Dogs: there is just something about them. That is the way us dog lovers feel, anyway. Whether it is a random labradoodle getting walked in the park or a famous collie in an iconic, old TV series, the sight of a happy, playful pup is enough to melt the heart and heal the soul.
Fortunately for dog lovers, movie history is littered with famous dogs and classic dog movies. Whether it is an animated Cocker Spaniel in a Walt Disney classic, a Jack Russell Terrier in an iconic arthouse film or a French Mastiff in a Tom Hanks comedy, there are few things that can bring life to a film than a charismatic canine.
In fact, this history of dogs on film is almost as old as the history of film itself. An unidentified black pup appeared in the 1894 Edison production “Athlete with Wand.” Fellow film pioneers the Lumiere Brothers included multiple pooches in “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory” the following year.
While these anonymous doggies played big roles in film history, it was not long before the first dog movie star. German Shepherd Rin Tin Tin was a silent film celebrity in the 1920s – well before Lassie, Benji or Marley.
For true canine lovers, there are few better things in life than a great dog movie. These are 25 of the most beloved and heartwarming dog movies of all time.
- Turner and Hooch
- Marley & Me
- Old Yeller
- Best in Show
- The Incredible Journey
- One Hundred and One Dalmatians
- Umberto D
- Lassie Come Home
- All Dogs Go to Heaven
- Air Bud
- White Fang
- My Dog Tulip
- Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
- Eight Below
- My Dog Skip
- The Artist
- Lady and the Tramp
- Hotel for Dogs
- Must Love Dogs
- Cats and Dogs
- The Shaggy Dog
- Because of Winn-Dixie
- Good-bye, My Lady
Turner and Hooch
In many ways, Tom Hanks is like the dog of the acting world. For that reason and more, Tom Hanks was the perfect choice for this classic 1989 canine comedy. Hanks’ character, police investigator Scott Turner, is a near-obsessive neat-freak – not an ideal candidate for living and working with slobbery French Mastiff Hooch. However, Turner ends up rightfully enchanted by Hooch – creating one of the most delightful buddy cop duos in film history.
1974’s “Benji” shook the worlds of both movie lovers and dog lovers with its unique approach. The first Benji movie told its story from the perspective of the titular mixed-breed pup. Audiences were so taken with the first “Benji” film that it became one of the highest-grossing movies that year. The success of “Benji” spawned a franchise that lasted several decades.
Marley & Me
“Marley & Me” takes a more realistic and mature angle than most dog movies. Based on a best-selling book, which was in turn based on a true story, “Marley & Me” examines the life of high-spirited golden retriever Marley’s life with a young family. The family and the dog grow together, even as Marley misbehaves in ways that are too much for dog sitters and obedience trainers. Warning: anybody who has ever had a dog will find themselves emotionally drained by this 2008 box office hit.
Any list of heart-warming dog movies would be incomplete without mention of this iconic Walt Disney drama. This rustic period piece was considered a minor, although likeable, effort upon its release in 1957. However, it did not take long for “Old Yeller” to reach legendary status in pop culture, and the movie has since been referenced in everything from “Stripes” to “Breaking Bad.”
Best in Show
“Best in Show” is another dog movie with a relatively mature audience in mind. This PG-13 rated mock-documentary features such comedic masterminds as Christopher Guest, Fred Willard and Jane Lynch. However, for dog lovers the real stars are the Weimaraner, Shih-Tzu and other pooches competing in the movie’s fictional dog show.
The Incredible Journey
Dog movie fans are likely familiar with the 1993 Disney flick “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,” which features the voices of Sally Field and Michael J Fox. However, fans of that movie may want to check the 1963 original, also from Disney. The main cast of “The Incredible Journey” includes a yellow lab, a bull mastiff and, of course, a Siamese cat trying to make their way through the unforgiving Canadian wilderness.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians
This 1961 Disney classic, whose title is spelled out, is not to be confused with the live-action 1996 release “101 Dalmatians.” Indeed, this animated feature was the first time audiences got the chance to experience dozens of dotted pups on screen, as well as legendary villain Cruella De Vil. “One Hundred and One Dalmatians” proved so popular that its 1991 re-release was one of the top grossing features of that year.
Finally, a film for the dog lover who also happens to love mid-century Italian neorealism. Both incredibly moving and acclaimed by academic film critics, “Umberto D” features a Jack Russel terrier named Flike as one of its main characters. As title character Umberto D deals with worsening luck, his dog Flike proves to be his best friend in increasingly important ways.
Lassie Come Home
This is where it all began for Pal, a then three-year-old rough collie who went on to become one of most famed and recognizable canine actors of all time. Pal played Lassie in this 1943 English production. The simple yet effective plot involved Lassie having to find her way from Scotland to her home in Yorkshire, England. This is a must-see for fans of the television series and dog movies in general.
All Dogs Go to Heaven
By the late 1980s, director Don Bluth was on an undeniable roll with animated classics, including “The Secret of NIMH” and “The Land Before Time.” Adorable mice were the focus of “An American Tail” in 1986, but in 1989 Bluth finally produced a classic dog movie. A bit more intense than typical family fare, “All Dogs go to Heaven” became a hit after its theatrical release on home video.
Audiences loved “Air Bud” in 1997, while critics had a somewhat more mixed opinion of the doggie basketball flick. However, canine actor Buddy is at least as inspiring as the movie itself. The Golden Retriever was discovered as a stray in the late 1980s, and went on to star in “Full House.” By the time “Air Bud” was released Buddy was one of the most famous dogs in entertainment.
It can be hard to remember just how big a deal “Beethoven” was in 1992. However, the John Hughes-penned dog comedy went on to spawn no less than seven sequels. Sure Charles Grodin and Bonnie Hunt are well-known enough, but audiences were really drawn in by that loveable St Bernard.
Not all dog movies have the prestigious pedigree that “White Fang” boasts. Based on a novel by Jack London, the dog in “White Fang” is no ordinary Husky, but actually half wolf. An actual wolfdog starred as White Fang, along with human costar Ethan Hawke. This 1991 film preserves the naturalistic and emotional elements of its source material.
My Dog Tulip
An animated dog movie made with an adult audience in mind? 2009’s “My Dog Tulip” is a dream come true for many dog lovers. The movie is an honest, realistic and ultimately heartrending true account of the relationship between a man and his dog. This is one dog movie that does not shy away from many of the grittier elements of canine life.
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
Move over, “Old Yeller,” there is a new dog-based tearjerker on the scene. Yes, this 2009 film, based on a true story, may not be the easiest watch for anybody with a heart. However, it does affirm the very special and undeniable bond between dog and human.
Okay, Disney may seem a bit overrepresented on this list. However, there is no other studio responsible for so many animated and live-action dog movies over the past half-century. “Eight Below” is one of the more recent of these movies, a 2006 adventure film featuring a cast of hardworking sled-dogs who can melt even the iciest of hearts.
My Dog Skip
From the RCA dog to Eddie on “Frasier,” Jack Russell terriers have long played a robust role in pop culture. 2000’s “My Dog Skip” took the Jack Russell to the realm of the exceptionally emotional. This 1940s period drama tells the true life story of writer William Morris, who grew up in the Deep South with a remarkable Jack Russell named Skip. Come to think of it, is there a Jack Russell who is not remarkable?
Speaking of remarkable Jack Russell terriers, the late, great canine actor Uggie stole every nearly every scene of 2011 Best Picture Oscar winner “The Artist.” Even with its acclaimed, award winning acting and directing, as well as its uniqueness as a silent film, dog lovers the world over know that Uggie is the true star of “The Artist.”
Lady and the Tramp
Not only is this 1955 animated classic a legendary dog movie, “Lady and the Tramp” also helped put Disney and its one of a kind style on the map. “Lady and the Tramp” features dogs, cats and music aplenty, as well as the iconic spaghetti scene.
Hotel for Dogs
2009’s “Hotel for Dogs” is proof that – well into the 21st century – there is still a market for good, old-fashioned, heartwarming, dog-based family comedies. Even with a cast that includes Don Cheadle and Lisa Kudrow, the dogs are the real stars as usual.
Must Love Dogs
Most anyone with a pet dog will attest to the awesomeness of the dog park. Especially in urban areas, these spots promo use a place for cooped-up pups to roam free, off-leash and unhindered in the great outdoors. The 2005 rom com “Must Love Dogs” is proof that, sometimes, dog parks can also be a spot for romance to spark.
Cats and Dogs
It is a debate as old as time itself. Dog and cat lovers often have very different opinions on the superior domestic pet. However, this 2001 romp posits the question: what would happen if dogs and cats quite literally battled it out? Being a family film, this manic comedy does still manage some nicely heartwarming moments.
The Shaggy Dog
The 1954 live-action comedy “The Shaggy Dog” was actually Disney’s most profitable film at the time. Audiences could not help but flock to the English sheepdog-centered story, and the success of this dog movie inspired a novelization and several remakes.
Because of Winn-Dixie
Residents of the American southeast are surely familiar with Winn-Dixie supermarkets. However, the Winn-Dixie in this adaptation of Kate DiCamillo’s classic novel is a Berger Picard who plays a surprisingly large and poignant role in the lives of a troubled Florida family.
Good-bye, My Lady
For those who have never heard the sound of a Basenji, the breed is famous for its inability to bark. Instead of barking, the breed has a distinct and wondrous yodel. This is true of the Basenji in this moving 1956 drama, who became a famous canine actress. The dog, whose name was Our Lady of the Congo, inspired countless filmgoers to consider adopting a Basnji of their own.