Top Ten canine performances in movie history

By Brad Sturdivant


If you’re a dog lover like me, then you get excited every time you see a dog on the big screen.  Dogs have had an impact on movies for generations now and have a unique ability to invoke emotion from the audience, especially when they face peril.  Below is a list of some of the best canine performances in movie history, each providing their own element to their respective films.

Note: It’s important to point out this is a list of the best performance by a dog.  You can’t blame a dog if the movie they’re in is bad.

Lou, Yeller and Barkley

10. Lou – Beagle – CATS & DOGS: Although I’m partial to Golden Retrievers and Border Collies, there’s nothing cuter on earth than a Beagle puppy.  The filmmakers of CATS & DOGS knew this, which is why they cast a Beagle puppy to carry the film.  Lou’s cuteness masked the otherwise lameness of the film.  Well, that and a hilarious evil cat.

9. Yeller – Yellow Labrador Retriever – OLD YELLER: I saw OLD YELLER once as a little boy and cried for weeks afterwards…seriously.  I think it was in 1985 and I was maybe 6 or 7 years-old.  It was horrible.  If anyone is thinking of picking this up, then I highly recommend you stop watching with about 15 minutes left.

8. Barkley – Jack Russell Terrier – CLEAN SLATE: Barkley was great for a few laughs in Dana Carvey’s 1994 film CLEAN SLATE.  The dog with an eye patch that had trouble with depth perception (and therefore trouble with not walking into things) stole every scene he was in.  I’m sure they had to reiterate the standard disclaimer of “no animals were hurt in making this movie”.

Hachi, Shadow and Hooch

7. Hachi – Akita – HACHI: A DOG’S TALE: Although the film is hard to get through since it’s so incredibly sad, it tells a great (and true) story of an Akita that met his owner every day after work.  But when his owner unexpectedly dies, Hachi still goes back to the same place every day to meet him.  Geesh, my eyes are getting watery just writing this.  Moving on…

6. Shadow – Golden Retriever – HOMEWARD BOUND: Before Air Bud made Golden Retrievers in movies a bit of a joke, Shadow actually depicted the breed as old and wise in HOMEWARD BOUND.  Voiced by the legendary Don Ameche, Shadow was the rock that helped his two younger family members find their way home.  Chance had the comedy and Sassy the cat had the attitude, but it was Shadow that held them together.

5. Hooch – French Mastiff – TURNER & HOOCH: K9, TOP DOG and TURNER & HOOCH are essentially the same film, but of the three, TURNER & HOOCH had Tom Hanks and arguably the more endearing dog, Hooch.  I’m not sure Hooch was a good role model to other aspiring canine actors (he did, after all, drink beer), but he was fun to watch in a somewhat forgotten Hanks comedy.

Fly, Dug and Sam

4. Fly – Border Collie – BABE: Although Babe the pig is the focus of the film, he wouldn’t have been much without the support of the motherly Fly and her grumpy mate Rex.  BABE is such a charming and simple film filled with cute animals that we sometimes forget what a great story it is.

3. Dug – Mutt – UP: Although technically Dug is an animated dog, his impact on the film UP is without question.  Virtually everything that Dug said was laugh-out-loud funny and his story added yet another character that we cared about.  His redemption at the end…squirrel!…was heartwarming and he’s one of the few supporting characters in the Pixar-verse that could probably carry his own film.

2. Sam – German Shepherd – I AM LEGEND: Personally, I don’t think being the lone survivor in a world overrun by zombies would be such a bad thing, especially if I was able to run around NYC with my trusty canine companion.  This film had more heart than what you would think a Will Smith blockbuster would have and one of the reasons is the connection between Sam and Robert (Smith).


1. Benji – Mutt – BENJI: Benji holds a special place in my heart because as a kid, I loved dogs.  But my mother wouldn’t allow dogs in her house or anywhere near her for that matter.  So the only way I could experience the boy-dog relationship was through movies (a common theme in my life) and when it came to dogs in movies, Benji was my hero.  It was amazing the tricks they taught the little mutt and even more amazing how his facial expressions seemed to actually convey emotion.  Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t stand up as well after watching it today, but Benji’s story and performance are just as impressive as ever.


Honorable Mention:  Toto – Cairn Terrier – THE WIZARD OF OZ: I was going to avoid putting Toto on here because I thought it was too obvious, but after doing some research, I discovered that Terry (the dog that played Toto) starred in about a dozen films and even has an “autobiography”.  So we have to give respect to the dog that kind of started it all as far as canine movie stars are concerned.

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