As the new romantic comedy “Dog Days” arrives in theaters, here’s a look at 20 of cinema’s greatest tail waggers. And since no one enjoys seeing anything bad happen to a pooch on screen, you’ll find a handy Doggo Sadness Meter at the end of each entry to help avoid unnecessary heartbreak. — Matthew Chernov
20) Matisse from “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” (1986)
This highly neurotic Border Collie from Paul Mazursky’s brilliant social satire was such a good boy that he eventually reprised his role in a misguided TV version that aired on Fox a year later. In one of the film’s funniest sequences, Matisse’s eating disorder is treated by a doggy psychologist who diagnoses him as having “nipple anxiety.” Portrayed by a talented pup named Mike, whose piercing blue eyes and single floppy ear helped earn him a long and distinguished career in front of the camera, Matisse remains one of the biggest scene stealers of the ‘80s.
Doggo Sadness Level: Nothing at all to worry about.
19) Chief from “Isle of Dogs” (2018)
Proving that dogs don’t have to be made of flesh, blood, and fur to be memorable, Bryan Cranston gave voice to a gallant alpha mutt named Chief in Wes Anderson’s dazzling stop-motion animation comedy “Isle of Dogs.” Exiled to a dystopian island off the cost of Japan, Chief is initially suspicious and fearful of humans, but a well-needed bath – plus a few tasty treats – helps him overcome his prickly attitude, revealing the hero that was hiding within him all along.
Doggo Sadness Level: Several animated dogs are threatened and injured during the film’s intense sequences, which might bother some viewers.
Fox Searchlight Pictures/Moviestore
18) Asta from “The Thin Man” (1934)
Every good detective needs a faithful sidekick, and Asta, the rambunctious wire fox terrier co-star of this classic Dashiell Hammett adaptation, is one of the all-time best. Played by a canine thespian named Skippy, Asta is graced with sleuthing abilities that often put his inebriated owners to shame. Whether he’s discovering recently murdered bodies, sniffing out hidden firearms, or cowering under a table with a paw over his eyes, Asta is a lovable crime fighter who proved so popular with audiences that he returned for five “Thin Man” sequels.
Doggo Sadness Level: Even the most sensitive dog lovers will have no problem watching this movie.
17) Puffy from “There’s Something About Mary” (1998)
If there’s one thing you can say about Puffy, the tougher-than-leather Border Terrier in the Farrelly brothers’ gross-out romantic comedy, it’s this: He takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Though the Puffster ends up in an outrageous full-body cast by the end of the movie, he somehow manages to survive a drugging, an electrocution, a fall from a balcony window, and a sloppy make out session with Lin Shaye.
Doggo Sadness Level: Absolutely nothing to worry about here. Though Puffy gets his furry butt kicked repeatedly, it’s all in the service of slapstick.
16) “White Dog” (1982)
Five snow-white German Shepherds portrayed the unnamed dog at the center of director Sam Fuller’s controversial shocker about the insidious effects of racism on a canine mind. Filled with ground-level tracking shots that put viewers directly inside the fearsome beast’s head, “White Dog” was shelved by Paramount Pictures when the NAACP threatened to publicly boycott the movie due to its disturbing themes and violent imagery. In truth, however, Fuller brilliantly used the conflict within the dog’s fractured psyche as a metaphor for America’s longstanding racial problems.
Doggo Sadness Level: The film’s deeply pessimistic climax will be difficult for some viewers to handle, but its message couldn’t be more powerful or important.
15) Shithead in “The Jerk” (1979)
Steven Martin’s memorably mangy mutt does a lot of hilariously silly things during Carl Reiner’s classic comedy, but blocking the comedian’s naked nether regions might take the cake. Disloyal, grouchy, and fond of wearing baseball hats and sunglasses, Shithead earns his raunchy name when he inadvertently alerts Martin’s neighbors of a nonexistent apartment fire.
Doggo Sadness Level: You’ll cry from laughing too hard.
14) Blood from “A Boy and His Dog” (1975)
Actor Tim McIntire provided the voice for a talking floof named Blood in this delightfully surreal tale about a horny scavenger and his telepathic canine companion who wander through a post-apocalyptic wasteland in search of food and sex. Hearing the film’s sarcastic dialogue emanating from the mind of a Bearded Collie provides the movie with a welcome jolt of insanity. But it’s the palpable chemistry between Vic (played by a 26-year old Don Johnson) and Blood that makes this trippy sci-fi adventure such a counterculture classic.
Doggo Sadness Level: There’s a scene near the end that might have you reaching for tissues, but stick around for the delicious final twist.
Courtesy of LQ/JAF Productions
13) Hooch in “Turner & Hooch” (1989)
In Hollywood, doggos and detectives go hand in paw. From to the drug-sniffing German Shepherd in the action comedy “K-9” to Chuck Norris’s shaggy partner in “Top Dog,” police pooches have long been popular with audiences. Heck, even Dirty Harry owned a gassy bulldog named Meathead in “Sudden Impact.” But when it comes to sheer animal magnetism, few pups compare to the drooling French Mastiff who teams up with a neurotic detective played by Tom Hanks in this amiable buddy comedy.
Doggo Sadness Level: Things take a tragic turn during the film’s climax, resulting in a scene that’s guaranteed to make you bawl your eyes out.
12) “Shiloh” (1996)
Many of the movies on this list are based on acclaimed books, and this story about a mistreated beagle who bonds with a lonely boy is one of the sweetest. Adapted from Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Newbery-winning children’s novel, “Shiloh” occasionally plays like a younger cousin to the masterful “Old Yeller.” But the floppy-eared cutie that we meet on screen in this film is a true original. A good-natured sequel was released three years later.
Doggo Sadness Level: Director Dale Rosenbloom shoots the scenes of animal abuse and mistreatment with expert care, but there’s no denying that they’re difficult to watch.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Family Entertainment
11) “Cujo” (1983)
Seamlessly blending five canine performers, a costumed human actor, and an animatronic puppet head, director Lewis Teague brought the title character of Stephen King’s bestselling thriller to life in this ferocious film adaptation. Though he’s one of the most terrifying dogs ever depicted on screen, Cujo is much more complex than just a mindless killer. Bitten by a rabid bat while chasing a bunny in a field, the massive St. Bernard slowly transforms from a loving and faithful companion to an unstoppable murder machine. That extra dose of tragedy helps make the movie so memorable.
Doggo Sadness Level: The painful effects of the rabies virus on Cujo will make you wince in sympathy, but by the end of the movie you’ll be ready for him to meet his maker.
10) Buddy in “Air Bud” (1997)
Imagine Lebron James in the body of a lovable golden retriever and you’ll get an idea why Buddy – a.k.a. Air Bud – makes the list. When his kennel accidentally falls off the back of his mean owner’s truck, Buddy eventually teams up with a lonely 12-year old boy who’s in need of a few varsity basketball lessons. This sports-themed Disney film proved so popular that it spawned four direct sequels that find Buddy excelling at football, soccer, baseball, and volleyball.
Doggo Sadness Level: Several scenes of mild animal cruelty might make some people cringe.
Kharen Hill/Walt Disney/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
9) “Beethoven” (1992)
An accident-prone St. Bernard brings comedic chaos to Charles Grodin’s orderly life in this box office hit written by John Hughes under a pseudonym. To play the slobbering Beethoven, the producers tapped a 185-pound good boy named Kris, who proved to be so skilled at taking direction, he reprised the title role in the first of five sequels. Celebrating its place in dog film history, the movie’s official trailer included vintage clips of Lassie, Rin-Tin-Tin, and Toto from “The Wizard of Oz.”
Doggo Sadness Level: A subplot about a villainous veterinarian leads to some disturbing scenes of dogs in danger, which might cause anxiety in sensitive viewers.
8) Arthur from “Beginners” (2011)
Apologies to Uggie, the talented canine co-star of “The Artist,” but the top floof actor of 2011 was definitely Cosmo, the adorable Jack Russell terrier who played Arthur in the sensitive indie comedy “Beginners.” Sharing a wonderfully warm chemistry with both Christopher Plummer and Ewan McGregor, Arthur is able to silently communicate with the audience using his soulful eyes, his expressive tail, and the clever subtitles that let us in on his surprisingly deep thoughts.
Doggo Sadness Level: Some bittersweet emotion, but nothing you can’t handle.
7) The Beast in “The Sandlot” (1993)
This gargantuan English Mastiff is easily the most misunderstood pooch in cinema history. Known to the terrified neighborhood kids as the Beast, he’s actually a good natured giant named Hercules who looks much scarier than he really is. A playful twist on the stereotypical junkyard dog, the Beast eventually dons a baseball cap and jersey and becomes a mascot for the local sandlot team. In the film’s direct-to-video sequel, his ginormous puppy Goliath takes over the job for him.
Doggo Sadness Level: Seeing the Beast pinned beneath a toppled fence might cause some viewers distress, but rest assured that he gets rescued quickly.
20th Century Fox/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
6) “Old Yeller” (1957)
Walt Disney’s “Old Yeller” is the boy-and-his-dog story by which all others are judged. When his father accepts a job on a long-distance cattle drive, teenage Travis Coates is forced to run the family ranch with his mother and younger brother. The arrival of a stray mutt in the cornfield seems like a problem at first, but before long the dog sets him on a journey to adulthood that’s as thoughtful as it is heartbreaking. Yeller (so named because of his yellow color) may look like a rather ordinary mixed-breed Retriever, yet inside he’s anything but. Functioning throughout the film like a classic Western hero, the brave dog tangles with raccoons, snakes, bears, wild hogs and wolves, all of it rendered in lavish technicolor.
Doggo Sadness Level: The ultimate tearjerker, with an emotional climax that hits like a punch to the gut.
5) Flealick from “Babe: Pig in the City” (1998)
Though he only has use of his two tiny front legs, this scrappy Jack Russell terrier doesn’t let that stop him from saving the day in George Miller’s dazzling fantasy film. With a tenacity and courage that belies his diminutive size, Flealick clings tightly to a speeding car when the movie’s villains kidnap his animal friends. Thrown violently from the moving vehicle, the indomitable pooch gets up, shakes off the dust, and immediately continues searching for his beloved companions after almost dying. Few movie characters, human or otherwise, are this loyal and inspiring.
Doggo Sadness Level: Did we mention that he almost dies? Thankfully, the key word is “almost.” Keep that spoiler in mind if you’re someone who worries about dogs in movies.
4) Marley in “Marley and Me” (2008)
Based on the bestselling memoir by John Grogan, this charmer about a pair of newlywed journalists whose rambunctious yellow Labrador puppy grows to be a 100-pound force of nature was advertised as a comedy, when in fact it’s very much a warts-and-all look at the challenges of raising a family. More than 20 different labs portrayed the accident-prone Marley, who we see age over the course of many years in the film, and together they help create one of the most fully believable pups on this list.
Doggo Sadness Level: Since it deals honestly and openly with a dog’s natural aging process, the film includes a final euthanasia scene that will leave you emotionally wrecked.
3) Toto in “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)
Small in stature but an icon nonetheless, Toto is much more than just an adorable plot device that sends Dorothy on her way to Oz. As portrayed by a plucky female Cairn terrier named Terry, this minuscule pup is a full-fledged character whose inquisitive personality and expert sense of timing made her a consummate scene-stealer.
Doggo Sadness Level: Nothing tragic here.
2) Lassie in “Lassie Come Home” (1943)
Brave, caring, and surprisingly good at alerting humans to signs of trouble, it’s no wonder that British novelist Eric Knight’s literary creation became an international success. Depicted on screen in 11 feature films and several TV series, Lassie’s finest hour remains her debut movie, the immortal MGM classic “Lassie Come Home” starring Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall. Portrayed throughout the 1940s by a male Rough Collie named Pal, Lassie’s stalwart spirit and gorgeous image continues to captivate viewers almost 80 years after she first appeared in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post.
Doggo Sadness Level: You might shed a tear or two when heartless dog catchers, violent weather conditions, and an arduous trek across England on foot take a painful toll on Lassie.
1) “Benji” (1974)
Independent filmmaker Joe Camp struck box office gold with this timeless G-rated family film about a tiny stray dog whose gentle soul touches everyone around him. What makes the original “Benji” a unique viewing experience is the way that Camp focuses on Benji simply going about his day much of the time. Though a third act kidnapping adds a bit of melodrama late in the story, most of “Benji” is spent carefully observing the charismatic pooch running, playing, eating, and exploring his small Texas town. There’s a feeling of naturalism and sincerity at work here that helps explain why this mischievous mixed-breed mutt holds such a firm place in the hearts of moviegoers around the world.
Doggo Sadness Level: Unlike the recent Netflix reboot that needlessly ups the ante on dog-related trauma, the original film is quite mild, save for one disturbing moment when Benji’s poodle girlfriend gets kicked by a kidnapper.