Cinema's most celebrated dogs

James Oliver

Woof! Woof!

Given that human beings have been going soppy over dogs for a good 250,000 years now (give or take), it should come as no surprise that man's best friend has a long history in the movies

Back in 1905, a film called Rescued by Rover had a good claim to be the first genuine blockbuster: this story of a heroic Collie that saves a kidnapped baby was cheered around the world and, since then, cinema goers have shown again and again that they're suckers for a good boy (and girl, of course.)

The latest interface between pooches and pictures is Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, an animated film about... well, the title says it all really. It's about an island that's full of dogs. (Truth in advertising and all that.)

While we count down the moments until it gets released, we thought we'd compile a list of some of the most notable hounds in cinematic history.


Rin Tin Tin

(in all sorts of films)

Plucked, very nearly literally, from a French battlefield in the First World War, “Rinty” was the screen's first non-human superstar, more beloved than all but the most celestial human celebrities. He was also the victim of a notorious injustice...

During the very first Oscar season, Rin Tin Tin was actually the most popular choice for Best Actor. But the organisers weren't having that and, figuring a dog was in no position to kick up a fuss, rigged it so Emil Jannings picked up the statue.



(in The Thin Man films)

The Thin Man films were a series of detective movies in which William Powell and Myrna Loy played husband and wife detective aces Nick and Nora Charles. They were aided and abetted by Asta, their wire fox terrier. He was given ample opportunities to steal the show, and made good use of them every time.

He was originally played by “Skippy”, something of a Hollywood veteran with turns in Bringing Up Baby and The Awful Truth to his name. A skilled, smart and elegant performer who specialised in screwball comedy, Skippy was very much the Cary Grant of the canine world.



(in The Wizard of Oz)

One of the most iconic doggy movie characters, Toto is the faithful Cairn that accompanies her mistress over the rainbow and makes sure she doesn't get into too much trouble: she even exposes the real truth about the fraudulent “wizard”.

So forget all that nonsense about “there's no place like home”. The real moral of The Wizard of Oz is that if you're going anywhere, make sure you have a trusty dog who's got your back.



(in Umberto D)

Art house moviemakers might like to pretend they're too grand for cute animal stories but they're really not, as Umberto D illustrates all too clearly. The film is often reckoned one of the great classics of Italian neo-realism and maybe that's true. What's less debatable is that it’s one of the most shamelessly manipulative films ever made.

The title character is a grumpy old man, alone in a cruel world except for his loyal dog Flike. And it's that dog that director Vittorio De Sica uses to tug upon our heartstrings. Frankly he does so in ways that even the most mawkish Hollywood director would consider a bit much but hey ho; the main thing is that Flike is alright at the end. Umberto is too but we don't really care about him.


Beauty and Beast

(in The Hills Have Eyes)

There are many reasons to keep a dog; companionship, of course, and exercise too—you have to take the little chaps out for their walkies, after all. And don't forget fending off psychotic cannibal weirdos either: the Carter family would have been in a pretty pickle indeed when they accidentally ventured off-grid in Wes Craven's wilderness slasher had they not had a loyal Alsatian to relentlessly persecute their attackers. Good boy!



(in Bombón El Perro)

This is the least known pooch pic on our list but easily one of the loveliest. It's set in Patagonia; the titular Bombón is a large white Dogo Argentino that’s gifted to a chap called Coco. He's stuck in something of a rut, Coco, but Bombón gives him a new purpose, going to dog shows and just generally hanging out.

Nothing much actually happens—the highest moment of drama comes when Bombón goes missing for a bit (not too long, mind)—but it's all tremendously sweet and deserves to be loved as much as Coco loves Bombón.



(in Up)

While this list has majored in live action animals, we should make an exception for Dug, who you'll remember from Pixar's Up. He's meant to be a guard dog but he's much too slobbery and affectionate for that, earning him the disdain of the other members of his pack, who take their duties more seriously. But while dog breeders might disagree, most people would prefer “slobbery and affectionate” to “best in show”; Dug might bomb at Crufts but everyone else will think he's smashing.



(in The Artist)

The notional stars of The Artist are Jean Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo but let's be honest here, they were only playing second fiddle to the dog. He is Jack, the splendid Jack Russell owned by Dujardin's fading silent star George Valentin, and he is as heroic offscreen as his master is on it, saving the day at a critical junction.

He was played by “Uggie”, whose passing last year was met by genuine sadness. Dujardin might have copped the Oscar but we all know who it was really meant for.