Beware of the dog film. Any pet owner can agree that dog films are some of the most heartwarming slices of Hollywood goodness on the planet, but they always, always reduce us to tears. It's hard to figure out exactly when Hollywood decided that most dog films have to make us cry, but we're guessing it's somewhere between Hachi and Old Yeller. Thankfully, for every Marley and Me there's an Air Bud (and what would we do without Air Bud?). From Balto to Isle of Dogs, these pup-minded films are the best dog movies on the planet, and possibly beyond, since we know all dogs do, in fact, go to heaven.
Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
If you’re ready to bawl your eyes out, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale rates even higher on the cry-scale than Marley And Me. The story follows a faithful pup who’s accidentally left at a train station amidst a move from Japan to America. He’s found and adopted by a professor, who unsuccessfully searches for Hachi’s owner. The pair develops a close bond, and every day Hachi follows the professor to the train station and waits for him to come home from work.
Of course, we can’t have nice things in dog movies, so this quickly turns tragic. One day, the professor never returns on the train. Hachi, being the loyal dog he is, continues to wait. Eventually, he’s picked up by one of the professor’s relatives who tries to explain that the professor had died from Cerebral Palsy. Hachi doesn’t quite understand and continues to wait at the train station every single day. Although this one is a definite tear-jerker, the duos unlikely bond is worth watching.
There is no villain in the Disney franchise scarier than Cruella DeVille. Seriously, who can stand up to a rich, older woman who’s clinging to her fading beauty and has the sort of moral high ground that somehow justifies kidnapping 101 puppies and skinning them for a luxury winter coat? You thought Ariel had it bad with overzealous squid, but Cruella takes the cake.
101 Dalmatians is a Disney classic. Whether you’re watching the live-action version that cropped up somewhere in the ‘90s (Glenn Close positively shines as the main villainess) or the animated version that’s forever cemented in our childhood VHS collection.
There’s not a ‘90s kid on the planet who hasn’t seen Homeward Bound. In fact, it’s a pretty safe bet that your parents still have that well-worn VHS tape somewhere in storage. This 1993 epic tale follows the story of three adorable pets (two dogs, one cat) who believe they’ve been abandoned when their humans temporarily go out of town. They leave the comfort of their suburban home and go on an adventure to find them.
Basically, this movie rules if you love talking dogs and want to see Michael J. Fox star as a bulldog. There are plenty of laughs. It’s sentimental, but not too sad. It’s the perfect feel-good movie for anyone who’s ever had to reluctantly leave their pet at home.
A Dog’s Purpose
If you can’t handle a movie that features puppies dying, you may want to pass on A Dog’s Purpose. This flick has too many to count, but that’s part of what makes it so sentimental and touching. What other movie has a corgi that literally dies from heartbreak?
Rest assured: any dog that dies in this film doesn’t actually die for good. Rather, the film follows a pup’s soul as he searches for meaning. He gets reincarnated as several other pups, builds strong bonds with several owners and discovers the secret to living over the course of several lifetimes. It’s inspiring, heartfelt and has more than a few tear-addled moments like a dog flick should.
Lady And The Tramp
It’s no secret that Disney has created some of the best dog movies on the planet. You just can’t get around it. Lady and the Tramp dates back even further than 101 Dalmatians. It saw its first release in 1955 and has since had more than a couple re-releases (most millennials remember the iconic theater reissues in 1980 and 1986).
The flick follows the story of a scrappy mutt who falls in love with a cocker spaniel. The spaniel is from an upper-class family. The mutt is a stray. Though it delivered us with the iconic pasta-eating scene, it wasn’t actually an instant classic. This flick was originally panned by critics and gained acclaim somewhere later down the line.
The Fox And The Hound
This 1981 Disney drama taught an entire generation of children about loss. For many, it’s one of the first times a film made them cry. In case you don’t remember, The Fox and the Hound tells a tale of two unlikely buddies: a hound named Copper and a red fox named Tod. Though Cooper and Tod have a strong bond, they’re working against their environment. The pair is trained to be mortal enemies, but can friendship endure? Of course it can, but not before it tugs at our heartstrings.
In the most grueling scene, Cooper, a skilled hunting dog by adulthood, is made to hunt down Tod. There’s a life-threatening fire. There’s a bear attack. There's a treacherous tumble down a waterfall. Both friends end up risking their lives to save one another, and everyone watching at home is reduced to tears. Thanks, Disney!
Not all dog movies make us weep uncontrollably into our laptop screens. Air Bud is a feel-good classic and a franchise that kept giving and giving and giving (seriously, there are so many Air Bud flicks).
The original, which is arguably the best of the franchise, follows the story of Buddy the Golden Retriever who happens to have a knack for playing basketball. Because this is Hollywood and not real life, Buddy got the chance to actually play for a basketball team and inspired kids everywhere to get up and get moving with man’s best friend. Despite its tiny budget, the film was a huge commercial success. It also didn’t hurt that there was a sweet story behind the franchise. The real-life Buddy was homeless before being adopted by the film’s writer.
There’s a reason Beethoven touched the hearts of so many ‘90s kids. The flick was written by John Hughes, the guy who brought us instant feel-good classics like Home Alone, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. So, why did you never know this was part of Hughes’ impressive catalog? The filmmaker used the pseudonym Edmond Dantés.
Beethoven follows the story of a loveable — but trouble-making — St. Bernard. It made a whole generation of children beg their parents for a floppy, pudgy St. Bernard, only to be totally shut down because dogs that big are a whole lot of work. It also gave us Joseph Gordon-Levitt. For that, it will always be a classic.
Sled dogs are somehow the perfect protagonists for children, which made Disney’s 1995 animated flick Balto an instant success. The story is based on a real-life Siberian husky who helped transport a diphtheria medication from Anchorage, Alaska to Nenana, Alaska amidst a deadly 1925 outbreak. Why use dogs? It was so cold outside that the airplane used to transport the medication wouldn’t start.
Basically, the real-life Balto is a hero and Disney’s version told his inspiring story flawlessly. We can’t help but love an English-speaking pup (even if the real Balto was limited to barks, yelps, and growls). What a good boy!
Marley & Me
Owen Wilson, Jennifer Aniston, a troublesome but adorable pup — what’s not to love? This flick came out in the late 2000s and followed the tradition of feel-good dog movies before it by reducing us to a puddle of tears by the very ending.
The film follows the story of Marley, a trouble-making puppy who causes more than a few arguments between his owners. All in all, the love for this dog really does bring a family closer together, only to have him ripped out from underneath us. It’s cruel, but if you like tearful, touching films about the unshakable bond between pets and their owners, this is a film for you.
The Adventures Of Milo And Otis
You might not have recognized this when you were watching Milo and Otis for the hundredth time as a young kid, but the film was originally released in Japan. It was re-dubbed in English by Dudley Moore, and since the adorable pug and cat don’t really have their lips moving along to what they’re saying, no one noticed.
This film is as heartwarming as Homeward Bound and follows a sort of similar story. It’s primarily about the friendship between a pug and a cat. When the pair is separated, they go on a great adventure to find each other again. In a world that was seriously lacking in adorable YouTube videos of pug puppies and kittens, this film was a much-needed reprieve.
Benji is two parts Lassie and one part Balto. This 1970s classic follows the story of a mixed breed dog trying to communicate with humans in order to save children who have been kidnapped. It was so popular that it grossed over $45 million on a meager $500,000 budget. It’s also not everyday that a dog film receives an Academy Award nomination (the song “I Feel Love” was nominated for Best Original Song).
Benji is one of the most successful animal actors of all time and the adorable pup spawned a highly successful franchise. If ‘70s film quality isn’t your thing, Netflix ended up rebooting the classic in 2018.
Eight Below is another inspiring flick featuring husky dogs and a tear-filled tragic death. This seems like a common recipe for a hit puppy film by now, doesn’t it? Can we get a break?
The story follows a group of beloved sled dogs who are abandoned when their injured crew is evacuated from an Antarctica research base. The dogs are tied up and left for dead, but eventually, manage to break free from their shackles as their owner fruitlessly spends every ounce of his money trying to save them from afar. Most of the dogs end up persevering (it wouldn’t be a feel-good movie otherwise) barring a gutting scene were a pup is fatally injured and his buddy stays with his lifeless body all night, attempting to lick him awake. Every dog movie has to have one, right?
Isle of Dogs
Isle of Dogs finds itself on this list because of its gorgeous stop-motion animation. Wes Anderson’s attention to detail is at its very finest in this charming story (what else would we expect from Wes Anderson, really?).
The film follows the story of a group of dogs who are quarantined to an Island after an outbreak of canine flu in Japan. A rogue boy attempts to rescue his puppy and works tirelessly to expose a government conspiracy. If that wasn’t intriguing enough, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Yoko Ono lend their voices making it one of the most star-studded dog films in Hollywood.
There’s a reason dog deaths seem to be such a popular theme in the most highly-rated dog movies. Old Yeller definitely set the precedent. This classic 1950s Disney film is a coming-of-age dog tale that follows the story of two brothers in post-Civil War Texas. The brothers form an immense bond with a dog named Old Yeller, who defends them against a rabid wolf.
Unfortunately, Old Yeller is tragically injured by the wolf. Since he’s exposed to rabies (and you can’t have him getting all Cujo), the oldest son is forced to kill his canine BFF. It’s arguably the most tragic story Disney ever put its hands on, but it’s a classic nonetheless.
You might think John Travolta and Miley Cyrus have absolutely nothing in common. Rest assured, we’ve got the 2008 animated dog flick Bolt. This dog film by Disney (yes, of course it’s by Disney) is about a puppy who plays a dog with special powers on TV. The puppy starts to believe that he genuinely has these powers and tries to put them to use to save a friend he thinks has been kidnapped.
At its core, this film is a feel-good tale that teaches us to believe in ourselves. Unlike your typical dog flick, this one was nominated for an Oscar. It unfortunately lost to Wall-E, but honestly, how could anything compete with Wall-E?
All Dogs Go To Heaven
The Land Before Time was arguably one of the most beloved films of the ‘80s. For this reason, it shouldn’t be surprising that the film’s director, Don Bluth, is also responsible for All Dogs Go To Heaven. This film is surprisingly not a Disney flick. Bluth left the company and created some of the most heartfelt, memorable children’s movies of all time.
All Dogs Go to Heaven was a box office success despite receiving mixed reviews. It answers that universal question of what happens to our best friends when they pass away. This lesson is valuable for children and adults alike.
My Dog Skip
Frankie Muniz is a whole lot more than his Malcolm in the Middle character with the touching tale of My Dog Skip. This dog film, featuring Diane Lane and Kevin Bacon, follows the story of a Jack Russell terrier who grows up with a shy boy in 1940s Mississippi. It’s got friendship. It’s got history. It’s a boy’s coming-of-age tale through the eyes of his childhood pet. In other words, yes, you’re going to cry.
This cute, wholesome flick pulls out the inner kid in us all who struggle with growing up and moving on from our family home. It also makes us want to hug our dogs extra hard.
Leave it to Tim Burton to create one of the most imaginative dog movies of our time. Frankenweenie is based on Burton’s short film from 1984 and follows the classic story of Frankenstein with a loveable canine twist.
In the flick, a boy resurrects his dog in the same way Victor Frankenstein created his classic movie monster. After successfully completing the operation, he starts to do the same thing for the fallen pets of the other kids on the block, but this is no Pet Sematary. Frankenweenie is lighthearted and fun. It also landed an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film. If the story doesn’t do it for you, the animation will.