I Am Legend
The 2007 film adaptation of 1954 sci-fi horror novel I Am Legend is, for millennials at least, likely the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about adorable and extremely useful dogs getting messed up. While the rest of the film was entertaining, the relationship between Sam the German Shepherd and Neville, played by Will Smith, is centred as one of the story’s main threads. The framing and tone alone tell you within seconds that this dog is definitely going to die, but the sadness still slaps harder than Smith himself.
This one is so brutal you get to watch it twice. Both the original 1997 Austrian horror classic and the 2007 American remake feature unnecessarily upsetting canine murder. Funny Games delights in confusing audiences with its seemingly senseless, viscerally cruel depictions of violence. The two antagonists, Peter and Paul, use everything from golf clubs to the fabric of time to torture Naomi Watts and Tim Roth, their son, and of course their ironically named dog, Lucky. Nobody deserves what happens in this movie, especially not the dog, and that’s kind of the point.
A Dog’s Purpose
As a story driven by the idea of reincarnation, naturally, A Dog’s Purpose features several extremely sad pooch deaths. It follows the trials and tribulations of Bailey, as he lives a number of lives from the 50s to the current day. While the film is about embracing the now and coming together, the dog has to live out lifetimes of abuse and mistreatment, retaining memories of its loved ones as it is doomed to eternity. Dogs don’t deserve eternal torment. Unless you’re asking a cat.
Marley and Me
A classic pup-based tear-jerker, 2008s Marley and Me gets at the complex psychology of dog ownership, exploring a lot of the parental insecurities that happen to apply to pets too; like children, some animals simply misbehave. The film communicates the frustration and desperation that comes with nurturing something less intelligent, demonstrated when Jennifer Aniston’s character experiences postpartum depression, which extends to Marley. Seeing the very real struggles that face many dog owners makes the audience wish they could whisk the Labrador retriever away to a kinder, less harsh reality.
Based on the true story of an Australian town, Red Dog follows the adventures of a stray who befriends the locals and becomes a sort of folk legend. His main companion is an American named John who dies in a motorcycle accident. At the film’s end, the dog is discovered dead, protecting the grave of his former friend. It’s likely many cultures have similar stories rooted in truth, which just goes to show how loyal and caring the relationship between a man and his best friend can be.
Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior
There is an unwritten rule that dogs are unable to survive in post-apocalypse films. When the sanctity of human empathy and connection comes tumbling down, only the faithful beasts serve as friends and companions. A very impactful storytelling moment presents itself here, one that George Miller loves to take. Not only did Dog deserve better than the wasteland, he certainly deserved better than being stuck with Mel Gibson.
Casting the dog as a villain is a bold choice; nobody wants to root against the dog, and likewise you don’t exactly want to see the hero kill them. The 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel by the same name, Cujo sees a cuddly Saint Bernard become a rabies-infected murder machine. Unlike human curses in cinema, it’s impossible to write a dog that deserves to get cursed. He didn’t know any better than to chase a rabbit, which makes the impaling and shooting that await him seem like a bit much.
Adapted from Bret Easton Ellis’ hugely controversial 1991 novel, American Psycho casts Christian Bale as Wall Street yuppie and deranged serial killer Patrick Bateman. While almost every action Bateman takes is in some way demonic and/or perverse, the descent into his loss of control reaches a couple of peaks when he tries feeding a cat to an ATM, and when he brutalizes a homeless man and his dog. While the action isn’t shown in great detail, it highlights the unprompted sadism of the killer.
Possibly the origin of ‘dog meets its end after protecting a human’ stories, the 1956 novel became a silver screen hit in 1957, showing a Black Mouth Cur find his way from a stray to a close compatriot. Set in a post-Civil War Texas, Old Yeller finds a home on the rural farmstead, helping the family work and guarding them fiercely. The good dog winds up rabid, and dies on the receiving end of a mercy bullet. Rabies is the Thanos of the Dog Cinematic Universe.
Turner and Hooch
1989’s Turner and Hooch gave audiences a furrier play on the classic buddy cop movie, twisting the standard formula in which a hot-headed rookie cop and an older, grumpier cop are unwillingly teamed up, only to wind up best friends. The formula dictates that one partner often dies protecting the other, and Turner & Hooch sticks to this for no good reason. The dog even does a fake-out death to surprise the villain, then gets shot again. It seems almost comedically cruel to stick to the structure in the first place when one cop can be bribed with luncheon meats.