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The Top 25 Tigers From Pop Culture, Ranked

With the Netflix series ‘Tiger King’ bringing big cats to the forefront of the internet’s mind, two of our serial rankers set out to make a list of the best tigers

Ringer illustration

Hey all you cool cats and kittens, it’s Megan Schuster from The Ringer. If you, like me, have been stuck inside your house for multiple weeks (or months) now, you’ve probably been spending a lot of time with your television. There are plenty of guides out there of what to watch, streaming services ready to meet your every need, and confusing Westworld theories to be debunked. But one show in particular has captured the collective imagination of not just the United States, but the world. And that show is Netflix’s Tiger King.

Starring Joe Exotic—who we’ll get to a little later—this docuseries came out of nowhere to become an inescapable phenomenon. Seriously, last week I Zoomed with friends in Ireland that I hadn’t talked to in years, and Tiger King was the first thing we discussed. So because my colleague Miles Surrey and I love to rank things—seriously, we’ll rank anything—we decided to dig into the world of tigers to rank the top 25 people, characters, mascots, and animals we found.

We may not be wearing flower crowns at the moment, but rest assured we’ve been frantically online shopping for cat-print clothes, so our credentials are legit.

25. LSU Tigers

Miles Surrey: If for no other reason, these tigers are on the list because the LSU football team’s head coach, Ed Orgeron, sounds like a real-life Foghorn Leghorn and pissed people off by attending a fundraiser for the Democratic governor of Louisiana. But we’re not here to rank memeable coaches. Megan and I aren’t LSU alums—and without that built-in fandom or another solid reason to root for the Tigers, it’s hard to feel that excited about an athletic powerhouse no matter what kind of dope mascot they have. We respect the reigning national champs of college football, but that doesn’t mean we have to like them enough to rank them any higher. Also, college athletes should be paid.

Schuster: PREACH!

24. Tiger Shark, DC Comics

Schuster: I’m not much for comic books or comic book lore. I’ve seen only three Marvel movies, never picked up a comic book myself, and I find the Comic Book Guy character on The Simpsons to be one of the show’s least entertaining. But now, I may have finally found a character who can change all of that.

Across DC Comics history, there are three versions of Tiger Shark, a supervillain who is a known enemy of Batman (at least in the two most recent versions). The first, invented in 1942, was a World War II skipper who went by the villain name of Lieutenant Tiger Shark. The third, which first appeared in 2011, was a pirate who once pushed Batman into the pool of his yacht—a pool which held a MURDEROUS KILLER WHALE. But the second, from 1949, is my personal favorite. Just read this passage from the Tiger Shark Wikipedia page:

He was a famed oceanographer known for many discoveries in his field. It was his boredom and greed that led him to a life of crime. Donning a striped orange diving costume complete with a helmet and tiger stripes, Gaige adopted a secret identity as the Tiger Shark. Recruiting a dockside gang of criminals to do his bidding, Tiger Shark led his gang of thugs to an undersea headquarters in a sunken ship 200 miles from shore.

Where TF is this DC movie???

23. Tawky Tawny

Surrey: The DC Extended Universe would probably need to thrive for a long time before Warner Bros. would start introducing characters like Tiger Shark—and Tawky Tawny. This anthropomorphic tiger is a companion of DC’s Captain Marvel—otherwise known as Shazam; not to be mistaken with Brie Larson’s version of the superhero—and has enhanced strength, speed, and agility; the usual feline perks. Tawky Tawny can also transform into a big saber-toothed tiger for a fight, but while that’s pretty cool I prefer the character’s usual attire, which looks like it was stolen from Saul Goodman’s closet.

The fact that a talking tiger in a wacky suit is so low on our rankings is either proof that there’s a lot of amazing tigers in pop culture—or that we really messed this one up.

22. Tigress, Kung Fu Panda

Schuster: Despite Tigress’s fearsome demeanor, her backstory is rather tender. She grew up in an orphanage and as a child was desperate for friends. She had trouble finding companions, though, because (1) she had a hot temper, and (2) she was a tiger. Eventually she learned to control her rage, won friends through non-intimidating pursuits, and became one of the most powerful kung fu masters around. We stan a powerful, sensitive, kick-butt tiger queen.

21. Tiger Jackson

Schuster: Tiger Jackson is a fighter introduced in the Tekken 3 PlayStation game as an alternate costume for a different character. He is a fairly minor part of the series: He has a “mysterious” nature and doesn’t really have a story line, but he gets added points in this exercise for his bedazzled ensemble. If anyone knows where to find those suspenders, please call me.

‘Tekken 3’

Surrey: Unfortunately, I’ve seen pictures of my dad in the ’70s, and he might be able to hook you up.

20. Tiger King

Schuster: As a disclaimer, I would like to say that this ranking does not reflect our feelings about the Netflix docuseries as a whole. Were that the case—and Miles, tell me if I’m speaking out of turn here—that would be no. 1 with a bullet. Instead, we’re just talking about THE Tiger King, Joe Exotic himself. So with that out of the way:

WHEW. Where to even begin. In some respects, I’m disappointed that Joe isn’t last on our list, given his inhumane treatment of his animals, his big cat breeding practices, and the, uh, mysterious circumstances surrounding the arson of his video studio and alligator housing. At the same time, though, the guy had his strengths. “Here Kitty Kitty,” one of Joe Exotic’s country songs (yes, he “wrote” country music songs), is an unquestionable banger and carries with it a music video that I will remember for the rest of time. He’s also a wildly entertaining performer who has a charisma that I can’t quite explain. With all that thrown together, I guess this ranking kind of feels right? Though I’m sure Carole Baskin would disagree with me.

19. Shiva, The Walking Dead

Surrey: What would be the coolest (and most useful) companion in a zombie outbreak? Sorry, I’ll answer that for you: an obedient tiger. The seventh season of The Walking Dead introduced the Kingdom, a post-apocalyptic safe haven led by the exuberant Ezekiel, who spoke like he had arrived straight from a Renaissance fair, and his trusty tiger, Shiva. Step aside, Joe Exotic: here’s the real Tiger King.

AMC

(If you want to know why Shiva and Ezekiel are so tight, our dude explains that he saved her after she got hurt in her enclosure; presumably, this arrangement stuck because he also kept the tiger well-fed. Take notes, Joe.)

Shiva was an impossibly entertaining X factor on the series, somehow capable of distinguishing the good guys from the bad in the heat of battle—don’t think about it too much—and doing other badass tiger things. Sadly, Shiva had a short lifespan on The Walking Dead, perishing early in the eighth season while protecting her beloved owner from a zombie horde—though the real reason for her heroic sacrifice was probably “AMC doesn’t want to pay for this expensive-looking tiger CGI anymore.” A lack of screen time isn’t the tiger’s fault, but we had to take it into consideration for our rankings. Rest in power, queen.

18. Tygra, ThunderCats

Schuster: There are a few tigers represented in the ThunderCats series: Javan, Bengali, and Caspin, for example. But I’m going to focus on Tygra here, mainly because he’s one of the core ThunderCats characters. He’s generally considered to be second in command, the level-headed adviser who is gifted with numerous abilities. He’s smart, serving as both an architect and a scientist; he carries “mind-power” which allows him to create simulations within other people’s minds; and he can become invisible. Basically he’s like one of those “you can pick only three” memes from Twitter, only he managed to generate the best possible answer.

17. Tiger Moms

Surrey: The fierce debate around Tiger Moms—i.e., the term referring to the strict style of parenting more common in Asian and Asian American families originally coined in Amy Chua’s 2011 book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother—and the technique’s effectiveness is not something Megan and I are qualified to discuss. We are both shark-loving 20-somethings, not parents; though studies have shown intense tiger parenting might have an adverse effect on kids.

Instead, I’ll just say that I went to high school in Hong Kong, and through my friends I did have a lot of second-hand experience with so-called Tiger Moms. I never got a bad vibe from any of them, but thankfully they never had to look at my grades in math and chemistry.

Megan, a quick story: I don’t think I’ve told anyone at The Ringer, but I actually won an award in high school. In my senior year, select students at my school received certificates for outstanding excellence—for math, music, humanities, things like that. I got an award for … P.E. I had to stand next to peers who were actually smart and pose for a photo. I was roasted by my friends, and then my mom hung the plaque up on a wall. I don’t think a Tiger Mom would’ve been proud of that.

Schuster: Miles, why were you embarrassed about being an athletically gifted superstar?? I hope you kept this award because I’d like for you to hang it up in the office. Thanks.

16. The Detroit Tigers

Schuster: Look, I’m not out here to disparage anybody. We have a couple of Detroit Tigers fans on staff (looking at you, Craig Gaines) who I’m sure have some pre-typed threatening Slack messages ready to send to me if I say anything mean about their team. So rather than be a jerk and give you all my actual thoughts on the Tigers (disclaimer: I’m a Twins fan), I’ll just put this here to show you how things have been going in Detroit:

Baseball-Reference

15. Leicester Tigers

Surrey: Full disclosure: I am not much of a rugby lad—attending the Rugby Sevens is awesome, though, even if your liver suffers for it—but I’m showing love to the Leicester Tigers by association. The Tigers come from the same city in England as Leicester City Football Club, which pulled off the greatest sporting miracle of my lifetime by winning the Premier League title in the 2015-16 season. (It’s one thing to pull off a one-game March Madness–type upset; it’s another to keep a hot streak going for 38 matches and outperform elite, monied clubs like Manchester City, Spurs, and Arsenal.) Leicester City’s mascot might be a fox, but respect to every Leicester sporting organization all the same. Go Tigers!

14. Hodori

Schuster: SOS Miles, I think we fucked up. How did Hodori—the adorable mascot from the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea—not crack our top 10? Do we not have eyes? Hearts? Souls? What is the point of this ranking if we aren’t going to jerry-rig it so that the cutest creatures win? I’m beside myself.

Surrey: Not sure what it says about our priorities that, on aggregate, we ranked a beer ahead of this guy.

13. Tiger Beer

Surrey: This pilsner comes from Singapore, but it’s fairly easy to find anywhere on the globe. I’m not a beer savant by any means, but most mass-produced ales taste like vaguely filtered tap water. (Looking at you, Coors Light and Budweiser; Bud Light Lime earns the special distinction of looking and tasting like something found in a urinal.) It’s not a craft beer, but the best thing I can say about Tiger Beer is that you’ll probably feel good about ordering one.

Also, let’s take a second to appreciate the company’s logo: it’s simple, elegant, and there’s a tiger on it. What more could you want?

12. Richard Parker, Life of Pi

Surrey: First off, Richard Parker is a ridiculous name for a tiger—it makes him sound more like a British aristocrat or a prescription glasses company or Spider-Man’s dad. (Why does this tiger have a last name? Should I be giving my pets full names from now on?) But as intimidating as it would be to get stuck on a small boat with a tiger—a.k.a. the entire plot of Life of Pi—we gotta give props to Richard Parker for never chowing down on a kid when he totally could’ve (even though he might have been a figment of said kid’s imagination). Seeing how quickly the cats in my life will pounce on gross-looking wet food, this is some elite feline self-control.

11. Tyga

Schuster: Michael Ray Stevenson didn’t choose the stage name Tyga because of its proximity to the word tiger (it’s a backronym for Thank You God Always), but for this exercise we’ll pretend he did. The rapper has multiple top-10 hits on Billboard—“Taste” and “Rack City”—as well as features on songs like Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” Doja Cat’s “Juicy,” and many more. I’m personally most familiar with him through his [cough] controversial [cough] relationship with Kylie Jenner, but that’s a subject for another day. Tyga is still out there making music—and apparently doing promotions in collaboration with Pornhub?—so he makes the list. Congrats to Tyga on being named an honorary tiger.

Surrey: OK, maybe we should be disqualified for ranking him above Hodori.

10. Mike Tyson’s Tiger, The Hangover

Schuster: “What do tigers dream of when they take a little tiger snooze?”

This question—first posed via song by Stu in The Hangover—is one I think about often. Personally I like to believe that tigers dream of running through beautiful jungles, chowing down on an especially delicious deer, and lounging around in the sun without a care in the world. The Hangover, however, has different ideas.

A major plot point in this movie centers on Mike Tyson’s tiger, a cat the gang drunkenly steals, somehow brings back to their hotel, and then locks in a bathroom to be found the next morning. They eventually attempt to return said tiger (after Tyson shows up in their suite, air drums to “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, and knocks out Alan), but the animal doesn’t go without a fight. Not only does the tiger wake up early after being drugged, he also destroys the inside of Doug’s soon-to-be father-in-law’s prized Mercedes. The group manages to get the tiger back to Tyson, but I have a feeling the big cat didn’t dream of anything but tearing those guys to shreds that night.

9. Tiger Lilies

Surrey: The Lilium lancifolium isn’t just a gorgeous flower to admire—look at those spots!—but it can be used medicinally and, if for whatever reason you were hungry, most of it is edible. Tiger lilies are also easy to grow and maintain, which makes them an easy upgrade from a windowside cactus. (I haven’t killed any of them yet!) Who among us doesn’t stan a beautiful starter flower?

Really, the only mark against the tiger lily is that, despite its name, cats can get very sick if they ingest it. And since domestic cats don’t have a keen sense of cause-and-effect, this could be a recurring problem in a household. The cats I live with have eaten their way through various plants like a salad bar; thankfully, the worst it’s done is give them smelly diarrhea. Anyway, if you can separate your idiot pets from your plants, consider the tiger lily.

8. Hobbes, Calvin and Hobbes

Surrey: Not to be mistaken with the English philosopher (although he’s named after him) or the oily federal agent from the Fast & Furious franchise, Hobbes is the tiger from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes. In the context of the comic strip, Hobbes is 6-year-old Calvin’s stuffed animal, but he also comes to life as an anthropomorphic tiger in the kid’s imagination. Their endearing dynamic usually goes like this: Calvin will think of something silly and impulsive to do, and Hobbes will be like, “That’s probably not a good idea, dude.” (Being the voice of reason for a child is hard work.)

Hobbes is friendship goals personified, and even the fan art/writing inspired by their relationship—like one imagining an adult Calvin passing Hobbes to his daughter—has a Pixar-like wistfulness. We might not have all grown up with stuffed tigers, exactly, but I think we all had a Hobbes in our childhoods that helped shape who we are today. Jesus, am I about to cry ranking tigers?

7. Shere Khan, The Jungle Book

Surrey: Phew, OK, back to a terrifying tiger. In any adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, Shere Khan is a bad dude—eager to take over the jungle and devour little Mowgli in equal measure. He’s been memorably voiced by George Sanders (in the original Disney film from 1967) and Idris Elba (in the 2016 The Jungle Book remake) and Benedict Cumberbatch (in Netflix’s 2018 Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle). Shere Khan is rivaled only by Scar as the animated big cat you least want to cross paths with.

We’ve got a lot of lovable tigers represented here, so Shere Khan is a reminder that these majestic animals are also fearsome predators—and also make really good movie villains. Put Shere Khan on Villains Season 2.

6. Siegfried and Roy’s Tigers

Schuster: These tigers are now primarily remembered now for the 2003 incident in which Montecore, a 400-pound white tiger, attacked Roy Horn on stage at a show in Las Vegas. And, well, I can’t really blame people for that. It’s a memorable event. But before that, these cats were the subject of international fascination. The show—and the bond between Siegfried, Roy, and the cats—was the stuff of legend: a real-life exercise in staring down something that could kill you, and preventing that not through force, but affection.

The fact that these cats were on stage at all is tough to stomach now from an animal rights perspective, and the performers have been criticized for keeping a big cat sanctuary open in the Mirage in Las Vegas where they currently house about 40 white tigers, along with a number of other animals. But for many years, the tigers themselves were icons—and their feats are still awe-inspiring.

5. Rajah, Aladdin

Schuster: Miles, I don’t know if you were a Disney princess kind of kid, but I was, and let me tell you: After my first viewing of Aladdin, I begged my parents to get me a tiger. They, being the sensible Midwesterners that they were, politely declined, but my fascination with the cats never ceased.

Rajah is a protector, a friend, a family member—and perhaps most importantly has some amazing attitude. He tears into princes that aren’t worthy of Jasmine’s time, and keeps Jasmine’s dad off her back when she’s sick of his attempts to set her up. He also laughs like a human, which is one of the more adorable things I’ve ever seen. I know dogs are traditionally thought of as the most loyal of pets, but I’m quite certain that Rajah could give them all a run for their money.

4. Tiger Sharks

Schuster: If you have read our rankings before, you may be familiar with Miles’s and my obsession with sharks. It’s … pretty well documented. So naturally, when it came time to put together a list of tigers to rank, tiger sharks were a must. But, lest you think we cooked the books to get tiger sharks into our top 5 just cuz, here is a list of some of the coolest, most interesting facts about tiger sharks:

  • They have tiger-like stripes along the sides of their bodies (hence the name “tiger shark”)
  • They are one of the fastest species of shark
  • They have an undiscerning palate and will eat almost anything: stingrays, sea turtles, seals, snakes, birds, license plates, tires, basically anything you could find in the ocean
  • The largest tiger sharks can grow to 20-plus feet in length
  • I mean, just look. They’re gorgeous.

Surrey: There is absolutely no shark bias in our tiger rankings, find a new slant!

3. Tony the Tiger

Surrey: I was—pretend to be surprised—a weird kid. And for whatever reason I was obsessed with Tony the Tiger and Frosted Flakes. The Kellogg’s brand, at least when I was growing up, had descriptions on the box implying this heap of sugar was created by “Chef” Tony. Why would a tiger want to create unhealthy cereal? I thought, and when I was a little older, why did this cereal brand think that sugar-coated corn flakes should be represented by a cartoon tiger with a red bandana? What do these things have to do with one another? (Did I mention I was really cool?)

But children’s cereals all have weird-ass mascots, and compared to the ravenous Cookie Crisp wolf who looks like he’s got rabies and the crunchy captain whose energy screams “I sniff glue,” there is something inviting/non-threatening about Tony the Tiger. Eating too much of his cereal would probably give you diabetes—and I still don’t know why he’s built like prime Arnold Schwarzenegger—but this cartoon tiger just has a good vibe. He’s been around for decades, but Tony the Tiger is still GRRRREAT. Also, according to some compelling internet evidence, he might be a gay icon?

2. Tigger, Winnie the Pooh

Surrey: If Hobbes is the cartoon tiger that brings you back down to Earth, Tigger is the one who’ll inspire you to shoot for the moon. Tigger has an outsized confidence in himself—the Dion Waiters of the Winnie the Pooh universe—but that’s exactly what makes him so lovable.

My memories of rewatching Winnie the Pooh are a bit blurry, but I have it on good authority that I would bounce up and down and playfully imitate Tigger. He was my favorite. Thanks for all the good memories, friend. Oh dear, I’m about to cry for real this time. Megan, please take it away while I schedule a tiger-centric therapy session.

1. Tiger Woods

Schuster: Many on this list have challenged his claim to the throne, but the one true tiger king reigns. Here is a picture of Tiger Woods and his family celebrating this achievement, and definitely not the 2019 Masters win that gave him his 15th major championship, the record for longest gap between Masters victories (14 years), and one of the best sports comeback stories of all time.

I’m sure coming in at no. 1 here means more to Tiger than the 683 weeks he spent at no. 1 in the world golf rankings.