit stereotypical. I have to say I identified with the Hawaiian shirt-wearing, tobacco-rolling and philosophy-spouting exterminator. And he doesn’t know how to drive, there are just too many coincidences! Next thing you’ll be telling me that he smokes weed and listens to metal. I also loved the Mayor and especially his exit strategy. When you see the movie, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Out of all these movies with cockroaches, this is the only one that features zombroaches. It’s continuing a long-held natural horror tradition that there must be at least one movie in the sub-genre where humans turn into zombies. And for the end, just a small fun fact: the studio where they shot the interior scenes has been infested with cockroaches for several years after the production was over.

3. Bug [1975]

It was all fun and games so far but it’s time to get serious. Seventies twisted psychological horror serious. Simply titled Bug, this movie is based on a Thomas Page’s book The Hephaestus Plague released two years earlier. Right from the start, you could feel that this is going to be a much deeper experience than the rest of the cockroach movies. The opening scene was just perfect and I don’t want to spoil it for you, so we better move on to the general story. A new type of cockroach emerges in a small town and starts terrorizing the population. Actually, the less you know, the better. Just trust me on this one. This low-key seventies eco-horror reminded me of Phase IV, a movie featured on our movies about ants list. Driven by an incredibly powerful and committed Bradford Dillman’s performance, it’s also a great character study.

Bug is a movie that is possibly the only movie on this list within the realm of possibilities. I mean, I know it’s a stretch, but it’s sure more realistic than your straight-forward cockroaches-eat-humans flick. It also features a new roach species, a trilobite cockroach. That doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing our old friends Madagascar hissing cockroaches, because they are present and accounted for. Suspenseful and with a heavy atmosphere, Bug sure knows how to set up a scene. Like the one where we see a cockroach on a phone. And then you hear the phone ring and you know someone is going to pick it up. The only thing that annoyed me a bit is the strange music that was a bit too experimental for my taste. I just wish they went with the classical score. With an original script and an authentic feel to it, Bug keeps twisting and turning, keeping the viewers’ attention peeled to the screen. And that screen is filled with cockroaches!

2. Mimic [1997]

After Cronos, where we also have bugs present, Guillermo del Toro broke into the mainstream with this science-fiction/horror about giant mutated cockroaches. It feels like an Alien clone with the dark corridors of a spaceship replaced with an old subway system. This claustrophobic feeling creates a very suspenseful atmosphere as our heroes are trying to fight these giant cockroaches. Considering what’s going on, Mimic strangely feels believable and approachable. Within fifteen minutes we were already in the sewers in full protective gear trying to figure out what’s going on. After Dr. Susan Tyler introduced the genetically modified cockroach called Judas breed, the town was finally rid of a deadly Strickler’s disease. Carried by the ordinary roach it spread quickly and caused a lot of death and suffering. Three years later, a priest goes missing in an underground complex along with reports of a weird bug…

Heavily edited by the infamous Weinstein brothers, del Toro disowned the movie shortly after it was released. The director’s cut is much closer to his vision, so I recommend you watch it instead of the theatrical cut. With Lovecraftian motives of you-shouldn’t-mess-with-nature, the story is engaging enough. Starring Mira Sorvino and Jeremy Northam, the cast was good with an awesome supporting cast comprising of Josh Brolin, F. Murray Abraham and Norman Reedus of his The Walking Dead fame. You also might recognize Charles S. Dutton, Dillon from Alien 3. He feels right at home in these dark tunnels. With a $30 million budget, Mimic looks great. The sets are very well created and the creatures look threatening. There are two straight-to-video sequels that you might check out. However, they are not so good and without any involvement from del Toro. You’re better of watching The Relic, The Species or The Faculty.

1. Joe’s Apartment [1996]

This is one of those movies that I pestered people with at the beginning of my movie recommendation career. If it can be called that. Infinitely cute and entertaining, Joe’s Apartment is one of those heart-warming comedies that you can watch over and over again. It’s visually stunning, even after all these years. Which is no surprise, since it used the same software as Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. Out of all the cockroach movies, it’s the funniest and the most entertaining one. Joe just got in New York and is looking to start his life here after finishing college. He’s looking for a cheap apartment but without much luck. Finally, after he poses as a son of a recently deceased Mrs. Grotowski, he’s able to move into a rent-controlled apartment. The only problem is that there’s someone already living there…

Joe’s Apartment was a box office flop and it was panned by critics upon its release. However, in the meantime, it has garnered cult status and critics finally came around with more positive reviews. I mean where have you seen a movie with dancing and singing cockroaches? Joe’s Apartment is that movie. Drawing inspiration from another movie on this list, Twilight of the Cockroaches, this is not just a movie about cockroaches. This is also a phenomenal black comedy with a lot of slapstick humor. It accurately portrayed the experience of a newcomer trying to settle in a big city, whether it be New York or any other movie on the planet. I had almost the same experiences while looking for apartments, as I’m sure most of you had. Not to mention the whole outcast angle. Our homeboy is wearing an Obituary T-shirt and playing guitar in a local band aptly called SHIT. What more to want from a movie. Chopped in half!

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