Top 10 Greatest Animal Film Stars

Rodney Twelftree decides it is high time to take a look at the unsung heroes of cinema – the animals! Here’s the top 10 greatest animal film stars…

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Here at Top 10 Films, it’s not often we stop and pay our respects to those other cinema stars of years gone by – the animals.

Animals have become stars of the Big Screen since the format was invented – early animal stars like Rin Tin Tin and The Lone Ranger’s Silver (Hi-ho Silver, awaaaaay!!) have led the charge of the cute, cuddly, slimy, fishy, and downright dangerous animal brigade to have graced our screens down the years.

Today, we pay homage to the ten greatest animal stars of cinema.

10 – Black Beauty

Entering into this top 10 with an enormous pedigree is Black Beauty, a horse who lives a long and interesting life under numerous owners – based on the book by Anna Sewell, the original film version of Beauty’s story came out in 1921, and more popular adaptions would surface in 1946 and 1971. The original publication was a runaway literary success for the time, and remains a popular children’s novel to this day. Inspiring many a young girl to ask for a pony on her birthday, Black Beauty remains the definitive horse creation.

9 – Dory

Voiced perfectly by Ellen Degeneres, Dory has since become an iconic animated brand alongside Mickey, Bugs, Buzz & Woody, and even Donald Duck. This forgetful fish helped Nemo’s father, Marlin, in his quest to find the kidnapped little fella, even if Marlin didn’t appreciate it most of the time. Of all Pixar’s animated creations, Dory’s easily the most emotionally complex, and resonates with audiences long after they’ve seen the film. Clever writing and a terrific vocal performance helped as well, no doubt.

8 – Old Yeller

Every child’s worst nightmare comes true in this classic Disney tear-jerker (I mean, c’mon, doesn’t everyone know what happens?). Family raises a dog from a pup, dog gets rabies, dog goes crazy, father has to (reluctantly) put dog to sleep with both barrels of a shotgun. Classic. Will have your kids crying to sleep for a week afterwards.

7 – Phar Lap/Secretariat/Seabiscuit

Three characters in at 7? How is this so? The story of The Horse That Could has been done a few times in cinema, none more heartwarming than the three horsey options here. Phar Lap, an Australian horse who broke racing records in his home country before dying (or was killed by jealous rivals) remains a cultural touchstone to this day; Seabiscuit captured the hearts and minds of the USA during the Great Depression for doing a similar thing, and in the 70’s, Secretariat became the first horse in a generation to win the Triple Crown of racing – a feat which hasn’t been done since. The appeal of horse racing mystifies me, I’ll admit, but I know great animal talent when I see it, and I see it in these three indistinguishable greats.

6 – Hooch

Tom Hanks’ irrepressibly messy canine partner in the 80’s turned cop-buddy-comedy on it’s ear – Hooch slobbered, knawed and chewed his way into audience’s hearts and has remained there ever since. Think of him as a doggy version of Curly Sue. Without being as irritating.

5 – Mumble the Penguin

The journey of one young penguin who loved to dance instead of sing, traversing the vast expanse of Antarctica and the oceans to Australia to tell us to stop overfishing their food supply became a world-wide smash. Mumble, the tap-dancing penguin, did more for the cause of those little flapper birds than any amount of March Of The Penguins screenings could.

4 – Babe

That’ll do, Pig. That’ll do. The little porker who won a sheep herding contest snuffled his way into our hearts with guile, love and a close bond with his owner, Farmer Hoggett.

3 – Cujo

A lovably pooch goes completely batshit crazy and traps a woman and her son in their car – and it’s a hot day. This ultimate savage animal story caused terror in both the original Steven King novel, and in the subsequent Hollywood film version – and set the template going forward.

2 – Jaws

Spielberg’s inimitable shark film had a star that was completely mechanical. The legacy of Jaws, and the superstar shark, has been that generations of film-goers have found themselves double-checking the water at the beach ever since. For a cultural impact this large, it’s only fitting that the shark from Jaws finds its way onto out list – mechanical or not.

1 – Lassie

Arguably the greatest screen animal in history, Lassie first appeared on film in the 1940 MGM adaption of the novel Lassie Come Home. Unlike Old Yeller, Lassie survived her first film outing, and went on to make several more, as well as a television series. Lassie’s amazing ability to understand her human owners (“Lassie, is somebody trapped down the well?”) and come to the rescue each time became a genre unto itself, with copycat formats cropping up (Australia’s own variant, Skippy The Bush Kangaroo swapped a border collie for a kangaroo, with pretty much the same results) here and there. Still, if this was Family Feud, and you were asked who the most famous animal in film might be, I dare say Lassie would be right at the top of the heap every single time.

Written and compiled by Rodney Twelftree

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About the Author
An Aussie lad with a love of cinema, Rodney Twelftree parlayed his interest in films into a website dedicated to reviewing them. Currently Editor In Chief at, Rodney spends much of his time watching films, television, reading science fiction novels and trawling the internet for news and reviews on all things film.

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    Jaina Reply

    So happy to see Hooch and Babe make the list!

    I’d add Hachi from Hachi, a Dog’s Tale, Doug from Up, Mufasa and Simba from The Lion King oh and maybe the T-rex from Jurassic Park. Do dinosaurs count?

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    Rodney Reply

    I was trying to figure which character from The Lion King might make the cut – but couldn’t choose from Timon, Simba or Scar…. although I will admit, Mufasa might be knocking on the door at number eleven!

    I DID think about including a dinosaur, but I truly despise The Land Before Time as a franchise so my prejudice won out.

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    amy Reply

    Rodney! Why do you hate The Land Before Time!? LOL How about Fievel on An American Tail? xD

    What were the rules of this list? xD Mythical animals?

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    mark Reply

    Others to consider include:

    (10) Jones the cat in Alien – who could forget the reaction shot of his face as Harry Dean Stanton is being taken away by the alien?

    (9) Harry and Tonto – the film where puss helped Art Carney win a best actor Oscar(TM), much to Jack Nicholson’s chagrin

    (8) The dog in Battle of Britain – the only character in the film that elicits an emotional response from the audience after Michael Caine’s death (outside of Susannah York when she realises Christopher Plummer will have nasty burn scars)

    (7) The dolphin in Day of the Dolphin that plants the bomb on the bad guys’ boat

    (6) Another cat – this time Marlowe’s one in Altman’s The Long Goodbye … it was a fairly realistic portrayal of these sometimes fussy buggers

    (5) The chicken in Charley One Eye – has anyone else seen this?

    (4) Brian in Family Guy – if Lois Griffin can be on the MILF list, then her wise cracking dog deserves to be on this one

    (3) Kes – the bird that helped put Ken Loach well and truly on the map

    (2) King Kong – I’ll go for Jackson’s incarnation… my jury is out on Fay Wray, and I didn’t mind seeing a bit of Jessie’s boobs, but one has to admit that Naomi is kinda hot …

    (1) Helena Bonham Carter in Burton’s take on Planet of the Apes … she was so convincing that, given just a tad more make up, one could see her winning the audition for Fight Club

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    Caz Reply

    So pleased to see Dory in the list! I love Finding Nemo it has to be my favorite Disney film.

  6. Avatar
    Rodney Reply

    @ amy – I don’t HATE Land Before Time…. I just don’t think they’re as iconic as the animals listed above. And yes, mythical creatures could have made this list if they’d been good enough. πŸ˜‰

    @ Mark – Damn, I coulda gone with Kong… but didn’t. And props for mentioning a human playing an animal for the list – Helena Bonham Carter could have done apes proud in this one – although, I’d probably have gone with the Andy Serkis/WETA combo in the more recent POTA film if I was adamant enough….

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    DEZMOND Reply

    oh, there’s no dragons from HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON πŸ™‚ And no crazy crocodile from PRINCESS AND THE FROG who dreams of having a navel :), no crazy animals from ICE AGE, not even Scratt πŸ™‚
    Babe is my absolute fave! Love that piggy a lot! Speaking of Piggy, miss Piggy should be number one in all possible lists!

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    Rodney Reply

    Dang. Missed Scrat. Double dang.

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    Castor Reply

    Nice list Dan. I would probably add Beethoven somewhere in there too. I used to love those movies as a kid πŸ˜€

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    Scott Lawlor Reply

    hehehe Nice one Rondey, or should I call you the hardest working contrib in the blogashpere!!


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    Pete Reply

    Jaws would rip Lassie’s face off!

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    Rodney Reply

    @ Castor – I’ll take that credit, my friend, and facepalm myself for not even considering Beethoven… damn I hated those films as a younger lad.

    @ Scott – Working hard or hardly working…. eh? Eh? Eh? Thanks Man!!

    @ Pete – yeah, but when was the last time Jaws saved your life…?

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    Rene Frank Reply

    Bombon: El Perro is straight up the greatest animal film star ever. A wonderful film.

  14. Pingback: The Most Famous Animal Movie Stars - We Love Buzz

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