There are times when you just don’t want to watch something thought provoking or socially important, like Citizen Kane or Schindler’s List. When you settle onto the couch after a long day or during a chilly storm, wrap a blanket around yourself, and move the popcorn a little closer, you’re not always looking for a movie that’ll alter your consciousness or weigh heavily on your mind. Sometimes, what you really need is about ninety minutes of dogs getting into misadventures, learning important life lessons, and being ridiculously adorable along the way. For such occasions, I present you with ten dog-centric movies sure to bring a smile to your face, a tear to your eye, and a burning desire to run to the nearest animal shelter and adopt every puppy in sight.
Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (1993)
This movie might make pet owners think twice about leaving their animals with friends, but it’s still fun to watch. After their owners drop off Shadow, Chance, and Sassy at an unfamiliar house (to go on vacation, but the dogs don’t know that), the animals fear the worst and decide to head back home—which is all the way across the country. Dangerous situations and heartbreaking scenes abound, but the ultrasappy ending makes it all worthwhile.
There have been several sequels, but none compare to the original, starring Charles Grodin as a tense, easily rattled dad named George who reluctantly takes in a St. Bernard puppy after his family falls in love with him. Beethoven quickly becomes the bane of George’s existence as he gets older (and more massive), but he eventually captures the cranky father’s heart.
All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
Burt Reynolds is the voice of Charlie, a street dog who ascends to heaven after being murdered by a gangster dog (stay with me here), only to escape and fall back to Earth to get revenge. He then learns the error of his ways, thanks to a young orphan named Anne-Marie. Shockingly, this tearjerker is marketed toward kids, but adults might appreciate the film’s mature elements even more.
Best in Show (2000)
Though Christopher Guest’s hilarious mockumentary centers on the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, the owners are really the ones on parade. It’s a must-see for all dog lovers out there, who’ve no doubt encountered obsessive owners like the ones in the movie (or who suspect they themselves might fall under the same label).
The Truth About Cats and Dog (1996)
Like Best in Show, this movie is more about humans than about their animal companions, but a dog does play a very important role by bringing two of the main characters together. If Brian’s dog hadn’t been behaving badly, Brian never would’ve called into Abby’s veterinary radio show, and they never would’ve fallen for each other. Many other things happen in between, but the dog—who wears roller skates like a champ—is one of the best parts.
Oliver and Company (1988)
In this film, a group of streetwise dogs (including one sassy Chihuahua, voiced by Cheech Marin) takes in a homeless kitten named Oliver and shows him how to survive in New York City. Oliver the cat is definitely the cutest of the bunch, but Dodger, the sunglasses-sporting leader of the pack, wins everyone over at the end.
Lassie Come Home (1943)
The first in the Lassie series, this movie tells the story of a dog who embarks on a long journey back to her best friend, a young boy named Joe. When Lassie, who later earned a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and Joe are reunited at the end, don’t be surprised if you get a little something in your eye.
Turner and Hooch (1989)
Police officer Scott Turner takes home big, slobbering Hooch after the dog witnesses a murder that Turner’s investigating. They become an ’80s-era Odd Couple, with neat freak Turner playing Felix to the chaotic but charismatic Hooch’s Oscar. The murder plotline is only a side note; the real story is the bond that develops between a man and the dog he didn’t even know he needed.
Lady and the Tramp (1955)
The main reason everyone should see this movie can be summed up in three words: the spaghetti scene. Lady and her canine beau sharing a bowl of spaghetti is easily one of the sweetest moments in cinematic history.
Old Yeller (1957)
Man or woman, old or young, optimist or pessimist—no matter who or what you are, you’re guaranteed to bawl your eyes out while watching this movie. Never was there a more faithful dog than Old Yeller, who sacrificed himself to save his young companion, Travis. I won’t say more than that if you’re not familiar with the movie. Just have a box of tissues handy if and when you do watch it.
Whether they have happy endings or leave you surrounded by wads of Kleenex, these movies reinforce an adage we all know but could stand to be reminded of, especially during tough times: all is right in the world as long as there are dogs in it. If you have trouble believing that, or simply need something to lift your spirits for a couple of hours, look no further than a feel-good, dog-centric flick.