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Movies With A Dog As A Main Character

There is an old showbiz saying that one should never work with children or animals, but luckily, Hollywood insiders have never heeded the warning. And though there are plenty of movies featuring everything from birds to monkeys to elephants, no animals show up in movies as often as dogs, cats, and horses. Of those, dogs seem to most frequently be at the center of the story, either as a main character or an important sidekick. According to the Portland Press Herald, the first dog to become widely known to movie audiences was the collie who starred in the 1905 short "Rescued by Rover." Countless canines have appeared onscreen since, with a few lucky ones carving out highly successful franchises.

Whether playing the pampered pet, the brilliant helper, the wayward stray, or even the vicious killer, movie dogs can steal the show when a human actor is not looking — though this list is full of films where the show was always theirs, to begin with. Narrowing down our list was tougher than we thought, and it meant that a lot of memorable movie dogs — White Fang, Winn-Dixie, Cujo — missed the cut. We also chose to forgo animated dog movies, but that does not in any way diminish the enduring legacy of films like "Lady and the Tramp," "All Dogs Go To Heaven," or the animated version of "101 Dalmatians." But making these choices allowed us to come up with a solid list of cinematic canines. Here are some memorable movies with a dog at the center.


"Dog," the February 2022 comedy flick starring Channing Tatum, was also co-directed by this apparent dog-lover. Tatum stars as Briggs, a United States army ranger who is headed down the Pacific Coast to attend his best friend's funeral. His travel buddy is a Belgian Malinois named Lulu, a military dog whose handler was the deceased.

Look, we are not dumb — we know that this dog-man buddy story is not going to end well. For one thing, they are headed to a funeral, which is sad in itself. For another, it seems like one of them is on death's door themselves. The film's logline on IMDb states, "One of them has a week to live, the other lives like every day is his last," and we fear the dog is the one on its last legs. And since it is always devastating when a movie animal dies — Bambi's mom, anyone? — be sure to have a box of Kleenex handy when you check this one out.

Turner & Hooch

"Turner & Hooch" is a current Disney+ television series, but the series is itself a continuation of the story set up in the 1989 film, also called "Turner & Hooch." And though the film is not one of Tom Hanks' best-reviewed – it has a 52% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes – it is one heck of a fun buddy cop movie. Forget the film; the adorable poster alone, with a slobbery, jowly mastiff giving Hanks some major puppy dog eyes, is iconic in itself.

In the film, Hanks plays uptight, serious Detective Scott Turner, who is working in Cypress Beach, California, but is on the verge of a transfer to Sacramento. Shortly before he is set to leave, his friend Amos Reed (John McIntire) is murdered, and his dog, Hooch (Beasley the dog), is the only witness. So, predictably, Turner takes in Hooch, a mean junkyard dog that turns his life and home upside down. The Washington Post noted in its review, "We all know Tom's gonna warm up to that pooch Hooch, because in Hollywood a dog is always man's best friend," but the predictability does not make it any less fun. And though — spoiler alert — Hooch dies in the end, he leaves behind a bunch of pups and helps facilitate a love connection between Turner and his vet, Dr. Emily Carson (Mare Winningham).


No offense to the composer/pianist Ludwig van Beethoven, but our favorite Beethoven is of the canine variety. After all, Beethoven may be one of the best-known movie dogs of all time, and he is certainly one of the most successful. There have been eight "Beethoven" movies, and the brand was especially huge in the 1990s when there was also a short-lived television series, a line of toys, and a video game. As with many franchises, nothing quite compares to the original, so it is 1992's "Beethoven" that we chose to include on our list.

"Beethoven" is a family comedy focused on the Newton family and their St. Bernard puppy, Beethoven (played by a dog named Chris), who they adopted after he escaped a pet store robbery and found his way into their home. Dad George (Charles Grodin) is not into the idea of a dog but reluctantly tolerates him because his wife Alice (Bonnie Hunt) and their three children love him so. After a ruthless veterinarian tricks the family into forfeiting Beethoven for use in his animal experimentation, the family leaps into action to save their beloved dog from impending death. "Six-year-olds and animal rights activists should warm up to the titular big slobbering dog, his perfect family and the experimentation ring that brings them together, and the pic rallies at the end to prevent chaperoning adults from feeling their time was completely wasted," wrote Variety's movie critic.

Old Yeller

It may be from 1957, but few people who have seen "Old Yeller" dislike it, no matter their generation. It is, perhaps, the best-reviewed live-action film starring a dog that has ever existed. Don't believe us? The film has a 100% critic's score on Rotten Tomatoes! The beloved Disney film is based upon a novel of the same name, released one year earlier, and has been deemed significant enough for preservation by the National Film Registry (via Deadline). A sequel film, "Savage Sam," was released in 1963 but lacked the cultural significance of "Old Yeller."

"Old Yeller" is about a stray dog who is taken in by a Southern family in the late 1960s, just after the end of the Civil War. The family's patriarch, Jim Coates (Fess Parker), has left to collect cattle in the Midwest when his sons happen to come across the dog and take him in. Older son Travis (Tommy Kirk) is slower to warm to Old Yeller than his younger brother Arliss (Kevin Corcoran) but is won over when the dog saves them from a bear. 

Old Yeller is a troublemaker, stealing food from wherever he can, yet he becomes a part of the family. Though multiple people warn the family of hydrophobia (aka rabies) throughout the film, including the dog's original owner Burn Sanderson (Chuck Connors), it is still a gut punch when Travis is forced to shoot his rabies-infected dog toward the end of the movie. If you don't cry in this one, you're made of stone.

Marley & Me

This list is very heavy with movies with sad endings, but we can't help it if a lot of great dog films end with a dog's death. And though 2008's "Marley & Me" has a devastating end, it is a charming, funny, and poignant film that is well worth the investment. Based upon a memoir with the same title, "Marley & Me" begins with newlyweds John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny (Jennifer Aniston) Grogan's move to South Florida from Michigan, where they decide to adopt a yellow lab puppy they name Marley. Marley proves to be a total menace, which causes much chaos at home but allows John to get out of a work funk and begin writing about his misadventures.

The movie then follows the family through various stages of life, marked by significant moments, including a miscarriage, a honeymoon, pregnancies, job changes, moves, and all life's other events. And each step of the way, Marley is an ever-present piece of the puzzle. As Salon's reviewer accurately wrote, "The movie is ultimately less about the pain of loss than about the way families often take shape around a pet." If you have ever had a pet you adored, you get it.

Look Who's Talking Now

We never said this was a "best of" list, only a list of memorable movies with dogs at their center — and that is probably a good thing because "Look Who's Talking Now" is by no means a good movie. In fact, it has a shocking zero — yes, zero — percent Rotten Tomatoes rating from critics. But while it's not a good movie, it sure is a memorable one because of how terrible it is, and that is what earned it a place on this list. We also have to give it props for doing voiceovers for dogs since that was not yet a huge thing back in 1993.

"Look Who's Talking Now" is a sequel to 1989's "Look Who's Talking" and 1990's "Look Who's Talking Too." In those films, the premise was that we, the audience, could hear the inner thoughts of children, while the adults in the film could not. In "Look Who's Talking Now," the idea is flipped so that the dogs are "talking" to the audience — and with the voices of Danny DeVito and Diane Keaton (as Rocks and Daphne), to boot. The plot for the parents of the family, James (John Travolta) and Mollie (Kirstie Alley) Ubriacco, is pretty flimsy (James' boss schemes to seduce him as the couple grow apart). The main draw is the relationship between each of their children and their dogs — Rocks with son Mikey (David Gallagher), Daphne with daughter Julie (Tabitha Lupien) — and the interaction between reckless, messy Rocks and prissy, spoiled Daphne.

A Dog's Way Home

"A Dog's Way Home" is one of the newer films on our list, having come out in 2019, but we included it because it is a cute family film that did relatively well at the box office. Plus, it features a truly adorable dog named Shelby. Based upon a 2017 novel, "A Dog's Way Home" is about Bella (played by Shelby the dog but voiced by Bryce Dallas Howard), a dog who ventures over 400 miles in search of her owner after they are forcibly separated. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune reviewer noted, ""A Dog's Way Home" doesn't do anything new with the formula, but it does deliver exactly what it promises — a movie that's cute, with just enough tension to not scare youngsters."

At the start of the film, Bella is adopted by Lucas Ray (Jonah Hauer-King) as a puppy, despite the fact that her breed (a pit bull) is illegal in Denver, where Lucas lives with his mother, Terri Ray (Ashley Judd). After Bella is captured and nearly euthanized, Terri sends her away to New Mexico to temporarily live with relatives. Missing home, Bella sets off on a two-year journey to find Lucas, facing many obstacles and making many friends along the way — most notably Big Kitten, an orphaned mountain lion cub, but also some of the human variety. Fun fact, and perhaps not coincidentally, according to NBC News, Denver overturned its pit bull ban a year after the movie's release.


If we asked 100 strangers to name a fictional dog, we are pretty sure that a good chunk of them would say, Lassie, the rough collie that has been around in pop culture since the 1938 short story "Lassie Come-Home," which was turned into a novel a couple of years afterward. There have been a dozen "Lassie" movies over the years (seven between the '40s and '50s alone), with the most recent one, "Lassie Come Home," having come out in 2020. There have also been many television shows (most notably CBS's "Lassie," which ran from 1954 to 1973), dozens more Lassie books, a couple of radio shows, and even a video game.

Needless to say, Lassie is legendary, but we had to make a pick for which film to include, and we settled upon the 2005 "Lassie" film, which was not commercially successful, but which was a hit with critics (via Rotten Tomatoes). The British film is based upon the original novel, in which a young boy, Joe Carraclough (Jonathan Mason), is left distraught when his poor family must sell his beloved dog to a wealthy Duke (Peter O'Toole). Though Lassie is mistreated by the Duke's servant, Hynes (Steve Pemberton), she is treated kindly by the Duke's granddaughter Cilla (Hester Odgers). Lassie continuously escapes and finds her way back to her family, eventually doing so when away on a trip 500 miles from home. Lassie fights for survival and, by the end of the film, is able to bring both families together.

Snow Dogs

"Snow Dogs" – not to be confused with "Show Dogs," a 2018 dog film starring Will Arnett and Ludacris — is a decent film whose box office intake of $115 million (via Box Office Mojo) was higher than it deserved. Still, Disney had to have been pleased with that kind of gross, and the film is mildly entertaining in a predictable, half-baked kind of way. It stars Cuba Gooding Jr., which is something, because how many dog-focused family flicks star an Oscar winner? Answer: not many.

Gooding plays a Miami dentist named Ted Brooks, whose face is on billboards across the city. He heads to Talkeetna, Alaska, after he is left an inheritance from a mystery woman, who turns out to be his birth mother (Ted only then learns of his adoption). Upon arrival, Ted finds that his inheritance is seven Siberian huskies and one border collie, which he uses to enter an arctic sled dog race. Ted is taught to sled by his mother's friend Barb (Joanna Bacalso), whom he falls in love with, and he is also able to track down his biological father and get some answers, but the best part of this movie is when Michael Bolton shows up as himself in a dream.

101 Dalmatians

We opted not to include cartoons on our list, but if we had, the 1961 film "One Hundred and One Dalmatians" would undoubtedly have made it. The movie is a classic, but so too is the live-action 1996 version, "101 Dalmatians," at least for kids who grew up in that era. The film was not a critic's darling, but it raked in a whopping $320 million at the box office (via Box Office Mojo) and earned Glenn Close a Golden Globe nomination for her villainous turn.

In the film, American Roger Dearly (Jeff Daniels) lives in London, where he designs video games. After his dalmatian Pongo chases another dalmatian, Perdy, through the streets, Roger falls in love with the dog's owner, Anita Campbell-Green (Joely Richardson). The two get married, and, around the same time, fashion designer Anita impresses her boss — the glamorous but ruthless Cruella de Vil — by designing a dalmatian-inspired coat.

Both Anita and Perdy quickly become pregnant, which causes Cruella to attempt to purchase the puppies for her coat. When Roger and Anita say no, Cruella fires Anita and steals the 15 pups. The family eventually finds them and brings them home, along with the 84 other dalmatians Cruella had stolen — for a grand total of 101 dalmatians. A sequel called "102 Dalmatians" was released in 2000, but if you want to watch a really solid adult movie featuring the characters, check out 2021's "Cruella," the villain's origin story starring Emma Stone.

Beverly Hills Chihuahua

Believe it or not, the world enjoyed a talking, pampered 90210 chihuahua so much that there are three films in the "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" series. And, sure, none of them are very good, but the first was a commercial success and is judiciously watchable. Released in 2008, the first "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" is about spoiled dog Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore), whose owner Viv Ashe (Jamie Lee Curtis) goes on a trip and leaves her in the care of her niece, Rachel (Piper Perabo). Rachel is not very responsible, and Chloe ends up accompanying her on a trip to Mexico, where she is then dognapped.

In addition to prissy chihuahua Chloe, the film features a number of other dogs voiced by accomplished actors. This includes a savvy German Shepard named Delgado (Andy Garcia), a hyperactive, lovesick chihuahua named Papi (George Lopez), and a malicious Doberman, El Diablo (Edward James Olmos). Loretta Devine, Michael Urie, Cheech Marin, and Leslie Mann also provide voices, so the cast is incredibly solid. The plot? Not so much. Chloe escapes Mexico's dog-fighting circuit and makes it back to Beverly Hills, with a few of her new friends in tow.

Hotel for Dogs

Like so many other pooch flicks for the family, "Hotel for Dogs" was far from a movie critic's dream. The film has 46% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is only slightly bettered by its 54% audience score. "Plot and character development are pretty much irrelevant in the sunshiny fantasy world of this movie," said the Toronto Star's reviewer. It did do well at the box office, though, grossing just over $117 million worldwide (via Box Office Mojo). For what it is worth, while we think it's saccharine and predictable, as far as family films go, it is not terrible. We agree with the Los Angeles Times that, "All in all it's a very pleasant way to spend the afternoon with a bunch of kids."

The 2009 film centers on two orphans, Andi (Emma Roberts) and Bruce (Jake T. Austin), and their dog, Friday. The kids are busted committing a crime and shipped off to new foster parents, played by Lisa Kudrow and Kevin Dillon, who are decidedly not dog people. They ban Friday from the house and, when the kids find an abandoned hotel, Friday becomes its first puppy patron. They start adopting strays, others start bringing in dogs, and the place becomes canine heaven until they are busted, and all the dogs end up in the pound. The kids are sent to separate homes before being rescued by their social worker Bernie (Don Cheadle), and the dogs are released — because this is a kid's movie, after all.

A Dog's Purpose

"A Dog's Purpose" is one of those movies that critics did not love — as evidenced by its 35% score on Rotten Tomatoes – but that audiences adored. Its equivalent audience score is 73%, it brought in over $205 million at the box office (via Box Office Mojo) and spawned a sequel film called "A Dog's Journey." We would say that marks success for "A Dog's Purpose," a dramedy directed by the accomplished Lasse Hallström. The 2017 film is about a dog's many lives, exploring its purpose across multiple lifetimes and its interactions with a variety of owners.

All told, the dog is reincarnated four times, so we see five lifetimes, including the first. The starting place is rough — a stray dog who is caught by the authorities and euthanized — but the others become increasingly more heartwarming. The most meaningful timeline is the final one, where the dog is reborn as a Saint Bernard/Australian shepherd mix and reunites with one of his previous owners, Ethan, now an adult man in his 60s (and played by Dennis Quaid). Though the dog takes on different names and bodies, Josh Gad voices the dog as he transitions from Bailey to Ellie to Tino to Buddy, offering some sense of consistency.