16. John Wick (2014)
Russian mobsters kill Daisy, the beagle puppy left to John Wick by his late wife. The sadness of the puppy death is offset by Wick going on to kill everyone who had anything to do with it, which makes you feel better.
15. I Am Legend (2007)
This third adaptation of Richard Matheson’s 1954 sci-fi classic about the last man alive cravenly misreads the novel’s premise, but grips in its early stages, as Will Smith zooms around a depopulated Manhattan in a red Mustang with Sam, his trusty German shepherd, riding shotgun. Alas, Sam gets bitten by a zombie dog and has to be put down. It’s all downhill from there.
14. Frankenweenie (2012)
Young Victor Frankenstein brings his dead dog Sparky back to life in this Tim Burton animation which is let down by some gratuitous anti-cat propaganda and a cop-out ending that fails to elicit Corpse Bride levels of weeping. Sparky looks like an animated parsnip, but it is hard not to – no pun intended – root for him.
13. Eight Below (2006)
Six Siberian huskies and two malamutes are stranded in Antarctica and have to fend for themselves against the elements (and a scary seal) while Paul Walker tries to find the money to bring them home. Spoiler: not all the dogs make it, but be thankful it isn’t the original Japanese survival drama this was based on, where the canine body count was devastating.
12. Turner and Hooch (1989)
The best of the cop’n’canine buddy subgenre, with Tom Hanks giving a mini masterclass in ad-libbing opposite a jowly, slobbering dogue de Bordeaux, a good boy whose devotion to his human partner ultimately goes above and beyond the call of duty.
11. Fluke (1995)
Matthew Modine dies in a car crash and is reincarnated as a miscoloured golden retriever who gets busted out of Ron Perlman’s cosmetics-testing lab by a streetwise St Bernard-retriever cross called Rumbo, voiced by Samuel L Jackson. Alas, Rumbo takes a bullet during the escape. Source material was a non-horror novel by James Herbert, better known as the author of The Rats and The Fog.
10. Marley & Me (2008)
Journalists Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, so blond and sleek they almost look like labradors themselves, get a labrador pup but fail to train it properly, so it destroys stuff and knocks over Kathleen Turner. Fifteen years and three kids later, it is time for that one last visit to the vet: “You’re a great dog, Marley.” Cue tearful collapse of hitherto sceptical viewer.
9. All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989)
Burt Reynolds provides the voice of a roguish German shepherd called Charlie who is killed by his business partner (a pitbull-bulldog cross) but returns to Earth to rescue an orphan in this noirish Don Bluth animation featuring dogs running casinos – a terrifying vision of hell with an unabashedly sentimental ending.
8. Wendy and Lucy (2008)
Michelle Williams plays a penniless itinerant whose car breaks down in a small Oregon town, where she gets arrested for trying to shoplift a can of dog food for Lucy, her golden-brown mixed breed. The dog doesn’t die in Kelly Reichardt’s achingly sad portrait of the sort of marginal existence you don’t often see in American films, but the film will leave you in bits anyway.
7. My Dog Skip (2000)
A nostalgic but far from rose-tinted memoir about growing up in 1940s Mississippi, where the eponymous jack russell helps a boy overcome his shyness. The money scene for sad-dog-film completists is the one where an ageing, arthritis-suffering Skip (played by Frasier’s Eddie) tries to climb on to a bed, and fails.
6. Umberto D (1952)
For years, I refused to watch Vittorio De Sica’s neorealist masterpiece about a hard-up pensioner evicted from his room in Rome, because I was convinced that Flike, his jack russell, dies at the end. Well, spoiler alert: Flike survives! But it is impossible not to sob your heart out anyway, especially when the poor old geezer tries to find a new home for his beloved pooch.
5. Dean Spanley (2008)
Sam Neill plays a clergyman whose love of Hungarian tokay triggers reminiscences about his past life as a Welsh springer spaniel called Wag in this delightful Edwardian fantasy, adapted from a novella by Anglo-Irish writer Lord Dunsany. It all culminates in father-son reconciliation and a blub-worthy denouement.
4. Lassie Come Home (1943)
Little Roddy McDowall’s parents are so broke they have to sell their rough collie (played by a boy dog called Pal) to a posh aristocrat. But, helped by little Elizabeth Taylor, Lassie escapes and treks from Scotland to Yorkshire, having lots of adventures, one of them involving a loyal but doomed little terrier called Toots.
3. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009)
Richard Gere plays a New England music professor who bonds with an akita pup, with results that go from heartwarming to heartrending. This is the Hollywood version of the story of the loyal dog commemorated by a statue outside Tokyo’s Shibuya station, waiting eternally for the master who will never arrive. A five-Kleenex weepie to rival Futurama’s infamous Jurassic Bark episode.
2. The Plague Dogs (1982)
Like Watership Down, this animated denunciation of man’s inhumane treatment of animals was adapted by Martin Rosen from a Richard Adams novel, and is guaranteed to traumatise not just younger viewers, but many adults as well. Rowf (labrador mix) and Snitter (smooth fox terrier, voiced by John Hurt) escape from a research lab in the Lake District and evade capture with the help of a wily fox. The film sticks with Adams’s original ending, which his publishers persuaded him to rework into something a little more cheerful.
1. Old Yeller (1957)
A stray yellow dog (played by Spike, a labrador retriever and mastiff mix) bonds with a family of farmers in postbellum Texas. After saving its humans from angry bears, wild boars and mad cows, the “best doggone dog in the west” finally gets bitten by a rabid wolf, leading to a tear-jerking conclusion at the business end of a shotgun wielded by little Tommy Kirk. If you have tears, prepare to shed them here.