If you’re an animal lover, nothing tugs at the heartstrings quite like a movie about the object of our affections. Children, in particular, are enraptured by cute animals, whether it’s pet dogs with a mission to save the world, or a lion cub being freed from captivity. And any adult who has ever loved an animal – be it cat, dog, horse, or even dolphin – can’t fail to delight in a movie with these amazing creatures at the centre.
The movies with real animals are sublime in their skill and trainability, but even the animated adventures succeed in drawing us in; they all make us laugh – and cry. For an animal-lover, nothing does tear-jerking better than an emotional scene involving our beloved four-legged friends (not forgetting the finned and winged ones, too). And for any soon to be pet owners you'll find a colorful selection of star-studded pets to name your new cat or dog after.
Here’s a selection of the best animal movies for you and your family to enjoy.
32 movies every animal lover needs to see
1. Black Beauty
There have been eight movies, including a Disney version, of this 19th-century novel by Anna Sewell about a colt who is sold to a succession of cruel owners, toils away pulling London taxi cabs and eventually collapses through misuse before retiring to a rural idyll. Emotionally harrowing, with an uplifting conclusion.
The 1994 version is the most faithful and arguably the best adaptation (starring Sean Bean and Alan Cumming).
2. 101 Dalmatians
An adorable cartoon classic from 1961 with lovable dogs and a notorious villain, Cruella De Vil. Told from the perspective of two Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita, as Cruella orchestrates the kidnap of the couple’s puppies (and others) to make into a delightful spotty coats, before the dogs save the day.
3. The Aristocats
A 1970 musical Disney comedy about a family of Parisian cats that are set for a bumper inheritance from their rich opera diva owner until being kidnapped by the diva’s jealous butler who dumps them out of town. The story is of their rescue, which is down to a smooth-talking alleycat, Thomas O’Malley.
4. Born Free
A 1966 British drama about a couple who raise an orphaned lion-cub and eventually release her into the wilds of of Africa. Beautiful, touching and heart-warming, this is a stunning and sensitive animal film, with Elsa the lion cub stealing the show.
5. War Horse
This 2011 box office hit, directed by Steven Spielberg, follows the life of Joey, a working farm horse who is conscripted to the Front in World War I. His distraught owner follows him to France, and eventually finds him but their reunion is fraught. A serious tear-jerker.
6. Puss in Boots
A swashbuckling animated adventure film about an outlaw cat, his childhood egg-friend, and a seductive thief kitty who set out in search of the eggs of the fabled Golden Goose to clear his name, restore his lost honor, and regain the trust of his mother and town. With the voices of Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, this 2011 movie was nominated for an Oscar, and won 10 movie awards.
There are many excellent incarnations of Lassie since the first story appeared in 1938. The latest version, Lassie (2005) is a wonderful family film. It is set in northern Britain in World War II, when a poverty-stricken family is forced to sell their beloved Collie, Lassie to a duke. Lassie escapes from her new home hundreds of miles away, and defies dogcatchers and circus performers to return home.
Tim Burton directs this 2019 fantasy adventure about a young elephant, whose oversized ears make him a laughing stock. However, they do enable him to fly, and help him to save a struggling circus. But when the circus plans a new venture, Dumbo and his friends discover dark secrets beneath its shiny veneer.
Based on a true story, this 2003 movie follows a small, wonky, untrainable colt as he goes on to become a fabulous winning racehorse and huge media sensation. Set against the backdrop of the Great Depression in 1930s America, this is a heartwarming tale of success against all odds.
10. Eight Below
Brutal cold forces two Antarctic explorers to leave their team of sled dogs behind as they fend for their survival. He ties his dogs to be rescued, but the mission is called off and the dogs are left alone at their own fortune. For six months, Jerry tries to find a sponsor for a rescue mission while his dogs fight for survival.
Inspired by true events, this is a delightful tale of the courage and spirit of the six Siberian Huskies and two Alaskan Malamutes, it will tug at your heartstrings and entertain you from start to finish with amazingly well-trained canine actors.
11. The Rabbi’s Cat
Set in 1920 Algiers, where Rabbi Sfar has several problems. His beautiful daughter Zlabya is becoming a teenager and above all, his cat has eaten a parrot and gained the ability to talk (rudely). A box with a half-dead Russian painter inside is discovered, who is on a quest for a hidden African tribe and manages to convince the Rabbi, his talking cat, and an eccentric Russian soldier to assist him in his search.
This 2011 animated adventure comedy is intelligent, amusing, thoughtful and fun, and deservedly won several awards.
12. The Horse Whisperer
Fans of Robert Redford – and horses – will love this adventure/romance that deals with the themes of trauma and love in an exciting equestrian drama.
Teenager Grace MacLean (Scarlett Johansson) is hit by a truck while out horse-riding. To help heal her troubled and injured daughter and horse, the mother, Annie MacLean (Dame Kristin Scott Thomas), takes them to Montana to recuperate at the ranch of “horse whisperer” Tom Booker (Robert Redford).
13. The Lion King
The king, if you’ll pardon the pun, of all animal movies. Made in 1994, this fabulous drama tackles the coming-of-age theme of an orphaned lion cub battling bereavement, growing up and contending with a jealous uncle, who wants to ascend the throne. Superb songs, fantastic animation and a whole savannah of winsome animals in this massive box-office hit.
A 1992 American family comedy movie featuring a St Bernard dog named after the German composer (the puppy barks along to Beethoven’s music). This is the story of how Beethoven walks into a family home and quickly becomes the centre of attention to the extent that the dad resents him, but must contend with a dog-napping vet and his henchmen before the jealous dad saves the day.
There were 12 doubles playing the main St Bernard – a fun, fluffy movie if you don’t mind a bit of big-dog slobber. Fun fact: St Bernards are one of the largest dog breeds in the world.
Based on the true story of the 1995 Turfway Breeders’ Cup winner Mariah’s Storm, this is the tale of a racehorse, called Sonador in the movie, who breaks her leg and is nursed not only back to health but into the winner’s enclosure.
There may be sentimental clichés but if you love horses, this is exquisitely filmed and well put together with an exhilarating finale.
The canine star of a fictional sci-fi/action show that believes his powers are real embarks on a cross country trek to save his co-star from a threat he believes is just as real. For cat-lovers, it’s arguably the feline Mittens who steals the show, while the brilliantly named Rhino the hamster is another outstanding performance. Featuring John Travolta as the voice of Bolt, a sort of White Swiss Shepherd Dog, this action-packed movie has terrific animation and a heartwarming story.
The true story of Bob Champion, a British steeple chase jockey who, in the late 1970s, was diagnosed with cancer. Rather than succumb to the disease, however, Bob stages a miraculous recovery and goes on to win the 1981 Grand National steeplechase on the horse Aldaniti. It’s a real-life fairytale that’s well worth a watch. John Hunt plays the part of Bob, with Aldaniti played by the horse himself.
18. Marley & Me
A cheerful story about a couple who get a dog to see if they’re ready to have a family. There follows a drama about a growing family – and a growing and rambunctious pup. A treat for Labrador Retriever lovers (of which there are many, given that it's one of the most popular breeds in the world), but be prepared for a sad and touching ending. Stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston.
19. A Streetcat named Bob
Who doesn’t love a ginger tabby? Streetcat Bob is the star of this thoughtful film about the stray forming a bond with a musician who is a drug addict and is homeless on the streets of London. Uplifting themes of redemption and hope. Based on a true story.
20. Tom & Jerry: The Movie
This childhood-favourite series was made into a full-length movie in 2021, featuring the intrepid mouse and the browbeaten cat as they venture into the real world in this impressive hybrid of animation and live action. Tom is hired to exterminate Jerry in a luxury hotel and chaos inevitably ensures.
In 1890, a down-and-out cowboy and his horse travel to Arabia to compete in a deadly trans-desert horse race over 3,000 miles. The story of a man (played by Viggo Mortensen) and his horse Hidalgo. There were five American Paint Horses used to portray Hidalgo in the film, and Viggo, a keen horseman himself, bought one of them at the end of filming.
22. Old Yeller
An oldie but a goldie. This heartbreaking Disney 1957 classic is a coming-of-age tale about a boy and a stray dog in post-Civil War Texas. As well as being a relatable family drama, it deals with loyalty and bravery, the elemental bonding between humans and animals, it is heartwarming and emotionally charged, and culturally significant. The quintessential boy-dog movie.
23. Hachi: A Dog’s Tale
A college professor (Richard Gere) bonds with an abandoned Akita dog and takes it into his home. Fairly slow-moving, but a touching treat for dog lovers with its observations on grief, loyalty and the relationship between pets and their humans. Based on a true story in Japan; a tear-jerker.
Babe is a piglet won at a country fair and raised by sheepdogs in an English farm, who learns how to herd sheep with a little help from Farmer Hoggett. He bonds with Border Collie Fly and has to cope with Fly’s mate Rex’s jealousy, as where does a sheep-herding pig fit into the farm’s established hierarchy? Charming family classic adapted from Dick King-Smith’s children’s novel The Sheep-Pig.
25. Red Dog
Made in 2011, and based on the legendary true story of the legendary, lovable Red Dog who united a disparate local community while roaming the Australian outback in search of his long lost master. Not to be confused with Red Dog: True Blue, which is a prequel made in 2016, and is not quite as outstanding. Beautifully filmed landscapes, and a movie to make you laugh and cry.
26. Best In Show
A behind-the-scenes look into the highly competitive and cut-throat world of dog shows through the eyes of a group of ruthless dog owners. This hilarious satire (2000) is a treat for lovers of all breeds, featuring characterful Norwich Terriers, Bloodhounds, Weimaraners, Shih Tzus and many more.
27. Lady and the Tramp
The iconic scene of the two dogs slurping the same string of spaghetti has become a symbol of romance worldwide. An adorable tale of a mongrel dog, Tramp, finding the beautiful Cocker Spaniel Lady, whose home life is in disarray. Emotional, compassionate and a beautiful love story.
A fun kids’ movie from 1963 about a boy, Sandy, and a dolphin, Flipper, whom he nurses back from injury. Sandy is distraught when, having saved Flipper by pulling out a spear, his father insists the dolphin be released. A grateful Flipper, however, returns the favor when Sandy is threatened by sharks.
29. Charlotte’s Web
This 1973 musical adaptation of a best-selling children’s book by EB White is an adorable family movie featuring a runtish pig called Wilbur who is snubbed by the other farmyard animals. He is left fearing his end on a dinner table until hatching a plan with Charlotte, a spider, to save him. There is also a 2006 version, with better animation, but the 70s movie is particularly charming.
30. Free Willy
A 90s classic about a troubled foster kid forced to volunteer at a water park, where he forms a bond with a massive orca whale, Willy, who isn’t enjoying life in captivity and is destined for destruction. Hence, the mission to free Willy and return him to the wild.
31. Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey
A whole host of animals star in this movie about a fun-loving American Bulldog pup, a wise Golden Retriever and a Himalayan cat who undertake an epic journey through the Sierra Nevada mountains to find their beloved family. Porcupines and mountain lions feature among the challenges on their trek. Michael J Fox stars as the voice of Chance the Bulldog. A story of courage, adventure and friendship.
32. Happy Feet
Loving animals is not all about familiar pets. Enter the world of the Emperor Penguins, who find their soulmates through song, where Mumble the penguin is born who cannot sing. But he has an amazing talent for tap dancing!
This Oscar-winning movie set a new bar for animation, while being cute, funny and catchy, with good messages on taking care of our planet.
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Martha is an experienced journalist working in both print and digital media. She specializes in the canine, equine and rural sphere where she has covered a wide range of topics from cloning animals and the ingredients for a perfect yard dog, to helping owners find the best canine GPS trackers on the market. When she’s not busy writing about dogs and horses, she’ll be found either aboard a horse or looking after the menagerie of pets in her care.