Skip to content

Best Dog Movies: 22 Films for You and Your Canine to Share

Our team independently researches and recommends the best pet products for you and your furry friends. Note: This post may contain affiliate links.

Best Cartoon Dog Movie

Best Family Dog Movie

Best Older Audience Dog Movie

Best True Story Dog Movie

When you've had a rough day, nothing beats curling up on the couch with a good movie. And when your favorite dog snuggles up beside you, the day's complete. So why not turn on one of the best dog movies so both of you can enjoy the flick? We've collected to top dog movies for everyone, so you're sure to find a film - no matter your mood.

Table of Contents

Nothing beats movie night. Whether you’re trying to make a bad day better or capping off a good day with relaxation. Something about settling into the couch with a bowl of popcorn and an old favorite (or even a new, untried flick) gets your brain in the right mood. Movies make us happy. And so does snuggling with our dogs to watch a movie. So why not combine the two? The best dog movies leave us feeling happy and inspired at the end (even if we shed tears in the meantime). And we have a list of the 22 best dog movies – no matter what kind of mood you’re in.

Dogs in Film

Courtesy of their easy trainability, dogs have popped up in films for over ONE HUNDRED years. The first dog movie to show up in cinemas appeared in 1905 in Britain. Rescued by Rover featured a Collie saving a kidnapped baby.

Not long after, Jean (another Collie) became famous as a silent film star. Well before Lassie or Rin Tin Tin became household names, Jean earned the title as the first TRUE canine movie star (and she didn’t even have to memorize any lines).

Since then, dogs have staked their claim to cinema. And it’s not a big surprise as to WHY. Humans and canines have an undeniable bond. And when Hollywood decides to play up that connection, we take notice. As owners, we relate to the best dog movies. We feel the compassion between the actors (and, yes, dogs earn that title). And while we may not like anyone else in a film, we usually love the pup. We cheer on the dogs, and we hold our breath when they’re in danger.

And while some of the best dog movies have faded and become “dated,” we go back to them over and over again. The emotions don’t age. The same feelings we had the first time, we have the 150th time. It’s what makes them stand out from other films. And when we need a feel-good movie night? These are the films we turn to.

The Best Dog Movies

Making a list of the best dog movies gets tricky. One, everyone has their personal favorites. And you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. Two, how to decide what constitutes a “dog movie?” Does any movie that features a dog count, or does the movie need to focus on the dog to qualify? (It’s like the age-old debate of whether Die Hard counts as a Christmas movie. I’m in the camp that emphatically says, “NO!” My husband disagrees and tries to sneak it into the holiday line-up every year)

Judging Criteria

In the interest of fairness, I looked at reviews. The top well-reviewed movies made the list. (And, yes, I looked at TONS of different reviews to make sure the best dog movies appeared over and over).

I also picked dog movies where the dog played a pivotal role to the plot. It made the most sense to me. (So you’re not going to see Wizard of Oz on the list – my apologies to the Toto fans)

Finally, I skipped specific genres, such as horror. (So, sorry, Cujo.) And sequels? They stayed on the sidelines. Mostly because, with RARE exceptions, once you add on a number, the film’s quality goes down.

Will everyone agree with the list? Probably not. But that’s what makes movies so much fun! Everyone has their own best dog movie list. And maybe this will introduce you to films you HAVEN’T seen yet.

The Best Dog Movies: Cartoons

You’re never too old for cartoons. Even if you think you are, you’re not. There’s a certain nostalgia to the dog movies we enjoyed when we were younger. As adults, we return to them and remember the excitement of those low-level action scenes. We still hold our breath during tense moments (even though we know how things will turn out). And we can’t help but cheer when the bad guys get what’s coming to them. When you introduce your kids to dog movies, you get to share in those experiences.

But keep some warning lights on in the backs of your minds. While tops of the list, some of the best dog movies have caused controversies and problems. As formidable minds saw and fell in love with different breeds, they decided they wanted to have one – even if the dogs ended up being unsuitable for families. You COULD find yourself having difficult conversations.

In 1961, Disney released their ultimate best dog movie, 101 Dalmatians. Set in London, the plot revolves around the quest of Pongo and Perdita to rescue their 15 puppies from one of the vilest Disney villains – Cruella de Vil. Of course, complications arise when they discover their puppies aren’t the only Dalmatians Cruella’s dog-napped. And while the concept of skinning dogs is gruesome, the bumbling antics of her henchmen keep the tone light enough for kids to overlook that horror.

Downsides? As expected, with both this release and the live-action reboot in 1996, children HAD to have a Dalmatian. They’re gorgeous dogs, but they’re also aggressive and NOT ideal for families (something glossed over in the live-action where a small child is introduced to the cast). You could also find yourself engaged in a discussion regarding fur coats, particularly with older children. If you’re not prepared, things could get sticky. Also, this movie predates the 1980s ban on smoking in children’s films. So if you object, you’ll want to skip it.

The Good

The Bad

All Dogs Go To Heaven heralds from the now-defunct Don Bluth film company. Hitting theaters in 1989, it answered the eternal childhood question of what happens to our beloved canine companions when they pass away. While not the most positive dog example, Charlie inadvertently finds himself the apple of Anne-Marie’s eye. And (as usually happens in cartoons), he ends up proving himself wrong despite every attempt to the contrary. There are plenty of catchy songs throughout that your children are sure to enjoy – and you won’t mind them, either.

The downsides? Considering Charlie gets run over by a car at the beginning of the movie, this is a DARK cartoon. It may be a little rough for the tiniest youngsters to take. Also, you have some hefty themes to cope with: gambling, smoking, guns, and revenge. Everything works out in the end, but you could find yourself answering some tough questions. (And, no, I’m not sure how it made it past the “no smoking” ban)

The Good

The Bad

As CGI improved, Disney took full advantage, and in 2008 they added Bolt to the list of best dog movies. Stepping up the action (to keep the older kids interested), they didn’t sacrifice any humor or the heart. John Travolta leant his voice to Bolt, a white German Shepherd convinced that his television life is reality. Separated from his best friend Penny, he discovers the real world is worse than fantasy – and better at the same time. With additional punches of humor courtesy of Mittens (a declawed cat) and Rhino (a hamster), it’s the perfect cartoon for everyone in the family.

So what are the downsides? Okay, I’m a sucker for schmaltz, and Disney laid it on a little thick with this dog movie. But if you rescue your animals, it’s the perfect message. The climax might be too much for younger kids, though. (Won’t lie – I needed tissues)

The Good

The Bad

While I’m still coming to grips that the date is real, Disney released The Fox and the Hound in 1981. The story focuses on the unlikely friendship of – well, you get it; the title says it all. And since a hunting dog isn’t supposed to make friends with his quarry, everything gets complicated. Copper and Todd deal with the prejudice as only Disney can manage, and you end up with a message of hope at the very end (in true Disney fashion).

Downsides? If you’re a Disney fan, you know they entered a “dark period” in the 80s (anyone watch The Dark Cauldron?). This was the beginning of that phase. They do put as much lightness as possible, but the topic is inherently heavy and complicated, and it shows. As such, you could find your kids losing interest or coming to you with a lot of questions. And if your kiddo isn’t a fan of hunting, that could present other problems. You may need to think through popping this dog movie on.

The Good

The Bad

In a lighter message of prejudice, Disney’s 1955 classic Lady and the Tramp handled things with a lighter tone, making it one of the best dog movies. To this day, that iconic scene outside Luigi’s ranks is one of the most memorable date scenes. (And you’ve probably tried to replicate it – don’t deny it) Purebred Cocker Spaniel, Lady, comes to terms with her love for mixed-breed, Tramp – convincing Trusty and Jock and in the process (and, of course, Jim-Dear and Darling). The popularity of this dog movie prompted a live-action version that premiered on Disney+ in 2019.

The downsides? While featuring several dog breeds – which make exceptional choices for family pets – the movie doesn’t do any favors for cats OR rats. The poor Siamese earned a bad reputation from the movie. And rats ended up demonized (not to mention the scene scaring young kids). Also, the muzzling demonstrated was IMPROPER. You’ll want to discuss it with your kids after watching the film.

The Good

The Bad

Illumination is one of the newer animation companies out there, and their hit The Secret Life of Pets topped the charts in 2016. After plenty of hilarious teasers leading up to the film’s release, you get a dog (and cat…and bird…and guinea pig) movie that combines humor, action, and heart into the perfect feel-good film. The all-star cast provides a glimpse into precisely what’s going on in your house after you leave each day (in theory). And they hit on every cliche in the book. There’s something for every age group – including the adults.

So what are the downsides? Cliche is the name of the game (okay, except for Snowball). It’s funny, and you feel yourself relaxing, but you don’t see much in the way of genuine dog behavior. At least not until Duke and Max get away from the apartment. And even then, some of the biggest tropes remain. It would have been nice if Illumination had broadened things a bit.

The Good

The Bad

The Best Dog Movies: Family

Sometimes, trying to settle on one movie the entire family can agree on feels like pulling teeth. And finding something suitable for every age group isn’t easy. But the best dog movies? Those work every time. You get child-appropriate storylines, humorous remarks YOU appreciate, and enough action and excitement for teens or older kids to stay interested. (Though, really, you KNOW they’re invested in the film for the dog) And you can sit back and relax because there’s going to be a happy ending – no matter what kind of peril or complications arise. Because that’s how family movies work. So even if you doze off, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s what makes the best dog movies so amazing.

In 2017, plenty of theatre-goers flocked to see A Dog’s Purpose after reading W. Bruce Cameron’s book of the same title. While I won’t deny being an avid reader, I wasn’t one of those people. But my dad (surprisingly) wanted to see it, and who was I to turn down a dog movie? Considering I HAD seen the trailers, I should have brought a box of tissues with me. The movie plays with the idea of spiritual reincarnation – in the canine. And the message conveyed to the humans that Bailey encounters along the way socks you in the gut. (Which, I’m sure, both Mr. Cameron and Dreamworks were going for)

Downsides? There’s some language in the movie that you may or may not want your kids exposed to. And I went back and forth on whether I felt this was a family movie, to be honest. The message may go over the heads of a younger audience. And there are some frightening moments (even for adults). But I think it introduces some nice talking points – especially for older kids. Which is why I’m keeping it here.

The Good

The Bad

Believe it or not, The Adventures of Milo and Otis made its debut in Japan. It wasn’t until 1986, after Dudley Moore re-recorded the narration, that the movie became a hit in the English-speaking world. Which didn’t take much, because who doesn’t love an orange cat and a Pug? And you can’t help finding yourself invested as the pair end up separated, working to reunite again. You won’t find talking animals, but there’s enough variety to keep youngsters interested. And the live-action of the animal cast will keep your teens peeking over the edge of their phone.

The downsides? While adorable, you may struggle to keep older kids from getting bored. If they’re not interested in animals, the basic plot might not hold them. Especially as more recent movies with full animal casts introduced speaking roles rather than a single narrator.

The Good

The Bad

My grandfather adored Saint Bernards. So when Beethoven came out in 1992, I knew I had to see it. And for any fan of giant, fluffy, drooly canines, this is one of the best dog movies. It’s also a favorite for anyone who has that ONE family member who dislikes the dog (or cat, for that matter). Because – deep down – you know the hatred isn’t true. And while Beethoven goes a little out of the normal Saint Bernard behavior, the biggest traits are in there for anyone considering the breed.

So what are the downsides? No, there’s nothing dramatic and exciting about this plot. It’s a family feel-good dog movie at its roots. And there’s plenty of good old slapstick humor that no one really gets tired of. Of course, there IS enough poor dog behavior to make an owner wince. It could be a nice starting point to review things with your kids.

The Good

The Bad

When Disney released Beverly Hills Chihuahua in 2011, I was skeptical. And had you asked me then if I thought it was one of the best dog movies, I would have laughed. Having seen it, though? I’ve changed my tune. Not because it has an astounding plot (it doesn’t). However, Disney approached their casting and dogs, in general, in a way no one else had at that point. They made RESCUING take front and center. And they gave dignity to the Chihuahua breed, which no one else thought to do. And if you watch the credits, there’s a nice disclaimer (NOT in itty-bitty print) asking you to research a breed before bringing it home. It’s a nice, responsible message, and I (for one) applaud them.

Downsides? While the heroic German Shepherd gets his due, the poor Doberman Pinscher suffers as the villain. Both make excellent guard dogs, so it’s tough seeing one take the fall. And there IS dogfighting brought up, so you may need to field that question with your kids. Not to mention a subtle hint at Mexican immigration. Have your notes on stand-by.

The Good

The Bad

In 1963, Disney released a narrated live-action film titled The Incredible Journey. It was based on Sheila Burnford’s book of the same title (which I highly recommend you read if you never have). Then in 1993, they remade the movie, relabeling it Homeward Bound. (They also recast one of the dogs from a Bull Terrier to an American Bulldog and changed the cat from a Siamese to a Ragdoll, but who’s counting?) The result? Everyone’s favorite dog movie. Afraid of abandonment, the trio set out to find their family, crossing mountains and encountering dangers along the way. (And if you tell me you didn’t cry at any point, I’m calling your bluff)

The downsides? I know WHY Disney injected humor into some of the scenes, but they’re not humorous situations. Porcupines and dogs DON’T mix. (Also, no vet removes them without anesthesia) And naming ANY animal “Chance” is a terrible idea (it always invites disaster). I can’t believe they did that, inciting children everywhere to follow suit. Please, encourage your kids to pick different names for their pets.

The Good

The Bad

(Don’t hate me) That’s right – one of the best dog movies of all time. In 1957, Disney released Old Yeller, a movie that survives in popularity to this day. Based on Fred Gibson’s Newberry Honor-winning book of the same name, it’s ripped out the hearts of people of all ages (unless you’re like Phoebe on Friends and skip the end). Set in post-Civil War Texas, the movie follows the family’s beloved Yellow Labrador. It’s the ultimate lesson in pet responsibility AND coping with loss. And if you can get through it without tissues, you have a heart of stone.

So what are the downsides? Yeah, the rabies issue is difficult for young kids to process. It’s true to life, but you could face crying and questions. Also, you’re going to see guns (they’re appropriate for the era and region, but guns nonetheless) and smoking.

The Good

The Bad

The Best Dog Movies: Older Audience

Perhaps you don’t have kids (or, at least, no younger kids). Or they’re over at a friend’s house for the night. You’re still in the mood for one of the best dog movies, but you’d prefer to skip the animation. Hollywood won’t let you down. Whether you want something with a serious slant or a way to laugh for a couple of hours, there are films for you. Canines have wormed their way in EVERYWHERE, and they’re not going to disappear from cinema any time soon.

Let me preface this by saying, yes, I read Garth Stein’s book by the same name, but since I disliked it intensely, I never saw the movie (honesty’s the best policy, right?). In 2019, The Art of Racing in the Rain translated the book into film. Told from the point of view of Enzo – Denny’s faithful Golden Retriever – the movie traces Denny’s life as a race-car driver. Most critics and reviewers suggest you keep tissues handy with the movie (I didn’t need them for the book – other than it boring me to tears).

Downsides? While Enzo “behaves” true to Golden Retriever fashion, it’s an insult – to him and dogs, in general. Denny’s not a likable person (which is why I hated the book). And while the ending presents an interesting theory, it’s not satisfying after everything Enzo endures. But if you’re into racing, it’s a good movie (and book).

The Good

The Bad

In 1997, As Good As It Gets hit theatres, enchanting everyone with the Brussels Griffon breed. Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt both took home Oscars for their roles in the film (apparently, dogs don’t get nominated). And while some argue Verdell isn’t the topic of the movie, any animal-lover will argue circles around you to the contrary. The pup’s sweet face is the driving force behind Melvin’s turn-around with his OCD, making this one of the best dog movies you’ll find. And for anyone struggling with a mental illness, it offers a beacon of hope (despite the film’s title).

The downsides? Not everyone’s comfortable confronting the truth of mental illness. And TriStar didn’t pull their punches. Melvin’s NOT pleasant to consider. Also, Simon’s not the most flamboyant gay character in cinema, but he’s not in the closet, either. Plenty of people I’ve encountered refused to watch the movie for that reason alone. And, yeah, Melvin feeds Verdell bacon – A LOT.

The Good

The Bad

While a stop-motion dog movie, Isle of Dogs is NOT one for the young kids in the family, Wes Anderson introduced this entry to the world in 2018, packing it with plenty of recognizable voice actors. In a fictional Japanese city, an outbreak of canine influenza has seen every dog banished to an island of trash, leaving them to fend for themselves. (Of course, the order comes from a feline-loving mayor)  In an attempt to save his faithful pet, Spots, Atari travels to the island and works with the near-feral canines. There’s humor laced throughout, but you also get intrigue (and murder) due to the political motivations of the banishment.

So what are the downsides? Can anyone say “conspiracy theory?” The plot skirts the edge of every medical outbreak that’s ever happened without going too far. You could find yourself taking away your teenager’s phone after watching this movie. Otherwise, it’s brilliant cinema. But if you’re not into stop-motion, it may not be your cup of tea.

The Good

The Bad

Who doesn’t love a Tom Hanks movie? Add in an adorable Dogue de Bordeaux, and you’ve got one of the best dog movies! In 1989, Turner & Hooch introduced the jowly breed to the world and reinvented the cop movie genre. Turner’s the quintessential neat freak saddled with a new canine partner. And anyone who’s ever met a Dogue de Bordeaux will assure you they’re not for someone who likes cleanliness. The expected slapstick humor will keep you in stitches (and make you glad it isn’t YOUR home).

Downsides? Okay, it’s not a groundbreaking plot. In fact, if you remove Hooch, it’s the same cop movie as any other film from the 80s. But that doesn’t make it a bad movie, per se. And, honestly, you don’t get to see many Mastiffs in a comedic role in films – they usually end up as villains.

The Good

The Bad

The Best Dog Movies: True Story

What REALLY tugs at our heartstrings? Dog movies based on real life. We feel stronger emotions when we know the story HAPPENED. And nothing inspires us like acts of genuine heroism, true friendship, or amazing survivability. They make our hearts race that much faster, encourage us to believe in ourselves more, and get us to pick up OUR dogs and hug them even tighter. True stories stick with us in ways fantastical ones may not. And when you’re feeling down, that surge of adrenaline is often the very thing you’re craving.

When we lived in Alaska, I got the chance to learn how to dogsled race. So I’ve also held a soft spot for dog movies about the topic. And in 2006, Disney released Eight Below. It relates the story of a 1958 Japanese expedition to Antarctica (and is a remake of the 1983 Japanese movie Nanyoku Monogatari). Due to weather conditions, the expedition team was unable to return to Showa Station for one year. They found two of the original dogs alive. In the Disney movie, it’s a UCLA professor leading the team. And you then watch the dogs struggle with the harsh reality of Antarctica while the professor battles to return (six months later). You WILL need tissues.

Downsides? This is NOT a movie for kids. The action and events themselves are too intense. And while holding true to some facets, it fails on key facts regarding Antarctica (such as the lighting and temperatures).

The Good

The Bad

Fans of Japanese culture – or the Akita breed – know the 2009 dog movie, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. Hachiko (which is the dog’s actual name) belonged to Eizaburo Ueno, a Professor of Agricultural Science at Tokyo University. The dog formed a tight bond with his owner, walking to Shibuya Train Station every morning and picking him up every evening. Until May 21, 1925. Needless to say, the movie honors the Japanese story. And (you guessed it), you’re going to need a box of tissues.

The downsides? So, yeah, this movie is designed to make you cry. It’s a favorite dog movie for people who’ve been to Shibuya and seen the statue of Hachiko there. Others? They feel it tries too hard at the emotional aspect of things.

The Good

The Bad

Disney likes picking out the underdog (no pun intended) for their dog movies. And the 1994 film Iron Will is no exception. Set in 1917, it follows the 522-mile Red-River to St. Paul Sports Carnival Derby. The dogsled race stretched from Winnipeg, Manitoba, to Saint Paul, Minnesota, and it was BRUTAL (and the only genuine fact in this movie). In the movie, Will ends up needing to save the family farm with Gus – his Siberian Husky, who sports one green eye and one blue eye.

So what are the downsides? There’s plenty of action, but this is a Disney movie that misses the mark. The plot’s a foregone conclusion (which is why it’ll work for a younger audience). And with the “true-life” label, it’d be nice to have more than the race itself for facts.

The Good

The Bad

Labrador Retriever owners may not like to admit it, but when it comes to dog movies, Marley & Me (which debuted in 2008) hits every key trait perfectly. Based on the book (memoir) of the same title by John Grogan, it follows Yellow Lab Marley from puppy to senior. And everything a puppy (or dog, for that matter) can get into? It’s checked off the list. With a blend of slapstick humor, one-liners, and emotion, it works for the entire family.

Downsides? If you’re waiting for actual drama to happen, you’re out of luck. It’s thin on the ground. But that can work if you want a family movie night. What drove ME up the wall were the veterinary mistakes – of which there are plenty. It’s obvious they’re describing a bloat, and they get EVERYTHING wrong. I grit my teeth through the entire end of the movie. But if you don’t know better, it works.

The Good

The Bad

So, no, I haven’t watched the 2017 movie Megan Leavey. In our house, we don’t watch military movies – they hit too close to home. (Again, trying for full disclosure, here) It’s based on Corporal Leavey’s story with Rex, her working dog. Starting in 2003, the pair began their professional relationship. They served two deployments in Iraq before both were wounded in 2006. Corporal Leavey received the Purple Heart. Rex went on to develop facial palsy, and she petitioned the Marine Corps to adopt him.

The downsides? This isn’t a movie for younger kids. You have the aspects of war to cope with and both Corporal Leavey’s and Rex’s injuries. (Not to mention the military’s stance on dogs as property) And those things are difficult for people other than children (speaking as one of them).

The Good

The Bad

My Dog Skip hit theatres in 2000, based on the book (memoir) of the same title, by Wille Morris. Of course, Skip was supposed to be a Fox Terrier, not a Jack Russell Terrier, but only readers noted the difference. Set in the beginning of the 1940s, the movie follows Willie’s life through the assistance of Skip. This includes everything from confronting the reality of World War II, segregation, and even illegal moonshine. There’s a little bit of everything in the movie, which appeals to the entire family.

So what are the downsides? The topics covered in the movie may not work for younger kids. And there ARE two scenes of physical animal abuse that’s difficult for anyone to stomach. You’ll have to decide if that’s what you want for your evening.

The Good

The Bad

Roll Film!

The best dog movies can do practically anything. When we feel down or have had a rough day, they make us smile again (even if there are some tears first). If we’re struggling to figure things out, they give us a new drive. And when it’s an every day Tuesday, we get a renewed sense of why we love dogs in the first place. No wonder the film industry tucks canines in everywhere they can!

So scan the list of dog movie titles on your favorite streaming service. You can always come up with an excuse for why later.

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on email
Email
Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy worked as a Licensed Veterinary Technician for 10 years, focusing on Emergency/ICU and later Cardiology, as well as volunteering at both the Philadelphia Zoo and Virginia Living Museum for over six years. She's now a freelance writer, but she gravitates toward writing projects with a focus on animals (once an animal-lover, always an animal-lover). She lives in Virginia with her husband, three cats (one "works" as her personal assistant), and a Greyhound who thinks she's a big cat — all of them rescues.

No comment yet, add your voice below!


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *