Updated - Feb 4th, 2021
For dog lovers, there is just something about dog movies that makes us more emotional than movies about people. Whether the dogs are animated or live action, the way that man’s best friends are brought to life on screen can really tug at your heartstrings. Disney really does it the best (and has for many years), and this list reflects that, but there are some non-Disney movies that are must-sees for dog-loving cinephiles, too.
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Best in Show (2000)
The dogs in Best in Show might not be the main characters, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a dog movie. This hilarious mockumentary has a stellar cast of comedy legends, including a pre-Schitt’s Creek Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy as a terrier-obsessed married couple. The film follows a group of dog owners in their quest to win the Mayflower dog show. In addition to showcasing the crazy, quirky world of competitive dog shows (and having some of the most beautiful dogs as supporting cast), Best in Show really gets at some of the more neurotic and crazy things that dog parents do. The highlight of the movie, though, is Fred Willard as the announcer at the dog show. For this comedy gold alone, Best in Show is a can’t-miss dog movie. Best in Show is available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
Isle of Dogs (2018)
Wes Anderson applied his quirky brand of cinematic genius to this stop-motion dog film, which is in the same vein as his hit 2009 comedy Fantastic Mr. Fox. In Isle of Dogs, a fictional city in Japan is ruled by a cat-loving tyrant mayor who has decreed that, after an outbreak of canine influenza, all dogs must be banished to an island of trash and left to fend for themselves. The voice acting talent in this film includes heavy hitters like Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Live Schreiber, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, and the list goes on and on. Isle of Dogs is both funny and touching and more than worth a watch for both dog lovers and fans of Wes Anderson’s other work. Isle of Dogs is available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019)
I try to stay away from dog films that are too sad, but I make an exception for The Art of Racing in the Rain because its main dog character is so human in so many ways. The film (which is based on the book of the same name by Garth Stein) is narrated by a Golden Retriever named Enzo (voiced by Kevin Costner) who is very wise beyond his years. It follows the life of Enzo and his best friend, a race-car driver named Denny (Milo Ventimiglia), through the major events and changes in Denny’s life over the years. Before you watch: yes, Enzo does eventually go to doggie heaven (and there are a lot of tears along the way before that), but The Art of Racing in the Rain allows Enzo to tell his own story and ultimately gives him a happy ending so it’s worth the crying headache you’ll have afterwards.The Art of Racing in the Rain is available to stream on HBO Max and Hulu and is available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008)
Although this movie seems like it would be overly cheesy, it’s actually a really great dog movie. Over the course of Beverly Hills Chihuahua, there is actual character development for the titular Chihuahua, a spoiled little rich dog named Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore) with a diamond-studded collar. When Chloe gets dognapped in Mexico thanks to the irresponsibility of her owner’s niece (Piper Perabo), she is helped along the way by a street dog named Delgado (Andy Garcia). This is a heartwarming homeward bound journey dog movie with the classic odd couple becomes best friends trope, but there is more substance to it than you might expect. Beverly Hills Chihuahua is available to stream on HBO Max and Hulu and is available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
When it comes to Disney movies, the original animated versions are almost always far superior to any live action remakes. This is most certainly the case for Lady and the Tramp, one of the most classic dog movies of all time. The score and animation of the original movie is some of the best that Disney has to offer, and the love story between Lady the Cocker Spaniel and Tramp the street mutt is a classic case of opposites attracting. Lady and the Tramp was one of the first dog movies to do what Disney films do so well: create a cast of animal characters you are invested in and put them in peril over and over again while still including comedic moments, keeping it kid-friendly, and providing the heartwarming ending that all dog movies should have. Lady and the Tramp is available to stream on Disney+ and available to buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
101 Dalmatians (1961)
In the history of dog movies, has there ever been a nastier villain that Cruella de Vil? While Glenn Close was an excellent Cruella in the live-action remake, yet again the original animated version is the superior one. 101 Dalmatians is the classic tale of a litter of stolen Dalmatian pups and the parents who will stop at nothing to find their babies. While this story has a truly dark premise (making coats out of puppy fur?!?), again Disney manages to find moments of comedy here and there while still keeping the viewer on the edge of their seat praying that Cruella doesn’t succeed in her goal. (And of course she doesn’t, because this is Disney.) 101 Dalmatians is available to stream on Disney+ and available to buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
The Fox and the Hound (1981)
This Walt Disney classic tells the story of a fox named Tod and a hound named Copper who become friends when they are young and pledge their loyalty to one another. But when Copper is trained as a hunting dog, his natural instincts and training turn him and Tod into enemies. Copper ends up hunting Tod, but (because this is Disney) Copper ends up saving Tod from his owner, having realized that he can overcome his hunting instincts and spare his old friend. The Fox and the Hound is an interesting Disney dog movie in that it doesn’t give us the traditional or predictable happy ending. It is more honest because it is true to the nature of the animal world, where Copper and Tod could never actually be friends. Although they can co-exist, things can never be as they were when they were both babies, and so the ending is a bit bittersweet.The Fox and the Hound is available to stream on Disney+ and available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
The Secret Life of Pets (2016)
The premise of this animated film – what do our pets do all day while we are at work? – is an interesting one, but The Secret Life of Pets takes this and runs with it. What you think is going to be a straightforward comedy actually turns out to be an action-adventure film (although it does have lots of incredibly funny moments). The movie tells the story of one day in the life of a group of neighborhood pets. After Max’s mom adopts Duke, Max has a hard time adjusting and wants Duke gone. The Secret Life of Pets follows Max and Duke on various misadventures around New York City. Max’s neighbor, a Pomeranian named Gidget (Jenny Slate), is determined to find him, and she recruits all the neighborhood pets to help her in her search. It is both funny and touching, and it’s a dog movie that is fun for both kids and adults. The Secret Life of Pets is available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
The combination of Disney and Tim Burton is certainly an interesting one, and if you throw in a parody of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, you have Frankenweenie. Because this is a Tim Burton film, the premise is fairly dark: a young boy named Victor Frankenstein brings his dog Sparky back to life after he is killed in a car accident. While his little experiment ends up going fine, things get pretty messy when the neighborhood kids find out what Victor was able to do. Frankenweenie is exactly what you would imagine a dog movie made by Tim Burton would be, and it is as dark and weird and entertaining as you want it to be. Frankenweenie is available to stream on Disney+ and available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
Beethoven is one of the most classic live-action dog movies. Beethoven the St. Bernard finds his way into the Newton family’s home and hearts – except for that of the curmudgeonly patriarch, George (Charles Grodin). Even though the rest of the family loves him, Beethoven’s adventures over the course of the movie drive George crazy. That said, when Beethoven is put in danger, George eventually comes to realize his love for the troublemaking pooch. The plot of Beethoven is pretty formulaic, and it’s hardly reinventing cinema, but it’s a fun, family-friendly dog movie with a lot of heart. Beethoven is available to stream on Hulu and available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
Warning: this one will make you cry a lot, but it’s absolutely worth it. Of all the dog movies on this list, the animal actors in this film are by far the best. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey follows a wise old Golden Retriever named Shadow (Don Ameche), a young rescue American Bulldog named Chance (Michael J. Fox), and a Himalayan cat named Sassy (Sally Field) as they try to make their way home through the Sierra Nevada mountains. The banter between these furry friends is often hilarious, especially the cat vs. dog dynamic, but what makes Homeward Bound one of the best dog movies of all time is that it just has so much heart. You will laugh, you will cry, and you will breathe a huge sigh of relief at the happy ending. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey is available to stream on Disney+ and available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.
Bolt is another Disney dog adventure movie that really nails the balance between comedy, action, and drama. Bolt (John Travolta) is a TV-star dog who doesn’t know he’s on TV. He thinks that he actually has superpowers, and that he constantly has to save his co-star Penny (Miley Cyrus) from the evil cat-owning villain. Bolt, believing that Penny really has been kidnapped, sets out on a mission to rescue her that takes him across the country with a cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) and a hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton). Along the way, Bolt finds his inner strength and learns that he doesn’t need superpowers to be a super dog. Bolt is available to stream on Disney+ and Hulu and available to rent/buy on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube, Vudu, and Google Play.