Some of the finest movies, poetry and literature fixates on the relationships between man and pet. And some of the worst – as every year, it seems there’s another hokey movie about a dog’s long journey to re-unite with their owner. And we’re suckers for it. Not because we have bad taste, but because pet-owner relations are some of the most significant one can have without a common language. And as we love our pets, we only want them healthy, happy and safe.
Dogs were the very first animals to be domesticated by humans. The oldest dog fossils that differ from wolves come from around 15,000 years ago from what is now known as Germany. And we don’t domesticate them for hunting or sport, but for companionship. To this day, a loyal Golden Retriever puppy can easily be your best friend and always a member of the family. That’s why losing one is just as hard as the death of a relative.
Today, we honour the films that have celebrated the relationship between dog and human. Here are the seven best dog movies of all time:
1. Turner and Hooch (1989)
Tom Hanks is a cop bored with a lack of serious crime in his daily job until a fellow officer is killed in the line of duty. While investigating the killing, he’s partnered with the slain officer’s partner – a pet Dogue De Bordeaux.
Pairing Hanks, one of the most likable leading men in Hollywood, with a gorgeous, slobbering mastiff is a stroke of genius, and the two have chemistry that works better than most human-human buddy cop relations. The finale may be a little hard to take, but the denouement more than makes up for it, letting the audience off on a bittersweeet note.
2. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
From Sheila Bumford’s classic novel, the film follows three dogs (voiced by Sally Field, Michael J. Fox and Don Ameche) who get stranded on a family trip and brave the wild to return to their owners.
We’ve all heard human interest stories on the news about animals that made great efforts to return themselves home. It’s beautifully realized here in one of the best dog movies, with an incredibly charming and funny voice cast.
3. Beethoven (1992)
Chalk it up to nostalgia, but any kid growing up in the early 90s loved Beethoven. Penned by 80s legend John Hughes, the film follows Charles Grodin as the anal retentive head of a family who find themselves in charge of a runaway St. Bernard – who escaped a lab running lethal and unethical medical experiments on them.
Grodin is dead-on as the uptight father, and there’s nothing funnier than watching him get annoyed when the enormous St. Bernard shakes off his wet hair all over the bedroom.
4. Best In Show (2000)
Christopher Guest’s faux-documentary about a dog show was largely improvised by his cast of regulars he’s been working with since Spinal Tap, including Michael Mckean, Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara and Parker Posey.
Willard is particularly funny as the wildly inappropriate, oafish dog show announcer, coming out with some of the most ridiculous commentary ever heard. “It’s a shame to think that in some countries, these dogs might be eaten!” Not exactly the dog show banter you normally hear.
5. All Dogs Go To Heaven (1989)
We enter into animated territory here, but this one comes from animator legend Don Bluth, who was never afraid to approach material with a sense of maturity. After Charles Barkin (voiced by Burt Reynolds), a German Shepherd, is murdered by a former friend, he returns to earth to get revenge and, in the process, help out an orphan girl.
6. Oliver and Company (1988)
The 27th animated Disney picture features a cracking soundtrack by Billy Joel, retelling the story of Oliver twist with carefree dogs. It’s fairly predictable, particularly if you’ve read the Dickens novel, but it’s still harmless fun for the whole family.
7. White Dog (1981)
We had to pick one of the best dog movies that was a little darker than others, as there’s always a bit of fear involved in owning another species and their unpredictability. But rather than Stephen King’s Cujo, Samuel Fuller’s White Dog offers up some interesting thoughts on race politics and animal cruelty.
The owner of the titular dog is a white supremacist who has trained it to kill African Americans. Much of the film is dedicated to retraining the dog, much like one would kidnap a cult member and de-brainwash them. It’s provacative, it’s fascinating and it’s certainly timely today.
But of course, there are countless, more obvious choices. Lady and the Tramp, Old Yeller, any Lassie film where Jimmy falls down the well. We thought we’d dig a little deeper and find the gems that don’t get the recognition they deserve.