Have you ever noticed that the rectangular film frame is less suited to the human body shape than to the four-legged format of the dog?
That’s right: cinema was made for dogs. But some dog breeds make more movies than others. From the canine celebrity Rin Tin Tin to the uncanny CGI of Cruella and Call of the Wild, it feels like German Shepherds, Dalmatians, and Saint Bernards are better represented than other ‘makes’ of dog. But is this really the case? Or do they just do more PR?
Protect My Paws used IMDb data to identify the breeds that appear in the most films and TV shows of the past century-and-a-bit. We found some stuff that will change what you thought you knew about dogs in movies.
Today we present our guide to the Michael Caines and Samuel L. Jacksons of the canine world: the dog breeds that never turn down a role.
The German Shepherd Appears in More Movies Than Any Other Breed
With the dependability of a four-legged James Stewart and the ruggedness of a young Steven Seagal, the mighty German Shepherd is the canine king of Hollywood. German Shepherds – also known as Alsatians – have collected nearly twice as many credits as the second most active dog breed, the bulldog.
The Saint Bernard tends to be a limelight grabber with its James Belushi-esque presence in pictures such as Beethoven and Daddy Daycare. But nine other breeds, including the poodle and the Chihuahua, have more films to their name. And the Dalmatian? Since we counted number of films, not number of dogs, the Dalmatian is two movies short of achieving 101 credits, and does not even make the top 10.
Cinema’s ‘Funny Dogs’ dominate 1930s, ‘40s, ‘50s
How have audiences’ preferences for dog talent changed over the years? Well, the original Alsatian superstar, Rin Tin Tin, racked up the credits during the ‘Rinty’ craze of the 1920s. But his descendants and namesakes worked with only sporadic success.
It was not until the 1960s that the German Shepherd became the most-cast breed once again. The long-beaked hound was spotted in seminal zombie flick Night of the Living Dead (1968) and arthouse classic The Diary of a Chambermaid (1964), among more than 50 titles in the 1960s. But his most iconic role was as The Littlest Hobo, a homeless dog who walks the Earth solving problems for strangers.
The German Shepherd has dominated every period since the 1960s. But Hollywood’s golden age was an era of bulldogs. This wrinkle-faced bruiser can claim 34 titles in both the 1940s and the 1950s. The bulldog played alongside Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis (1944) and raised laughs with Abbott and Costello and the Three Stooges. But most of the bulldog’s golden age credits are due to appearances in cartoons, particularly as Spike – a canine foil to Tom and Jerry.
That just leaves a surprise winner for the 1930s: the dachshund, or wiener dog. Why a surprise? Because the dachshund is clearly a better fit for either widescreen or CinemaScope, and neither were commonplace until the 1950s. Sure, there was a role in Hitchcock’s Secret Agent and all-star drama Grand Hotel – but most of the wiener dog’s 1930s roles came from cartoons. While bulldogs tickled 1950s audiences, in the 1930s people found dachshunds hilarious.
Sheepdog Breed Is Most Critically Acclaimed Dog
Next, we used Metacritic to find the average rating each dog breed has across their whole back catalog. From this perspective, finally the German Shepherd’s Hollywood crown starts to look wonky. With an average rating of 56.5, the German Shepherd is only the 14th most critically acclaimed dog breed.
But the critic’s darling, our lifetime achievement nominee, is the border collie. As sharp as Joan Crawford, as tenacious as Sigourney Weaver, as adorable as Heath Ledger, the border collie picks their roles carefully. Choice cuts include supporting parts in Babe (1995) and The Lobster (2015), while the collie has also played the ‘quintessential dog’ in dog movies, including A Dog Year (2009), Hotel for Dogs (2007), and Duke (2012).
As a final note, never see a film with a Yorkshire terrier in it. With an average rating of 36.3, they are all stinkers.
The Start of a Beautiful Friendship
This year was a big year for dogs in movies. The coveted Palm Dog (the canine answer to the prestigious Cannes Palme d’Or) was won not by one but three springer spaniels. All three belong with their co-star, the actor Tilda Swinton, who didn’t win a thing.
Could Rose, Dora, and Snowbear usher in a new era of springer spaniel domination in Hollywood? Could multiple dogs in the billing mean cinema is finally shaping up to fulfill its destiny – as a medium for actors who are longer than they are tall and who shout their lines in short, loud bursts, like furry Al Pacinos?
Our initial list of dog breeds was compiled using Dogtime.com. Each dog breed was then looked up on IMDB custom search engine in two variations: with and without “dog,” e.g., “German Shepherd” and “German Shepherd dog,” recording a total number of unique titles (films and tv series), as well as their year of release, and their Metascore, where available.
Dog breeds with the highest number of unique titles they appeared in were deemed the most popular. Dog breeds with the highest average Metascore of the titles they appeared in were deemed the highest rated.
Data was collected in July 2020.