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Best in Shows: The 100 Most Iconic Dogs in Movies

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Best in Shows: The 100 Most Iconic Dogs in Movies

Dogs and movies have gone together since the very beginning of cinema: Charlie Chaplin knew a dog would bring added laughs (and smiles), and Hollywood is still banking big on canine stars like Snoopy, Uggie and entire litters of Buds. Whether they starred in a Disney dog movie or an arthouse tearjerker—or just stole a scene here and there—here are some of the best movie dogs we’ll always remember.

(Warning: SPOILERS AND SOME EXTREMELY SAD DOG STORIES)


100. “The Dog Who Knew Too Much,” Rear Window (1954)

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One of the inhabitants of Hitchcock’s busy apartment complex is a little terrier who is lowered down from his owner’s fire escape every day in a little basket so he can do his business in the garden below. One night, we hear a terrible scream and all the neighbors rush to their windows—the little dog is motionless. Miss Lonelyhearts confirms the dog is dead. She places the dog’s body in the basket as he’s brought back up to his grieving owners. Jimmy Stewart notices that in the whole courtyard, only one person didn’t come to the window—the man he suspects of killing his wife, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr). Grace Kelly then utters a line that riffs on an earlier Hitchcock film: “Why would Thorwald want to kill a little dog? Because it knew too much…?” Although we never see it, the implication is that the dog dug up some part of Thorwald’s wife he’d prefer to keep buried.


99. Rottweiler, Ferris Bueller (1986)

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This ferocious pooch defends the Bueller home from all intruders, including Principal Ed Rooney, who tries to gain entry through the doggie door in his quest to nail Ferris for skipping school. Bad idea! And it’s not just humans who this dog terrifies: People like to post videos to YouTube of their dogs barking back at the screen when he bares his fangs.


98. Prison Dog, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

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When Disney fans first spied the mutt who refused to hand over the keys to wheedling prisoners in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, they had a good laugh, because he’s a dead ringer for the mechanical dog that’s been doing the same thing at the original ride since 1967. But that’s not the last we saw of Prison Dog. By the third film, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End,, he’s now the keeper of the keys to the Pirata Codex (a.k.a., the book of Pirate Code) on Shipwreck Island.


97. Pizza Dog, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)

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In the scene where Quicksilver (Evan Peters) dashes into the about-to-explode Professor X’s School for Gifted Youngsters, he’s racing against the clock to save all the students and teachers inside. As he whizzes in and out plucking them one by one to safety, we have to laugh at his funniest rescue: A French bulldog who’s chowing down on some unguarded pepperoni pizza—with a slice still gripped firmly in his mouth! Billed as “Pizza Dog” in the credits, he’s played by Tauntaun the Frenchie.


96. Digby, Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World (1973)

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Digby is just an average Old English sheepdog (albeit one with a theme song of his own!) in this British comedy until he accidentally swallows a liquid growth formula that makes him—yes!—the biggest dog in the world! He’s soon gently terrorizing the countryside by lying down on train tracks and drinking fishing holes dry. And battling the army like the canine King Kong. The dog actor’s real name? Fernville Lord Digby!


95. Fluffy, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

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The three-headed dog that guards the Philosopher’s Stone in the first Harry Potter film is indeed intimidating, but luckily, it has a secret weakness: It can be lulled to sleep with music, just like its mythological inspiration, Cerberus, who guarded the entrance to the underworld in Greek myths. If only Snape (Alan Rickman) had known that, he might have escaped being bitten. Although we don’t see it in the films, J.K. Rowling has said that after he was no longer needed to guard the stone, Fluffy was released into the Forbidden Forest.


94. Great Dane, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

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There’s nothing supernatural in this Hammer film, but the atmosphere is terrific, as is Peter Cushing as Sherlock Holmes. And who wouldn’t be spooked to death by the sight (and eerie sound) of the dreaded “Hound of the Baskervilles” if you encountered it on the moors at night? It’s predicted to take the life of the last living Baskerville heir (Christopher Lee), but is ultimately revealed to be merely a Great Dane wearing a hideous mask.


93. The Bumpus Hounds, A Christmas Story (1983)

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The “at least 785 smelly hound dogs” belonging to the hillbilly neighbors next door are a constant source of annoyance for The Old Man (Darren McGavin). One of the bloodhounds gets his ear stuck when The Old Man slams the front door on it, yelling, “Serves you right, you smelly buggers!” When Ralphie finally gets his prized BB gun, his mom urges him not to shoot any birds or animals, with Dad adding, “Except for those Bumpus hounds!” But it’s the Bumpus hounds who have the last laugh when an untold number of the beasts stream into the house and devour the Christmas turkey.


92. William, er, Willie, Patton (1970)

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General Patton (George C. Scott in his Oscar-winning role) lights up with glee as he presents his new “nasty-faced sonofabitch” to a Captain. He announces he’s going to call him “William, for William the Conqueror.” He immediately tries to sic the bull terrier on a middle-aged woman’s mild-looking Shih Tzu. But it’s the bully breed who blinks—retreating with a whimper and his tail between his legs—as the fluffy dog goes on the offensive. Even worse, the woman apologizes to Patton for scaring his dog! Patton informs his now disgraced pooch: “Your name isn’t William—it’s Willie.” The real Patton kept his faithful Willie until he died, as noted in this photo of the bull terrier mourning his late master.


91. Doyle, The 25th Hour (2002)

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We know drug dealer Monty (Ed Norton) has a heart, because at the film’s beginning, he comes across an abused dog at the side of the road. The dog looks half-dead, and he wants to put it out of his misery. But the dog has more fight in him than first seems apparent. His friend offers to buy him a puppy instead, but Monty says, “C’mon, I like this guy. He’s a good dog, look in his eyes. He’s not ready to go yet. He’s ready to live.” Doyle recovers and becomes Monty’s constant companion. When Monty is facing a seven-year prison stretch, he begs his shy friend Jacob (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to take his dog, telling him, “I swear, the best thing I ever did in my life was save that little sonofabitch.” At first Jacob demurs, but finally says, “I’d be honored.” In the final scene, Jacob walks Doyle along the same boardwalk Monty used to walk him and a beautiful woman tells the romance-challenged Jacob she likes his dog.


90. Big Red, Big Red (1962)

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Based on the classic book by Jim Kjelgaard, it’s the story of an Irish Setter whose stern owner (Walter Pidgeon) wants to make him into a champion show dog, but which an orphaned boy just wants to love. The dog responds better to love, naturally, even jumping through a window to be reunited with the boy his owner has forbidden him to see. The resulting injuries prevent him from being a show dog after all, and he and the boy are allowed to be together. Until, that is, after Big Red is nursed back to health, is lost in the wild, and tangles with a mountain lion. It can’t rival other Disney dog films (the boy is particularly drippy), but as the New York Times said in its original review, “Head cocked or whining with love for nearly everyone concerned, he is far and away the most winning ‘actor’ of this rudimentary tale.” And dogs love it!


89. Beauty and Beast, The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

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When two German Shepherds named Beauty and Beast and their humans run into mutant cannibals in the New Mexico desert, Beauty is (gasp!) killed and eaten. But leave it to the aptly named Beast to get some incredibly well-deserved revenge in this ultra-gory remake of the 1970s classic.


88. Lolabelle, Heart of a Dog (2015)

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Artist and musician Laurie Anderson made this impressionistic documentary about her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, whom she encouraged to also paint and draw. “Rat terriers have really good hearing, and they never seem to get bored,” Anderson notes, “so she made an ideal companion in the recording studio.” She imagines her dog, if she could have talked, would meet a command not with, “Yes, ma’am,” but “Um, is it going to be fun?” Her dog, being very sociable, connected her to everyone in her neighborhood. “Within a week or two, she seemed to know everyone.” Lolabelle eventually went blind and only felt safe running alongside the ocean, where she couldn’t run into anything, Anderson says. It’s a meditative film, heavy on Buddhist philosophy, that is likely to resonate with anyone who’s ever lost a loved one.


87. Bonny the Shih Tzu, Seven Psychopaths (2012)

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The one thing that nearly all the psychopaths can agree on in this black comedy/crime drama: Bonny the Shih Tzu is a damn fine dog. Billy (Sam Rockwell) and Hans (Christopher Walken), who make a career out of kidnapping dogs and collecting the rewards, accidentally snatch up the beloved dog of a fearsome gangster (Woody Harrelson). (The dog’s tag reads: “Return to Charles Costello or you will fucking die.”) Now he’s gunning for them … but they’ve all grown very attached to the little guy. Bonny survives the final shoot-out, because, as Billy says in his imagining of what the final showdown should be, “You can’t let the animals in a movie die, just the women.” That’s actually a reference to the film board’s objection to the original script, where Bonny is shot and killed. Noooo!


86. Matisse, Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

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What leads homeless down-and-outer Jerry (Nick Nolte) to try to commit suicide in a posh Beverly Hills pool? His dog, Kerouac, has just deserted him for someone else. The pool’s owner, Dave Whiteman (Richard Dreyfus), saves the man from drowning and insists on having him move in. He’s soon making over Jerry’s life and in a short time, Jerry makes over the entire Whiteman clan, starting with their dog. Matisse has his own doggie therapist, who believes he suffers from “nipple anxiety” since he was in a litter of nine pups. His favorite activities are growling at his owner and attacking neighbor Little Richard. The dog who turns up his nose at the gourmet food Dave’s wife (Bette Midler) feeds it is soon eating bargain brand chow after Jerry eats out of his bowl first. When it’s revealed that Jerry’s been sleeping with the wife, the daughter and the maid (who all found him just as charming as the dog did) he leaves—and Matisse happily goes with him.


85. White Dog, White Dog (1982)

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Sam Fuller’s controversial film, based on the 1970 book of the same name, stars Kristy McNichol as an actress who takes in a stray white German Shepherd, little realizing it’s been trained to attack black people, thus making it a “White Dog.” As her boyfriend tells her, “You’ve got a four-legged time bomb,” but she refuses to give up on him. She finds a black trainer (Paul Winfield) willing to retrain the dog. He says, “He’s not the monster, but he was made into one by a two-legged racist,” and vows, “If I don’t break him, I’ll shoot him.” Sadly, that’s just what it comes to. Just as everyone is celebrating what seems like a decisive victory, the now-rewired dog viciously attacks a white man and must be killed. Five white German Shepherds played the unnamed dog, whose performances ranges from sweet and loving with McNichol to hound of hell at the sight of any black person.


84. Napoleon and Lafayette, The AristoCats (1970)

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Two country hounds named after military greats provide some of the film’s funniest scenes. Napoleon is a military-minded Bloodhound and Lafayette a Basset Hound who’s always stepping on his own ears. Together, they delight in attacking any car that crosses their property. The two set upon dastardly butler Edgar, who’s dumping his owner’s cats in the countryside so she’ll leave her millions to him, not her pets. Cue the gravity-defying scene involving the villain, his motorcycle, a sidecar, a bowler hat, a windmill and the two dogs.


83. Dachshund, Wiener-Dog (2016)

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Dog lovers are strongly encouraged to skip this pitch-black comedy by Todd Solondz, in which a dachshund is handed off to a series of neglectful, selfish owners. Even worse is the gotcha ending, in which the dog is repeatedly run over and killed! The dachshunds who play the title dog (who is given different names by its various humans) do deserve some kind of appreciation, however, for putting up with a director who has spoken at length about how much he hates the breed. Rent The Ugly Dachshund instead and go cuddle your own wiener-dog, who may be stubborn, but certainly not dumb.


82. Copper, The Fox and the Hound (1981)

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Points to this extremely cute beagle puppy for bonding with an orphaned fox. Subtract all those points for turning on the fox as he grows into his role as a hunting dog. And finally, all the points for standing up to his human and not letting him kill the heroic fox who just fought a bear to save him. And no points at all to the human for chaining his dogs and making them sleep in hollow logs instead of instead the warm house (unless they break a leg).


81. Pixie, The Danish Girl (2015)

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The incredibly cute Jack Russell very closely resembles the real dog owned by Danish artist Gerda Wegener, played in the film by Alicia Vikander. Amidst the turmoil of her husband Einer (Eddie Redmayne) realizing he wants to live life as a woman, Pixie provides some comforting snuggles to both humans. She performed the same service even when the camera wasn’t on her: At a Q&A for the film, producer Gail Mutrux said, “We had some amazing takes where we were doing some amazingly intense [emotional] scenes, and the dog would be licking my face. We cut out the takes Pixie stole.” When an audience member asked what sex Pixie is, Vikander wittily replied, “It’s very fluid.”


80. Bolt, Bolt (2008)

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Much like Buzz Lightyear, Bolt the dog (voiced by John Travolta) doesn’t realize that—unlike the character he plays on TV—he doesn’t really have super powers. Separated from his owner and costar Penny (Miley Cyrus), he at first tries to get back to her using imaginary powers like his “superbark.” Eventually, he learns that he is just a regular dog, but arrives in time to save Penny just like a real superhero.


79. Fluke, Fluke (1995)

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Critics trounced this movie about a dog who tries to right the karmic baggage from his previous life as a human, but it’s gotten (pardon the pun) extra life on video and cable. Workaholic Matthew Modine dies in a car accident and is reincarnated as Fluke the dog. He seeks out his wife and son, who have no idea who he is. The themes of death, abuse and revenge are probably too heavy for most kids, as are some downer dog moments, but the POV dog shots are gold.


78. Winn-Dixie, Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)

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A lonely girl in a new town wishes for a friend—and the very next day she sees a scruffy dog running loose in her local supermarket. Claiming the dog is hers (much like Orphan Annie before her), she calls him Winn-Dixie, after the chain she found him in. The lovable mutt (who’s actually a French herding dog called a Berger Picard) helps her make friends and even get on the local ball team. Now the whole town is better off, thanks to Winn-Dixie.


77. Zochor, The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005)

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A dog-loving girl and her disapproving father are the center of this beautiful (if slow-moving) Mongolian film. Six-year-old Nansal finds a stray dog she calls Zochor (“Spot”), whom she immediately loves. Her father, however, is convinced it will lead wolves to the family’s sheep and orders her to get rid of it. She keeps the dog a secret, until he proves his worth in a way that earns him a permanent place in the family.


76. Wilby, The Shaggy Dog (1959)

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The premise is beyond preposterous—a teenager (Tommy Kirk) is cursed with turning into a dog thanks to a magical ring—but if you want to see a big, shaggy dog put on pajamas, brush his teeth and drive a car (and inspire the headline “Local Dog Smashes Spy Ring”), this is the movie for you! Pre-CGI, a dog puppet is clearly used in some scenes, but there’s enough of Sam the Old English Sheepdog to satisfy any dog lover. Followed by The Shaggy D.A., starring Disney favorite Dean Jones. The 2006 remake starred Tim Allen and a pre-Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. 

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