From Stephen King horrors to animated classics, our canine companions have quite the illustrious catalogue to choose from on the big screen. That’s just as well too, given dogs are one of the most searched-for animals on the internet.
Out the sea of mediocrity, we’ve compiled our list of favourite movies featuring dogs as the central character – or a central component to the main plot line. As always, if you feel like we’ve missed off one of your favourites, do drop us a comment below!
Oh, and as a side note these films are in no particular order.
The Fox and the Hound
Genre: Animation (Hand-drawn)
“We’ll always be best friends forever…won’t we?” This seemingly innocent piece of dialogue comes from the mouth of a little fox named Tod who happens to grow up around a hound puppy called Copper. As Copper grows into an adult hunting dog their unconventional friendship faces its stiffest test yet and it’s one that pushes both of them to the brink.
What’s particularly impressive with The Fox and the Hound is the way it plays on these juxtapositions between their fates of these two animals and yet continues to keep their friendship a central point of the plot.
Copper’s owner is a mean, bitter man who pushes his dog to become a cold, heartless killing machine while Tod’s sweet owner is the exact opposite. Yet, through it all the bonds of friendship are never broken completely between the pair and it’s something that really helps this film stand out.
A Dog’s Purpose
No other film on this list has managed to thaw the initial icy reception it received in cinemas to deliver something that’s grown into a lovable drama that stands the test of time.
With a unique concept and some really heart-warming scenes throughout, A Dog’s Purpose sees Josh Gad lend his voice to a lovable dog who discovers his purpose over the course of several lifetimes and owners. There are some seriously heart-wrenching moments here too so do be prepared for some tears to follow with this one!
Genre: Animation (hand-drawn)
One of the few Disney films that actually translates pretty well to its live-action counterpart, the original 1961 film is a bit of a slow burn to begin with but when it gets going, produces a really enjoyable thrill ride. It also has the added bonus of bringing with it one of the most iconic Disney villains in Cruella De Vil.
This maniacal dog-napper injects the movie with a deliciously evil cackle and a lot of charisma, causing her scheme to kidnap Pongo and Perdito’s litter to feel that much more urgent and exciting. All of this crescendoes into a race against time as the dogs band together to try and stop Cruella before it’s too late.
Genre: Animation (CGI)
A fun animated flick that’s as enjoyable for adults as it is for kids, Bolt refers to the canine star of a fictional action show who believes he really has superpowers. When he’s separated from his co-star however, Bolt embarks on a quest back home but along the way learns some hard truths about life.
Bolt doesn’t exactly reinvent the animation wheel but it is an example of Disney taking a tried and tested formula and revamping it into CGI format in a way that doesn’t lose the integrity of what this sort of story does so well.
There’s a great cast that comes with this one too and the movie has some surprisingly decent 3D effects that held up well in the cinema at the time.
Isle of Dogs
Genre: Animation (Stop motion)
Wes Anderson’s stop motion title Isle Of Dogs is not just a visually stunning film, it’s also a highly enjoyable title that serves up big themes around comradeship, trust and loyalty. A lot of the scenes here feel like they’ve been ripped right from a painting and much like that art-form, Isle Of Dogs conjures up some equally strong emotions.
The movie manages to inject comedy and sadness in equal measure and throughout the picture raises big themes around freedom, the divide between person and animal and even political ideologies.
It’s probably one of the more unique offerings on this list and certainly a must-watch for dog lovers.
My Dog Skip
Genre: Drama, comedy
On the surface you’d be forgiven for writing off My Dog Skip as “just another dog movie”. The plot is admittedly bare-bones; it revolves around a 10 year old boy in 1942 finding comfort in a dog he’s given for his birthday that helps him make friends.
However, where the film excels is in the way it conjures up powerful emotions through the turbulent journey we all take growing up. Much like many others on this list, there’s certainly some tear-jerking scenes but overall the movie manages to stand the test of time thanks to its big heart and big ideas.
The Adventures of Milo and Otis
The Adventures of Milo and Otis takes your conventional journey trope seen in these sorts of movies and spins it into something wholly heart-warming and enjoyable. The movie itself gravitates around a pair of cute animals, an orange cat named Milo and a pug named Otis, as they find themselves lost from their farm and forced to try and find a way back home.
It’s a lovely ode to friendship and although Homeward Bound has a lot of similarities to this, Milo and Otis is arguably the one that stands out more thanks to its big themes and memorable characters.
Certainly not a critical darling like some of the movies on this list, Cujo is arguably one of the better dog-centric horror flicks thanks to the way it leans into realistic horror. The story here centres on a friendly St Bernard dog that contracts rabies and begins terrorising the inhabitants of a small American town.
Much like many King stories, the basic plot paves way for some nice horror set pieces and decent characterisation. What Cujo does so well though is spin the concept of karma around a heady 90 minutes of suspense that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and refuses to let go. It’s not perfect but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better dog horror movie out there.
Genre: Family, Adventure, Drama
A remake of the 1963 film The Incredible Journey, Homeward Bound is a tale of two dogs and a cat who find themselves separated from their owners. Desperate to get back home, they embark on an epic quest across the Sierra Nevada mountains to find their owner.
In truth, the film’s narrative is pretty simple but the evolving bond between this trio over time is partly why the movies works as well as it does. It’s one of those classic family pictures that stands the test of time and it’s helped by some great voice acting that brings the animals to life.
The Secret Life Of Pets
Genre: Animation (CGI)
In truth, a lot of The Secret Life Of Pets’ best gags are front-lined in the first half hour and subsequently pave way for a much more formulaic and simple second act. Despite this though, the film is still a charming endeavour and a big hit with kids.
The story takes place across multiple floors of a Manhattan apartment building and sees happy canine Max’s life turned upside-down when his owner brings home a second dog named Duke. Despite their initial disdain for one another, the duo are forced to team up to stop a white bunny called Snowball raising an army of lost and forgotten pets against New York.
It’s cute and charming but undeniably not as strong as some of the others on this list.
Best In Show
Genre: Comedy, Mockumentary
Does any other movie come close to the absurdity and bizarrely accurate depiction of Dog Shows? Probably not.
Best In Show is a mockumentary set around a colourful array of characters – emphasis on characters here – who all compete at the annual Dog Show for the coveted top prize. What follows is an absolutely hilarious romp that’s up there with Spinal Tap in terms of comedy gold.
It’s a bizarrely endearing hit and one that certainly stands the test of time; a film that you can easily throw on at any time and enjoy. It’s not just one of the better dog comedies out there, it’s also one of the best mockumentaries ever produced.
Based on a true story, Hachi-Ko follows the incredible journey of devotion an Akita dog undertakes following the death of his master. It’s a movie that captures the essence of loyalty better than most and packs quite the emotional gut punch too.
Later remade into an American feature film, this original is the one that really manages to capture – perhaps better than most – that bond between man and animal.
Hachi-Ko is not just one of the best dog movies ever made, it’s also an incredibly emotional picture that makes for one unforgettable film.
Lady and the Tramp (1995)
Genre: Animation (Hand-Drawn)
Not to be mistaken with Disney’s 2019 CGI remake, the original Lady and the Tramp sees a golden cocker spaniel named Lady mixed up in an unlikely romance with a mongrel dog calling himself the Tramp.
Coming from very different backgrounds, this heart-warming and touching Disney animation explores class issues in a fun way and does so with some really iconic scenes (including the now-infamous Spaghetti eating scene.)
The songs are catchy, the animation colourful and the characters brought to life beautifully by their respective voice actors. Lady and the Tramp is quite simply a timeless classic.
Where The Red Fern Grows
Set in the Ozark Mountains during the Great Depression, Where The Red Fern Grows follows the misadventures of a boy called Billy as he spends his hard-earned cash on two raccoon hound pups. The story then follows the trio on their misadventures through the Ozarks.
To be honest this film, more so than the others in this list, will feel pretty alienating to kids nowadays and does show its age in both production design and camera work. However, the morals and lessons learned along the way are every bit as meaningful and important then as they are now. It’s not a particularly dramatic or tense film but it is one of the more charming out there.
All Dogs Go to Heaven
Genre: Animation (Hand-Drawn)
A little film with a big heart – All Dogs Go to Heaven is one of those wonderful films you watch as a child and never forget. Much like The Land Before Time (also released the same year ironically), this animated dog movie manages to bring with it a whole lot of heart and a great group of memorable characters.
The story of canine angel Charlie sneaking back to Earth from dog-Heaven is a nice change of pace to the tried and tested formula of old that’s executed pretty well. The way Charlie ends up entangled in the fate of orphan Anne-Marie brings with it an unforgettable journey and it’s helped by some vibrant and expressive animation throughout.
Marley & Me
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Few people realised just how much of an emotional rollercoaster Marley & Me would be when it hit theatres back in 2009. The film manages to take that tried and tested formula seen so often in these films of “A Man and His Dog”, and twists that to fit this interesting narrative of a family learning from their mischievous dog.
John and Jennifer Grogan are our protagonists and together wind up learning important life lessons from their adorable, but naughty, dog Marley. Don’t be fooled by the comedy tag though – this one very much falls into dramedy territory and packs quite the emotional gut punch too.
It may not be the best dog movie out there, but it is one that manages to take an established story arc and molds it into something that feels wholly new and fresh.
Lassie Come Home
For a film released all the way back in 1943, Lassie Come Home is one of those timeless dog movies that people instantly recognize when they see the title. Based on the novel by Eric Knight and accompanied by a wonderful story and decent visuals for the time period, Lassie Come Home is a movie that propelled its dog into the upper echelons of stardom and remains a great film to this very day.
Oliver and Company
A charming little animation, Oliver and Company is essentially the cat and dog version of Oliver’s Twist. The characters are unique and interesting while the little lost kitten Oliver stands out next to this dog-centric tale of petty crime in New York City. Released in 1989 (what a year for animation!), the film combines its tried and tested tale with some colourful musical numbers and beautifully drawn animation.
It’s one of those movies where everyone goes “Oh I remember that!” when they hear the title and yet somehow it remains an underrated gem in the animation category. It’s a picture that perfectly captures the essence of what animated films do so well and weaves that into a contemporary take of an age-old classic.
How strong is the bond between man and dog? That’s a question John Wick (and the series as a whole to be honest) answers across its illustrious trilogy of films. Whereas the sequels are full-on action, the opening act of this first film perfectly captures the love and respect between man and animal, something which becomes a focal point for this stoic hero in the future.
The first John Wick does a great job capturing this idea and blurring it in with ideas of vengeance and revenge. While it’s not exactly an outright dog-centric film, it is one that makes the dog a focal point for everything that follows after a strong opening act.
“If you throw me to the wolves, I will return leading the pack.” There’s been many dog movies over the years but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one as good as this. Often regarded as the quintessential dog movie, Old Yeller is a beautifully written film and one that proves Disney know exactly how to deliver the goods and just why so many of these films stand the test of time.
The story follows the exploits of a yellow mongrel who comes to stay with a reluctant young Travis. While initially hesitant, over the course of the movie Travis grows to love this dog while growing up and learning about the world around him. It’s a simple story in truth but one that wraps up its simplicity with a lovely gloss of thematic relevance.
The ideas surrounding hard work, love and respect are virtues that are just as important now as they were then and it makes Old Yeller a timeless Disney classic.
So there we have it, our list for the Best Dog Movies Of All Time. Do you agree? Are there any noticeable omissions? Do let us know in the comments below and if we missed one of your favourites, we’ll be sure to add it to the list!