En español | Sometimes you just need your best friend nearby, tail wagging. Whether you’ve got a dog in your life right now or wish you did, we’ve rounded up 10 beautiful movies that feature those furry four-legged friends. We defy you not to reach for the Kleenex (and give a few well-deserved hugs to that pal on the sofa) while streaming one (or all) of these wonderful dog movies, from Lassie to Marley.
Lassie Come Home (1943)
The breed: Collie
Lassie first appeared in a short story in the Saturday Evening Post in 1938, quickly followed by a novel in 1940. MGM smelled money in the tale and optioned it for $10,000 (a solid investment since Lassie would birth a litter of sequels and a long-running TV show). This one, however, is the place to start thanks to the presence of Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall, who melt hearts almost as much as the collie hero. This is pure three-hankie stuff. Set in Depression-era England, a family is forced to sell their beloved Lassie to a rich duke in order to move to a slightly less dreary life in Scotland. Their son (McDowall) is heartbroken. But, of course, the ever-loyal Lassie finds a way back to them on an arduous, long-distance journey.
Umberto D. (1952)
The breed: Terrier
Italian director Vittorio De Sica loved the faces of real Italians and would often use them as the stars of his neorealist films. Dog or no dog, this stands as the most emotionally affecting film of his great career. Carlo Battisti, a college professor who had never performed on film before, stars as an elderly pensioner who lives alone with his dog, Flike. He scrapes to get by while struggling to hold on to his pride and dignity. There is plenty in this miraculous black-and-white import to shatter your heart, but at every turn when it seems like Umberto is about to give up, he is saved by Flike, whose figure-eights around his master's worn shoes put a smile on his face and give him a reason to keep forging ahead.
Old Yeller (1957)
The breed: Mastiff/Labrador retriever mix
Speaking of tear-duct workouts, it's hard to top the emotional seesaw of this canine classic. Based on the timeless Fred Gipson children's novel (which used to be required reading in many schools), this live-action Disney film is what most folks automatically think of when they think of a-boy-and-his-dog movies. It's withstood the test of time for a reason. Although, like Bambi and his mom, it also brings up some hard truths about pet ownership, if you catch my drift. Set in the 1860s, the story chronicles the friendship between a young boy named Tommy Coates (Travis Kirk) and the stray he adopts while his father is away on a cattle drive. As they both grow up, Old Yeller not only becomes a member of the family but also has a profound impact on Tommy's life — and the lives of everyone he meets.
One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1961)
The breed: Dalmatian
Limiting our selections to just one animated Disney movie wasn't an easy choice — but it was a necessary one. After all, we could have filled the whole list with Uncle Walt's menagerie of cartoon mutts (sorry Lady and the Tramp). One Hundred and One Dalmatians tells the story of Roger Radcliffe and his dog Pongo. Pongo, a bit of canine Casanova, manages to not only find a mate for himself but one for his master as well (which may explain why so many singles still hang out at dog parks). Needless to say, a brood of baby puppies soon follows. Which draws the attention of the nefarious fashion maven Cruella de Vil. Watching the original 60 years later, it's still shocking what a G-rated Disney movie could get away with. Cruella and her intentions are downright horrifying.
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The breed: Hound
This resonant story of a family of African American sharecroppers in Depression-era Louisiana is a tale about adversity that somehow manages to be told without schmaltz or too much sentimentality. It's a powerfully understated film — the credit for which goes to the compassion of Black playwright-turned-screenwriter Lonne Elder III. A father (Paul Winfield) and his teenage son (Kevin Hooks) bond while hunting with their dog. And after the father is put in jail for stealing to feed his poor family, the two learn more from each other through hardship than any family would through happiness. Both Winfield and Cicely Tyson (who plays his fiercely proud but realistic wife) earned Oscar nominations for their nuanced performances. Bluesman Taj Mahal is also outstanding. This is a small miracle of a movie.
Turner & Hooch (1989)
The breed: French mastiff
Okay, so this silly, low-brow comedy isn't exactly Tom Hanks’ finest hour. And it certainly won't lead off the highlight reel when he eventually wins his lifetime achievement award at the Oscars. But this list has been pretty heavy thus far. So it's time for some laughs. Hanks plays a small-town cop who's forced to take in a slobbering canine behemoth named Hooch when its owner is murdered. His face looks like it was hit with a frying pan (Hooch's, not Hanks'). For some reason, Hanks thinks the dog is the key to solving the crime and as he investigates, the beast destroys his home, bollixes his romance and gets every cheap laugh in the book. It ain't art, but it's a howl.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
The breeds: Bulldog and golden retriever
Like one of the Look Who's Talking movies, this sweet and funny film taps the tonsils of famous actors to put their recognizable voices in the mouths of critters. In this case, we have Michael J. Fox as the hopped-up bulldog Chance, Sally Field as a diva-esque Himalayan cat Sassy and Don Ameche as the wizened old golden retriever Shadow. After their owners leave them in the care of a ranch-owning friend, they bust out and attempt to hightail it back home. Like Lassie Come Home with more elaborate set pieces, this is one of those long-distance adventures out to prove a pet's loyalty. Only it is more lively and has way more heart than its peers, paws down.
Best in Show (2000)
Of all the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, this is the one that comes the closest to the satiric brilliance (and gut-busting hilarity) of This Is Spinal Tap. Here, Guest puts obsessive dog owners in his crosshairs — and not just any ordinary dog owners but the idiosyncratic oddballs who compete in the annual Mayflower Dog Show, a freak parade of purebred pooches and their neurotic masters. Everyone in the cast tears into their ad-libbed parts like a pitbull chomps into a T-bone: Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Jennifer Coolidge, the list goes on. Best of all, though, is Fred Willard as the clueless commentator calling the action. Arguably the best comedy of the 2000s.
Marley & Me (2008)
The breed: Labrador retriever
Based on John Grogan's smash 2005 memoir, Marley & Me mixes heart, humor and good old-fashioned Hollywood star power about as well as any dog movie possibly can. Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston play a coupled-up pair of Florida newspaper writers who are convinced that they have adopted “the world's worst dog.” Marley may look like a caramel-colored good boy, but he's a destructive Tasmanian devil. Over the course of the film, we watch as not only Marley grows and mellows but his owners do, too, as they take the good with the bad that life throws at them. By the end, you'll not only want to go to your nearest ASPCA shelter to make a new addition to your family, you'll have learned a valuable lesson about the beautiful messiness of life.
Hachi: A Dog's Tale (2009)
The breed: Akita
I'm going to come right out and say it, of all the sob fests on this list, this is the one that turned on my waterworks the hardest. The only mystery is: Why don't more people know about this gem? Directed by a first-rate director (The Cider House Rules’ Lasse Hallström) and starring big-name talent like Joan Allen and Richard Gere, it's shocking how a movie with this pedigree and, frankly, that's this great could go straight to DVD. Based on a true story, Hachi stars a never-better Gere as a college professor who adopts a lost Akita puppy, which loyally waits for him to return at the train station every day. Then, one day, Gere doesn't come home. And Hachi just waits … and waits. As the days turn to weeks and then turn to months, it would be best to have a full box of Kleenex nearby.
Chris Nashawaty, former film critic for Entertainment Weekly, is the author of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story and a contributor to Esquire, Vanity Fair, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 22, 2021. It has been updated with current links where you can stream the films on this list.