It has become cliche for horror movies to be full of false jump-scares, probably the most common example being that of a cat jumping out of the darkness and running away. There is even a cat scare trope.

What is the origin of using a cat as a jump scare?

Here is a great video compilation of this:

  • 1
    Just curious. Are you asking about Jump Scare or Cat Scare or Cat Jump Scare?
    – A J
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 11:26
  • 1
    Cat as a jump scare.
    – sanpaco
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 11:28
  • I found Cat People, but no cat jumps in it. There is just cat sound and made audience think a cat is about to jump.
    – A J
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 11:29
  • 1
    There are plenty of cat jump scares in The Shadow of the Cat from 1961, but I don't know if it counts because they're not 'false' scares, they're pretty much the plot. The cat there sometimes jumps on people and scares them to death.
    – Walt
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 13:16
  • i'm still looking for the one that used an ironing-board falling from a cupboard. I thought it was Fright Night [original], but i can't find any reference :/
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 18:17

3 Answers 3


I think I failed to find the first, but I got some background research...

I found this site Where's the Jump, listing 'all jump scares' [though it's user-contributed so may be imperfect.

It lists a movie already noted in the Tropes link - Cat People (1942) where the protagonist is being stalked by a were-cat. It also lists it as the first ever jump scare in a movie.
It fails to qualify because it's the wrong way round - the audience is expecting a cat, yet they get the famous 'Lewton Bus' which isn't a cat.

According to that list, the first cat scare was Ridley Scott's Alien (1979) - which would be fine, except that your linked video shows one from 10 years earlier, in the Star Trek original series clip.
Star Trek were pretty good at re-using known tropes, so my spidey-sense would say they weren't the first either.

It does list earlier examples, using birds or bats but no cat.

That leaves us with someone else trying to find one between '42 & '67 that definitely uses a cat.

  • 2
    I'm accepting this one as the answer since Alien does seem to be the first movie including a cat scare. Ironically, watching Alien was what prompted the question.
    – sanpaco
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 6:34

I just started watching Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) - a Spanish-Portuguese horror film that has a very straight played "cat jump scare" scene around minute 20.

Cat jump scare

I found this cliche irritating an visited TVtropes and this very question to find its origin.

Other answers here say it's Aliens (1979), but this movie was made earlier. I don't think it's the true origin though.

YouTube link to scene.

EDIT: Another cat jump scene is in Logan's Run (1976) -three years earlier than Alien (1979)- when the protagonists visit the abandoned United States Senate chamber.



If you want to know the first use of an actual cat as a jump scare, The Amityville Horror (1979) is the first one to do so.

Long reading

The most far-back use of Cat Jump Scare I could find is Cat People. I did find two references for this. Although, there was no cat used. It was just shown that a cat is about to jump.

The art of the jump scare

While we may associate the technique with modern horror movies, it’s actually been with us almost as long as genre films themselves. Director Jacques Tourneur used it 70 years ago in Cat People, using the arrival of a bus to craft a scare that still plays today. Other filmmakers tried their own riffs in subsequent decades. Showman William Castle even brought the jump scare into the real world in 1959 with The Tingler, rigging seats in theaters to vibrate during a key sequence in the movie.

TV Tropes Cat Scare (emphasis mine)

Although the use of an actual cat for a Cat Scare is common enough to have named the trope, the general technique of building up tension and then startling the audience with something that turns out to be harmless is also known as a "Lewton Bus". This name comes from producer Val Lewton, who popularized the technique with a scene in his 1942 movie Cat People: the heroine is being stalked by a hostile were-panther, but the cat-like hissing noise that startles the heroine and audience turns out to have come from a bus's air brakes.

While there was not cat used in this movie, it inspired other directors to use it in their movies and started kind of a trend.

The same link suggests that it was first used in Alien in 1979.

But if you want to know the actual use of cat as a jump scare, The Amityville Horror (1979) is the first one to do so.

  • 1
    I found similar, AJ, but the Star Trek clip in the linked video already puts Alien as not the first.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 11:35
  • It was a rat, isn't it? OP is asking about a cat.
    – A J
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 11:39
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    The Star Trek one was definitely a cat. I don't recognise the episode specifically, but that would put it between 66 & 69, long before Alien or Amityville. Alien is also older than Amityville, though by just a couple of months.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Feb 5, 2017 at 11:44
  • Thanks for the answer! I have upvoted and appreciate the effort but have decided to accept @Tetsujin's answer since he answered first and both of your answers have virtually the same information.
    – sanpaco
    Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 6:35

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