People fall into two categories: those who think dogs rule….and everyone else. (Actually, the Dames are equal opportunity animal lovers!) In honor of the release of Wes Anderson’s stop-motion family film Isle of Dogs we’re honoring the furry friends who made us laugh, cry, and worry about their possible demise.
Asta from The Thin Man (1934)
Toto may be the movie dog everyone remembers, but cinephiles of distinction defer to Asta from all nine of the Thin Man movies as the definitive movie hound. The only child of Nick (William Powell) and Nora Charles (Myrna Loy), Asta is often smarter than his owners. He can sniff out a crime with the best of them and doesn’t let anything scare him away from a crime scene….unless you bring a cat!
Max from Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1966)
I absolutely adore Max. Max, in many ways, is the BB-8 of the Grinch animated film. He loves the Grinch but the man treats him horribly! Max’s goofy grin only enhances the humor of the massive reindeer horn he’s got strapped to his head. And there’s nothing in this world that makes me laugh harder than Max’s pathetic wave when he’s found on the back of the Grinch’s sleigh.
Shadow from Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
I know everyone loves the rambunctious Chance, voiced by Michael J. Fox, in this 1993 animal drama, but my heart always belonged to the steadfast old-timer Shadow, voiced by Don Ameche. Shadow represents everything we think about dogs. He’s loyal to his owner Jamie, he loves his furry companions, and dammit he’ll take on a bear to get all of them home. When Shadow falls in that hole at the end, with Jamie saying “he was too old,” the waterworks always start. Hell, I’m tearing up right now! But dammit Shadow perseveres because he’s the dog of our dreams. I love you, Shadow!!
Walter from To Die For (1995)
Pomeranians are always the mark of the vapid and wealthy (sorry for stereotyping), especially on film. Walter, named after Walter Cronkite, is the dog permanently attached to the side of Nicole Kidman’s Suzanne Stone. I can’t remember the exact line but I think Illeana Douglas’ character describes it a yapping ball of hell, or something. Regardless, it’s the cutest thing, especially when dressed up, but it’s the apotheosis of Suzanne’s rise to fame, a designer accessory for the perfect television newscaster.
Bruiser from Legally Blonde (2001)
Who doesn’t love how much Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) loves Bruiser Woods? He’s a Gemini vegetarian after all! And his fashion sense is impeccable.
I have this love/hate relationship with movies about animals. As a kid who was absolutely traumatized by Old Yeller in elementary school, I shy away from movies about animals when the animals don’t talk because things happen and I don’t enjoy crying my eyes out in a movie theater. So this list might skew more heavily to the animated side, but these are five movie dogs I really enjoy.
If you don’t love Dug from Up, then you’ve clearly never loved a Golden Retriever because Pete Docter and Bob Peterson had those personality traits perfect. From “Squirrel!” to “I just met you and I love you!” to those sad, sad Retriever eyes, it’s impossible not to love Dug.
The Incredible Journey (1963)
I’m not going to give anything away, but this was another live-action, non-talking animal movie that traumatized me as a kid. The version with voice overs (Homeward Bound) is cute and all, but there is something really special about this film. There are almost zero humans in it. It’s just these two dogs and a cat caring about each other and trying to find their people after being stranded on vacation. Don’t make me pick a favorite because I love this trio and I still worry for them every time I watch it.
The Artist (2011)
Yes, I KNOW Uggie the Dog was used as an homage to certain movie dogs of the past but I picked this one because I love the movie and will not apologize for that. And one of the reasons I love this movie is this darned dog. He’s cute, funny, and he gets to be a hero!
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Toto was the first movie dog I ever loved. He’s smart, he gets himself out of his own jams, and he’s a great friend. Plus, there’s something so endearing about the scruffy ones. I’m really glad Miss Gulch didn’t drown him, or the Wicked Witch of the West for that matter.
Best in Show (2000)
There are so many dogs to love in this quirky mockumentary from Christopher Guest. The whole plot of the movie is obsessive dog owners taking their pups to compete in the annual Mayflower Dog Show. Sure, most of the dogs take a backseat to their crazy owners but they patiently allow themselves to be doted on and dutifully perform their tricks like any good doggie. And the movie is really funny.
The Thin Man (1934)
Asta was one of the first big dog stars of film (his actual name was Skippy, but he’s credited as Asta off and on throughout his career). And it takes a great dog to steal scenes from William Powell and Myrna Loy. He appears in all of the Thin Man movies (though the dogs change), a faithful crime-solving pooch who loyally sticks by his humans’ sides, unless a kitten scares him off. He’s fundamental to the solving of the case in The Thin Man, and goddamned adorable as well.
The Incredible Journey (1963)
Before there was Homeward Bound, there was The Incredible Journey. It’s a better film, too, because rather than featuring twee voiceovers from famous stars, it depends more on the animal actors to actually, um, act. My favorite of the group was Bodger, the elderly Bull Terrier who leads the trio on the long trip back to their people. I grew up with the film, so I have warm and fuzzy memories of it, not least for the final scene of a very good boy coming home. Sniff.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
I watched Lady and the Tramp so many times as a kid that I could quote the entire film, and often did. It was the film that introduced me to Russian literature, in the form of a Borzoi who quotes Gorky. It has a Scottie dog with a Scottish accent! IT HAS PEGGY LEE! All the dogs are perfect. All of them.
John Wick (2014)
Look, I would’ve systematically murdered the entire Russian mafia for Daisy, too.
Bringing Up Baby (1938)
This is a bit of a cheat because George is played by Skippy, who also played Asta in The Thin Man. But it’s a different character, goddammit. George is a very good boy: he befriends Baby the Leopard, steals an intercostal clavicle, and keeps Cary Grant and Kate Hepburn together for much of the latter half of the film. He’s a romantic, OK?
Milo from The Mask (1994)
If the 1990s were known for one thing in film and television, it is for an abundance of popular Jack Russell terriers. Those dogs are smart little whipper snappers. As such, one of the first dogs to spring to mind is Milo from the Jim Carrey comedy, The Mask.
The dog is an example of perfect casting. He keeps up and shows amazing chemistry with lead actor, Carrey. In fact, much like iconic dog actors of old, Milo makes the great movie better through his presence alone. He steals keys, he helps his master break out of prison, and he gets a moment of glory with the mask himself. He’s a fun part of a memorable movie.
Underdog from Underdog (1964)
I’m stretching the rules a teeny bit here. When I say Underdog, I’m thinking about TV’s Underdog, none of this reboot junk. The long-running series entertained children throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s.
What makes Underdog stand out is the endearing voice performance by actor Wally Cox. The memorable character actor is a unique vocal presence, making the character not only completely his own, but enjoyable enough to transcend the decades.
Slinky Dog from Toy Story (1995)
Toy Story took the box office by storm in the mid- 1990s, showing the world everything that could be accomplished with a computer. As such, there have been two (soon to be three) sequels, each as well received as the first.
One of the characters is Slinky Dog, a half slinky, half dachshund voiced by Ernest franchise actor Jim Varney. Like Underdog, the interesting voice performance gives the character incredible depth and likability. The combination of Carney’s typical southern persona in the fantastical body of a slinky dog makes for memorable delightfulness.
Lady and the Tramp from Lady and the Tramp (1955)
I’m cheating with this one. Both Lady and the Tramp make this list. I watched this movie so much growing up that I broke the VHS. Who could forget the iconic animated Disney dogs? Lady and the Tramp were cemented with an iconic place in film history when Tramp pushed Lady a meatball with his nose. I mean, come on, they go on a doggie date behind an Italian restaurant. I wonder if they got a doggie bag? (insert cymbal crash here).
Asta from The Thin Man (1934)
Like Milo above, Asta is another movie dog who succeeds at taking a small role and making an imprint on the movie. Nick and Nora Charles’ dog brings a fun and feisty presence to the screen and is more than simply a pet, he’s another investigator. For a seasoned viewer of the Thin Man franchise, he’s just as important to the films as Nick and Nora. Plus, he’s just so darned cute.