Everyone loves a fuzzy mammal, but man’s best friend has been a part of human life for a long time. And in case you haven’t noticed, judging by all of the countless accessories and clothes, people really love their dogs. They guard us, provide guidance, comfort us, and even have empathy. There are also numerous jobs that dogs fulfill in the world. Unfortunately, their lifespan is a really tough hurdle to cope with. Many representations of pooches on film find a way to deal with that struggle. But the stories can also be funny, colorful adventures. It’s a unique bond, and a joy to watch on film. Here are the best movies for all you fellow dog-lovers!
10 Turner & Hooch
This is a buddy cop movie between a tidy man and a sloppy dog. It’s a preposterous premise, and the execution is even sillier. But it’s still a fun kids movie, and why should such an audience be denied? Tom Hanks brings the same level of personality as always, and his friendship with the dog feels organic. It is very much of its time, 1989, and suffers all the same issues as other kids’ fair. Air Bud and Beethoven come to mind. But the slapstick is kid-friendly, and although the story is hammy, the film revels in it. The movie knows exactly what it wants to do, sets out to do it, and Tom Hanks brings it home.
9 Lady And The Tramp
This is very breezy Disney fare, which moves very quickly and has some interesting turns. Of course, the romance between two lovers separated by class is hardly original. And the plot doesn’t stray too far from some of those familiar tropes. However, in this case, every character is a well-animated pooch, and the movie did release in 1955. It’s less dated than expected, with some surprisingly mature themes like Tramp’s promiscuous history. Still, this is decidedly on brand, predominantly focusing on a corny romance. It’s lighthearted fun, only occasionally raising the stakes, and the comedy still mostly works. It simply has a small spark of that signature Disney magic at its core, which keeps it appealing.
Tim Burton fans were probably left dismayed after his curious, dull foray into Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. Burton is an auteur, to be sure, but his formula doesn’t always quite work out. In this particular case, the result is a fantastic throwback to Universal Monster movies, featuring brilliant stop-motion effects. After a young boy loses his pet dog, he brings him back through magical science. The loss is surprisingly poignant, and affecting. But the film diverges into a fun schlocky b-movie, and concludes with a happy ending. Ultimately, it feels like a fantasy correction, wherein the history of lost pets can be re-written.
John Travolta turned in his best performance in years as the titular dog, for a movie with a clever premise. A dog genuinely believes he’s the character that he plays on television, and ends up lost. Sure, a dog finding his way home isn’t particularly original. But the backstory allows for some fun prodding at Hollywood, and the callousness of the industry. For those who aren’t fans of Miley Cyrus, the human protagonist may be a deterrent. But she summons a peppy personality, and the friendship with Bolt feels genuine. Ultimately, Bolt has to learn what it really means to be a dog, because he never believed he was one. So, we get to see him discover that touching truth, in a fun and kid-friendly adventure.
6 101 Dalmatians
This is a very cute family movie with a conversely horrific villain, mainly due to Cruella’s foundation in truth. Plenty of the privileged commit needlessly heinous acts against animals, like the senseless hunting of elephants and the like. For sheer amusement, no less. But even more have worn fur, and that practice has been around for a very long time indeed. The rich and vicious Cruella de Vil steals a litter of puppies for their fur. The parents must promptly rescue their kids from her, before it’s too late. The animation is stunning, and the voice acting is consistently on point. Also, there’s a great balance between lighthearted fun and genuinely high stakes.
5 Marley & Me
This was one of the earlier films that honestly deals with the tribulations, joys, and loss of a beloved dog. However, the majority of it is spent with an adorable pooch that is especially naughty. Owen Wilson offers a more reserved approach than that typical “thing” he’s known for. Jennifer Anniston is also allowed to occasionally flex some range. Marley’s antics are a lot of fun, and it’s stirring to him become a genuine family member. The story accurately reveals just how easily it is that dogs can transcend pethood. Fortunately, the tone isn’t as cheesy as one might think from the poster. The story itself also subverts expectations of the premise.
Just in case you missed that early episode of Cosmos, here’s an exaggerated origin of our friendship with dogs. The survival story itself is somewhat rote, and at times, the CGI is a little dodgy. However, the action is generally pretty fierce, and even the elements can feel hard-hitting at times. A young man is separated from his tribe in prehistoric times, and an injured wolf helps him return home. Of course, their relationship remains somewhat strained throughout the film, and that gradual trust is fun to watch. That development is plausibly slow, and at times, even amusing.
3 Isle Of Dogs
This is a beautiful piece of artwork, wholly unique to director Wes Anderson. It is remarkably touching, with a bizarre style and fascinating sense of humor. The title of the film is a play on words, but the story lives up to it. Set in Japan, a young boy sets out to rescue his guard dog from a dangerous quarantine zone. There’s government conspiracies, treacherous abandoned factories, and even robots. But the mythology of this universe is utterly captivating, as is the stunning stop-motion. The film doesn’t shy away from some darker moments, so it isn’t necessarily kid-friendly. But it’s certainly an impressive, addictively creative work, with an outstanding cast that grounds compelling relationships.
2 A Dog’s Journey
This sequel to the 2017 hit is a somewhat different animal, laying on the coincidences without mercy. The stories are restricted almost exclusively to the one family. The protagonist pooch Bailey spends most of his time pursuing CJ, the daughter of Dennis Quaid’s character in the first installment. However, bringing back Quaid and Josh Gad was a crucial ingredient. And the family drama turns out to be more interesting than expected, in the long run. Everyone wants to hear the thoughts of their dogs, and audiences still get plenty of that. The comedy is well balanced with unexpected, but inevitable tragedy. And no matter how maudlin, the hopeful ending is truly moving for dog lovers.
1 A Dog’s Purpose
This is a very curious film, quite unique in its concept of reincarnation. It couldn’t be a more appealing conceit—that our pets are reborn, and live on, perpetually. Both the protagonist, and thus the writers, spend several lifetimes seeking the titular answer. Through heartbreaking deaths, it’s pretty interesting to see the variety of relationships we share with dogs. The influence of a novel is plain, and the pacing can feel a bit rushed at times. But it’s very easy to become invested, with poignant writing about everyday life and loss. Also, there’s a stellar cast. Josh Gad is the perfect choice for the protagonist. The grand reunion at the end is genuinely touching, and although the film is shamelessly sentimental, it’s well-earned.