With Laughter, Love, or a Helping Hand, the Best Movie Dogs Have It Covered
Everyone loves a movie sidekick, and when it’s an unforgettable pooch, even better. There are plenty of dogs to choose from as the best in movies, but none are more memorable to me than the following.
This may not be a particularly bold statement, but I’m calling it now: Avengers: Endgame’s reign atop the proverbial box office throne ends this weekend. Do you know how I know? Because the only thing more powerful than Thanos’ snap – on his movie’s fourth weekend, at least — is the bond between a human and a dog.
Come Thursday night, we’re to be graced with not one, but two movies at least partially focused on man’s best friend. There’s nothing a filmmaker can do that’s more emotionally manipulative than showing a dog onscreen, and A Dog’s Journey looks to bring all of the schmaltz of a Hallmark Channel movie to bare. Similarly, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum is the latest entry in a franchise built upon one man’s quest for revenge against the people who killed his dog. If that first trailer for Parabellum is any indication, then it looks like the canines themselves will get to exact their own brand of vengeance.
With that being said, now’s the perfect time for me to pay respect to just a handful of my favorite doggies throughout film history. Let’s get started.
Top 5 Best Movie Dogs
Toto (The Wizard of Oz, 1939) - The All-Time Classic Movie Dog
Let’s kick this best movie dogs list off with a classic whom everyone knows. Despite not showing quite as much agency as some of the other go-getters on this list, Toto is notable for being one of the first dogs I remember seeing in a movie. Considering how bizarre Dorothy’s journey through Oz is, this shaggy cairn terrier helps keep the heroine grounded. Toto may mostly serve as just a passenger on the adventure, but he’s definitely one who I’d love to have around.
Zero (The Nightmare Before Christmas, 1993) - A Ghostly Man’s Best Friend
People don’t call The Nightmare Before Christmas “the Hot Topic movie” for nothing. Even excluding all of the memorabilia that lines the walls of that store – at least the last time I set foot in one – lead boy Jack Skellington has his fair share of sulky moments. Notice, though, that whenever he’s down in the dumps, his best buddy Zero is always around to either find a solution to what ails him or, at the very least, try to cheer him up.
The Rudolph to Jack’s Santa Claus, this ghostly canine’s bright nose allowed his lanky owner to complete his mission. I mean, the two of them almost ruined Christmas, but you’ve got to appreciate the loyalty. I can’t tell you how many times just having one of my dogs around has lifted my spirits, and Zero is one of my favorite embodiments of that.
Dug (Up, 2009) - The Best Movie Dog With Lovable Comic Relief
Toto aside – who gets by largely on being so dang cute – there’s a common denominator among each of these favorite pups: There’s something distinct about them. There’s an iconography to the best movie dogs that helps them stand out as being particularly memorable – not just another dog in film. Dug, for instance, is one of cinema’s greatest comic relief characters. His advanced collar allows him to speak, yet you never forget that the character you’re listening to is a dog.
Indeed, if Zero captures the loyalty of a dog, then Dug captures that plus everything else – particularly his simple-mindedness. He isn’t stupid per se, but like all dogs, he’s a creature of simple pleasures. Coupled with co-director Bob Peterson’s performance, this golden retriever is one of the most infectiously lovable canines in film history.
Bolt (Bolt, 2008) - A Super Companion
Despite being well-received at the time of its release, Bolt hasn’t had a particularly strong legacy. Even among Disney’s 3D-animated pantheon, it tends to be one of the last films people bring up – it certainly hasn’t had the staying power of Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, or Frozen. That said, this movie holds a special place in my heart. I was so endeared toward Bolt back in 2008 – was rooting for its success so much – that it was the first film whose box office performance I actively tracked. Through Bolt, I discovered Box Office Mojo and maybe even Rotten Tomatoes.
The film boasts a memorable cast across the board – particularly Mittens, who’s got to be cinema’s greatest cat – but Bolt himself is definitely one of the driving forces behind the flick’s charm. Effectively Toy Story’s Buzz Lightyear in dog form, this white German shepherd is the star of a sci-fi/action show who, when taken off-set, believes his powers are real. The cross-country trip that ensues teaches this fish out of water what it means to be a domesticated canine – essential viewing for any first-time doggo.
Milo (The Mask, 1994) - Jim Carrey and a Dog (What’s Not to Love?)
The Mask remains my favorite Jim Carrey movie. Not only does it aesthetically evoke the feeling of 90s cinema better than almost any other movie, but it also perfectly capitalizes on Carrey’s manic comedic sensibilities. And as great as our lead antihero is, almost just as scene-stealing is his dog, Milo.
Even as a baby – barely cognizant of my own existence – I knew Milo was the ultimate badass. Yes, Jack Russell terriers are infinitely adorable, but this dog knows how to get stuff done. How many people can say their dog broke them out of prison? Sure, the one guard on duty was asleep, but it still makes for a good story at the dinner table. And for as briefly as he gets to wear the Mask itself, Milo makes the most of his screen time by being one mischievous bastard, and deserving of a spot on the best movie dogs list.
Don’t mess with Milo, people.