Doggone it: 12 Dog Movies to Add a Boop to Your Day

Need a pick-me-up? From Old Yeller to Marley and Me, here are movies with a dog for a star
Doggone it: 12 Dog Movies to Add a Boop to Your Day

It is a universally-established fact that a dog will make everything better, especially in the movies. Imagine, for instance, 777 Charlie (2022) without the Labrador, or a narrator other than Pluto the bull mastiff in Dil Dhadakne Do (2015). Sure, part of Pluto’s charm is that he is voiced by Aamir Khan, but despite the anthropomorphism, the dog being the narrator was one of the best parts of the film. More often than not, movies with dogs tend to be formulaic, often using literal puppy-dog eyes to yank at our heartstrings — which, of course, works — and give the human stars a redemption arc. In short, dog movies restore our faith in humanity and that’s as good a reason as any to list some of our favourite canine movie stars. 

Lassie Come Home (1943)

Long before A Dog's Way Home (2019), we had Fred M. Wilcox’s Lassie Come Home. Set in the era of the Great Depression, the film follows a collie named Lassie, sold by the impoverished Carraclough family to the Duke of Rudling. Unaccepting of him, she trudges from Scotland to Yorkshire, back to young Joe Carraclough, her sole companion. Elizabeth Taylor, who played Priscilla, the Duke’s granddaughter who helps Lassie escape, allegedly earned $100 a week. (Years later, Taylor would say in an interview, “Some of my best leading men have been dogs and horses.”) Pal, who played Lassie, was paid $250 per week. Though the titular dog is supposed to be female, this and the following Lassie films used male dogs. Apparently, male dogs are simpler to train. To quote Cyndi Lauper, “girls,” regardless of species, “just want to have fun.” 

Old Yeller (1957)

Streaming on: Disney+Hotstar

Directed by Robert Stevenson and produced by Walt Disney, Old Yeller is about a dog who steals and a boy who can’t help but adore him. Spike, the dog who plays Old Yeller, was adopted by Hollywood dog trainer Frank Weatherwax from a shelter in Van Nuys, California. When Disney announced they had purchased the movie rights to the book Old Yeller, Weatherwax had Spike audition for the role. People at Disney saw a floppy-eared dog who was too affectionate to be the vicious, snarly Old Yeller. Enter Weatherwax, who trained Spike and taught the dog to act. Oscillating between growly, snappy and affectionate, Spike’s performance depicts the harrowing impact of rabies (referred to as “hydrophobia” in the movie) on animals. Old Yeller was a classic tear-jerker for the baby boomer generation. 

Turner and Hooch (1989)

Streaming on: Disney+Hotstar

The Roger Spottiswoode directorial is a buddy cop comedy, about a police investigator Turner (Tom Hanks) who adopts a drooly hound (Beasley the Dog) named Hooch because Hooch is the only witness to a murder. In their search for the killer, Turner and Hooch go from foes to friends. Hanks had to familiarise himself with dogs before beginning to shoot this film, to ensure that their bond was reflected on-screen. This meant Hanks’s preparations included playing with dogs. Beasley was the primary pooch and there were three others, including Beasley's stunt double Igor, who doubled up for Hooch. The movie was originally supposed to be directed by Henry Winkler but he was fired two weeks into filming. When asked about the incident, Winkler told People magazine, “Let’s just say I got along better with Hooch than I did with Turner.” 

Beethoven (1992)

Streaming on: Prime Video 

Beethoven, directed by Brian Levant, is an allegory for the circle of life. A puppy escapes his abductors and seeks shelter in George and Alice Newton’s (Charles Grodin and Bonnie Hunt) home, only to be abducted again as an adult dog. The Newtons name him Beethoven because he barks along to Ludwig van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Apart from making a case for animal adoption, the musically-inclined St Bernard also sounds the alarm against fragile masculinity. George competes with him for the family’s attention as one would rival over a lover.  Ultimately, he caves to Beethoven’s animal magnetism. However, nota bene: Aside from the dogs who worked in the film, a mechanical dog’s head was also used to achieve certain facial expressions, lest you believe Beethoven’s charm is all-natural. 

Hum Aapke Hain Koun…! (1994)

Streaming on: Netflix

The film’s poster may have had Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan, but the real hero of this family drama is Bollywood’s most iconic doggo, Tuffy. Ostensibly, writer-director Sooraj Barjatya’s film is about Nisha (Dixit) and Prem (Khan) navigating past happenstance and tragedy to find their way to one another. However, it quickly becomes clear that the only truly sentient and sensible being in this ensemble is Tuffy. Despite being a Pomeranian, Tuffy exhibits more smarts than, for instance, Nisha who only discovers at a pre-wedding ceremony that she’s about to marry not the man she loves, but his brother. While the humans go around making a royal mess, it falls upon this canine (and arguably cuter) equivalent of Sima Aunty to save the day. All hail Tuffy!  

Halo (1996)

Directed by Santosh Sivan, the film is one of the earliest and most compelling ‘adopt, don’t shop’ campaigns. Usually, a film’s puppy-shaped void is filled by pedigreed dogs, but the dappled, black-and-white star of Halo was an adorable indie pupper. Seven-year-old Sasha  (Benaf Dadachandji) stumbles upon a dog on the street and names him Halo because she thinks he’s a miracle sent by God. When her canine miracle goes missing, little Sasha sets off to find him. Her search introduces her to one quirky character after another, plus we get some ridiculously cute scenes with Halo. 

Air Bud (1997)

Directed by Charles Martin Smith, Air Bud stars the same Golden Retriever who played Comet in the Jeff Franklin sitcom Full House. This movie marked the hound’s second venture with Bill Cobbs (who plays Coach Arthur Chaney). They had previously worked together on Fluke (1995). Air Bud traces Buddy’s rise to fame. The film begins with his escape from an abusive household. He finds shelter in Josh’s (Kevin Zegers) home, who also discovers Buddy’s uncanny talent to play basketball. When the young boy’s team is short of a player, the Golden Retriever swoops in to save the day. Air Bud sprouted one theatrical sequel, three direct-to-video sequels, a spin-off series and established its own production company, Air Bud Entertainment. 

Marley and Me (2008)

Streaming on: Netflix 

Marley and Me follows John (Owen Wilson) and Jenny’s (Jennifer Aniston) journey, an indispensable part of which is Marley, their Labrador Retriever. Of the 22 dogs who played Marley, a puppy and an adult dog were specifically trained to chomp on things and spit them out without ingesting anything. If only they could train us to stomach the movie’s end. From jumping fences as a puppy (while shooting, a picnic table was placed on either side of it) to passing on to the other side, Marley has us on a leash as he walks through life. The movie doesn’t sugarcoat the trials and tribulations of dog rearing, while still being adorable. Rebelling in dog school or experiencing the woes of being the duck in a family of swans, Marley and Me is a rollercoaster that will leave you an emotional wreck. Perhaps there is solace in knowing that for the scene with Marley running on the beach, several puppies were used to ensure that one floofball wouldn’t have to cover the long distance. 

Hachi: A Dog's Tale (2009)

Streaming on: Prime Video 

Kaneto Shindo's Hachikō Monogatari (1987) narrated the true story of the Akita dog named Hachikō who lived in Japan during the 1920s. Hachi is an American adaptation of Shindo’s film, directed by Lasse Hallström. It follows Parker Wilson (Richard Gere), a college professor, who adopts an abandoned dog (played by Layla, Chico and Forrest). The film is about a dog’s grief (perhaps the only thing worse than its death), and Hachi is stuck neck-deep in denial. Best of luck not being reduced to an emotional blob while watching Hachi wait for Parker at the railway station and anticipating his arrival even after his death. If it's any consolation, Hachi and Parker reunite in the afterlife. To age the canine co-stars, make-up was used to dull their fur and small weights were attached to make their ears and tail droop. Unlike other films of the genre, the dog’s death in Hachi is not shown as a tragedy but rather signals that his wait for his human is finally over. The film also marked the end of Chico and Layla’s wait. They were adopted by animal trainers Mark Harden and David Allsberry after the movie was completed. 

A Dog’s Purpose (2017)

Streaming on: Sony LIV

Based on the 2010 eponymous novel by  W. Bruce Cameron, A Dog’s Purpose was also directed by Lasse Hallström. The film follows a dog’s quest over the course of lifetimes. From a Red Retriever to a German Shepherd to a Corgi to a St. Bernard/Australian Shepherd mix, we see Bailey’s many incarnations until he reunites with Ethan (Dennis Quaid), the man he met when Ethan was a mere boy of eight. It is finally in matchmaking that our Emma-esque hound finds his calling. He reunites Ethan, now in his 60s, with Hannah (Peggy Lipton), his high-school sweetheart. A Dog’s Purpose was Lipton’s final film (she passed away in 2019). Shortly before its theatrical release, footage appeared of a dog being submerged in turbulent pool water during filming. The ensuing controversy had the filmmakers cancel the US premiere. Later, in February 2017, the American Humane Association declared that the video was deceptively edited and no abuse had taken place. 

The Art of Racing in the Rain (2019)

Streaming on: Disney+Hotstar

Directed by Simon Curtis, The Art of Racing in the Rain begins at the end. Enzo (Parker), a Golden Retriever, is on his deathbed with his best friend, Denny (Milo Ventimiglia), by his side. In his final moments, Enzo looks back on life and thus propels us into a two-hour-long heartwrenching flashback. The Art of Racing in the Rain is a portrayal of a truth that any dog lover would do their damnedest to refute — that dogs are just a part of our lives while we constitute the whole of theirs. The movie looks at Denny and his family’s life through Enzo’s perspective. From providing comfort to Denny’s ill wife, Eve (Amanda Seyfried) to convincing Denny to fight harder for his daughter, we notice Enzo’s role in the family. Towards the end, reincarnation comes to the rescue (again). Enzo recalls a documentary which discussed the Mongolian belief that after dogs die, some are reborn as a human. We’d tell you to look out for the boy with the golden hair if, lo and behold, his name wasn’t Enzo too. 

Clifford the Big Red Dog (2021)

Streaming on: Prime Video 

This film is based on the eponymous children’s book series by Norman Bridwell. Unlike in Clifford The Big Red Dog (1988, 2000 and 2019), the big red dog in the 2021 movie version does not speak. Instead, Emily, the 12-year-old who adopts the dog, is the one who has plenty to say. Initially, she is told by Mr Bridwell (named after the author), who runs an animal rescue tent at a park, that the dog’s size will be directly proportional to the love he receives. Evidently, he’s too loved to be able to hide from Zac Tieran (Tony Hale), the owner of the biotechnology company Lyfegro. The rest of the film is a rescue mission as much as it is a lesson in acceptance. As someone who doesn't fit in, Emily finds a reflection of herself in Clifford (a puppet version of which was used to elicit reactions from the actors.)

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