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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
Malinois Max is sent home to the family of his handler Kyle, a marine killed in Afghanistan. Max is so disturbed, it appears he must be put down, until Kyle’s brother Justin (Josh Wiggins) realizes the dog is calm around him. Together, the two heal over Kyle’s death—and dig further into the truth behind it.
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!
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.
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.
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.
A traveling companion to ex-soldier Paul (Ethan Hawke) in this indie western, Abbie is a personable dog who knows a number of tricks that come in handy in the Old West. But, per the film’s title, Paul and Abbie choose the wrong town to ride through. Paul inadvertently offends the sheriff’s unstable son (James Ransone), who exacts revenge by killing Abbie in a brutal scene. Much like John Wick, Paul vows to kill all the men responsible for this crime and he’s just as unstoppable. The charming antics of Abbie (played by Jumpy the dog, a border collie and blue heeler mix who was trained by the same man as Uggie and whose YouTube videos you should absolutely watch) nearly makes up for watching her terrible death.
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).
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Wes Anderson has a habit of casually killing off cats and dogs (RIP, poor pooches of The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom.) The fate of lost dog Spot looks bleak when he’s shipped to Trash Island after all dogs are banned from a futuristic Japanese city. His owner, 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi, crash lands on the island, determined to find his loyal dog. He’s helped by a mangy pack of strays: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), gossipy Duke (Jeff Goldbum) and Boss (Bill Murray). Their leader is tough-talking Chief (Bryan Cranston), who warns Atari – not that the boy understands dog – “I bite.” Among the canine cast is Tilda Swinton as Oracle, a bug-eyed pug whose uncanny visions come from simply watching TV. Together they smash the anti-dog conspiracy. (Sorry, cats!)
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.
Zeus is the fun-loving four-legged stowaway who helps a marine biologist (Kathleen Quinlan), who’s trying to study a dolphin named Roxanne. He also loves to play poker and be buried in the sand. He even helps serve as matchmaker for leads Steve Guttenberg and Quinlan. The evil rival scientist (Arnold Voslooo of The Mummy) is naturally trying to capture and experiment on Roxanne. Since he knows of the bond between dog and dolphin, he captures Zeus to lure Roxanne back. Zeus manages to foil the villain’s plan by getting him snared in his own net and repeatedly re-dipping him. The dolphin escapes to be reunited with Zeus and the plucky pup has likewise hitched a ride to see his pal again. Guttenberg’s son sums up (in a very ’90s way): “Zeus is an extremely extreme dog. He’s also in love.”
In this ’90s black comedy, the Farrelly Brothers give us some dog scenes in questionable taste, including Puffy french kissing his owner and Matt Dillon desperately trying to retrieve the apparently dead dog with CPR and electrocution. Then there’s the scene where, hopped up on speed, Puffy attacks Ben Stiller and accidentally flies out the window. The very next shot: Puffy in a full body cast. The promo stuffed animal of Puffy in a cast became a much-coveted marketing item. (The real dog modeled the cast, made out of linen, for only 10 seconds, according to producers.)
If you ever wanted to see a pug pal around with a kitten and ride a turtle, this is the movie for you! Milo the kitten first meets Otis, the incredibly cute pug puppy, in the barn in which they were both born. The two go adventuring together, where they encounter bears, ravens, foxes, deer, owls and pigs. Some of their escapades, such as plunging off a cliff, put in doubt whether the lead animals were really safe enough during filming.
Even if you hate this John Huston version of the Broadway musical (it received both Oscar and Razzie noms), you gotta love Sandy, the scruffy mutt whom scrappy orphan Annie (Aileen Quinn) rescues from a pack of no-good boys. Two new songs about the pooch were penned just for the film, including “Sandy” and “Dumb Dog.” Sandy avoids both the dog catcher and the sausage factory (which Miss Hannigan is always threatening to send him to) and ends up living happily ever after at the Warbucks mansion. Sandy was played by a six-year-old otterhound named Bingo. In the most recent Annie, gone is the scruff: Sandy was played by a golden retriever-chow mix.
The title dog is played by Spike, who memorably portrayed Old Yeller. He suffers some terrible hardships in this film as well, but nothing like the bleak ending of the original novel. The story set in 19th century Belgium, begins with a peddler beating his dog, who is too weary and hungry to pull his cart any longer. Young Nello (David Ladd) and his grandfather (Donald Crisp, who seems to be in every dog movie ever made) find the poor animal, who’s been left to die by the roadside. Nello persuades the old man to bring him home, although they barely have enough to live on themselves. The abused dog initially growls at them, but initially learns to trust his new owners. Nello names him Pastrache, the same name his painting idol Rubens gave to his own pet. But their happiness is brief—Grandfather dies and now Nello and Pastrache are homeless. They walk the miserably cold streets begging for work or food. At last, Nello has no choice but to give up his dog to the wealthy girl who used to live next door. Boy and dog (and audience) cry over the parting, but there’s a happy ending around the corner—and on Christmas Eve, too!
In this chilling horror classic, ambassador Robert Thorn (Gregory Peck) and a photographer (David Warner) visit an old Italian cemetery in the dead of night to determine the truth about Thorn’s malevolent adopted son, Damien. They open the grave, only to find the skeleton of a dog—and proof that his own son was murdered at birth. They look up from the grave to realize they’re surrounded by six snarling Rottweilers, who then viciously attack. They seem to be handpicked by Satan himself, since the same breed previously showed up out of nowhere as Damien’s protector. If you saw this as a kid and it gave you a lifelong fear of Rottweilers, you are not alone.
Pampered pup Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) lives the good life in Beverly Hills with her doting mom (Jamie Lee Curtis) in this much funnier than it looks comedy. But when her sitter (Piper Perabo) loses her in Mexico, Chloe finds herself in some very rough circumstances. Luckily, brave former police dog Delgado (Andy Garcia) comes to her aid. She ends up in Chihuahua, which is, naturally, home to hundreds of Chihuahuas. Her new friends teach her to embrace her inner voice, er, bark. And now she realizes the gardener’s devoted dog Papi (George Lopez) is more than worthy of her. Followed by two sequels.
Just reading the title of this title of the movie—based on the tearjerking 1961 novel—might make you burst into tears. What is it with children’s books where the dog (or horse) dies? A boy buys two Redbone Coonhound hunting dogs and trains them from puppies, which means adorable scenes of puppies licking him, learning to track a scent and playing tug of war. They grow into fine hunting dogs, but when Old Dan is mauled by a mountain lion and dies, Ann also dies from grief. Their heartbroken owner buries them together, then finds a red fern growing on their grave, a sign (according to Native American legend) that an angel planted it. Right up there with Old Yeller for Most Heartbreaking Dog Movie of All Time. It was remade in 2003.
A heartbreaking (if much gentler) adaptation of the award-winning book about an African-American Louisiana family during the Depression. They are near starvation, so the father (Paul Winfield) steals some ham from a neighbor’s smokehouse. When the police come to arrest him, Sounder, their hound dog, charges the police, who shoot him. Oldest son David (Kevin Hooks) goes looking for the wounded dog, but cannot find him. When Sounder finally returns, he no longer barks. It’s not until the injured father unexpectedly comes hobbling home that the dog barks again.
This lovable slob is a Dogue de Bordeaux, a.k.a. French Mastiff. That the drooling big guy is paired with obsessively neat cop Scott Turner (Tom Hanks) is the bulk of the humor in this buddy comedy. After his owner is murdered, animal control can’t handle the angry dog, but Turner knows Hooch is a witness and manages to corral him singlehandedly. ‘I don’t have room for a dog like Hooch,” he protests to the vet (Mare Winningham), who assumes he’s going to keep the dog. She laughs, “Not many people do.” Of course, the two end up bonding, so it’s all the sadder when (hey — I thought this was a comedy) Hooch is killed defending Turner, after correctly IDing the murderer. There’s a more or less happy ending with a human wedding and Hooch’s puppies, but still, did Hooch really have to die?
Loosely based on a true story about a dog named Balto who helped save children from the diphtheria epidemic of 1925 in Nome. In the cartoon version of the story, the wolf-dog hybrid (voiced by Kevin Bacon) is an outcast among the other dogs because of his wolf heritage. When the epidemic hits, there’s no way to get the antitoxin in, except by sled dog. Balto is determined to save a girl named Rosy (whose dog Balto is in love with) and the other children, but his chances to lead the expedition are sabotaged by the town’s top dog, a Malamute named Steele. When Steele fails to come through, it’s up to Balto to save the day, which he does, spectacularly.
Another dog movie that’s most definitely not for kids! This dark French film is told from the point of a view of Baxter the Bull Terrier, who despises the elderly woman whom he’s given to as a birthday present. He conspires to kill her, then the child of his next owners. He ends up with a Hitler-loving teen who’s as sociopathic as he is. A Dog’s Purpose, this is not!
Based on the Newberry-Medal-winning children’s novel, it’s a moving tale of a boy who will do anything to get the dog he loves away from its abusive owner. After a stray beagle pup follows Marty (Blake Heron) on the Shiloh road, he names the dog Shiloh, then learns who gave him that gash over his eye—local poacher, Judd Travers (Scott Wilson). Marty is determined to prevent Shiloh from going back to the brute, but his family tells him that the dog is another man’s property and that’s that. Given Shiloh’s sweet sad eyes, who wouldn’t move mountains to save him? After much back-and-forth, Judd finally lets Shiloh go and the end victory run into Marty’s arms is a sweet one.
It’s a lucky thing that Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King who tires of Halloween and tries to take over Christmas, has his own Rudolph at hand: His ghost dog Zero with a shiny, glowing pumpkin nose! And, being a ghost, he can fly better than any reindeer. When it’s time for bed, Zero retires to the cemetery, where he sleeps in his own doghouse-shaped headstone. (We might also mention Victor’s ghost dog in The Corpse Bride, who—when reunited in the underworld—stares at his old master blankly when told to “Play dead.”)
Singing great Peggy Lee not only provides the voice for this streetwise Pekingese, she also sings the movie’s standout song, “He’s a Tramp,” an ode to that roguish fellow Lady happens to be in love with. Mimicking Lee’s trademark bangs, Peg has a swoop of hair covering one eye. After Lady ends up in the pound temporarily it’s Peg who comes to the naive dog’s rescue when the other pound pooches make fun of her.
Two of the most loyal neighbor dogs you could ever meet: Jock, the bone-burying Scottie who loves to dish out advice, and Trusty, the old Bloodhound who regales his friends with tales of his grandpappy, Old Reliable—if he can just remember them. Scottie has a Scottish accent and Trusty, naturally, speaks in a deep Southern drawl. But it’s when Tramp is being carted off by the pound to be put down that they really shine: Trusty tracks down the dog wagon and both he and Jock bark furiously and distract the driver. The wagon overturns on top of Trusty and he appears to have laid down his life for his friend. Jock nudges him gently, then lets out a mournful howl. Cut to the happy ending where Trusty, with a cast on his leg, is now telling his stories to Lady and the Tramp’s pups.
Besides Friday, the scruffy-haired Jack Russell who loves to steal gyros and bacon (played by Cosmo of Beginners), there’s Lenny, the sun-loving mastiff who howls when the shades are down; Romeo, the Chinese crested who finds his own Juliet, a fluffy white poodle; Cooper, the bulldog who’s “part goat” and eats shoes, phones, purses and even a license plate; and Shep, the shepherd with “herding issues.” And lastly, Georgia, the Boston terrier who loves to play fetch—and ends up being the hotel’s bellhop (complete with cap) who returns keys to the front desk when it becomes a real doggie hotel.
When gangsters attack John Wick (Keanu Reeves), steal his car and shoot his adorable beagle puppy Daisy, they don’t realize they’ve set in motion a killing spree of Biblical proportions. Making the senseless violence all the more cruel: Daisy was a gift from his dying wife, who knew he’d need some comfort after her passing. Daisy had an all-too brief life, but she inspired one of the greatest action movies of our time. In the sequel, Wick has a new dog, a sweet pit bull he never calls anything but “Boy.” (I’m happy to report the dog, who’s left behind while Wick travels to Italy, is alive at the movie’s end.)
You’re surely aware that there’s an Instagram “Tom Hardy Holding Dogs,” and the actor cuddling and kissing the baby pit bull from this movie has been featured often. Despite this being a dark crime drama (based on the book by Mystic River author Dennis LeHane), the too-cute puppy survives. And the pup leads Hardy’s character to make some important, plot-turning connections.
Edward, the incorrigible corgi, is a major plot mover in this film about a man coping with the murder of his son. William Hurt is Macon, a man who hates travel and as such is ideally suited to write a travel guide for people who want to feel like they’ve never left home. After his wife leaves him, he’s got to board Edward and meets outgoing Muriel (Geena Davis). She’s also a dog trainer who helps him work with Edward after he’s bitten Macon, caused him to break a leg and chased his publisher up a tree. (Which, for a corgi, is fairly impressive.) Thanks to Muriel (which is all thanks to Edward), Macon is finally able to move on and start a new life.
Based on the true story of a dog who refused to leave his master’s grave, this Disney movie isn’t quite as depressing as the original tale: Skye Terrier Bobby is so devoted to an old shepherd (never mind that he wasn’t his real owner) that when the old man dies, he sleeps on his grave every night. Bobby’s fate becomes an issue for the whole town as he’s not allowed to roam free with no owner and no license. But the scruffy little guy has endeared himself so much to the town that the children of Edinburgh take up a collection to buy his license, making him a Freeman of the City who belongs to them all.
In an age where so many movie dogs are CGI, it’s a stunning achievement to see a real dog—a Czechoslovakian wolfdog to be exact—playing the wolf in every scene of this film, which is set in the Cro-Magnon era. When Young Keda (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is injured and left behind after his first hunt, he forms an unexpected bond with a wolf who is also injured. Together, they survive the harsh conditions (yes – the wolf lives!) on the way back to Keda’s tribe. It’s a very moving portrayal of how the domestication of the dog might have happened.
Finally, a girl and her dog story! But this R-rated Hungarian film is no Disney adventure. In Budapest, mutts are not allowed by the state. But Lili (Zsófia Psotta) is devoted to her dog and won’t let her dad take him to the shelter. She’s forced by her father to abandon Hagen, who heartbreakingly chases after their van after being left in the middle of the street. While she tries desperately to find him, he’s welcomed into a band of stray dogs—and eventually becomes their leader. The entire canine cast was awarded Cannes’ Palm Dog honor.
The neurotic humans are more memorable than their poor dogs in this mockumentary. Winky the Norwich Terrier wins the coveted title and inspires her owners Gerry and Cookie Fleck (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) to record an album about the joys of terriers. There’s also Hubert the Bloodhound; Rhapsody in White, the Standard Poodle, whose trophy wife owner ends up hooking up with the female trainer and publishing a dog magazine for lesbians called American Bitch; and Shih Tzu Miss Agnes, whose gay daddies make a calendar with dogs recreating scenes from classic movies. Sadly, Busy-Bee-obsessed Weimaraner Beatrice, whose owners think was scarred by watching them have sex, has been given away in the film’s epilogue: They now nave a leg-humping pug.
In Tarantino’s ode to ’60s Hollywood, Brandy’s a very good girl who belongs to stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). She happily chows down on Wolf’s Teeth brand dog food (Tagline: “Good food for mean dogs”) while Cliff fixes up some Kraft Mac and Cheese for himself. And it’s very lucky for Cliff and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) that Brandy—and her special set of skills—is around for the film’s climactic showdown with murderous Manson members. It was the first film for rescue pittie Sayuri, who won the Palm Dog at Cannes.
In this lighthearted Disney offering, Fran (Suzanne Pleshette), raises champion dachshunds. She does not approve when husband Mark (Dean Jones) adopts a Great Dane he names Brutus. The dog confirms her worst fears in a truly epic party-destroying scene. But when Brutus rescues her favorite, Chloe, she rethinks her stance on the big brute. Naturally, Brutus ends up in his own dog show to convince him he’s not a dachshund like his canine siblings.
Much like Gromit, Bitzer is a smart working dog who keeps his human’s life running smoothly. Except in this wordless comedy, the daily routine is upset when the Farmer’s sheep conspire to sleep in and the Farmer accidentally ends up in the city—and with amnesia! It’s up to Bitzer (and Shaun the Sheep) to find their owner and get him home. The scene where Bitzer (disguised a doctor) sneaks into the hospital looking for the Farmer—and then is ushered into an operating room—is a howler.
The first creature we see in this horror classic set in Antarctica is the Malamute, who is running from the Norwegian scientists who are inexplicably trying to shoot it. It’s only much later that we realize the dog is the carrier of the alien Thing that soon devastates the American researchers. Good luck getting that gory, shape-shifting mass of dog and alien out of your head. The dog was played by Jed, who was half wolf. Actor Richard Masur (dog handler Clark) said, “Jed and I got to be good friends. He was a very spooky dog when we started because he was half wolf and the wolf half was real dominant.”
The Darlings’ dog is such a good girl! This conscientious St. Bernard looks after the children and is forever tidying the nursery, putting away toys and making the beds. As we learn from the opening narration, “Nana the nursemaid, being a dog, kept her opinions to herself.” Even when Father declares “They’ll be no more dogs as nursemaids” and drags her out of the house, she calmly waves goodbye to the children—then dutifully finds the rope needed to tie her up outside. And who can forget her trying to join the children on their flight to Never Never Land? She’s sadly tied up and even with a sprinkling of pixie dust, can only float and wave farewell until their return.
Stretchy dachshund-toy Slinky (voiced by Jim Varney in the first two Toy Story films) is a very handy toy to have around: When Buzz and Woody are racing to rejoin the rest of the crew in the moving van, Slinky is almost able to reach out and pull them in. Luckily, Slinky’s damaged spring is restored and he’s as good as new and ready to be used as a bungee cord to rescue Woody in Toy Story 2. The family has a real dog, Buster, who’s also a dachshund, and sometimes gives cowboy Woody rides. Since Varney’s death in 2000, equally gravelly voiced pal Blake Clark has taken over as Slinky.
Blind detective Duncan MacLain (Edward Arnold) is aided by his faithful guide dog, Friday, in this crime drama in which they foil a sinister Nazi plot, as well as its sequel. Friday, a German Shepherd, does a lot more than tell MacLain when to cross the street or open doors for him. This is a dog who can scale high walls, escape seemingly impossible situations and summon help. Unfortunately, according to TCM, Friday (son of canine star Flash) was an uncooperative actor, and he failed to land any more roles after these two films.
In the first film, Bruiser the chihuahua is merely an accessory—if a very well-attired one. But the sequel is all about Bruiser: After learning that his mother was used in animal testing, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) is inspired to fight for “Bruiser’s Bill,” which will put a stop to such cruelty. Also, we find out Bruiser is gay—and in love with a Rottweiler!
In the now not-so-far off future—this Harlan Ellison tale is set in 2024, several years after a nuclear war has decimated the population—Vic (Don Johnson) and his telepathic dog roam the wilderness in search of food and women. If Blood the dog (voiced by Tim McIntire) sniffs out women for his human, Vic will get him something to eat. Or rather, the other way around. As Blood tells Vic, “No food, no females.” Much better-read than his nearly illiterate human, Blood’s often using words Vic doesn’t understand. Their devotion is tested when Vic finds a female who wants to stay with him—let’s just say that Ellison isn’t alone in hating the ending. At one point, a sequel called A Girl and Her Dog was reportedly in the works, but was abandoned when Tiger, the dog who played Blood, died.
The highlight of this tale of a poetry-writing bus driver (Adam Driver) is his bull-headed bulldog Marvin, who often wants to walk in the opposite direction that his owner does and enjoys head-butting the mailbox, among other far more destructive behaviors. Marvin was memorably played by a female dog named Nellie, who became the first to win the Palm Dog posthumously.
In this melancholy indie that’s been widely compared to Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D., Wendy (Michelle Williams) is a luckless drifter without a home or a job and Lucy, her dog, is her only companion. She gets arrested after trying to shoplift dog food and when she gets out of jail, Lucy is gone. She spends most of the movie trying to find her dog in a strange town. The ending will break any dog lover: Wendy learns Lucy ended up at the pound and now has a good home with someone else. Realizing she has to let her go, she tearfully bids Lucy farewell through the chainlink fence, whispers, “Be good,” and with one last look, walks away. Lucy, who is director Kelly Reichardt’s own dog, won the Palm Dog award at Cannes. Said Riechardt, “She was no trouble at all to direct. She always did what she was told and got to the set on time.” She added, “I don’t think Lucy will be walking around with [the fancy prize collar] on, as she’ll get [beat up] by all the other dogs in the ‘hood.’”
In 1940s Mississippi, nine-year-old Willie (Frankie Muniz) gets the best friend he’s always wanted in Jack Russell Skipper, a bundle of energy who is not only great company, but who helps him make friends with everyone in town—and even get a girlfriend! She helps him brave a night in the cemetery and fight off two mean moonshiners. They have their misunderstandings, and he nearly loses her at one point, but she’s made of stern stuff. If you’re not sobbing by the film’s final scene—in which a grown-up Willie learns Skipper has died, you truly have no heart. He’s told she was buried under the elm tree, but adds, “That wasn’t totally true. For she really laid buried … in my heart.”
In this adaptation of the best-selling book, a golden retriever named Bailey bonds with young Ethan in the ’60s and when he dies, a funny thing happens—he’s reborn as a German Shepherd named Ellie! He (now she) is just as heroic and dedicated in this life, and in the next, as a Corgi named Tino. In the last life we see in the film, he’s now a a St. Bernard-Australian Shepherd mix who ends up with Ethan, now a grown man (Dennis Quaid). Ethan slowly realizes that Buddy is Bailey—and sets about fixing his broken life. Have your own dogs handy to hug—and a big box of tissues standing by.
In this delightful comedy short, The Little Tramp saves Scraps, a mongrel bullied by other dogs and they become inseparable. While Scraps steals sausages, Chaplin steals pies. Told he can’t bring a dog into his local saloon, Chaplin “hides” the dog in his pants, but the dog’s tail is clearly visible under his coat tail. And when Chaplin stands next to the band at the bar, the dog’s tail begins beating out a rhythm that mystifies the drummer. Chaplin and dog get thrown out, but things are looking up: Scraps digs up a stolen wallet full of money that ends up buying a better life for Chaplin and the singer he loves. It all ends happily, with a house in the country and the couple starting a family—of puppies!
New recruit Agent J (Will Smith) thinks the guy who looks like a Rocky Horror extra is the alien he and Agent K have come to pump for information, but it’s the pug in an “I Love NY” hoodie that’s the real alien (a Remoolian, to be exact). Frank’s first words: “If you don’t like it, you can kiss my furry little butt!” In the second film, he’s been promoted to an MiB agent and is now known as “Agent F,” one who’s fond of belting out “I Will Survive.”
In this little-known British noir, Phil Brown (who went on to play Uncle Owen in Star Wars), is Bill, a Yank who is romancing a married woman. Her husband, Clive (Robert Newton), has had it with her philandering and abducts Bill, locking him in a secret room. His ghoulish plan: To dissolve his wife’s lover in a bath of acid! It takes him months to smuggle in the necessary amount, and in that time, his wife’s poodle, Monty, has followed him to the hideout. At first, Clive tries to test the solution with the poor dog, but Monty finds safety with the tethered Bill. Unwilling to come within hitting reach of his captive, Clive lets it go. Bill trains the dog how to pull the plug on the other bathtub in the place, thus saving both their lives. At film’s end, Bill’s been rescued, and Monty is covering his new owner with kisses, an unusually happy ending for a noir.
Were a comedian and a breed of dog ever better matched than the hyperactive Jim Carrey and a Jack Russell? The life of mild-mannered banker Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey) is turned upside down when he finds a mysterious mask that turns him into an over-the-top cartoon character straight out of Tex Avery. When Milo intercepts the mask from the villains (nice mid-air catch, Milo!), he transforms into a razor-toothed, spike-collar cartoon dog from hell. And even without the mask, he’s super-powered enough to leap about 20 feet straight up into an imprisoned Stanley’s arms, and to steal the keys from the sleeping prison guard.
In this classic gangster film, Humphrey Bogart plays Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, a bank robber who takes to a little dog named Pard that everyone else has told him is bad luck since all his previous owners have died. Pard is darn cute, and he can do a number of tricks (he was played by Bogart’s own dog, Zero) so Roy won’t believe he’s a jinx. “That’s a lot of malarkey,” he tells Marie (Ida Lupino), who suggests dumping the dog to change their luck, saying she has no right to blame the “poor little dog.” But Pard does prove to to be Roy’s undoing: As the criminal mounts a last stand high up in the Sierras, he comes out when he hears Pard barking—and is promptly shot by the police. Roy dies with Pard licking his hand as Marie sobs over him.
This piano-playing pooch has never been as well known as Kermit, but he’s always been an integral part of the crew. In The Muppet Movie, he and Kermit duet on “I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along,” a tricky feat since both were voiced by Jim Henson. (An album recorded by Henson as Rowlf, called “Ol’ Brown Ears is Back” was released in 1993.) When Henson died, at first no one took over the role. Rowlf appeared only in non-speaking background parts for a few films, such as a performer at Fezziwig’s party in The Muppet Christmas Carol. It wasn’t until 1996 that Bill Barretta began playing the character. In 2011’s big-screen revival The Muppets, Rowlf performs “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (barbershop quartet style) with Beaker, Sam the Eagle, and Link Hogthrob during the Muppet Telethon.
It goes without saying that big dogs in comedies are going to ruin everything. And when that dog is an 185-pound St. Bernard, disaster is guaranteed. We shall never forget the epic scene in which Charles Grodin (the uptight and very reluctant owner) tracks a series of muddy footprints to his bedroom where the dog has made himself comfortable on the bed—and begins to shake himself dry as Grodin grimaces in howling despair. Eventually, he warms to the dog and rallies to save it from an evil vet—played by none other than ’60s Disney star Dean Jones! Followed by seven sequels.
A dog who plays basketball? That simple premise (starring the real-life b-ball playing sensation Buddy) propelled this film to a box-office hit and launched an entire franchise. When the film starts, the future Buddy is called Old Blue and has just been dumped by his alcoholic owner, who also happens to be abusive and an actual clown. He’s found by a boy (Kevin Zegers) who just lost his dad … and the rest is family film history.
It’s Fly (Miriam Margolyes) the Border Collie who gives new farm resident Babe his name. (It’s what his mother called all her babies.) She takes pity on the lonely pig, and lets him sleep with her and her pups, “at least until he gets his feet under him.” Mate Rex (voiced by Hugo Weaving) reluctantly agrees. Fly explains that Pigs aren’t allowed in the house with the humans and they’re definitely not allowed to herd sheep—that’s dog’s work. When her pups are sold off, Babe finds her mourning in the barn. He asks, “May I call you Mom?” and she responds with a grateful lick. She encourages Babe when he shows an instinct for herding, but Rex will have none of it, at first, going so far as to attack his mate and bite the Farmer. That’s when Fly tells Babe Rex’s tragic backstory: During a terrible storm, he stayed with a stranded flock whom he couldn’t save from the rising waters. He nearly died and lost his hearing, which cost him his shot at the herding championship. But Rex rallies when Babe needs him most at his own herding trials, by finding out the magic words “Baa Ram Ewe” that convince the sheep to follow the little pig.
Adding voices to the three lost pets trekking home (as opposed to the genial narration of the ’60s original) means we get bulldog pup Chance (Michael J. Fox) constantly saying, “Dogs drool and cats rule!” Some of the nobility and dignity of the species is restored by the wise old golden retriever Shadow (voiced by Oscar winner Don Ameche). He’s the one who decides it’s time to go find their humans, who counsels the young pup on a dog’s duty of loyalty, and who finds and comforts a lost little girl in the wilderness, despite Chance’s warning that strangers will turn them over to the pound. As he limps toward his boy (after seemingly being left for dead), just try not to burst into tears.
Being an inventor’s dog, this Jack Russell has a science-inspired name and gets fed by an automated gizmo, just like Einstein in Back to the Future. Quark also works hard, bringing the morning mail to the breakfast table and cleaning the face of his owner (Rick Moranis) after experiments gone wrong. But Quark really saves the day—and all the kids—because he’s the only one who can hear them after they’ve been accidentally shrunk. He rescues them from the back yard, then stops dad from eating his microscopic-sized son after the boy falls into a bowl of Cheerios. Quark is last glimpsed chewing on a super-sized dog biscuit.
Much like Mad Max, Robert Neville (Will Smith) survives in a post-apocalyptic world thanks to his dog. Except in his world, all the humans are dead or infected, leaving Robert as (apparently) the last man on Earth. Sam, the German Shepherd, helps keep him sane and motivated as he searches for a cure to the disease that claimed his fellow man and beast. Luckily water and electricity is plentiful after the zombie outbreak, so Sam is treated to baths and runs on the treadmill with her human (but refuses to eat her veggies). The zombies are clever though, and when Robert is caught in a trap, Sam refuses to leave his side. It’s an incredibly rough moment when Robert realizes she’s infected and he has to kill her before she kills him.
A gentle St. Bernard turns into a man-killing monster in this adaptation of the Stephen King novel. After being bitten by a rabid bat, Cujo mauls two men to death. Unlucky Donna (Dee Wallace) and her young son Tad (Danny Pintauro) are trapped by the raging beast for more than a day after her car breaks down. It’s a simple story, but one that forever changed people’s first associations with the breed from friendly alpine aides who bring brandy to stranded skiers to a rabid monster they should avoid at all costs.
This Italian neorealist classic doesn’t kill off the dog, but it does make us sob just as hard as if it did. In Vittorio de Sica’s bleak masterpiece, a poor elderly man (Carlo Battisti) finds himself with nowhere to live. Unable to care for his dog, he tries to find a home for him and, failing that, tries to abandon him with some children in the hopes that one of them will keep him. Flike tracks him down anyway—and then comes the real knife-in-the-heart scene. A broken Umberto tries to commit suicide by standing in front of an oncoming train with his dog in his arms. The dog escapes and then refuses to come to the master whom he no longer trusts. At long last, the dog is convinced and the two are reunited, still destitute, but at least together. According to Criterion, Flike was one of the only trained performers in the film: He was played by a dog named Napoleone.
Dante is a Xolo dog, a lovable stray who accompanies 12-year-old Miguel to the Land of the Dead in this Oscar-winning Pixar film. This goofy dog is always trying to snarf some food, even if it’s intended for the family’s dead ancestors. He’s named after Dante Alighieri, the Italian Poet who wrote The Divine Comedy, in which he travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven. Dante the dog ends up being much more than a stray: He makes a splendid transformation on the other side into a winged alebrije, a spirit guide for Miguel’s family.
Although this Disney film focuses more on the human than the dog (unlike the Jack London novel it’s based on), there’s still plenty of spectacular Alaskan scenery, dog heroics and human-canine bonding to satisfy most family film audiences. White Fang, who’s been cruelly used in dog fights, slowly learns to trust young prospector Jack (Ethan Hawke). He later saves Jack from a mine cave-in and attacks his former owners when they set fire to Jack’s cabin. Now rich, Jack tries to leave Alaska and let White Fang return to the wilderness, but realizes he can’t leave his faithful companion behind. The wolf-dog is played by Jed, the same hybrid who played the mysterious Malamute in 1982’s The Thing and Wolf in The Journey of Natty Gan.
When Victor Frankenstein’s beloved bull terrier, Sparky, is hit by a car and killed, his mission is clear: Bring Sparky back to life! Now Sparky’s good as new—except that he leaks water and anything he eats. And when the poodle he loves next door, Persephone, sniffs his new neck bolts, she gets an electric shock that adds Bride of Frankenstein-like streaks of white to her beehive hairdo. Sparky might be a re-animated dog made out of clay, but he’s also one of the most expressive cinema dogs of all time, one whose pain we feel when his resurrection is discovered and he runs away from Victor’s freaked-out parents. He finds himself in the pet cemetery, where he lies down mournfully on his own grave—after turning around in a circle several times like any dog. He heroically saves the day when other resurrected pets run amok, and we cheer when the formerly terrified townspeople all pitch in to bring Sparky back to life once more.
Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston adopt “the world’s worst dog” in this movie based on the best-selling book. The two pick the cute golden lab out of his litter partly because he’s the cheapest of the lot, only $200. He’s dubbed the “clearance puppy” until he responds to Bob Marley on the radio and earns the name Marley. Life is definitely interesting with the untrainable house-wrecking, pigeon-chasing, jewelry-eating Marley. But when he passes away they—and audiences the world over—are devastated.
Most people know what a Brussels Griffon is thanks to this movie. Verdell—of the expressive eyes, bearded face and adorable underbite—is owned by Simon (Greg Kinnear). After Simon is badly beaten up, he must entrust the dog to his eccentric neighbor, Melvin (Jack Nicholson), even though he’d previously shoved the dog down the laundry chute! Verdell takes to Melvin so much that he begins imitating his OCD behavior, including not stepping on cracks in the sidewalk. Melvin can’t believe how sad he is to give Verdell back and Simon is distraught to realize that Verdell now prefers Melvin. This is the breed, by the way, that inspired George Lucas to create Ewoks and Wookiees.
Bodger the Bull Terrier is the eldest dog who ably leads his companions, Luath the Labrador Retriever and Tao the Siamese, home to their humans in this heartwarming Disney classic. With their temporary caretaker, he gets the best spot (his own basket by the master’s bed) while Luath sleeps downstairs. But before the night is over, Bodger—smart dog—crawls into the big bed with the human. The old dog is subjected to many ordeals during the long journey, including being crawled all over by adorable bear cubs. Watching him slowly make his way to his boy at the film’s end—then playfully romping together—has to be the happiest smiling-through-tears reunion of dog and boy since Lassie Come Home.
It’s a strict movie rule that all wacky scientists have to have (or occasionally turn into) a big shaggy dog. Einstein is fed by a complicated Rube Goldberg-type device, is used as a guinea pig by Doc Brown to test out time travel, then makes like a bloodhound in Back to the Future II, when he tracks the missing Jennifer to her house (all the way in 2015).
If dogs could talk, they’d likely talk just like Dug, the big fluffy Golden Retriever who can convey his thoughts thanks to his owner’s invention. Naturally, his thoughts mostly center on doing his master’s bidding, greeting new people and squirrels! Dug also is a surprisingly deep thinker, one who knows the difference between right and wrong as he ditches his old, evil master for his new friends, Carl and Russell. Good boy!
Where would Wallace be without his Gromit? He’d probably still be trapped in the Wrong Trousers and stuck as the Were-Rabbit forever! This canine McGyver, who’s always saving Wallace from some scrape or other, graduated from “Dogwarts University” with a double first in Engineering for Dogs. He enjoys knitting, reading the paper, thwarting evil penguins, and rolling his eyes at Wallace’s shenanigans.
Cosmo plays Arthur in this Oscar-winning indie, giving The Artist’s Uggie a running for Most Soulful Jack Russell in a Movie. Arthur is one of the most thoughtful and introspective of screen dogs: He’s not exactly a talking dog, but we do learn his thoughts thanks to doggie subtitles. He seems just as depressed as new owner Oliver (Ewan McGregor), who’s just claimed the dog after his father’s death Both human and dog perk up when Oliver meets free-spirited actress Anna (Melanie Laurent). Director Mike Mills, who based the dog on his own father’s dog, told the LA Times, “For me the key part is that Oliver doesn’t treat him as someone who is cute or mentally less than himself. He is trying to treat the dog with … full personhood while trying to understand the dog much like he is trying to understand his father. In a lot of ways, he’s the ghost of the father, and they share a lot of qualities.”
Pongo (voiced by Rod Taylor) loves his pet Roger, but things are a bit stale with the old bachelor. It’s up to the enterprising Dalmatian to find Roger—and himself—a mate. Spying an attractive human and Dalmatian female duo, he sets the clock ahead to get Roger to go the park, playfully steals Roger’s hat to set up an introduction and finally resorts to tangling up the two humans so they’re forced to talk to each other. Soon, Roger and Anita are married and Pongo and Perdita are expecting a litter. Their 15 puppies—who include TV-loving runt Lucky and always-hungry Rolly—are snatched by Cruella De Vil’s goons. Their devoted parents track them down through snow and sleet and roundly deal with the kidnappers. It’s quick-thinking Pongo who comes up with the idea of disguising themselves by rolling in soot. The trick saves all 101 dogs, who burst in on their surprised but grateful human pets, who instantly vow to keep them all on a “Dalmatian Plantation.”
Old Yeller is still the gold standard of loyalty and one of the most heart-rending dog stories ever told. He bravely drives off an angry mother bear to save his boy Arliss (Kevin Corcoran), earning a place in the family’s heart. He then saves the older boy, Travis (Tommy Kirk) from wild boars. But when he tangles with a rabid wolf, he becomes rabid himself and must be put down by a stricken Travis. Old Yeller was played by Spike, a Mastiff/Labrador mix who was trained by the legendary Frank Weatherwax, who also taught Lassie actor Pal everything he knew.
Have your tissues handy. The eight huskies in this heart-jerking true story are some of the best dog actors you’ll ever see. Left behind in bitter conditions at the Antarctica research base after one of the scientists (Bruce Greenwood) is severely injured, the sled dogs are forced to fend for themselves. The human team intends to come back for them immediately, but it’s a long six months before they can return. During that time, Old Jack doesn’t even make it out of his chains before giving up the ghost and Dewey is fatally injured after a fall down a steep ravine. The other dogs refuse to leave his side, nudging him with kisses, licks and barks. Pack leader Maya—who earlier crawled out onto the treacherous ice to save Greenwood—is now injured herself. The other dogs bring her their catch of seagulls, but she won’t eat. And then—miraculously—the humans (led by Paul Walker) return. At first, nothing. And then five of the dogs appear on the horizon. Max jumps into Walker’s arms in a scene that rivals any “Dog Welcomes Soldier Home” video. When Walker’s character tries to load up all the dogs, Max instead runs off, leading him to Maya, who is too weak to walk, but still alive.
The only companion of Max (Mel Gibson) in the post-apocalyptic wasteland, this trusty dog is an Australian Cattle Dog who eats the finest canned dog food available—after his dad is done with it. (Hey, food is scarce.) Who needs a human by your side when your canine sidekick can keep a specially rigged gun trained on a stranger? The dog (whose name we never learn) bravely defends his owner to the death after Max runs afoul of a vicious gang of bikers. But in real life, the dog actor got a happy ending: He went to live with the woman who was his trainer for the film, before ending up with one of the movie’s stuntmen.
This free-wheeling stray likes to live “footloose and collar-free.” Who needs a family when every chef in town give you the best scraps? Tramp has an in everywhere—including the local Italian restaurant, which leads to the most romantic dog dining scene ever in which he and Lady’s lips meet over the same strand of spaghetti and he then graciously nudges the last meatball her way. And he knows just the guy to get rid of Lady’s muzzle—the local beaver! Tramp heroically chases away the rat that creeps into the baby’s room after Lady warns him—and is nearly put to death for his troubles. Lady shows her humans the dead rat, and Tramp is not only cleared, he’s adopted, with his own collar and family at last.
Filmdom’s most famous Cocker Spaniel is presented from “John Dear” to “Darling” one Christmas morning and leads a pampered life—then falls for dashing mutt Tramp. He advises her that her humans having a baby means she’s about to get the heave-ho. After being left in the care of the dastardly Aunt Sarah and her two scheming Siamese cats, Lady is forced to wear a muzzle, captured by the dogcatcher when she escapes, then chained in the back yard. She’s still there to protect the baby when a rat threatens the infant, even if she and Tramp are blamed for the attack. It all ends happily, with Lady and Tramp having a litter of little Ladies and little Tramps.
The soft-focus photography and mawkish music—not to mention the ’70s fashions worn by the humans—have dated this much-loved dog movie, but it doesn’t diminish the charm and courage of the titular lovable pooch. Much like Tramp, Benji is a stray known all over town to different people by different names—and loved by all, including two children whose dad won’t let them have a dog of their own. Dad reverses his “no dogs” policy after the kids are kidnapped and Benji leads them to the culprits. Benji was first played by Higgins, a shelter dog. In subsequent Benji films, including the dreadful Oh Heavenly Dog with Chevy Chase, Higgins’ daughter, Benjean played the adorable mutt.
This legendarily loyal Akita, who used to greet his master every day at the train station and waited patiently there nine years after the man’s death, really existed. He’s honored in Japan with statues and annual ceremonies. In the film, our heart breaks when the dog doesn’t understand why his beloved human (Richard Gere) never arrives. The rest of the family try to take Hachi home with them, but he keeps returning to the train station and finally they have to let him be. We watch as he grows older and grayer, but never dims in his devotion. If you can get through this movie—or even a synopsis—without chest-rattling sobs, you’re made of incredibly stern stuff.
At the first Academy Awards in 1929, legend has it that this German Shepherd received more votes for Best Actor than the actual winner, Emil Jannings. By 1926, he was the world’s biggest box office star, earning $6,000 a week. He was so popular, he was credited with saving then-struggling Warner Bros. studios, not to mention making German Shepherds one of the favorite pets of American households.
Although he’s nearly as famous as Lassie, this talented and resourceful Jack Russell became better known for his real name (Uggie) than his character’s name (Jack). As Jack, Uggie stole the show and even saved his master from a fire. He’s a big reason it won the Best Picture Oscar winner. He became a red carpet favorite and won his own bevy of dog awards, including the Cannes Palm Dog. He also starred in Like Water for Elephants and published his memoir Uggie, My Story in 2012. Sadly, he passed away in 2015, but his place in cinema history is secured.
After conquering the comic strip and TV specials, the irrepressible beagle who likes to dance on top of pianos and pretend he’s a vulture took his adventures to the big screen. In the frequently psychedelic Snoopy Come Home, he visits his sick former owner and is then torn between staying with her and returning to Charlie Brown. Memorable for the Sherman Brothers-penned theme song and the track “No Dogs Allowed!” as sad Snoopy (and buddy Woodstock) is banned from buses and hospitals. The Peanuts Movie (2015) rightly featured ample Snoopy scenes as Joe Cool and fighting the Red Baron, reminding us why we love the wildly imaginative dog in the first place.
The elegant wire fox terrier perfectly complemented his witty screen parents, William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Astor. Although written as a female Schnauzer in the novel by Dashiell Hammett, Asta was such a hit, he inspired a national craze for wire fox terriers. Asta was always handy for sniffing out corpses and hidden guns. And he had his own romantic entanglements: In After the Thin Man (1936), Asta has to chase off a dark-haired Scottie from “Mrs. Asta,” and his ears go straight up when one of her pups ends being a dead ringer for his canine rival. Skippy also starred in two screwball comedy classics, The Awful Truth (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938).
“Lassie is a star on the level of a Bette Davis or a Katharine Hepburn,” said Roddy McDowall, who played the boy she journeyed hundreds of miles to return to in Lassie Come Home. Margaret O’Brien recalled, “[Pal, the male dog who played] Lassie would be riding in a limousine with [trainer] Mr. Weatherwax—and sometimes I would be walking!” Even though Lassie is no longer one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, the noble Collie still embodies the best in dogs: courage, loyalty and utter selflessness. Take Lassie’s first film, in which her destitute family is forced to sell her. She doggedly journeys from Scotland to her home in Yorkshire. She’s welcomed in several homes and could easily stay with any of the new people who love her, but she must keep going. If the constant heartbreak of her leaving wasn’t enough, there is the heart-swelling at-long-last reunion with her boy, Joe where she limps into his arms. (And which set the stage for every emotional dog-and-boy reunion that followed.) Pal played Lassie (and her son “Laddie”) in seven films and his descendants still play the world’s most famous Collie.
Without Toto, Dorothy would never have gone on her adventure to Oz—she’s running away from her aunt and uncle’s farm so mean Miss Gulch won’t have Toto killed for chasing her cat. Toto’s clever enough to escape from the villain’s basket on her bike and run back to Dorothy. In Oz, Toto saves the day by running to summon Dorothy’s friends when the Witch kidnaps her. And it’s the scrappy terrier who pulls aside the curtain revealing the great wizard is a fraud. But it’s also Toto that jumps out of the balloon that was going to take Dorothy back to Kansas. That all works out pretty well, too. After Terry, the dog who played Toto, broke his foot on set, Judy Garland took care of her. She tried to adopt her, but her owner and trainer wouldn’t let her go. Terry (whose name was changed to Toto in 1942) appeared in 16 films total. You can visit her monument at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Sharon Knolle is a film noir buff, dog lover and founder of Moviepaws.com. You can follow her on Twitter.