From a neorealist classic to American independent cinema and animated films, The Bark presents a list of favorite dog movies featuring a prominent canine character or storyline. These films—both domestic and foreign—explore familial bonds, rites of passage and, of course, love. All of these films are suitable for the whole family, though check online descriptions to learn more about the adult-oriented themes contained in some.
Umberto D. (1952)
This is one of the greatest films of all time and a classic masterpiece by the Italian director, Vittorio De Sica. A retiree, played by a 70-year-old Carlo Battisti in his only acting role, finds that the bond he has with his dog, Flike, keeps him tethered to his own fading life. In fact, the dog shows him why he must continue to live. As Roger Ebert summarized it: “Umberto loves the dog and the dog loves him because that is the nature of the bond between dogs and men, and both try to live up to their side of the contract.” (A French version of this film, Mon Chien Un Homme et Son Chien starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, was released in 2008.)
Available on iTunes, Prime, Kanopy, Daily Motion.
GET THE BARK NEWSLETTER IN YOUR INBOX!
Sign up and get the answers to your questions.
Old Yeller (1957)
A classic Disney coming-of-age tale set in the post-Civil War frontier. His father away on a cattle drive, young Travis must act as the man of the house, watching over his mother and younger brother. He initially mistrusts the stray yellow dog who wreaks havoc and steals food, but the dog wins his affection and proves his loyalty by battling bears and boars to protect his new family. The tragic conclusion has overwhelmed generations of viewers, and the themes of love and loss resonate as clearly today as they did when the film was first released.
Available on YouTube, iTunes, Disney+, Prime.
Let’s not mince words: This story of a black sharecropper family in the 1930s and their trusted dog, Sounder, is a four-hanky tearjerker, but one that is devoid of mawkish sentiment. A great hunter and loyal companion, Sounder is affectionate, joyful and the pride of the family. With amazing performances by Paul Winfield, Cicely Tyson and the young Kevin Hooks, this film—which was nominated for four Oscars—is a powerful story not only about racism and injustice, but also about how a family deals with insurmountable obstacles and sustains hope, as represented by their dog, Sounder.
Available on Sling, Prime.
My Life as a Dog (1985)
A Swedish drama (Mitt Liv Som Hund) directed by Lasse Hallström (Cider House Rules). Released in American cinemas in 1987 with English subtitles, it is based on the second book in a semi-autobiographical trilogy by Reidar Jönsson. It tells the story of Ingemar, a young boy sent to live with relatives during a time of family illness and upheaval. He survives a difficult childhood by comparing himself to those who are worse off—such as Laika, the little Russian space dog who was rocketed to her death. A friendly uncle and aunt provide the boy some joy and understanding, as does a neighbor girl he befriends. Later, when the hardships mount, he drops to all fours and barks like a dog as a way of coping. Despite the film’s title, dogs are more symbolic than a literal presence in this sweet, tender story of childhood.
Available on YouTube, Prime, Kanopy.
Everyone knows that this is one of the two seminal movies about a smart pig, so you might wonder what it’s doing on this list. Piglet Babe has aspirations to be a sheepdog, and is coached along by a real Border Collie, Fly, which earns it a well-deserved spot. Besides, it’s one of the best movies ever made about animals. All the animals are beautifully crafted and fully realized characters, and James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett puts in a memorable performance, especially in the scene in which he takes Babe to the herding trial. The pair goes on to prove to one and all that you can do just about anything if you put your mind (and snout) to it. As he gently intones to Babe at the film’s end, “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”
Available on YouTube, iTunes, Prime, Hulu.
My Dog Skip (2000)
Based upon a memoir by Willie Morris, one-time editor of Harper’s magazine, My Dog Skip takes place in 1942. Young Willie has few friends and faces the prospect of a lonely summer until his mother decides that her son needs a dog. Skip changes Willie’s life forever. Best friend, talented performer, endearing dog-about-town, Skip introduces Willie to new worlds, new friends—seemingly, the whole town. Moose (who played “Eddie” on the TV series Fraser) steals the film with his lively portrayal of Skip.
Available on YouTube, iTunes, Prime, Vudu.
Because of Winn-Dixie (2005)
One summer, a lonely 10-year-old named Opal, abandoned by her mother when she was only three, finds a large scruffy dog at the Winn-Dixie supermarket. With the help of the dog (whom she names after the market), she discovers another way to explore the world and her community, and to come out of her shell. Also because of Winn Dixie, her father, played by Jeff Daniels, agrees to tell her 10 things about her missing mother. Inspired by her attachment to her dog, Opal learns many things that summer.
Available on YouTube, iTunes, Disney+, Prime.
The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005)
This quasi-documentary film focuses on a nomadic Mongolian family—father, mother, three small children—and the impact made upon them by a stray puppy. The acting by six-year-old Nansalmaa Batchuluun is remarkable. As The Bark’s reviewer, Edward Guthmann, noted, “This is one of the great joys of the movie-lover: to see a soul revealed, to witness a blending of part and actor so complete that we can’t distinguish where one emerges and the other disappears.” This is a revelatory story about a culture in transition and the universality of the strength of the human-canine bond. See The Bark’s interview with the director, Byambasuren Davaa.
Available on Netflix, Tubi, Kanopy.
My Dog Tulip (2009)
This animated full-length feature film was adapted from J.R. Ackerley’s startling 1956 memoir that then, and even now, has a way of evoking either displeasure or intense admiration among its readers. Award-winning filmmakers Paul and Sandra Fierlinger codirected this film, and did an artful job in bringing this eloquent study in love and adaptation to the screen. With the voices of Christopher Plummer, Isabella Rossellini and Lynn Redgrave, this inimitable story of a man’s love for his dog showcases Ackerley’s determined efforts to ensure an existence of perfect happiness for his Alsatian, Tulip.
Available on Netflix, Prime.
Christopher Plummer won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of both a devoted dog “father” and dad to a human son. This charming, true-to-life movie costars Ewan McGregor as the son, and showcases a remarkable performance by Cosmo, the Jack Russell Terrier who steals each scene. An understated story of self-discovery, life and love. Based on director Mike Mills’ own life and father. See our interviews with Ewan McGregor and Cosmo’s trainer, Mathilde De Cagny.
Available on YouTube, iTunes, Prime.
Vera Farmiga plays Laura, a well-meaning single mother who is forced to drive her estranged pot-dealing father, Jack (Christopher Plummer), from Texas to California, with her troubled son Henry and a scruffy rescue dog along for the ride. Laura’s penchant for rescuing dogs and cats is evidence of her big heart; they also fill in for her dysfunctional family. During the Pacific Coast road trip, family issues are confronted, and somewhat resolved. This likeable but uneven effort makes our list for its embrace of rescue dogs and insights into father-daughter conflicts.
Available on YouTube, Prime, Hulu.
Based on the real-life heroics of the famous 1925 serum run from Anchorage to Nome, across the Alaskan tundra. Part of a long-distance relay, Leonhard Seppala and his team of sled dogs, led by Togo, race against time to deliver the antitoxin needed to combat a deadly diphtheria outbreak. The film rises to the challenge of its subject matter thanks to skilled direction, magnificent vistas and a solid performance by Willem Dafoe as Seppala. Togo, the undersized, 12-year-old dog who ran nearly half of the brutal 674-mile marathon mission, is the well-deserved star of the film. Family fare that engages the whole family.
Available on Disney+.