Who doesn’t love a good dog movie? The adventures of these delightful, scrappy, pups have been the basis of the classic story of canine companionship for many years. But what makes the secret life of a dog so entertaining to watch? What about these dog movies strikes a chord in the heart of every dog lover? Let’s explore some of the greatest dog movies of all time, and help you figure out which one might make it to family movie night! (Though fair warning, a couple of the movies on this list might not be all that child-friendly, so proceed with caution).
Following the story of a loveable St. Bernard and his adopted family, the Newtons. Fun fact! Beethoven was not only the name of the dog character but also the real name of the canine actor that played him. When Beethoven is adopted by the Newton family as a puppy, they quickly realize he won’t remain small for long. As the pup grows and begins to wreak havoc on the house, papa Newton becomes increasingly frustrated with Beethoven’s shenanigans, though he slowly warms to the big dog in the way only a true dog lover can.
Beethoven’s tale is filled with love, laughter, frustration, and suspense as Beethoven works to thwart the scheming vet, Dr. Varnick, who is hell-bent on stealing our canine companion with the intention of using him in a deadly experiment.
The perfect dog movie for the whole family to get a good laugh from. Marmaduke, the Great Dane (voiced by Onwe Wilson), is a characterful, cheeky rascal with a real zest for life! This movie follows the story of Marmaduke and his fellow household pet, a feline no less, as they explore their new home after the big family move to California.
It is a picture of family life with a difficult, yet charming dog that not only wreaks havoc on his surroundings but also wins over almost everyone he meets. Marmaduke and his Siamese feline pal, Carlos, take to the dog park to meet their new neighbors and are not surprised to see that the dog park is a lot like high school. So as you can imagine, this is a story about the new kid on the block.
Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is a super-fun animated film perfectly suited for young audiences as it followed our young canine hero on the adventure of a lifetime. Bolt has lived his entire life on the soundstage of a Sci-Fi show in which he is a superhero with superpowers. However, when his co-star Penny is in trouble, Bolt braves the streets of New York to come to her aid.
There’s one major twist to this story, however, as Bolt truly believes his superpowers are real, having had the special effects on the set of his TV show make them appear real for his entire life. It is this delusional mindset that protects him from a myriad of dangers along the way – well, that and the companionship of a cat that seeks to break Bolt’s delusions, and his biggest fan, Rhino the hamster.
4. Marley & Me
Spoiler Alert: This description contains spoiler information that may help you to decide whether this film is something you would want to watch with children.
Technically family-friendly (PG rating), but extremely sad. It’s the story of two newlyweds (played by Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston) deciding that with their first home should come their first pet – Marley the yellow Labrador. However, this pup proves to be more hard work than they had anticipated, developing a habit of ripping up furniture, and ignoring commands (even with the help of obedience classes).
The troublesome pup never fully grows out of these habits, but he does teach his new owners a lesson in patience and unconditional love as they become extremely fond of their mischievous canine. However, this dog’s tale doesn’t have the same happy ending that some of the others on our list might have, so be prepared to get out the tissue box before the movie ends.
5. Lady And The Tramp
An absolute classic in the Disney world. Lady And The Tramp is a charming reimagining of the classic “princess and the pauper” story with a little “Romeo and Juliet” thrown in there for good measure. A stray dog by the name of Tramp meets a polished and preened cocker spaniel named Lady who has found herself out on the streets by an unfortunate turn of events, but in a twist of fate is lucky enough to find Tramp, who quickly becomes a friend and protector.
It’s a story of love, determination, dedication, and perseverance. With seemingly the entire world against them, these two dogs find themselves on an incredible journey in which they find true love with one another, despite the odds being stacked against them. It’s a rollercoaster ride of emotions culminating in that classic Disney feel-good ending. Perfect for the entire family.
A touching story of loss, bonding, self-discovery, connection, and heroism, loosely based on a true story. This film is rated PG for the difficult subject matter it contains. Max tells the story of a military veteran dog who witnessed the death of his handler whilst out on the field. When Max is given to the handler’s family, their troubled teenage son, Justin, finds it especially hard to want anything to do with the canine as he serves as a constant reminder of his lost brother.
However, Justin soon begins to develop a bond with Max, protecting him in high-stress situations and coming to understand the way the dog works. This bond continues to grow throughout the movie as Justin takes it upon himself to investigate further into the cause of his brother’s death, with the help of Max at his side.
7. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale tells a heart-wrenching tale based on a Japanese true story, a story that has been reiterated several times – one pop-culture example would be the Futurama episode “Jurassic Bark” in which we discover that the main protagonist Fry had a dog he left behind when he was frozen. This dog waited for him outside of his place of work his entire life, but Fry never returned.
This tells very much the same type of story, with a young man named Ronnie telling his classmates the tale of how his college professor grandfather had adopted an abandoned dog with whom he developed an extremely powerful bond. It’s a movie about friendship, companionship, love, and loss. Be sure to prepare yourself for a few tears!
8. All Dogs go to Heaven
A classic, 1980s animated adventure movie that features Charlie the dog, who was killed by a gambler by the name of Carface Carruthers. Charlie is quickly returned to Earth from Heaven by a magical rewindable watch. Charlie, the rough and tough scam artist coming from a life of running canine casinos, then sets himself the task of finding Carface and exacting his revenge but has his entire world turned upside down after spending time with a young orphan girl named Anne-Marie.
After discovering that dear Anne-Marie is, in fact, being exploited by the very Carface Charlie is looking for, Charlie is forced to make a decision between saving the kind-hearted little girl, who deserting her to pursue his mission of revenge. It’s a story of redemption, self-realization, and love. This film can be a little bit complex for younger viewers, but it is filled with adventure.
The first live-action version of the cartoon mystery series by the same name and a hilariously accurate representation of young life in the early 2000s combined with the thrill of mystery, aliens, action, and comedy. This movie has a star-studded cast and is the perfect film for families with pre-teen children (age rating 12+).
The only real reason for the age rating of over 12 with the movie is due to certain scenes depicting the aliens in which they are made to appear quite frightening. Scooby-Doo, our loveable dog’s purpose in this movie is to act not only as comic relief, but teach the value of friendship, bravery, kindness, and determination as he looks out for his fellow mystery inc members – particularly his best friend Shaggy.
10. Turner and Hooch
Turner (played by Tom Hanks), a Californian police investigator finds himself owning a rather rambunctious and very large, powerful dog named Hooch. Not only is Hooch is a handful because of his size, but he wreaks havoc pretty much everywhere he goes and he pretty difficult to stop once he gets going to the behest of Turner.
However, as time goes on Turner finds that Hooch has started to become a beloved pet and an essential part of his work as Hooch becomes crucial to the solving of a murder investigation. This is a PG-rated comedy movie with plenty of slapstick moments to keep you entertained as well as brilliant character development from start to finish.
11. Cats & Dogs
Wacky in more ways than one, Cats & Dogs is the story of a Beagle hound dog named Lou, and his arch-nemesis, a white Persian cat named Tinkles. It’s a dramatic, over-the-top adaptation of the class cats vs dogs scenario, using high-tech spy equipment and weaponry, along with talking cats and dogs that go unnoticed by the pet owners.
It’s a PG movie that can be watched by any child over the age of 8 if you’re wanting them to understand what’s happening. The cats intend to destroy a vaccine in development that would be able to rid the world of dog allergies, however, if the dogs are on the case to stop their feline enemies and allow the vaccine to be completed.
12. 101 Dalmatians
Universally loved as one of the best dog movies produced by Disney, 101 Dalmatians has been a classic since 1961 and is based on a 1956 Dodie Smith novel called “The Hundred and One Dalmatian”. It’s a thrilling adventure that follows Dalmatian parents Pongo and Perdita (otherwise known as Perdy) and their exceptionally large litter of puppies.
Throughout the story, the evil Fashionista Cruella De Vil is hellbent on obtaining the puppies for herself in order to turn them into a Dalmatian fur coat. This is a movie about how the many puppies and their parents thwarted Cruella’s devious plan.
13. Old Yeller
Released in 1957, the golden age of Hollywood, old Yeller is a tragic and gripping thriller of a dog movie that is definitely not one for the family. It takes place in a small town named Salt Licks and follows the Coates family, who comes into possession of a dog named Old Yeller after the runaway was found damaging their crops.
Quickly Travis and Arliss (the two young sons) take to the dog days after his arrival on the ranch, forming an ever-growing bond with Old Yeller. But after Yeller comes to Arliss’ rescue and is bitten by a bear, things take a turn for the worst as rabies begins to set into the powerful hound, making him a danger to himself and everyone around him.
14. The Fox And The Hound
A tale of an unlikely friendship, as a fox and bloodhound become dear friends despite their natural history as the hunter and the hunted. After losing his mother, Tod the fox is adopted by a kindly widow and finds himself a new friend in Copper – the neighbor’s bloodhound. However, these furry friends are destined to experience difficulties as their masters insist on their separation.
The two kind creatures grow apart as Copper is taught how to hunt and Tod rediscovers his wild routes. But when the time comes for them to meet in a hunting situation, they are forced to question their nature and decide if their friendship can be salvaged. This is a PG movie and an excellent film for young families which teaches the importance of friendship and love.
A comedy created for all ages. Patrick is the story of a teacher who unexpectedly inherits her grandmother’s pug, only to find that such a small creature can have a very big impact on a person’s life. Not only are puppies messy, but they’re also cheeky, destructive, and sneaky – something that Sarah finds out the hard way as she learns to care for her new canine companion.
This is a great story full of personal growth and compassion as Sarah finds within herself a soft spot she never realized she had and developed a strong bond with her surprise pet who she soon recognizes as her own pup as opposed to her grandmother’s.
16. Eight Below
Why have one dog, when you can have eight? This movie is all about a crew of eight sled dogs that were tragically left behind by their three human companions due to extreme weather conditions which resulted in an accident. Given no choice, the humans had to return without their trusty sled dog team.
It’s a movie about comradery, survival, and bravery as Jerry Shepard (the exhibition leader), strives to return to where he left the dogs in order to rescue them and return them home safely. But can the dogs and Jerry survive the especially harsh winter conditions of the Antarctic and be reunited? It’s a gripping bit of PG canine cinema best suited to families with children over the age of 12.
Spoiler Alert: This description contains spoiler information that may help you to decide whether this film is something you would want to watch with children.
Much like Old Yeller, this is not a movie for the faint-hearted. It’s considered a 15+ movie and contained multiple perilous scenes that are deemed too frightening for younger audiences. It followed a beloved dog’s journey into the tragic reality of rabies. It is a tragic horror film showing a man’s best friend as you hope never to see him.
After Cujo, our titular character who is a sweet, mild-tempered Saint Bernard, is bitten by a bat his temperament starts to shift as the vicious disease begins to take hold. Suddenly, Cujo’s enormous size and power become extremely dangerous as Donna and her young son Tad are forced to fend for themselves.
18. Homeward Bound
Staring a beautiful golden retriever by the name of Shadow, and his two companions Chance the Bulldog and Sassy the cat. The three animals are left on a friend’s ranch whilst their family takes a vacation to San Francisco, but the worry that their family may have left them behind for good entices the unlikely trio to embark on a journey back home.
The adventurous movie takes a journey through the California wilderness where Shadow, Chance, and Sassy encounter numerous snags along the way and have to work together in order to reach their destination safely. It’s a movie about trust, friendship, and adventure.
A brand new movie starring Lulu the German Shepherd and an Army ranger by the name of Briggs. After Lulu loses her handler in action, his long-time friend and fellow soldier take it upon himself to drive Lulu across the country in time for them both to attend her late handler’s funeral.
Lulu proves to be a difficult dog to handle as she herself goes through several stages of grief causing her to lash out not only at her surroundings but at Briggs and others around her. But as time goes on and they travel further, Briggs and Lulu develop a bond in this sad, yet heartwarming movie about canine friendship and compassion.
In classic Tim Burton style, Frankenweenie is a strange, twisted, uniquely animated movie about a resurrected dog. Inspired by the original story of Frankenstein, this movie stars a young boy by the same name. Victor Frankenstein, after learning of his dog’s death, is given an idea by his science teacher which leads to him resurrecting his beloved pup, Sparky, with the use of electricity.
However, once the science of resurrection has been created, it quickly starts to get out of hand. As other students at the school learn of Frankenstein’s new technology, they begin to abuse it in order to raise animals of their own with chaotic and monstrous consequences ahead.
We couldn’t leave our list there, however, so here are a few honorable mentions that we think deserve a little attention. Whilst we may think that the above list contains the top 20 best dog movies, we’d also highly recommend checking out the trailers for the following dog movies if none of the above ones tickle your fancy:
- My Dog Skip – A young boy gets a Jack Russel that helps him to navigate the difficulties of adolescence including bullying and romantic relationships.
- The Secret Life of Pets – Following Max and Duke as they travel through the streets of New York to find their way back home with the help of the local animals.
- The Art of Racing In The Rain – The story of Denny Swift, a race car driver, and his three big loves in his life: his wife, his daughter, and his canine best friend.
- A Dog’s Way Home – Bella the dog befriends and goes on an adventure with an orphaned kitten who turns out to be a cougar cub who she names “Big Kitten”.
- The Isle of Dogs – An executive decree has all dogs from Megasaki City moved to a garbage dump, but young Atari is not about to give his dog up without a fight.
- My Dog Tulip – A 2009 American independent animated dog movie documenting the bond between a man and his beloved German Shepherd.
- Clifford The Big Red Dog – Recently released with a CGI animated version of the original cartoon, Clifford is a loveable red puppy the size of a house who proves to be a handful.
- Lassie – Quoted throughout popular culture for decades after its release, Lassie is a classic movie following the Carraclough family and their dog Lassie as they fight to be reunited.
- Because of Winn-Dixie – A young girl finds a dog at a Winn-Dixie and decides to take it home and name it after the store it was found in, Winn helps Opal to learn about her life and mother.
We hope that by reading through this list, you’ve been able to pick out the best dog movies for you and your family, whether it’s sled dogs, talking dogs, funny dogs, manic dogs, or undead dogs, there’s something on this list for everyone.