Simply the beast: 18 of the greatest dog sidekicks in pop culture – The A.V. Club

The W.C. Fields adage warning against working with children or animals is solid advice, mostly—but pop culture (and history) has also proven that dogs have more than earned their place as man’s best friend, becoming as integral to our existence as work and play. They listen to us whine and offer slobbery consolation after a bad day, frequently while protecting us. Dogs are our companions, confidantes, and occasionally, even our consciences.

This weekend, the box office is going to the dogs, as John Wick: Chapter 3—Parabellum and A Dog’s Journey hit theaters. The films couldn’t be more different, but the four-legged friends are stalwart nonetheless, one going as far as to watch over a family across generations. To mark the occasion, The A.V. Club is handing out treats to the canine sidekicks of film and TV.


1. Pit bull in John Wick franchise

For the most part, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) doesn’t need help taking down the bad guys—for that he needs guns, lots of guns. But the beautiful, serene pit bull he adopts on the spot at the end of the first film is still integral to John’s ongoing survival. Not only does the unnamed dog (a male dog in the film’s world, but played in part by a female pittie named ChaCha, wonderfully enough) keep up with John when he’s fleeing a whole city of assassins at the end of John Wick: Chapter 2, but the canine also provides an important source of emotional support for a man who sees his number of friends rapidly dwindle throughout the franchise. As the steely-eyed hypercompetent assassin himself states in the trailer for Chapter 3: Parabellum, his rampage isn’t just about a dog (not the pit bull, but the puppy killed by Theon Greyjoy in John Wick), but given just how dedicated this particular doggo is, it might as well be. The dog even wins over the very cool concierge at The Continental, a place that is definitely not dog-friendly. [Danette Chavez]


2. Hooch of Turner & Hooch

It’s long been established that dogs make excellent traveling buddies and sidekicks, but in 1989, there were two different lone-wolf cops who resisted the hairy lure on the big screen. The second of the cop-and-pooch action capers to be released that year (the other being K-9), Turner & Hooch stars Tom Hanks as ambitious police investigator Scott Turner, who winds up working with Hooch, a dogue de Bordeaux, after the latter’s owner is killed on the order of a seafood magnate. Hooch isn’t admitted into the dog police academy, but as a material witness to a crime, he still manages to sniff out a few leads in addition to disrupting Turner’s orderly life. They establish a grudging respect, which is par for this particular course, but Turner & Hooch’s bittersweet ending sets it apart from K-9 and Top Dog (well, aside from starring Hanks, who earned his first Oscar nomination the year Turner & Hooch was released). [Danette Chavez]


3. Jerry Lee, K-9

He’s a dog who plays by his own rules! Eight years before Poochy put the nail in the coffin of canines whose attitude is so “in your face,” the film K-9 attempted to make a wiseass police dog America’s newest obsession. (It kinda worked: The film grossed almost $80 million.) Made back when a film could actually use the phrase “starring James Belushi” as a marketing tactic to bring people into the theater, the movie followed San Diego police detective Michael Dooley (Belushi, natch) as he gets paired up with a police dog against his will while trying to bring down a drug kingpin who has marked him for execution. Faster than you can say, “Crap, I thought we bought a ticket for Turner & Hooch,” Dooley and his new German shepherd companion, Jerry Lee, are bonding over fast food and drug-bust stakeouts. Complete with a happy ending set in a hospital where a surgeon operates on the animal and saves his life, the film turns him into enough of a star that The Washington Post’s review could say with a straight face that the dog is “a four-legged Burt Reynolds, just made for fast cars and chase scenes.” [Alex McLevy]


4. Max, How The Grinch Stole Christmas

Robbing an entire town of all its Christmas stuff is a big undertaking; even if you’re a crafty misanthrope like the Grinch in the original (and perfect) 1966 Chuck Jones cartoon, you need some backup. Fortunately for our green frenemy, he has Max, a delightful canine companion filled with both loyalty and valor. Such is Max’s devotion that he gamely attempts to impersonate eight reindeer and pull an immense sleigh filled with stolen gifts up a mountain. But unlike the Grinch himself, Max is not at all bad-spirited—just committed to helping his master out. After all, Max seems even happier than the transformed Grinch to bring all the toys and gifts back to Whoville. His special place at the Who holiday dinner table is deservedly earned, and Max kept his sidekick status in additional productions like the (lesser) 2000 and 2018 Grinch movies. [Gwen Ihnat]


5. Reno, Top Dog

San Diego cop Jake Wilder (Chuck Norris) isn’t looking for a human partner, let alone a shaggy police dog who, after being injured in the line of duty, is the toast of the town. For much of Top Dog, a 1995 buddy-cop action comedy directed by Norris’ younger brother, Aaron Norris, Jake vies with Reno, a Briard mix with a nose for trouble, for that titular honor. It’s a one-sided battle, though, as Reno (who’s played by Betty the dog of the 1993 Dennis The Menace film) is just trying to cope with losing his first partner to some Neo-Nazis who are planning a terrorist attack on a summit to promote unity in this country. The partners’ oil-and-water mix is reminiscent of K-9 and Turner & Hooch, which, along with a real-life domestic terror attack (the Oklahoma City bombing) that occurred around the time of Top Dog’s release, doomed the film to obscurity. But that doesn’t diminish Reno’s great work alongside Jake, taking down white supremacists while Ian Lewis’ “Bad Boys” plays over the soundtrack. [Danette Chavez]


6. Porkchop, Doug

Like many introverted kids, Doug Funnie’s still waters contain a wildly inventive imagination, the kind that sends him on all kinds of adventures from the safety of his home and may even explain why his dog, Porkchop, thinks he’s people. To wit: Porkchop communicates via pantomime, barking, and everything short of human speech; he’s frequently upright, whether standing or sitting on a couch; he also has his own Walkman and bachelor pad. He is, above all else, a great companion to Doug—game for anything and useful in all manner of settings, including a dive into a horror movie. Their dynamic (and appearances) resembles that of Charlie Brown and Snoopy, down to the middle-aged-man hairlines for the kids and separate adventures for the pooches. [Danette Chavez]


7. Jack, The Artist

America briefly fell in love with Uggie, the dog who plays the canine companion Jack in the silent film The Artist, during the movie’s awards-season campaign in early 2012. (Showing up and being adorable on the Golden Globes red carpet will go a long way toward capturing hearts and minds.) The film follows the fall of silent film actor George Valentin, who sees his star capsize during the advent of talkies, while his former protégé Peppy Miller transitions smoothly into the new era of sound. George is rarely without his pint-size pet, as Jack accompanies him to film premieres, meals, and more. But Jack’s true value is revealed when George, in a fit of depression, sets fire to all his treasured film stock, and Jack rushes out to bring a policeman to the rescue and save his master from dying of smoke inhalation. In that moment, Jack goes from cutesy purveyor of tricks and snuggles to miniature hero—in a film that can be powerfully cloying, Uggie’s Jack remains endearing. [Alex McLevy]


8. Fly, Babe

When Fly and Babe first meet in Babe, they’re both filling a need for each other: Babe has just been taken from his family, and Fly’s litter of adorable puppies is about to be sold. The two form an instant familial bond to help Babe adjust to life on the Hoggett farm, and Babe soon starts calling Fly “Mom.” To prevent Babe from becoming a “nice sweet meat,” Fly soon becomes his champion, encouraging his sheep-pig ambitions, even though this leads to a brutal fight with Rex. She’s also the one who stops Farmer Hoggett from killing Babe when he mistakenly believes the pig killed one of the sheep; and she kicks off the search party to find Babe when he runs away after his disturbing discovery that pigs are usually turned into food. Really, Fly is more like the best mother ever than a sidekick—an invaluable companion nonetheless. [Gwen Ihnat]


9. Dog, The Road Warrior

Calling Max (Mel Gibson), the gruff hero of the Mad Max series, a “man of few words” would be a severe understatement. So perhaps it’s appropriate that his most constant companion is a dog, a blue heeler efficiently named Dog. In the film, Dog is a badass just like his human, keeping watch over their captive in the backseat of Max’s car with a bone in his mouth that’s tied to a loaded gun. One jerk of Dog’s head, and blammo! But in real life, Dog was a gentle pup who was afraid of cars—a bit of an issue on a Mad Max movie—and kept licking the actor that the script called for him to attack, forcing the actor to come up with a “game” where Dog chewed up his scarf, creating the illusion of attack. Dog was rescued from an RSPCA shelter the day he was scheduled to be euthanized, making him a bit of a survivor himself, and was later adopted by one of the film’s stunt performers to live out the rest of his doggie days. [Katie Rife]


10. Einstein, Back To The Future

Yes, technically Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) is experimenting on his pet, a scruffy sheepdog named Einstein, at the beginning of Back To The Future (1985). But, to be fair, he did take all the necessary safety precautions before sitting Einstein inside that famous Delorean to take a trip one minute into the future, including making him a custom doggie radiation vest to protect him from the black-market plutonium that powers the machine. Doc even designed Einstein, who later accompanied his human friends to the future in Back To The Future Part 2, an automatic feeding machine so Einie never had to go without his favorite canned food—an expression of true devotion if we’ve ever heard one. And Doc’s always been a dog person, as we learn when we meet his previous pup, a terrier named Copernicus, back in 1955. [Katie Rife]


11. Asta, The Thin Man movies

For fabulous fashionable detecting couple Nick and Nora Charles, there’s no better companion than their adorable wire-haired terrier, Asta. When we meet Nora (Myrna Loy) in the first of the six Thin Man movies, she’s being dragged along by Asta, who’s trying to sniff out his beloved master, Nick (William Powell), in a series of gin houses. The management makes a feeble attempt to toss Asta out of the bar Nick’s finally found in, but no chance—the dog stays. Asta wasn’t the fiercest guard dog, often cutely hiding under blankets when trouble arose, as it so often did around Mr. and Mrs. Charles. But he still had a nose for sniffing out corpses, with Nick enthusing that Asta should have been a police dog. Fans of Asta could also find his portrayer, Skippy, in a few Cary Grant classics: a finder of dinosaur bones in Bringing Up Baby and the subject of a custody battle in The Awful Truth. [Gwen Ihnat]


12. Samantha, I Am Legend

As the lone (human) inhabitant of a plague-ravaged Manhattan, I Am Legend’s Dr. Robert Neville (Will Smith) works tirelessly to reverse the mutation that changed the global population into vicious, vampiric beings, as well as cling to his humanity. He gets help on both fronts from Samantha, the brave German shepherd he relies on while on supply runs—she’s Robert’s last tie to the living, aside from the hope of changing everyone back. But even four-legged stalwarts get freaked out by the incessant shrieking of the mutated, which leads to some sweet bonding scenes in which Robert soothes Sam at night by singing Bob Marley songs. A dog that watches your back around bloodthirsty beings and shares your musical tastes? Truly, there’s no better companion for the end of the world.[Danette Chavez]


13. Milo, The Mask

Animal actors can be just as moody as human ones, if not more so. (In fact, we have an entire Inventory on that very subject.) But Max, the 5-year-old Jack Russell terrier who played Stanley Ipkiss’ canine companion, Milo, in The Mask, reportedly matched his human co-star in enthusiasm on set—no small feat if the co-star in question is Jim Carrey. According to a contemporary writeup in Entertainment Weekly, Carrey and Max fed off of each others’ energy while filming the movie, like the time when Max spontaneously jumped in to a scene to wrestle a Frisbee from Carrey’s hands. That scene made it into the final cut of the film, and the rapport between the two is obvious as Max/Milo stays close behind his human throughout the movie, going so far as to sleep in the alley behind the jail when Stanley is arrested and don the mask himself for some canine heroism in the film’s climactic scene. [Katie Rife]


14. Blood, A Boy And His Dog

Normally, if your dog starts telepathically communicating with you, let alone makes fun of you, that means your troubles are just beginning. But in A Boy And His Dog, the 1976 sci-fi oddity based on a novella by Harlan Ellison, the good-natured needling the “Boy” of the title, teenage scavenger Vic (Don Johnson), gets from his dusty sheepdog pal, Blood (Tim McIntire), is the only thing keeping him alive. The curmudgeonly Blood not only educates the ungrateful Vic in the historical events that led them to their current post-apocalyptic predicament, but he also helps the sex-obsessed Vic by literally sniffing out female companionship for him—not the most progressive objective, but one does what one must on the wastelands, we suppose. It’s when he ignores Blood’s advice that things get truly hairy for Vic, leading to a madcap escape that culminates with a final twist that’s shocking, sick—and kind of touching, in its own demented way. [Katie Rife]


15. Dug, Up

While most cinematic dogs simply earn their plaudits for running around and being cute, Pixar’s animated canine in Up stands out by virtue of responding to the command, “Speak,” with a chipper, “Hi there!” Yes, the technologically advanced collar secured around the neck of Dug, a golden retriever, allows for a new level of humor and heart to the human-animal relationship in the film. When Carl (Ed Asner) and a plucky young Wilderness Explorer Russell (Jordan Nagai) find themselves transported to the fictional South American landscape near “Paradise Falls,” they’re greeted by Dug, a happy-go-lucky dog who’s been sent out by his master, Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer), to track down a rare giant bird. Through the course of the film, Dug wins over the heart of the crotchety Carl, eventually being adopted by the senior citizen—and, as we see in the closing credits, having a litter of little puppies of his own. No need to wear the Cone Of Shame ever again. [Alex McLevy]


16. Sandy, Annie

The redheaded moppet at the center of Annie is a bit of a shaggy-dog character herself, so it’s only fitting that she have an equally ragged sidekick. In the original musical, Annie is forced to give away her beloved mutt, Sandy, when the Hooverville (a.k.a. street encampment) where she’s been hiding out is raided, but in all three film versions, Sandy stays by Annie’s side throughout her adventures. The 1982 version adds a musical number where Fifi, Champion, Tiger, and Rover are all suggested—and summarily dismissed—as potential names for the mutt Annie rescues from a dogcatcher on the streets of New York City, while later films see Annie officially adopting the pup from a shelter after getting her lucky break with Daddy Warbucks. The type of dog that plays Sandy has also evolved over different versions of the story, going from an otterhound named Bingo in the 1982 film to a more modern, streamlined golden-chow mix named Marti for the 2014 reboot. No matter the version, though, Sandy’s main personality trait is his loyalty—and his patience, keeping his cool while being manhandled by equally adorable orphans. [Katie Rife]


17. Toto, The Wizard Of Oz

When Dorothy Gale (Judy Garland) lands in the magical land of Oz via a mysterious tornado, she fortunately has a faithful companion in her basket: her beloved Toto. Though only a small cairn terrier, Toto (in reality, a female dog named Terry) is able to stand up to the Wicked Witch (Margaret Hamilton)—inviting the near-constant refrain “and your little dog, too!”—and even makes sure of the witch’s demise by sniffing out what’s left of her after she melts. Toto also performs the vital function of exposing the man behind the curtain to show that the Wizard (Frank Morgan) is actually a charlatan. Sure, you could point out that it’s Toto who gets Dorothy in trouble with Witch counterpart Miss Gulch in the first place, and prevents Dorothy’s Oz exit via balloon due to a distracting cat. But Dorothy makes it home anyway, vowing never to leave it again, and in the last shot of the movie, she’s still got the loyal Toto in her arms. [Gwen Ihnat]


18. Brain, Inspector Gadget

An operative as incompetent as Inspector Gadget requires not one, but two sources of backup. His wunderkind niece, Penny, rightly gets a lot of the credit for ensuring his survival against all Inspector Gadget-created odds, but she’s only able to do so with considerable help from her canine sidekick, Brain. A master of disguise and among the most stout-hearted of cartoon dogs, Brain regularly places himself in great danger to throw the bad guys, i.e., the MAD syndicate, off the real Inspector’s scent by posing as the bumbling cyborg. Brain’s never cracked under interrogation or questioned working under someone who’d trip over his own shoes if they didn’t auto-lace. He also still makes for an amiable companion for young Penny, who could use some stability in her life given who her uncle is. [Danette Chavez]

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