I think that pretty much everyone who loves dogs also loves to watch dog movies. Once I’ve finished my day’s work, I really enjoy sitting down with a big bowl of popcorn (which I share with Janice and Leroy) and cueing up Netflix. Most of the time, I’m binge-watching my favorite shows, like “Supernatural,” “Once Upon a Time” or “Walking Dead,” but every so often, I get in the mood to watch dog movies.
I figure I’ve probably seen just about every dog movie ever made, and some of them more than once, so it’s hard to narrow down the best dog movies. In the list that follows, you’ll find dog movies in just about every genre. What they all have in common, though, is that dogs play a central role. I’m presenting them here in order from earliest to most recent. Enjoy, but be warned – pretty much every dog movie ever made is going to contain scenes that will get the ol’ waterworks going, so make sure you have a big box of tissues handy!
1. Old Yeller (1957)
In what is widely considered to be the ultimate dog movie, the star was a Mastiff/Lab mix named Spike. The movie is set in Texas, in the late 1800s. A young farm boy named Travis discovers Old Yeller in a cornfield, and doesn’t like him much. However, Travis’s annoying younger brother, Arliss, wants to keep the dog, so Travis reluctantly agrees.
Old Yeller’s habit of stealing eggs from hens’ nests and meat from the smokehouse does nothing to endear the dog to Travis. However, Old Yeller’s subsequent acts of heroism bring Travis around.
If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t offer any more details. You can expect some very sad developments later in the film. However, this is a Disney movie, so it does end on something of an upbeat note.
A word of caution, though – if you’re planning on watching this film with your kids, you might want to see it yourself, first. Young children (and even some older ones) might find it a bit too disturbing.
2. Lassie Come Home (1943)
This movie was a major hit for MGM, and launched the career of Pal, a Rough Collie. It spawned a number of sequels and even the TV series “Lassie.” It’s basically a love story involving a Yorkshire boy and his dog, and it’s a tear-jerker.
Financial pressures force young Joe’s parents to sell his beloved dog. Joe, of course, is grief-stricken, and never stops missing Lassie. Lassie misses Joe, too, and makes several attempts to escape and get back to her young master.
I won’t reveal the ending, but I will give you a bit of a hint – you can let your kids watch this one without needing to preview it.
This movie also stars a young Elizabeth Taylor.
3. Lady and the Tramp (1955)
This animated Disney classic is a wonderfully romantic tale of a privileged girl (Lady) and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks (Tramp). He’s just a mutt, and clearly not her sort, but true love is simply meant to be.
The road to happiness, though, often has obstacles, and Lady and the Tramp certainly face their share. Throw a couple of really unpleasant Siamese cats into the mix, and things go south pretty quickly.
There’s a happy ending, though, so it’s safe to let your kids watch this dog movie without having to screen it first.
4. 101 Dalmatians (1961)
I thought Glenn Close was amazing as Cruella De Vil in the 1996 live action version – if you thought she was scary in Fatal Attraction, that was nothing compared to 101 Dalmatians!
However, I still prefer the original animated Disney version. In this film, Pongo and Perdita are targeted by Cruella De Vil, who is intent on making herself a dog-skin coat out of their 15 puppies. Of course, being good parents, Pongo and Perdita spring into action to rescue their offspring.
This movie was a huge success when it debuted in theaters, and has been re-released many times. It’s still tremendously popular, and a great dog movie to watch with your kids.
5. Benji (1974)
When you watch dog movies, you’re going to come across a lot that involve dogs rescuing children (Lassie’s legacy, no doubt!), and Benji is no exception. The twist, though, is that the story is told from the perspective of the dog. The title role is played by Higgins, a dog that achieved considerable fame as an actor.
Benji enjoyed favorable reviews and financial success. Four more movies were made, all of which were released in theaters, and which later became available on videotape and DVD. If you’re up for a movie marathon, why not watch all five of these dog movies with your kids?
6. The Fox and the Hound (1981)
No one does animated animal movies quite like Disney, and The Fox and the Hound is another heartwarming offering that offers a timely message.
Tod is a red fox, and Copper is a hound. As young canines, they become friends. But aren’t foxes and dogs natural enemies?
Not according to these two. Some movie critics loved the film and its message about prejudice, while others dismissed it as being too “preachy.” Personally, I thought it was a great story, and didn’t think the message was heavy-handed.
In 2006, a sequel (unimaginatively named The Fox and the Hound 2) was made. It went straight to DVD, and, like many sequels, wasn’t as good as the original.
7. Cujo (1983)
If your kids like to watch dog movies, that’s great, but you should probably give this one a pass, at least until they’re in their teens. If you’re an adult who loves a good horror flick, though, you might enjoy Cujo, which is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name.
Cujo is a lovable Saint Bernard – at least, he’s lovable until he’s bitten by a bat, and contracts rabies. The critics didn’t much like the movie (for some reason, they don’t seem to like very many of the movies that are adapted from King’s novels), but it’s still popular among horror movie buffs. And if your dog hasn’t had his shots, watching this movie will probably motivate you to book a veterinary appointment to have them done.
8. Never Cry Wolf (1983)
This movie is one of the first made by Touchstone Pictures, which is the more adult-oriented branch of the Disney empire. It tells the story of a biologist who has been left alone in the Canadian arctic in order to try to find out what is causing the caribou population to dwindle.
As you can tell from the title, this is not exactly a “dog movie,” since wolves are the subject matter. The wolves are being blamed for over-hunting the caribou, but it turns out that it’s actually the wolves being hunted. The biologist learns about wolves, the Inuit population of the arctic, and the art of survival.
This movie is worth watching if for nothing other than the amazing cinematography. The landscape and the wolves are simply breathtaking.
9. The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986)
If you thought The Fox and the Hound presented an unlikely pairing, you’ll find The Adventures of Milo and Otis even more bemusing – Milo is a cat, and Otis is a dog.
Milo and Otis become friends when Milo is a kitten and Otis is a puppy. Milo is a bit adventurous, and this sometimes leads him into trouble. One of his adventures causes him to become separated from Otis, and the rest of the movie focuses on their attempts to be reunited.
Originally released in Japan, the movie was later released for English-speaking audiences, with a new narration voiced by Dudley Moore. If you love both dogs and cats, then this is one film that should be on your “must watch” dog movies list.
10. Oliver & Company (1988)
This animated Disney movie is an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic novel, Oliver Twist. Of course, all the characters are animals. Oliver is a cat, but Dodger (a dog) is the character that most people seem to like best in this movie.
Some pretty impressive talent was recruited to voice the characters, including Bette Midler (Georgette the Poodle) and Cheech Marin (Tito the Chihuahua). Billy Joel provided vocals for the song “Why Should I Worry?”
The critics offered mixed reviews, but the movie still did well.
11. Turner & Hooch (1989)
This is another Touchstone picture, and it’s basically a buddy movie. The buddies in this case are a cop, Scott Turner (played by Tom Hanks) and his canine partner, a French Mastiff named Hooch.
Scott inherits Hooch when the dog’s original owner dies, and he isn’t all that crazy about Hooch in the beginning. Scott is a neat freak, and Hooch is a drooler. Eventually he warms up to the dog, though, and they embark on a quest to discover who murdered Hooch’s previous owner.
This movie basically has a happy ending, but there is a plot twist that could be disturbing to children. In fact, even as an adult, I found it disturbing, so if you’re planning to watch dog movies with your kids, you should probably screen this one first, or at least read a plot summary that includes spoilers.
12. All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
In this animated feature, Charlie B. Barkin (voiced by Burt Reynolds) is killed by Carface (a gambler voiced by Vic Tayback). A magical watch enables Charlie to leave Heaven and come back to earth in order to get revenge on Carface. The plot takes a twist, though, when Charlie meets Anne Marie, an orphan, and is forced to decide how much revenge really means to him.
Although this movie is a bit dark, I think it’s safe to say that you can let kids of any age watch it.
The movie didn’t do all that well at the box office, and more than a few critics didn’t especially care for it. I enjoyed it, though, and have no reservations recommending it for people who want to watch dog movies.
13. White Fang (1991)
This movie stars Jed, a wolf/dog hybrid in the title role, and Ethan Hawke as a gold-hunting explorer named Jack Conroy. It’s based on the novel, White Fang by Jack London.
Conroy befriends White Fang, but their friendship doesn’t always go smoothly. They frequently become separated, but somehow always find their way back to each other.
The critics offered generally favorable reviews and the movie was successful financially. Kids and adults alike will enjoy this film.
14. Beethoven (1992)
If Cujo scared you, Beethoven could be the perfect antidote. This movie features a lovable but boisterous Saint Bernard in the title role of this family comedy. The movie spawned no fewer than eight sequels, some of which were nearly as good as the original, and an animated TV show as well.
Although not universally loved by critics, the movie was successful at the box office, and is still one of the top “must watch” dog movies today.
15. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
This movie features Chance, an American Bulldog (voiced by Michael J. Fox), Sassy (a Himalayan cat) and Shadow (a Golden Retriever). The animals are left alone while their humans go on a trip to San Francisco. They believe that they’ve been abandoned (they sort of have been!), and they decide to go off in search of their people.
Needless to say, they encounter many obstacles throughout their journey. The conclusion is satisfying, though, so this movie is fine for children of all ages.
16. Iron Will (1994)
In this adventure movie, Will Stoneman enters a dog sled race, hoping to win money to save the family farm following his father’s death. He and his dog team face freezing temperatures, exhaustion, and other hardships during the race.
Although the film enjoyed only modest financial success, the critics were generous with their praise. It’s definitely worth watching.
17. Balto (1995)
Here we have another movie featuring a wolf dog. It’s based on a true story about a canine who participates in the Great Race of Mercy, with the goal of saving children suffering from diphtheria.
The movie didn’t do all that well in the theaters, and the critics weren’t all that impressed, either. It did enjoy strong sales with the video release, though, and two sequels were filmed.
I could nit-pick about some historical inaccuracies, but even so, I found this to be a very watchable movie.
Balto is voiced by Kevin Bacon.
18. Air Bud (1997)
This is a charming story about a boy who’s lonely, and would love to try out for the basketball team, but he’s just too shy to make the attempt. Then he meets Buddy, a Golden Retriever who’s a natural at the game.
This movie was shot on a low budget, and amazingly had huge success at the box office. Several sequels and spin-offs followed, and some of them even starred puppies that had been sired by Buddy.
19. My Dog Skip (2000)
This tear-jerker has a notable cast, including Kevin Bacon, Diane Lane and Frankie Muniz. The plot kicks off when Willie (Muniz) receives a Jack Russell Terrier (played by two dogs, Enzo and Moose) for his birthday. Together, Willie and Skip have many adventures and overcome many obstacles. Then, Willie does something that causes Skip to run away, and he learns some hard lessons before learning quite a bit about forgiveness and redemption.
Although you’ll need a lot of tissues for this movie, it’s still one of the best when it comes time to watch dog movies with your kids, and it’s suitable for all ages.
20. Best in Show (2000)
This is a mockumentary style movie that’s absolutely hilarious. If you hang out with “dog show people,” you’ll probably find that many of the characters (both human and canine) remind you of some of the participants you know.
This movie received great reviews, but didn’t do well at the box office. I’d definitely recommend giving it a watch, but it’s not among the dog movies that kids are likely to enjoy.
21. Eight Below (2006)
This is a serious movie that focuses on sled dogs that have been stranded in Antarctica following a dangerous mission. The focus is equally on the dogs and on the human characters, and this movie offers a compelling story of what the dogs’ owner is willing to go through to rescue them.
The critics offered generally positive reviews for this contribution from Buena Vista, the same company that made Snow Dogs four years earlier. Snow Dogs did not enjoy good reviews.
22. Bolt (2008)
Bolt features John Travolta voicing the title role, and Miley Cyrus voicing his human friend, Penny. Bolt and Penny are the stars of a television show. Penny knows that it’s just “make believe,” but in every episode, Bolt honestly believes that he’s really using his super-powers to rescue Penny.
Eventually, Bolt discovers that he is just an ordinary dog. He also faces what he thinks is a betrayal by Penny.
Several scenes in this movie brought tears to my eyes, but if you want to watch dog movies with your kids, there’s nothing here that will traumatize them. It’s definitely fine for all ages.
23. Marley & Me (2008)
Don’t let the kids watch this one. It’s a perennial favorite among adult dog lovers, but not suitable for children.
This movie is based on a memoir by John Grogan, a New York Times columnist, in which he tells the tale of how he and his wife adopted Marley, a puppy, as sort of a “trial run” before having kids. John is played by Owen Wilson, and Jenny, his wife, is played by Jennifer Aniston.
Marley is not the best-behaved dog, but he’s very much loved by John and Jenny, and later by their two sons. This is a beautiful tribute to the way a dog can impact family life, but the ending will break your heart.
24. My Dog Tulip (2009)
This is another movie that’s based on a memoir, this one by J.R. Ackerley. This is a heartwarming and sometimes amusing animated movie, with an impressive cast including Isabella Rossellini, Christopher Plummer and Lynn Redgrave, and it’s a wonderful story about the love and heartbreak that can come with owning a dog.
Although it’s animated, when you’re watching dog movies with your kids, give this one a pass – it’s strictly for adults.
25. Frankenweenie (2012)
This movie is a bit bizarre, as one would expect from a Tim Burton offering. Picture a young Victor Frankenstein restoring his dead dog, Sparky, to life, and you’ve got the basic plot. The trouble starts, though, when the neighborhood kids discover how it’s done, and then start resurrecting other dead animals with some pretty horrible consequences.
The star-studded cast includes Christopher Lee, Martin Landau and Winona Ryder. The critics liked the movie, and it was even nominated for an Oscar in the “Best Animated Feature Film” category.
Despite the dark subject matter, you can let your kids watch this movie.
These are 25 of my favorites. You might have others that you think should be on the list, so if you have a favorite dog movie, why not leave a comment? Share your thoughts with other people who like to watch dog movies.