There’s a saying in Hollywood that you should never work with dogs or kids. But the reality is that plenty of movies star both animals and kids. And not all movies featuring an animal are warm and cuddly. Plenty of horror movies feature animals that have turned on their master, are possessed or, in some cases, out for revenge. The creativity of screenwriters seems to know no ends when it comes to interesting ways of employing animals in movies. So here we look at 10 of the very best movies, to date, starring some type of animal.
10. The Edge (1997)
This action adventure movie stars Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin as two men trapped in the Canadian wilderness after their plane crashes and must survive a grizzly bear that relentlessly pursues them with the intention of having them for dinner. The bear is the focal point of the movie, as Hopkins and Baldwin realize that they cannot just out run the bear but must confront and kill it if they are to survive. With a sharp screenplay written by David Mamet, The Edge is surprising and effective in the way it shows man reduced to his most primal form and what he must do to survive in situations when he is not at the top of the food chain. The scenes with the bear are totally believable. A movie worth watching.
9. Furry Vengeance (2010)
A screwball comedy starring Brendan Fraser in one of his wacky roles, Furry Vengeance features a whole host of animals that are out for revenge against Brendan Fraser’s character after he begins a new housing development in a prime piece of Oregon wilderness. Not wanting their habitat disturbed, the animals, ranging from a bear to a skunk and a raccoon, set out to attack Brendan Fraser at every opportunity in hopes of driving him and his housing development away. Fun in a goofy, slapstick way, Furry Vengeance is the kind of movie the whole family can enjoy on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It co-stars Brooke Shields and a very funny Ken Jeong from The Hangover movies. Plenty of animal hijinks to go around.
8. Gorillas in the Mist (1988)
If you like gorillas, then the Oscar nominated 1988 drama Gorillas in the Mist is for you. It tells the true story of scientist Dian Fossey who went to Africa to study the vanishing mountain gorillas, and later became an ardent conservationist who fought to protect them. Ironically, Dian Fossey’s work would ultimately cost her life. Starring actress Sigourney Weaver in an Oscar nominated performance, Gorillas in the Mist is a solid drama that co-stars as many gorillas as humans. The film is chock full of gorillas large and small, and many real gorillas were used during filming. With a stern warning of how important it is to protect animals and prevent species from going extinct, Gorillas in the Mist is a movie with a message.
7. Eight Below (2006)
This family friendly Disney movie stars the late Paul Walker as an Antarctic explorer who is forced to leave his team of sled dogs to fend for themselves when brutal cold threatens his life. In truth, Paul Walker has more of a supporting role in this movie, which focuses for long stretches on the sled dogs and the steps they take to survive in an inhospitable climate at the ends of the earth. And the nice thing about this movie is that it does not have the animals talking to one another. Based more on reality, the movie shows the dogs as real dogs behaving in realistic ways to survive the cold they are exposed to. This is one of the more sincere Disney animal movie efforts.
6. March of the Penguins (2005)
This is an Oscar winning documentary that is worth everyone’s time. Narrated by Morgan Freeman, March of the Penguins chronicles the single file journey that Emperor penguins take each year across Antarctica to their breeding grounds, where they mate and lay eggs that hatch into adorable baby penguins. The movie shows, in painstaking detail, what the penguins do to survive in Antarctica’s extreme winter conditions and how the penguins band together and help one another in one of the toughest environments on earth. The underwater scenes showing the penguins swimming and catching fish to eat and share with their mate and child are incredible. As are the lengths the filmmakers went to get this footage in Antarctica. And Morgan Freeman’s voice has never sounded smoother…
5. Cujo (1983)
Based on the novel by horror writer Stephen King, the 1983 movie Cujo is about a St. Bernard dog that gets rabies after being bitten by a bat, and then proceeds to kill and terrorize the inhabitants of a small New England town. Starring actress Dee Wallace of E.T. fame as a mother that is trapped in her car with her young son, who must confront the vicious dog to survive, Cujo is a bloody scary movie. It is one of the best adaptations of a Stephen King novel and will make people look twice at man’s best friend. The irony in the movie is that St. Bernards have traditionally been used as rescue dogs and to help people in distress. Not here. Cujo is a relentless and rabid killer and eats anyone who crosses his path. A movie to see at Halloween time.
4. Babe: Pig in the City (1998)
Everyone likes the original, family friendly and Oscar nominated Babe. But the truth is that the sequel, 1998’s Babe: Pig in the City, is the better movie. This is because the sequel is darker and more for adults than the original 1996 film. In the first movie, Babe is a pig that learns to herd sheep. But in the sequel, Babe is forced to venture to the big, bad city to save the family farm after his owner, Farmer Hoggett, is injured and unable to work. In the city, Babe encounters a number of shady and suspect animals and urban life is portrayed with a dark undertone that is interesting and makes for a more adult movie. While kids can still watch and enjoy Pig in the City, parents will certainly enjoy the sequel more than the original Babe movie.
3. Never Cry Wolf (1983)
An underrated gem, the 1983 movie Never Cry Wolf is about a government researcher who travels to the Canadian arctic to study wolves, who he believes are predators and responsible for dwindling caribou herds. But while in the North, the researcher comes to a different conclusion about wolves and their role in nature. Featuring a great performance by character actor Charles Martin Smith (he was the accountant in The Untouchables with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery), as well as Brian Dennehy, Never Cry Wolf has a realistic, almost documentary, style that is captivating to watch. The scenes with the wolves and the caribou are examples of great filmmaking. This is a movie that is quiet and slow but still manages to be absorbing. Based on a novel by Canadian author Farley Mowat, the movie also captures the images and spirit of Canada’s arctic region.
2. The Grey (2011)
Another movie about wolves, but this time an action adventure one starring Liam Neeson as a man who reluctantly leads a group of oil workers through the Alaskan wilderness after their plane crashes and as they are being stalked by a pack of ravenous wolves. Not for the faint of heart, this movie shows wolves to be relentless predators who will follow the scent of blood once they have it and feed on any creature they encounter. The wolves inform every part of this movie about survival, and the film contains a number of great action sequences directed by Joe Carnahan, who previously made the excellent 2002 movie Narc. Frigid landscapes and dark terrain make this movie exciting and frightening for audiences. And Liam Neeson is at his badass best as the reluctant leader of the men who must do whatever is necessary to survive against the wolves.
1. Jaws (1975)
The movie that is credited with being the first summer blockbuster, Jaws is the single greatest movie featuring an animal (in this case a shark) ever made. Part horror movie and part adventure film, Jaws tells the story of a great white shark that is eating the tourists in the seaside town of Amity, and the three men who set out to find and kill the menacing fish. And while Jaws features first-rate performances by actors Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, the real star of the movie is the shark. Directed by Steven Spielberg and based on a novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws is a magnificent example of suspense, excitement and satisfying payoff at the end. It also involves great point-of-view filmmaking and was the first big hit of Steven Spielberg’s career. Jaws became a cultural phenomenon when released in 1975 and it spawned three sequels. While the sequels never lived up to the original, Jaws continues to reverberate in popular culture.