25 Great Dog Movies that are more than just cute.

by clyons | created - 18 Oct 2013 | updated - 04 Jul 2015 | Public

This is a list of genuinely good and/or interesting films that happen to either be about a dog, or in which a dog plays a central role. Not all of them are suitable for small children. But all of them have something important to convey about Man's Best Friends--and often about the way we treat them.

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1. Lady and the Tramp (1955)

G | 76 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

78 Metascore

The romantic tale of a sheltered uptown Cocker Spaniel dog and a streetwise downtown Mutt.

Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske | Stars: Barbara Luddy, Larry Roberts, Peggy Lee, Bill Thompson

Votes: 105,570 | Gross: $93.60M

Arguably the best dog movie ever, this is one of the few films on this list in which the dogs talk--somehow all the anthropomorphism doesn't stop them from evoking real dogs, thanks to the genius of the Disney animators. If you watch the DVD, don't miss the extras, which include a scene that was scrapped from the finished film--only surviving as recorded dialogue and sketches--in which Tramp gives his cynical (but honest) perspective on the human/canine relationship, by imagining a world in which giant talking dogs lead small mute humans around on leashes, and treat them like idiots.

2. Lassie Come Home (1943)

Passed | 89 min | Adventure, Family

After her destitute family is forced to sell her, a collie named Lassie escapes from her new owner and begins the long trek from Scotland to her Yorkshire home.

Director: Fred M. Wilcox | Stars: Roddy McDowall, Donald Crisp, May Whitty, Edmund Gwenn

Votes: 4,443

A timeless classic by any standard, this surprisingly faithful adaptation of Eric Knight's book is the first and best installment of what would become an enduring franchise. Great performances from the cast, but most of all from Pal, the male collie playing Lassie, trained by the legendary Weatherwax family.

3. Clash of the Wolves (1925)

Passed | 74 min | Adventure, Romance, Western

A fire in the mountains drive a wolf pack into the nearby desert where they terrorize the local residents. The leader of the wolf pack is Lobo, actually a halfbreed (Rin Tin Tin). When the ... See full summary »

Director: Noel M. Smith | Stars: Rin Tin Tin, Nanette, Charles Farrell, June Marlowe

Votes: 224

One of the most thrilling of the few surviving silent movies starring the original Rin Tin Tin, this western about a Borax miner and the intrepid wolf dog he saves who becomes his loyal friend (German Shepherds were often cast as wolves during this period) can still keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Back in the day, Rin Tin Tin didn't just save people on the silver screen--he saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy. The greatest dog film star ever, and capable of athletic feats that remain astounding. But it's the sheer expressiveness and charisma of this great animal that makes the movie come alive.

4. Pups Is Pups (1930)

Approved | 20 min | Comedy, Family, Short

The gang decides to enter their animals in a local pet show.

Director: Robert F. McGowan | Stars: Norman 'Chubby' Chaney, Jackie Cooper, Dorothy DeBorba, Allen 'Farina' Hoskins

Votes: 274

One of the early talking Our Gang shorts, this features Weezer's search for his lost pack of puppies (trained to respond to the sound of a bell) in a big noisy city, and if you don't laugh and cry at the end, you have no heart. While not unsuitable for children, it's important to talk to them about how racial attitudes were different back then--but the Our Gang films were almost unique in this period for showing white and black children interacting as equals--and as friends.

5. The Pooch (1932)

Passed | 20 min | Short, Comedy, Drama

The gang tries to save Petey from the dogcatcher.

Director: Robert F. McGowan | Stars: Sherwood Bailey, Matthew 'Stymie' Beard, Dorothy DeBorba, Bobby 'Wheezer' Hutchins

Votes: 156

Another Our Gang, this features Matthew Beard (aka Stymie) and a very young Spanky McFarland as a duo of hungry street urchins whose only friend is their dog, played by Pete the Pup. This is actually a son of the first Petey, and a great dog in his own right, though his dad was the better comedian. The real drama comes from Stymie's desperate attempt to find the money to get Pete out of the pound before a truly evil dog catcher does away with him. It's a great Depression-era film, that shows the full range of human kindness and cruelty in a remarkably short time.

6. Skippy (1931)

Approved | 85 min | Comedy, Drama, Family

Skippy, the mischievous son of a wealthy doctor, meets Sooky in poverty-ridden Shantytown, and together they try to save Sooky's pet from a cruel dogcatcher.

Director: Norman Taurog | Stars: Jackie Cooper, Robert Coogan, Mitzi Green, Jackie Searl

Votes: 562

Adapted from the popular comic strip (so popular that the man who created Skippy Peanut Butter decided to use the name without permission) about a kid with a wise mouth and a big heart, the story revolves around him and his pal adopting a stray dog, only to lose it to (yet another) evil dog catcher. Jackie Cooper of Our Gang fame plays Skippy, and years later he related how the director made him believe the dog in the movie was really dead to get him to cry convincingly. And he does. And so will you.

7. Good-bye, My Lady (1956)

Approved | 94 min | Drama

An old man and a young boy who live in the southeastern Mississippi swamps are brought together by the love of a dog.

Director: William A. Wellman | Stars: Walter Brennan, Phil Harris, Brandon De Wilde, Sidney Poitier

Votes: 608

The best dog movies are often really sad movies, and this is one of the saddest. But it tears at your heart in a sweet way, as you watch a poor boy of the southern swamps fall in love with a lost Basenji, train her to be a great bird dog, and then be faced with a horrible decision when he realizes she doesn't legally belong to him. William Wellman said this was his favorite out of all his many famous films. And FYI, Brandon DeWilde, who plays the boy, got to keep the Basenji who played Lady after the film was done. If that makes you feel any better. Walter Brennan gives one of his best performances in this film, and that's saying something. Sidney Poitier plays a sympathetic neighbor, in a very early appearance.

8. Old Yeller (1957)

Approved | 83 min | Adventure, Drama, Family

A teenage boy grows to love a stray yellow dog while helping his mother and younger brother run their Texas homestead while their father is away on a cattle drive. First thought to be good-for-nothing mutt, Old Yeller is soon beloved by all.

Director: Robert Stevenson | Stars: Dorothy McGuire, Fess Parker, Tommy Kirk, Jeff York

Votes: 10,279 | Gross: $21.91M

Needs no introduction. One movie that each generation rediscovers, because it tells an important truth--that dogs have defended us for untold generations, given their lives to save their adopted human families, and we owe them the same devotion in return--or we're nothing. But we will almost always have to find the strength to say goodbye to them, and it hurts. But you just have to let yourself feel it. And remember them. And then open your heart to a new dog.

9. Umberto D. (1952)

Not Rated | 89 min | Drama

92 Metascore

An elderly man and his dog struggle to survive on his government pension in Rome.

Director: Vittorio De Sica | Stars: Carlo Battisti, Maria Pia Casilio, Lina Gennari, Ileana Simova

Votes: 19,685 | Gross: $0.07M

You won't find this late masterpiece of Italian neorealism on too many great dog movie lists, but it belongs on all of them--I personally consider it even greater than The Bicycle Thief, also made by Vittorio DeSica. The title character, a kvetchy old man living on his pension in Rome, has only his little dog Flike for company--and then Umberto has to go into the hospital, and everything goes wrong. The ending is both tearful and triumphant--and a reminder that the fate of homeless people and homeless dogs can be chillingly similar. But whatever fate Umberto and Flike may meet, they will meet it together. Most decidedly not for small children, but a movie everyone should see at some point in their lives.

10. Often an Orphan (1949)

7 min | Family, Animation, Comedy

Abandoned in the country by his old master, Charlie Dog tries to force himself upon farmer Porky Pig, playing upon his sympathies with a histrionic rendition of the horrors of big-city life.

Director: Chuck Jones | Star: Mel Blanc

Votes: 227

And now for some comic relief--Chuck Jones made a number of cartoons about dogs, and this one features Charlie, the shameless scoundrel and con artist of the dog world, trying to weasel his way into Porky Pig's comfortable home, as he did in several other shorts. Charlie stands for all the lovable canine rogues out there, trying to cadge themselves a meal and a warm place by the fire--not heart-warming, but funny as all hell, particularly his rant about "The City".

11. Feed the Kitty (1952)

Approved | 7 min | Animation, Short, Comedy

A bulldog, charmed by a kitten, tries to keep her hidden from his human guardian.

Director: Chuck Jones | Stars: Bea Benaderet, Mel Blanc

Votes: 2,681

Though most of Chuck Jones' cartoon curs were scoundrels at heart, this one features a bulldog who tries to be all gruff and fierce, but whose heart melts when he meets a little stray kitten, whom he tries to hide from his mistress. My dog is just like this, but sadly I'm allergic to cats. He has to make do with the little black cat who lives in the corner store on our block.

12. Turner & Hooch (1989)

PG | 97 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama

36 Metascore

A detective must adopt the dog of a dead man to help him find the murderer.

Director: Roger Spottiswoode | Stars: Tom Hanks, Mare Winningham, Craig T. Nelson, Reginald VelJohnson

Votes: 56,591 | Gross: $71.08M

The best French Mastiff movie ever (probably because it's the only one), this slight but enduring cop meets dog comedy holds up because Tom Hanks captures the exasperation of an obsessive neatnik who has a huge slobbering unruly pooch foisted upon him by a murder investigation, and who ends up discovering a side of himself that he didn't know existed--demonstrating how dogs can open up almost any heart, given half the chance. I also have a soft spot for the strikingly similar K9, starring Jim Belushi and a German Shepherd (who contrary to popular myth, was not killed in the line of duty as a police dog; that was actually the dog from a TV pilot based on the film). But this movie is so much better written and acted--even features the wonderful Mare Winningham as the local vet/love interest. Not a great movie, but a great DOG movie.

13. A Dog of Flanders (1960)

96 min | Drama, Family

The emotional story of a boy, his grandfather, and his dog. The boy's dream of becoming a great classical painter appears shattered when his loving grandfather dies.

Director: James B. Clark | Stars: David Ladd, Donald Crisp, Theodore Bikel, Max Croiset

Votes: 319

This beautiful film about poverty, art, and a big gentle dog who pulls a milk cart for his boy, puts a happy ending on what was originally a very sad story--did you know the dog in the film is Spike, the same giant lab mix who played Old Yeller, and was trained by the Weatherwax family, after they rescued him from a pound? Well, now you do.

14. My Dog Tulip (2009)

Not Rated | 83 min | Animation, Drama

80 Metascore

The story of a man who rescues a German shepherd and how the two become fast friends.

Directors: Paul Fierlinger, Sandra Fierlinger | Stars: Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, Isabella Rossellini, Peter Gerety

Votes: 1,447 | Gross: $0.25M

Just saw this recently, having read the book by J.R. Ackerley years before--and was struck by how perfectly the animators, a married couple who work out of their home in Pennsylvania, captured the story of an Englishman who finds himself falling in love with his Alsatian (German Shepherd), as she teaches him about the depths of a canine heart--and becomes the perfect friend he had yearned for all his long lonely life. Christopher Plummer does Ackerley's voice to perfection, but it's the animated Tulip who owns the screen. Not really a children's movie, but there's nothing truly objectionable in it--children may understand some of the imaginative symbolism in the film better than adults. If you're offended by seeing cartoon dogs take a whiz, stay away. But if you really love and understand dogs, you'll only smile.

15. Eight Below (2006)

PG | 120 min | Adventure, Drama, Family

64 Metascore

Brutal cold forces two Antarctic explorers to leave their team of sled dogs behind as they fend for their survival.

Director: Frank Marshall | Stars: Paul Walker, Jason Biggs, Bruce Greenwood, Moon Bloodgood

Votes: 55,664 | Gross: $81.61M

Pretty easy to see on cable, this recent film is very loosely based on a real-life incident involving a team of huskies belonging to a Japanese research team, who got left behind in the Antarctic, and somehow managed to survive on their own (well, most of them). The huskies in this film manage to hold the screen very well with no humans around--the scenes involving humans only are, to my mind, less convincing, but it's still a good cast, and a good story--that makes again the important point that if dogs are willing to risk everything for us, we owe them the same favor in return. You can also try to find the original Japanese film about the incident in question, which is done in a less dramatic, more documentary-like style. Have not seen that, but I will someday.

16. The Incredible Journey (1963)

G | 80 min | Adventure, Drama, Family

The story of three pets, a cat and two dogs, who lose their owners when they are all on vacation. Can they find their way home?

Director: Fletcher Markle | Stars: Émile Genest, John Drainie, Tommy Tweed, Sandra Scott

Votes: 3,359

Yes, this one. Not the goofy remake where the animals talk. A bit True Life Adventure, but still a satisfying adaptation of a fine book.

17. The Biscuit Eater (1972)

G | 90 min | Drama, Family

In this touching adventure, a remake of the popular 1940 film, two Georgia boys ignore their racial differences to team up and befriend a feral bird dog, whom they train to participate in a field trials.

Director: Vincent McEveety | Stars: Earl Holliman, Pat Crowley, Lew Ayres, Godfrey Cambridge

Votes: 240

Never had the chance to see the original black and white film, which I believe is much closer to James Street's book, but this is a good movie in its own right, with a great opening sequence, and a terrific cast. The script could be better, but definitely worth seeing--and easily to find on DVD. But I'd still like to see the original film.

18. Up (2009)

PG | 96 min | Animation, Adventure, Comedy

88 Metascore

Seventy-eight year old Carl Fredricksen travels to Paradise Falls in his home equipped with balloons, inadvertently taking a young stowaway.

Directors: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson | Stars: Edward Asner, Jordan Nagai, John Ratzenberger, Christopher Plummer

Votes: 822,181 | Gross: $293.00M

Not technically a film about dogs, dogs still play a very funny and important role in this tour de force by Pixar. And for once, they actually come up with a semi-plausible excuse for the dogs to be able to talk in English, and they say things you can actually believe might come out of a dog's mouth. "I have only just met you and I LOVE you." Yes, that is exactly what a Golden Retriever would say, and they do, just not in words.

19. A Dog's Life (1918)

Not Rated | 33 min | Short, Comedy, Drama

The Little Tramp and his dog companion struggle to survive in the inner city.

Director: Charles Chaplin | Stars: Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Dave Anderson, Bert Appling

Votes: 6,222

The Little Tramp adopts a dog--or is it the other way around? No great feats of dog training in this, but still a must-see for any dog lover--or silent comedy aficianado.

20. Speedy (1928)

Passed | 85 min | Action, Comedy, Family

Harold "Speedy" Swift, a fan of Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees, saves from extinction the city's last horse-drawn trolley, operated by his girlfriend's grandfather.

Director: Ted Wilde | Stars: Harold Lloyd, Ann Christy, Bert Woodruff, Babe Ruth

Votes: 2,766

Harold Lloyd's last silent feature is not mainly about a dog, but I have to include it because the dog--a bristle-faced fellow of no apparent breeding--is so very funny and soulful, he steals the movie every time he appears. And in his own clueless way, he helps save the day.

21. It's a Dog's Life (1955)

Approved | 88 min | Drama, Comedy

A bull terrier tells his life story, from the streets of the Bowery to a life of luxury.

Director: Herman Hoffman | Stars: Jeff Richards, Jarma Lewis, Edmund Gwenn, Dean Jagger

Votes: 300

Only film I know of about an English Bull Terrier--though going by the accent we hear in his voiceover narration, this one is pure Yank. The first movie I know of to show audiences the cruelty of dog-fighting. But it ends happily, all the same.

22. Call of the Wild (1935)

Approved | 89 min | Action, Adventure, Drama

During the Klondike Gold Rush, a traveler purchases a dog to lead the way toward the treasure, but reconsiders his journey when he finds a jilted married woman.

Director: William A. Wellman | Stars: Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Jack Oakie, Reginald Owen

Votes: 1,567

Though we don't see enough of the St. Bernard who plays Buck in this loose adaptation of the Jack London novel, Clark Gable really makes us believe he and the big dog are soul mates. It captures many of the best moments from the book, but the book, it must be said, is vastly superior. Still, 1930's Hollywood at its best.

23. Fresh Airedale (1945)

7 min | Family, Animation, Short

A dog returns to embracing a injustice looking into the room.

Director: Chuck Jones | Stars: Mel Blanc, Frank Graham

Votes: 178

A perhaps needed corrective to all this canine iconography, this is another Chuck Jones cartoon--about a dog who is truly almost human--and that's not a good thing.

24. The Doberman Gang (1972)

PG | 87 min | Action, Comedy, Crime

After a failed bank robbery, an ex-con, an ex-waitress and a few of their friends train a pack of doberman dogs to rob a bank for them.

Director: Byron Chudnow | Stars: Byron Mabe, Hal Reed, Julie Parrish, Simmy Bow

Votes: 806

And I'll finish with perhaps the oddest dog movie of all time, featuring some of the most impressive feats of training ever put on film, courtesy of the great Karl Miller (whose daughter now does the training for Kommissar Rex in Europe). It looks like a kid's movie, and it really truly is not--it's a hard-boiled heist movie, about some dangerous crooks who try to use Doberman Pinschers to rob a bank. The opening theme song can fool you into thinking it's a lighthearted romp, but there's sex and violence and dogs mauling people, and I really do wonder how this movie got made, and who was supposed to go see it. But the dogs are just amazing, going through complex routines with no humans directing them (not on camera, anyway). And the story is genuinely compelling. Basically, the message is that most people are no damn good, and if they make dogs do bad things, that isn't the dogs' fault--they're just doing their jobs. So why should they pay for crimes they don't even know they're committing? They did a series of movies about these dogs, and the cool thing is that while the human thieves may get caught in the end, the dogs always get away clean.

25. The Wizard of Oz (1939)

PG | 102 min | Adventure, Family, Fantasy

100 Metascore

Dorothy Gale is swept away from a farm in Kansas to a magical land of Oz in a tornado and embarks on a quest with her new friends to see the Wizard who can help her return home to Kansas and help her friends as well.

Directors: Victor Fleming, George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, King Vidor | Stars: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr

Votes: 345,156 | Gross: $22.20M

Belatedly, I decided to add this movie to the list, because even though it's not a dog movie per se, Toto, played by Terry, a Cairn Terrier who seems at times to actually understand the story she's in (a remarkable talent, on a par with Rin Tin Tin), is really the catalyst for the whole story. All dog lovers have had at least a few Miss Gulches in their lives--people who fear and despise dogs, and 'witch' would be too kind a word for most of them, male or female. Dorothy is willing to leave everything behind to save her dog, and in the fantasy world of Oz, there is nothing strange about this. So why did she want to go back home, where Toto is still under sentence of death? It's all unresolved at the end--isn't Miss Gulch going to still want Toto put to death? Or did a house fall on her too? Or are we just supposed to believe that the local authorities will refuse to carry out the sentence, after Dorothy's narrow escape? We can only wonder. (Margaret Hamilton was one hell of an actress--and I have no doubt a dog lover in real life).

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